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June 22, 2009


Groucho Marx tells a funny story about Boasberg, who worked at such a slow pace that it drove the frenetic Brothers crazy. While filming "A Night at the Opera," Boasberg wasn't moving fast enough for the Brothers, and they kept bugging him and bugging him for the scene he'd promised. Finally, after they'd nagged him for a few days, Boasberg called Groucho and said, "I've finished the scene. But you'll have to come over to my office and pick it up, because I'm going home." So the Brothers headed over to Boasberg's office. The scene was nowhere to be found. They emptied his desk, looked under the cushions on the chairs, nothing. Finally, one of the Brothers looked up. There was the promised scene - cut into one-line segments and nailed to the ceiling. They pulled the pieces down and started reassembling, a mammoth job of incredible tediousness, but, as Groucho pointed out, it was worth it - it was the first draft of the famous stateroom scene.

Here's a link to the stateroom scene:

This is interesting. I never heard of Boasberg so thanks for introducing him to me here. At some point I was told that Gracie wrote many of the Burns and Allen routines. Is that not true?

Thanks, Stacey. Gracie didn't do any of the writing. For many years, she desperately wanted to leave the act, but its success and her husband's pleading made her stay. I think she felt trapped by the character.

Great column! One candidate for a future piece might be Jim Moran. He was both a TV/radio publicist and wacko practical joker in his own right whose halcyon days were the late '40s and '50s. I remember him doing some crazy bits on a TV show broadcast New Year's Eve in the early '60s. He's the writer of the George Washington Bridge song, and once sat on an ostrich egg for 19 days to promote the movie "The Egg and I."

Thanks, Lee. I appreciate the kind words. I think Jim Moran is an excellent suggestion, especially because of his inventive publicity stunts.


Thanks for mentioning Boasy in your column. Recently, the Buffalo International Film Festival named its comedy award after Boasberg, too. Maybe there'll be a groundswell of Boasberg awareness in 2009. Who knows? If you're on Facebook, you can see the page up for it. The award will be designed by cartoonist/illustrator Drew Friedman, author of "Old Jewish Comedians."

As for Boasberg and Benny, Boasberg sold Benny the first joke he ever bought, true, but Benny was already telling jokes on-stage before he met Boasberg - just not great ones. Benny paid for individual lines, and when he could afford a full act from Boasberg, the Benny we know was born.

Ben Schwartz is the author of an extraordinary article on Al Boasberg, the best work on the man. "The Gag Man" is available in The Film Comedy Reader edited by Gregg Rickman. I therefore thank him very much for his contribution.

Regarding Gracie "Desperately" wanting to leave the act is inaccurate. Although a normal Burns and Allen TV script averaged 40 pages and 30 of those were Gracie's, she still enjoyed the work. George and the crew did everything they could to make filming as easy for Gracie as possible.

Perhaps "desperately" is too strong a word, but surely however much she enjoyed her work, she felt it was getting to be a strain. As you point out, she had a lot of lines and those lines would have been difficult for anyone to memorize. In many places, Burns is on record as saying that Gracie did want to leave years before she finally did.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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