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Groucho Marx and William F. Buckley debate the nature of comedy on ‘Firing Line,’ 1967
11:51 am


William F. Buckley
Groucho Marx

On July 7, 1967, Groucho Marx appeared as a guest on William F. Buckley’s current affairs show Firing Line to debate the topic “Is the World Funny?” Firing Line had been in existence only for about a year at that point, broadcasting on WOR channel 9 in New York City; four years later, the show would move to PBS.

Groucho was there to promote his new book The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx, in which he reproduced selected correspondence with figures like Jerry Lewis, Irving Berlin, E.B. White, Peter Lorre, Edward R. Murrow, David Susskind, Booth Tarkington, Harry Truman, and James Thurber. The book is still in print today. Contrasting himself with Bob Hope, whom Groucho regards as possessing a quasi-pathological need to perform in front of audiences, Groucho asserts at one point that if he weren’t promoting a book, he’d never appear on a show like Firing Line.

Presiding as a kind of arbiter was C. Dickerman Williams, an attorney who had once been director of the American Civil Liberties Union and had defended Buckley’s National Review in a number of free speech cases.

Groucho discusses an appearance he made two years earlier, at a memorial service for T.S. Eliot that was organized by Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Tynan and held at the Globe Theatre in London on June 13, 1965. It turns out that T.S. and Groucho had a prickly frenemy relationship for a few years. On Firing Line, Groucho asserts that Eliot was probably jealous of William Shakespeare.

Groucho’s freeform and scattershot mentality isn’t well suited for a true debate on the nature of comedy and he actually upbraids Buckley whenever he tries to stay on point. During a discussion of ethnic humor, he states that “I don’t regard myself as a Jew when I’m publicly performing,” which is interesting because it’s mainly true, Groucho’s humor might have been generally Jewish as a matter of lineage but not particularly Jew-ish as such.

Groucho also says that he would have voted for Buckley when he ran for mayor in 1965 (he got 13.4% of the vote, not bad at all).

This episode of Firing Line is actually available on DVD too.


Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Huey Newton compels William F. Buckley to side with George Washington, 1973
Turn on the tube: Timothy Leary and William Buckley arguing about L.S.D. on TV
Paul Krassner: I dropped acid with Groucho Marx

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Turn on the tube: Timothy Leary and William Buckley arguing about L.S.D. on TV

William F. Buckley preens and licks his lips lasciviously as he attempts to wrap his head around Timothy Leary’s vision of a world turning day-glow.

Everybody trips in the end with a Beatlesque twist.

From a 1967 (the Summer of Love) episode of Firing Line.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Huey Newton compels William F. Buckley to side with George Washington, 1973

Huey Percey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, would be 68 years old if he hadn’t been shot in Oakland on this day in 1989 by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, an alleged member of George Jackson’s Marxist prison gang The Black Guerilla Family.

Here he is engaging William F. Buckley on his show Firing Line in a preliminary thought-game before getting deep into the kind of civil dialogue on political theory that’s absolutely impossible to find on television today.

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
He’s Still the Great Gore Vidal, But Boy Is He Cranky

(Above, Gore Vidal visits “Mary Hartman” (Louise Lasser) in the mental hospital on the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman soap opera)
I have revered Gore Vidal my entire life. He’s a great writer and he’s a great American, perhaps THE great American gadfly amongst men of letters. The older he gets, the more spiteful he becomes about the state of this country. Interviews with Vidal in recent years fall into one of two categories, sometimes they’re terribly amusing, but alarming, other times just alarming. Lately, he’s really letting it rip. He’s 83, why should he pull any punches? In this long interview from London, a cranky Vidal holds forth on the Obama presidency with a jaundiced eye:

Gore Vidal is not only grieving for his own dead circle and his fading life, but for his country. At 83, he has lived through one third of the lifespan of the United States. If anyone incarnates the American century that has ended, it is him. He was America’s greatest essayist, one of its best-selling novelists and the wit at every party. He holidayed with the Kennedys, cruised for men with Tennessee Williams, was urged to run for Congress by Eleanor Roosevelt, co-wrote some of the most iconic Hollywood films, damned US foreign policy from within, sued Truman Capote, got fellated by Jack Kerouac, watched his cousin Al Gore get elected President and still lose the White House, and ?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment