How did the Marx Bros. and 3 Stooges express their Jewishness?

I’ll tell you, I’m not Jewish but most of my heroes are. Favorite sci-fi writer? Robert Scheckley, who died last month. I just found out he was Jewish.

I also didn’t know that Peter Drucker, one of my favorite management/business writers/gurus was also Jewish. He died last month too.

Frank Loesser is my favorite songwriter; Jewish. I have horrible Jewdar, I guess, because for the longest time I didn’t know. Arnold Schoenberg, my favorite composer, was Jewish, but I knew that all along.

Anyhow, as if it weren’t enough that Jews are on average the smartest–they’re also the funniest! Culturally, there’s no question that Jews, on average, have been a cut above other peoples. Greater literacy across two millenia and a special cultural something are the reasons perhaps.

But the interesting thing to me is that, when it comes to comedy, yes, there was Fanny Brice-type Yiddish singing and Jewish culture, there was the Borscht Belt, but what about the Jewishness of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers? Was there a Jewish side to their act that was expunged for Hollywood?

How much did Judaism itself affect their lives? Were they completely secular?

Perhaps the Doper Jews could enlighten me as to how Jewishness informed the comedy of these two famous teams.

I’m not Jewish but I remember reading about the Marx Bros, Groucho in particular, had some run-ins with anti-semtism. The most famous incident where he wasn’t allowed to enter a country club because he was jewish, so he asked if his son, being half jewish, could wade into the pool up to his waist.

Their movies had little Jewish jokes in the from time to time, the most obvious I can think of is in Animal Crackers where they come in singing at the end and out of the blue, Groucho says “This is coming to you from the house of david”.

And a bit in Monkey business when a woman says “I didn’t know you were a Lawyer. You’re awfully shy for a lawyer” He responds: “You bet I’m shy. I’m a shyster lawyer”

There’s one in “The Cocanuts” too.

That’s probably not what you’re looking for but that’s the best I can think of.

Also in Animal Crackers, during the “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” number, you have Groucho’s line "Did someone call me schnorrer?

I didn’t get it for years, but “schnorrer” is originally a German and Yiddish word meaning beggar. In English, apparently it means something more like a con man. I guess the word was more widely known when the film was made, but I can’t think of any other Marx jokes that only work if you know Yiddish.

The one from “The Cocoanuts” is the scene where Groucho is showing Chico the map of Cocoanut Manor and says “And over there are the levees”, to which Chico replies, “Ah, dats-a da Jewish neighborhood”. Groucho then says, “Well we’ll pass over that one!”

Pure gold.

I think I’ll go watch some of my collection now.

I can’t recall an occasion when the Stooges referred to their religious heritage. I think a veiled reference would have been far to subtle for them.

We could probably talk about the Marx Brothers’ status as outsiders and how that relates to the American immigrant and American Jewish experience, but I won’t do it; I’d probably sound too much like a film critic. :wink:

Paging Exapno Mapcase, paging Mr. Mapcase,

I never got that untill now.

Gotta admit, that’s some quality funny that might leave the goyim wondering.

And I, too, can’t think of a Stooges example. I’m surprised.

There is the story of their being invited for Passover while on the road and being caught within the daughter’s rooms.
As they climbed out the window (Zeppo? Groucho?) is said to have called over his shoulder, “Does this mean we can’t come back for the second Seder?”

The Stooges were one of the first to go after Hitler. In fact, some people have claimed that “You Nazty Spy” was the first satire of Hitler in film.

Huh? What? Why’d you wake me up? I was having this wonderful dream about Thelma Todd and Kitty Carlisle and they were…

Oh, a Marx Brothers thread.

Marley23 got it, and it’s been said many times. In fact, a new book about the history of Vaudeville No Applause–Just Throw Money : The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, by Trav S.D. [Travis Stewart] has extensive info on the effect of the outsider in vaudeville. You can say that all of vaudeville came from outsiders (and all of Hollywood too for that matter). Not heavy reading in any way, either. He’s top banana for the American Vaudeville Theater, so he ain’t no way academic.

To summarize, there was a “Hebrew” comic stereotype in the early days of vaudeville, just as there were Irish, Italian, “Dutch” (German), black, and others. Groucho did his time as a “Hebrew” with a heavy accent, although he also played Dutch. Weber and Fields and Smith and Dale were probably the most famous Hebrew acts, but there were lots of others.

