From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
IN WHICH MOB KILLER JACKIE GLEASON TAKES ACID
Jackie Gleason …. Tony Banks
Carol Channing …. Flo Banks
Frankie Avalon …. Angie
Mickey Rooney …. Blue Chips Packard
Groucho Marx …. God
Frank Gorshin …. The Man
Peter Lawford …. The Senator
Burgess Meredith …. The Warden
George Raft …. Captain Garbaldo
Cesar Romero …. Hechy
and many more
“ANYBODY DON’T LIKE THAT DON’T LIKE CHICKEN on SUNDAY” – SAMMY DAVIS Jr
Back in the mid-1970s, my mother ran into Otto Preminger on a street in
New York’s Upper East Side. When I say that she ran into Preminger, I
don’t mean that she encountered him in a leisurely, social
environment. Instead, she literally collided with the legendary
filmmaker: she was rushing to catch her bus home and in rounding a
corner she slammed straight into Preminger as he strolled down the
street. As any student of old time Hollywood knows, Preminger was one
of the most autocratic and intimidating men in Hollywood history – he
was not exactly the kind of man you ran into at full speed. However,
Preminger accepted my mother’s profuse apologies with very good humor
and charm – he may have tyrannized the likes of Dorothy Dandridge and
Jean Seberg on the soundstages, but on the rush hour New York street he
was the perfect gentleman who kindly and happily suggested that my
mother slow down and take it easy.
I bring this anecdote up as evidence that Preminger did possess a sense
of humor. Many of his critics have suggested otherwise, and they hold
up his 1968 comedy “Skidoo” as proof. But in my view, “Skidoo”
offers irrefutable proof that not only was Preminger capable of making
a comedy, but that he was years ahead of his time with that wonderfully
loopy and much-maligned creation.
“Skidoo” came at a weird time in the course of popular culture. The
burgeoning youth market and the increasingly visible drug culture
baffled the old Hollywood guard. Creating films that spoke to this
hitherto untapped audience was a challenge, and there were relatively
few younger hip filmmakers who knew how to approach this changing
Preminger, who was never the most comfortable director of comedy films,
nonetheless dared to create a cutting-edge movie that unapologetically
embraced the narcotized elements of society. Whereas previous movies
looked upon drugs as an evil (most memorably Preminger’s own “The
Man with the Golden Arm”), “Skidoo” happily ingested the
once-taboo substances. Furthermore, Preminger made rather strange
decisions in casting the leading roles – and the presence of the
unlikely stars only added to the craziness.
“Skidoo” presents an unlikely domestic situation in which Jackie
Gleason plays a retired San Francisco hit man-turned-car wash owner and
Carol Channing plays his daffy wife. Yes, Gleason and Channing as man
and wife – can you imagine them making love? Gleason soon finds
himself on a mission from God. Not the God of the Father-Son-and-Holy
Spirit fame, but the head of the local mob who is known as God. God is
played by Groucho Marx, and if you can believe Groucho as a mafia
Any way, Gleason is ordered by God to get himself arrested and sent to
Alcatraz, where he is to do a hit on a former gangster who turned
informer. Unfortunately for Gleason, this target (played by Mickey
Rooney, who seems to be reading his lines from cue cards) is in
ultra-tight protective custody and is thus immune from unpleasant
visitors carrying shanks. Unable to fulfill his assignment and stuck in
Alcatraz on a bogus rap, Gleason finds an escape by accident: he shares
a cell with a draft-dodging writer (Austin Pendleton, in his film
debut) who laced the glue of his stationery envelopes with LSD. And
you’ve not lived until you’ve seen Jackie Gleason on LSD – talk
about “and away we go!”
Meanwhile, Channing is coping with the news their teenage daughter has
fallen in with a group of hippies. The mod mom happily embraces the
hippies and brings them into her home. She tries to get to God by
seducing a young mobster (Frankie Avalon – yes, that Frankie Avalon).
When that fails, she and the hippies commandeer a small armada and sail
off to God’s yacht off the San Francisco coast. Meanwhile, Gleason
spikes the soup in the Alcatraz commissary with the LSD-laced envelopes
and creates a makeshift balloon out of garbage bags and a garbage can.
