A Legacy of Laughter

My father believed in the teachings of Marx. Not Karl, Groucho. And his brothers.  I became a follower too and spent endless nerdy hours with a childhood friend, a fellow comrade repeating dialogue from their movies.

When I had a daughter, naturally I wanted her to be a follower too. Would a girl like that kind of humor? What age is the right age to introduce her to them? These were not casual questions. If she didn't like The Marx Brothers, in my mind it was the equivalent to a child not wanting to take over the family business. Is this crazy pressure? Maybe, but who else will be here to laugh and make others laugh when I'm gone.

One day Karina and I found a deluxe collection of Marx Brothers movies in the local library.  She was eight. It was time to find out. Did she have the gene? The right stuff?  I would still love her if she didn't.

We settled in on the couch with some treats as backup in case things went bad. A black and white opening scene with people dressed in an old fashioned manner mingled at a party. Not a great start. A large overstuffed woman breaks into a stiff operatic song. I think I've lost her. But wait, Groucho suddenly appears with some very clever banter Karina doesn't quite get but at least he looks and walks funny. Next, Chico comes on the scene. He's ridiculous and acts like a third grader talking nonsense. I see a sparkle in her eyes and then the magic happens. White curly haired Harpo shows up. He doesn't talk, not a word.  He should be powerless, but he seems to get the best of everyone. I see a smile, I hear a chuckle.  Then there is a laugh out loud belly laugh that thrills me. I have tears in my eyes wishing my father was still around to see what I see. No DNA test needed, she is really mine.

But wait, here's the icing on the cake. After charming, tricking, humiliating and abusing everyone around him Harpo calmly sits down at a harp and soothes the audience with a beautiful melody. Its like Mike Tyson bringing someone down with his best shot and then finishing the job by singing them to sleep with a lullaby. 

Now several times a week Karina asks me to repeat the "Why A Duck?" scene. Groucho says, "Here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland." Chico: "Why a duck? Why not a chicken?" Imitating Harpo puffing up his cheeks and sticking out his tongue is enough to crack us up. I'm thinking the family business will continue. It’s not always profitable but it feels rich. 

It’s not easy coming up with new ideas for children's books.  It feels like everything has already been done. One recent thought I had is a book about three brothers (or maybe three sisters).  One could be a wise guy, another a bit of a dunce, the third doesn't even talk but they all like to make a mess of things and they all make you laugh.  Even if you’re an eight year old girl.





Posted by elena at 02:06 PM Link to this post
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