As immigrants settled in, the heavy stereotypes became less funny in and of themselves. Although Chico kept the Italian accent forever, he did so as part of a larger troupe of comic types. Merely having an accent and being a naive immigrant wasn’t as funny to second-generation Americans who grew up speaking English.

Being Jewish remained a selling point in the heart of vaudeville and, later, Broadway, because New York City was as much as one-third Jewish in those days. Yiddish expressions entered show-biz language because everybody used them and the whole audience would understand them. The lines quoted from the Marx Brothers aren’t ones they came up with: it was all those Jewish writers of theirs - George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, S. J. Perelman, Arthur Sheekman, Al Boasberg, and on and on. If they ever used a non-Jewish writer, it must have been late in their careers and we all know how that ended.

The problem was that this humor didn’t carry over very well when the vaudevillians traveled out of New York City or a few other large eastern cities. It was especially hated in the South and deep Midwest, where anti-Semitic prejudice was rampant. Movies just exacerbated the problem. The heavily Jewish acts never made it out of vaudeville, and the few single stars who tried - Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice - couldn’t get a major movie career started. (Brice became a radio star, but mostly because of her Baby Snooks character, not her Jewish adult pose.)

And the movie moguls, every last one of whom were Jewish, were deathly afraid of offending a single person in the audience. They ruthlessly cut out every piece of Jewishness of out their films and their stars. A few lines dropped into the endless babble of the Marx Brothers could go by almost unnoticed in the crowd, but that was it.

The Stooges started out as literal stooges, plants in the audience who would heckle the star, Ted Healy, and be brought on stage to be abused by him. (Healy was another one who started out doing blackface but gave it up when that stereotype stopped crowd-pleasing.) There was no need for Healy’s stooges to be Jewish or anything else: they were there to be slapped around. Eventually, of course, the Howard brothers and Mr. Fine got sick and tired of Healy, his stinginess, his ego, and everything else about him and went off on their own. But they never saw any reason to change the act, nor would their studio bosses have let them.

It’s not clear to me just how much the general American audience understood the pervasive Jewishness of the Hollywood hierarchies. The moguls played down their religion to the point of self-loathing, although in their personal lives they all went to synagogue, got married by rabbis, had their kids Bar Mitvahed, and ate Seders at Passover. Same with the stars. Most of that generation were striving to be assimilated Americans, though, and were more nominally Jewish than fervent believers. It’s hard to name any Orthodox, kosher-keeping Jews among the stars. And remember that many of them anglo-ized their names, like John Garfield, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Douglas Fairbanks, and downplayed any ethnicity.

There are lots of books on this topic. Typing Jews Hollywood in Amazon’s search brings up a fascinating listing.

FWIW, Cantor was also a major star on radio. This site shows him as having two of the three best ratings in the history of radio, and the existing transcriptions of his early 1930’s broadcasts show his act as being definately Jewish.

This was a great post. Now let’s have a thread on that dream in MPSIMS…

The definite treatment of Cantor’s radio humor - and he was a big star in the early 30s, but quickly eclipsed by later less ethnic comedians - is in Funny men don’t laugh, by Arnold Malcolm Auerbach.

This is Auerbach’s autobiography of how as a recent Columbia graduate in the Depression he joins a joke factory that supplied twists on classic jokes from enormous cross-indexed joke files to a variety of radio comedians. Cantor isn’t named directly - he’s called the Slap-Happy Zany and portrayed as an insecure, brutish, annoying moron - but it’s well-known in the field who hides behind the epithet. (Cantor died while the book was being written, probably why his real identity wasn’t used.)

If you want to admire comedians, never, never, ever look at their personal lives.

That was certainly the way I felt after reading Dorothy Herrmann’s biography of Perelman. It may be the only book I wish I had never read. I idolized Perelman for his humor and was quite dismayed to learn what a complete asshole he was to his family. (His son-in-law was one of my instructors at college, although I never spoke with him about Perelman.)

Thanks for the link, Excapno, I have it on my wishlist now.

Harpo does sound like an exception to this rule. I’ll find Harpo Speaks eventually, I hope I’m not wrong.

It’s also how I felt after watching The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, although I’m sure that departed from the truth on at least a few occasions.

Excapno? Surely you jest. :smiley:

I sure hope there are not any skeletons lurking about in Bob Newhart’s closet! :eek: