3/31/15

CHICO PLAYS CARDS AND SPEAKS


Here's a full episode (twenty or so minutes) of a show that it's hard to believe ever had an audience, "Championship Bridge With Charles Goren." The format of the show was to pit two professional bridge players against each other, using two non-pro but very good players as their partners. Goren and another Bridge expert, Alex Drier, then scientifically analyzed and critiqued the play. The non-pros were usually semi-celebrities of some kind and this episode features an old, very worn out looking Chico Marx. A liftetime gambling addict, Chico only lived another year after this was televised. He died broke, supported by his brothers and sadly unmourned by the comedy world. Chances are he died owing them all money.

Chico speaks just shy of the two minute mark and, like Harpo (see yesterday's posting below), has Groucho's lilt and cadence in his voice. At first you think he's doing his Italian shtick, but in fact its his genuine East Side Jewish turn-of-the-century immigrant's kid's voice. (This makes you realize how thin his Italian accent really was). He's asked about his relationship with famed Bridge player Helen Sobel and he replies that he knew her way back when she was a chorus girl in 'The Cocoanuts' on Broadway--"our foist Broadway show" as Chico says with more than a tad of nostalgia. He speaks a bit more through the show but not nearly enough, and he seems to engage in a little double-talk that's hard to make out--a kind of gag-accent that deliberately obscures his bidding, confusing and irritating his rod-up-ass Bridge expert partner. Chico and his partner wind up losing and this makes you wonder if in fact Chico was playing to win. He frequently misplayed hands deliberately, explaining that it made things more interesting. On one occasion he was asked how much money he'd lost in his lifetime. "Find out how much money Groucho has," he answered. "That's how much I lost."

I'll close with a Chico anecdote. He was constantly broke, borrowing money from friends (and gangsters, which frequently led to Groucho having to bail him out). Once, when writing a check for gambling debts to writer Heywood Broun, Chico prudently instructed him not to try cashing it before twelve o'clock the next day if he wanted it to go through. Broun followed his advice and waited till twelve, but it still bounced. "What time did you cash it?" asked Chico. "Twelve-o-five," said Broun. Chico shook his head. "Too late."

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