The Empress as Margaret Dumont

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Empress as Margaret Dumont

Last week's Letters page in The Southampton Press West­ern Edition recalled a story Groucho Marx told Dick Cavett about the last time he saw his long-time foil, the incom­parable Mar­garet Dumont (1889-1965).

Margaret Dumont

The two had appeared on ABC's The Holly­wood Palace and re­prised a scene from 1930's "Animal Crackers," the first of her seven films with the Marx Brothers.

Groucho told his host:

"She was waiting, sitting at the stage door as though she was at that time a great star... it was kinda sad. She had a bouquet of roses in her hands which I think she had bought for herself and had delivered to her."

What brought this to mind was Thursday's three letters in praise of the Westhampton Beach Beautification Committee "for the won­derful job it did decorating the village for the holidays."

That bore the signature of a woman in Quogue.

Another listing her residences as "New York City and Westhampton Beach," opined that...

"The entire village looks spectacular this holiday season in all white lights."

Finally, a Remsenburg woman wrote:

"The sight of the big trees and the trees lining Main Street all dressed in white lights is both be­dazzling and very classy."

All three also offered "thanks" and "congrat­ulations" to "all those" responsible.

(Hmmn... who might they have in mind?)

Call me "Scrooge," but I've never put much stock in co­incidences.

Knowing the manner by which Village Trustee Joan Levan elbowed her way to power on the Westhampton Beach Beautification Committee in mid-decade, it all comes into focus.

With the bad press the Empress of Oneck has generated of late with her attempted white-wash of the two suspended police officers, this was a clumsy ploy to rehabilitate her public service stature.

The only question is whether she provided "suggested language" for those letters.


1. HighHatSize said...

I never liked the Marx Brothers, for the same reason that I didn't like "M*A*S*H," (the TV series).

I always identified with the schlemiels who didn't get the "in" joke that all the cool people got, (i.e. The Marx Brothers, Hawkeye, etc.)

Poor Margaret Dumont. She had no idea what was going on in the Marx Brothers movies, either in front of or behind the camera.

Apparently, she maintained the bewildered persona of a grand dame while the Marx Brothers acted like lunatics. That's what generated her paycheck.

She was the polar opposite of "calculating" so an analogy to her character that assumes that is misplaced.

It is telling that Groucho spoke of her deprecatingly decades after their movies together had ended.

He was still a shallow, selfish Schmuck.

We will have to demur on that point.

Yes, the Dumont persona was that of the grande dame, but just how "bewildered" she was is a matter of some conjecture... Groucho's ruminations withstanding. There are photos of her barely suppressing her mirth as Groucho spritzed before the camera/audience, and in one wonderful image she utterly fails. As I noted, her role was that of the foil, and she excelled in that with not only fratelli Marx, but W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Marie Wilson and Jack Benny, even Wheeler & Woolsey.

But for all the Marx Brothers' low-brow trappings... consider their origins... the dialogue in their films, especially that delivered by Groucho, written by such as George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and S.J. Perelman, is many levels above that.

2. Matlynn Carville said...

I finally dug my car out early last evening, the last few heavy feet of "plow snow" removed by two nice American boys with a snow blower for $20; they happened by at the perfect time. I went to town, quite candidly, underwhelmed by the decorations -- (what are those ladies talking about?) The prettiest place was the WHBPAC, verdant and festive. The closed stores were sadly dim; and the Village sidewalks seemed mostly uncleared. The roads still had extremely heavy snow many hours after the blizzard event. I could see if it was icy weather, with power outages and midweek cars/traffic blocking roadcrew access; but this was a Saturday night snow; and a NICE, powdery, if large, snow.

I know the Village has done better with worse conditions -- what happened to the Highway Department this time round? They used to be so good around here.

The Village's white decorative lights were weak and dim against the spectacular snow, where no people filled the sidewalks. Sad.

I'll have to take your word for it... I stayed at home by the hearth with the fire and DVD are full blast! But if you had "plow snow" to be removed, then the DPW guys must have been out and about in your neighborhood, yes?

As for "what those ladies were talking about," that's what a clacque does... this did not go unnoticed by others, either.

3. Eileen Dover said...

Yes, those letters raised the hairs on the back of my neck, too. White lights indeed! How ho-hum and not at all ho-ho. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas. (Never happy holidays.)

I think most who took notice saw them for what they were. And instead of expending effort on this silly attempt at rehabilitating her public image, perhaps Mrs. Levan could focus on doing the right thing for the Village en toto for once.

And while I may on occasion wish others "Happy Holidays," it has nothing to do with political correctitude or being eccumenical, and everything to do with the sadness and depression which befalls too many at this time of year... look at the obits page in the first edition of the New Year in The Southampton Press. This is a tough time for many.

4. Beth Flanagan said...

I thought the white lights were pretty - I don't know that I'd say bedazzling. What I miss is the colored lights on the Christmas trees... now, that would have been beautiful against the snow. Hopefully they will return next year?

I'm certain that the Beautification Committee, the Empress of Oneck presiding, will give your comments every consideration.

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