He and his druggie cellmate fly off to God’s yacht just as the hippie
fleet arrive. After much to-do, God and the acid-tripping writer
abandon ship together and sail off into the sunset with a bountiful
supply of acid.
“Skidoo” is such a wild assault on the sense that it’s hard to
imagine the film was ever made. Under Preminger’s direction, LSD is a
liberating and empowering tool – it makes Gleason and Marx’s
characters end their criminal ways in pursuit of a greater truth. It
also allows an astonishing number of guest stars in the Alcatraz
sequences (including Rooney, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel, Burgess
Meredith and Frank Gorshin) pretend they are tripping on acid. The last
two actors are especially fun – imagine the Penguin and Riddler on
Imagine Ralph Kramden on acid! Gleason takes his trip by popping his
eyes, dropping his chins, and laughing like a lunatic. As he rolls into
his mind-fraying trip, numbers fill the screen and begin to multiply
before his eyes. He looks up at this numeral progression and proclaims
what must be the weirdest observation related to cinematic drug usage:
“I see mathematics!”
Fortunately, he doesn’t see Carol Channing turning on her erotic
charms to Frankie Avalon. Despite a pencil mustache and a bad James
Cagney imitation, Avalon looks like he is 12 years old. Channing is
perfectly ghastly in her mini-skirt and her full-throttle carnal
enthusiasm. When she reclines on a bed and purrs sexually, every man
watching will instinctively cross his legs and cover his groin.
If that’s not enough, the film is packed with other unlikely star
turns including Cesar Romero as Avalon’s dad, George Raft as the
skipper of God’s yacht, Arnold Stang as Gleason’s stooge (he gets
whacked in the car wash), and the great character actor Fred Clark and
singer Harry Nilsson as prison guards. Clark and Nilsson are among
those who drink the spiked soup, but neither man knew how to act stoned
so they went through their scene pretending to be drunk.
As for the acid trips, Preminger fills the screen with such imagery as
the Green Bay Packers mooning the camera (it’s really just a college
team in Green Bay uniforms) and an elaborate dance sequence with
women dressed in garbage cans doing a mock ballet under a red light.
Preminger reportedly experimented with Timothy Leary to get a feel for
what one experiences on LSD. Obviously, viewing football players’
backsides and women dressed like garbage cans filled Preminger’s
acid-tinged imagination. (Groucho Marx supposedly tried LSD as well
before making the film, but that story has never been confirmed.)
Few films opened to such critical savaging as “Skidoo.” The critics
of 1968, who were mostly middle-aged and older, were clearly offended
by Preminger’s playful drug comedy and its lapses away from refined
behavior; even J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was offended and investigated
the film’s production, fearing (wrongly) it would reflect poorly on
law enforcement! Older audiences, who could not relate to the drug
culture, avoided the film while the kids stayed away as well – they
didn’t want to see Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx tripping the acid
fantastic. In many theaters, “Skidoo” was pulled from screens after
less than a week.
But viewed anew, “Skidoo” is one of the most wonderfully rude
movies ever made. It is so blatantly weird and in such marvelously bad
taste that it feels as if Preminger was prescient on the pending rise
of underground counterculture comedy such as John Waters and Cheech
and Chong. It is a film where the druggies are the heroes and even
criminals can become angels if they just learn to chill with LSD. It is
a movie where Hollywood’s icons happily ham it up while being under
the narcotic influence – the closing shot, with Groucho Marx and
Austin Pendleton dressed as Hare Krishnas in a boat full of drugs is
too funny to endure. There is also a very cute closing credits joke –
the entire closing credits were sung by Harry Nilsson!
I hosted a screening of “Skidoo” in 2001 in New York and I honestly
did not know what to expect. I never saw the film prior to the
screening and I only knew that it had a wobbly reputation. But to my
surprise, the screening sold out with people who laughed with the film
(not at it), who applauded the conclusion, and who actually left the
venue singing the title song! That’s not my idea of a turkey.
“Skidoo” was never released on American home video. Paramount
Pictures and the Preminger estate have kept it out of commercial
circulation for many years, due to the very poor reception it received
in 1968, although it has played on TV in other countries. But over the
past few years, “Skidoo” has occasionally surfaced for special
retro screenings. It is presented in these screenings as a campy
curiosity, but it is really much more than that – it is a richly
funny flip of the middle finger at the niceties of proper society, made
by a truly unlikely proponent of counterculture values.”
Review Via Film Threat
GROUCHO TAKES ACID
See the Sacred Word and Win $100
My Acid Trip with Groucho
by Paul Krassner
(article originally appeared in High Times Magazine, Feb 1981
reprinted here with kind permission from Paul Krassner)
” Always stay in your own movie.”-Ken Kesey
“If you take the name of a certain former vice president, Spiro Agnew,
and scramble the letters around, you can rearrange it to spell out Grow
A Penis. Such appropriateness can give your boundaries of coincidence
permanent stretch marks. After all, when Sen. Charles Goodell came out
against the war in Vietnam, it was Agnew who called him “the Christine
Jorgensen (the first famous transsexual) of the Republican Party “-
thus equating military might with the mere presence of a cock.
Years ago, when Mike Wallace interviewed me for “60 Minutes” and asked
about the difference between the underground press and the mainstream
media, I told him about the above anagram and said, “The difference is
that I could print that in The Realist, but it’ll be edited out of this
My prediction was accurate, so naturally I took an immediate vow never
to appear on any TV show again unstoned. Which in turn explains why
eating magic mushrooms was practically a prerequisite for my being
interviewed by Tom Snyder.
Now, Andy Friendly had only been doing his job when he was reading the
Sex and Dope issue of HIGH TIMES in September 1978. As a producer for
the “Tomorrow” show, he was always on the lookout for potential guests,
and there was a particularly bizarre interview with me in that issue,
so he called up to invite me on the show.
There were a few follow-up phone conversations to explore areas that
the televised interview might cover. The subject of drug use came up,
and I said, “Well, maybe we could talk about my old psychedelic macho.
I’ve taken LSD in all kinds of unusual situations: when I testified at
the Chicago Conspiracy Trial; on the Johnny Carson show -Orson Bean
was guest host-I was sort of a guide for Groucho Marx once; while I was
researching the Manson case I took acid with a few women in the family
including Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good. It was a kind of
The interview was scheduled for November 30.
“That’s my birthday, said Abbie Hoffman, still on the lam at the time.
“Would you wish me a happy birthday on the show?.
The “Tomorrow” show flew me from San Francisco to Los Angeles and a
chauffeured limousine delivered me to a fancy hotel, where I proceeded
to partake of those magic mushrooms. My mood was intensely sensual.
What I really wanted was an exquisite massage. I called an old friend
who is a professional masseuse.
Since she was also an old lover, it was not totally suprising that we
began fucking on the bed before she even set up her table. She finally
broke the sweet silence of our post coital afterglow with this whisper:
“But I’ll have to charge you for the massage.”
November 1978 was the month of that unspeakable Jonestown massacre
and, a week later, the political assassination of San Francisco mayor George
Moscone and gay supervisor Harvey Milk by ex-cop Dan White. The
mushrooms were really coming on strong when Tom Snyder who has an FM
mind in an AM body and was apparently doing his impression of “Saturday
Night Live’s” Dan Aykroyd doing him-asked me, in effect, to justify San
Francisco as the locale of such sequential horror.
“Nyah, nyah ‘ I began, “my city’s more violent than yours….”
When he asked me about the trip with Groucho, I replied, “Well, there’s
a whole context” but due to the demands of televised pacing, we barely
got into it before Snyder wanted to know about my six months as
publisher of Hustler and what it was I said to the Hare Krishna pushers
at the airport. Just before the show ended, though, I managed to
remember to wish Abbie Hoffman a happy birthday.
Recently a HIGH TIMES editor recalled seeing that interview on TV and
invited me to write the story, which finally completes this media
The Timothy Leary Connection
Think of this as a piece of combat history. To fully understand the
context in which this battle for the will has been taking place, you
need only retrace the chronological profile of G. Gordon Liddy from his
role as a Poughkeepsie district attorney who raided the Millbrook
mansion where LSD was an experimental sacrament to his function as a
CIA operative who offered to assassinate Jack Anderson on behalf of the
Had Liddy been given the go ahead, columnist Anderson wouldn’t have
been around to embarrass the Carter administration into not invading
Iran, and we might be in the middle of World War III at this very
In 1963 in my capacity as editor and Zen bastard of the Realist, I had
assigned Robert Anton Wilson to investigate the game being played at
Millbrook. In my capacity as standup comic and drug virgin, I had been
poking fun at all the highs I’d never tried.
Wilson came back and presented me with our cover story, “Timothy Leary
and His Psychological H-Bomb.” After it was published Leary called to
invite me for a weekend at Millbrook. Working with him were Ralph
Metzner and Richard Alpert. Somehow, despite all the accoutrements of
Eastern religion, the scene was quite American. Even this top level of
the psychedelic hierarchy consisted of a Catholic, a Protestant and a
Yet they were performing a cosmic task, this trio of Ph.D. dropouts,
helping to spread the expansion of consciousness in the middle of a
sadomasochistic empire whose perpetuation depended upon the mass
contraction of consciousness.
Originally, the CIA had intended to use LSD as one more means of
manipulating the population. That scenario backfired. A generation who
trusted their friends more than their government deprogrammed
themselves from the society that had shaped them, and then
reprogrammed themselves , into an infinite variety of incarnations.
The think tanks had not formulated a contingency plan for this
counterculture that was refusing to be brainwashed into becoming
consumer and military zombies. This -mutation!-would certainly have
to be discredited.
LSD influenced music, painting, spirituality and the stock market. Tim
Leary let me listen in on a call from a Wall Street broker thanking him
for turning him onto acid because it had given him the courage to sell
Leary had a certain sense of pride about famous folks he and his
associates had introduced to the magic potion. Cary Grant had become a
father at age 74, thanks to LSD, and likewise, Herman Kahn of the
Hudson Institute now talked about “spasms” of information.
Years later, I gave Kahn a superficial tour of the Lower East Side. We
stopped in a bookstore. Among this thinker of the unthinkable purchases
was LSD and Problem Solving by Peter Stafford.
Meanwhile, I had become a gung-ho acidhead, a public propagandist. I
wrote a lot about LSD. Sometimes I would take a tab right onstage at
the beginning of a performance, verbally sharing my journey with the
audience, hoping I could get a few laughs while simultaneously
maintaining my juggling act without dropping any chromosomes and
The Charles Manson Connection
There’s a new-wave band whose name itself-Sharon Tate’s Baby-is a
tribute to time warps everywhere. For it is now nearly a dozen years
since Charles Manson, a victim-executioner sired by the prison system,
dispatched his perverted commune to mutilate and kill a group of people
in the privacy of their home. Among the slain was Sharon Tate, a
Her husband, Roman Polanski, director of Rosemary’s Baby was out of the
country at the time. Now he is out of the country again, this time to
avoid prosecution for consorting with a voluptuous 13-year old.
Young idealists on their way to the Woodstock Festival that weekend in
the summer of ’69 kept passing newsstands with headlines of the gory
multiple murder. Not all the details emerged. Others dead:
* Jay Sebring, hairdresser, dealer of marijuana and cocaine earlier
that evening, a member of a coke ring had appeared at the house-his
body would later be found stuffed in a car trunk in New York;
* Voytelc Frokowski, who with Sebring was preparing to become U.S.
distributors of MDA;
* Abigail Forger, coffee heiress, girl friend of Frokowski and
campaigner for Tom Bradley L.A’s first black mayor -she was a far cry
from the conservative image of Mrs. Olson in her father’s TV
Manson was an eclectic. He borrowed techniques from Transactional
Analysis and Scientology alike. There was even a Scientology E-Meter
(lie detector) on the blind man’s ranch where Charlie kept his harem.
