The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


One of the shows that we always watched as a family was “You Bet Your Life” starring none other than Groucho Marx and his sidekick, George Fenneman.  This little quiz showed debuted on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950 – running until 1960.  (I only caught the later episodes if you’re wondering).

This quiz game which took a variety of incarnations during it’s 10 year television span allowed randomly selected members of the studio audience – normally one of each sex (in those days there were just two) – to compete by answering some questions of varying difficulty.  The game itself was, however, secondary to the amusing repartée that Groucho had with his contestants.

At the beginning of the show, before bringing on the contestants, Groucho would show the studio and television audience the “secret word” – worth one hundred dollars if the contestants happened to use it while they were on the show.

After Fenneman brought them onstage, Groucho would chit chat with each of them to find out about their background.  During this conversation, he held a large cigar in his right hand and waved it around.  The cigar never went out – perhaps because it wasn’t lit – and was more of a prop than anything else.  And at the conclusion of the interview, Groucho, before launching into the questions, would tell them, “Say the secret word, the duck will come down and you’ll win a hundred dollars.”  He would give them a general hint as to what the word was such as, “It’s something you find around the house.”

Now I know that if there are any young readers out there, I’m sure that you’re not impressed with a one hundred dollar prize.  In fact, the most a contestant could win was twelve hundred dollars plus the “secret word” bonus – and that was split two ways.  But to put it in perspective, in the ‘50’s when the show was extremely popular, one hundred dollars would cover more than a month’s rent in a nice area in Manhattan.

The show was broadcast live, as most TV programs were in the early days of the medium.  So what was said by the star was heard by the audience.  And that resulted in the abrupt cancellation of the program in 1960.  Like Paula Deen, Groucho said something that the TV station and the program’s sponsors considered “off color.”  No, wait a minute, I stand corrected.  Apparently Ms. Deen said something that was “on color.”

One of the guests on the final broadcast was a man (I honestly don’t recall his name so we’ll call him Tom Smith) who was from Canada.  Groucho first interviewed the female contestant and then turned his attention to Mr. Smith, asking him what he did for a living, that sort of thing.

Then Groucho asked, “So tell me Mr. Smith, do you have any children?”

The man smiled and looked down at his feet and grinned.

He said, “Yes, Groucho.  My wife and I have eleven children.”

Groucho paused for a moment, and then said, “Eleven children?  That’s a lot of kids.  Why do you have so many, Mr. Smith?”

The Canadian responded, “Well, Groucho – I guess it’s because I love my wife.”

The live audience laughed at this response.

Groucho took a dramatic pause, removed the cigar from his mouth and stared at it for a few seconds before responding, “Mr. Smith, I love my cigar too but I take it out sometimes.”

End of show – cancelled – final episode.

Last night I was, as usual, up late, trying to put some ideas together and they just weren’t co-operating.  So I decided to stop trying to force it and take a break.  And there’s nothing less challenging mentally than watching a little television.

So I turned on the set on my office desk and a show called, “The King of Queens” was being aired.  Actually, I thought it was a new show and I wondered why they were showing it at midnight.  Not much of an audience us night owls.  So I googled it (I refuse to use a capital G for google – so I’ve had to add “small ‘g’ google”  to my spell check’s vocabulary) and found the show had run for ten years – though from the ten minute snippet that I saw I couldn’t imagine why.

Well the point here is not the show – rather it was one of the ads.  Here I am, trying to relax and what do they have on but a provocative ad (I could be wrong as I was in a mild state of shock) but I think the advertiser was Durex.  Depicted in this ad was a mostly unclad couple, cavorting and rolling around in bed while the sexy female-voiced announcer touted the company’s “condoms, lubricants, massage gels and so much more – available everywhere.”

I turned off the TV, passing on watching the remaining portion of “The King of Queens” episode, and went to bed.  And as I lay there getting ready to head off to slumber land I couldn’t help wondering, if he were alive and caught that ad, “What would Groucho say?”


Comments on: "WHAT WOULD GROUCHO SAY?" (12)

  1. Our sensibilities have changed haven’t they? I don’t know if you ever watched an English show called the “Dick Bently Show.” It was a late 40’s early 50’s thing. One show I remember well. It was all comedy and Sir Lancelot had just run off with the castle owners wife. The castle owner shouts to his servant, “My wife has gone, get me a horse!” The servant replied, “Well OK Sire, but I think it’s a poor substitute!” I guess the English must have been more liberal in that era.

  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  3. Thanks for the memories. As for the King of Queens, I watched it more than you did. I managed to get through 15 minutes. The old time radio web sites have a lot of the radio You Bet Your Life. You can’t see the cigar or the leers, but you can sit back, listen , and enjoy.

    • You obviously have a stronger constitution than I.

      Beginning in 1970, Chuck Schaden hosted an every Saturday radio program called “Those Were The Days” which ran until 2009. Great programs – although most of them pre-dated “You Bet Your Life”. I’m going to see if I can find some episodes. That’s when comedy was comedy – and most of it was child appropriate.

  4. I don’t know what Groucho would have said, but it would have been funny. Nor was he shy of the ‘blue’ line even in those days; he just kept it off the air until, I guess, the time he couldn’t resist. But he had been a fixture for a long time, the culture was already shifting and maybe they just needed an excuse to kill something that had really, outlived its time.

    That culture is laughed at these days…but kids walked and bicycled to schools and families left back doors unlocked while away from the house in case somebody broke down in the neighborhood and needed access to a phone… and the living standard provided a decent family life with only one wage earner.

    But we can’t go home again, right?

    • Thomas Wolfe was probably correct.

      Your comment reminded me of an episode on “The Twilight Zone”.

      A hen-pecked husband – no, let me be more PC – (a submissive male in a legal arrangement with an Alpha type oppressed female) has a terrible day at the office which ends with his boss yelling at him. (An oppressed worker is demeaned by his capitalist pig boss – but there are not nearly enough regulations yet on the books for him to file a law suit).

      Frustrated both in his marriage and his job he dozes off on the commuter train ride home. (As he returns to his exclusive white’s only neighborhood wherein the residents have never seen a watermelon and ribs are eaten with a fork and knife – he finally gets some respite from the tyranny of the one percent).

      In his dream he returns to an earlier time of courtesy and ice cream socials. (He is obviously mentally unstable in believing that there was ever a time on earth before the “Great Enlightment of the Unwashed” when things could be better than they are today).

      After having this recurring dream over several nights on the train, he gets off the train in order to partake of those simpler times and falls to his death. (Since he was obviously a reactionary, society is better off without him and his allocation of food, shelter and whatever else the state can scrounge up from the now failed and non-productive economy will be better redistributed to those who are in line with the party. Komrade – a bit more Beluga if you don’t mind).

      Now if we could only invent a time machine we could start a company called “Nostalgia Tours”.

      I don’t know about you, but I would sign up for an extended vacation.

  5. Superb!
    Keep that up; I’ll have to keep you as well as Rod Serling…
    Didn’t know anyone read Wolfe anymore…
    Maybe there’s hope…no bets, though!

  6. To be honest, it’s probably thirty years since I last read, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

  7. […] What Would Groucho Say? ( […]

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