He used sex and music and isolation and ritual and fakery- whatever
worked. He was a pimp and a hypnotist. He dispensed LSD tablets as
though they were time-release Dog Yummies.
I interviewed Preston Guillory, who had been a deputy with the Los
Angeles Sheriff’s Department when they eventually busted the Manson
ranch. He stated that before the murders, they had been told to leave
Charlie alone-despite complaints about his violations of parole
(including, ironically, statutory rape) -because “something big was
“Why were you given such an order?”
“I don’t know,” Guillory replied We didn’t question our superiors.”
“Did you at least speculate as to the reason?”
“Oh, we just figured they were gonna kill Black Panthers.”
Thus did the racism of the sheriffs render them collaborators of
Charles Manson, who had wanted to start a race war. He instructed his
followers to leave clues making it appear that black militants were
responsible for the killing. When the family was arrested, however, it
merely served to give hippies a bad name.
Before Willie Nelson made the look respectable again, there was John
Linley Frasier, a long-haired, head banded freak in the Santa Cruz
mountains who was involved in an awesome mass murder a year after
Charles Manson. He later became a prison mate of Manson, mentioning
in a letter that “me and Charlie are still trying to figure out how long
our leashes were and who’s been pissin’ on them….”
And so it came to pass that Charles Manson was stuck in solitary
confinement at Folsom Prison when a new inmate was placed in the
adjoining cell. It was Tim Leary, fresh from being hounded around the
world. He was eventually captured with Joanna Harcourt Smith, who
later admitted working for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“They took you off the streets,” Manson informed Leary, “so that I
could continue with your work.”
Charlie couldn’t understand how Leary had given so many people acid
without trying to “control” them. Still, I remember a certain vested
interest Leary had in having been a catalyst for their transformation.
He enjoyed whatever influence he had wielded in the change of
attitude toward LSD that Henry Luce had brought to Time and Life.
But, Leary once remarked, ” I consider Otto Preminger one of our
The Otto Preminger Connection
The FBI has been getting a bad press lately. They were being accused
of hounding Jean Seberg to suicide. Documents proved they had spread
a story that she was pregnant by a leader of the Black Panther Party.
Then, in order to defend itself, the FBI released their tape of a
tapped phone conversation wherein Jean Seberg tells a surprised
Panther how pleased he should be that she’s carrying his baby.
It is enough to male the left and right lobes of your brain start
humping each other. What will the next layer of reality be? Will yet
another document reveal that the Black Panther was actually an
But the FBI was not the first to toy with Jean Seberg’s destiny. She
was originally chosen from among thousands of contestants by Otto
Preminger for the starring role in his film,
Joan of Arc. While she was being burned at the stake her garments
actually did catch on fire. Jean Seberg screamed with such a passion
for survival at that moment, it seemed to preclude the possibility of
ever taking her own life.
And Otto Preminger, bless his professional heart, knew that this was
one scene he had on the first take.
I’ve met Preminger on two occasions. The first was in 1960. I was
conducting a panel on censorship for Playboy . Preminger had defied
Hollywood’s official seal of approval by not censoring The Moon Is
Blue. In retrospect it hardly looks courageous but Preminger refused to
take out the word “virgin.”
Anyway, at the end of our interview, he asked, “ven you tronscripe dis
vill you fix op my Henglish? ”
“Oh sure, I replied quickly. “Of course.”
He glared at me and shouted, “Vy? Vot’s drong viz my Henglish?
The second time I saw Preminger was a decade later. We were both
guests on the Merv Griffin show (Orson Bean was guest host again). I
had taken mescaline for the occasion. Another guest was comedian
Jackie Vernon. Responding to the length of my hair, he said “Why
don’t you take a nice bath?”
Nobody had ever asked me that on network television before. Later,
Monday morning quarterbacking, George Carlin would have an
Aikido-like suggestion “You should’ve said, ‘Why, thank you, Jackie,
I hadn’t considered that”- but at that instant I was caught off balance
and just kept silent. So did the audience. The tension was broken by
“Dot iss duh seekness ov our society, dis stereo-typical ottitood.”
Now the audience applauded. And then we went to a commercial. There
is a definite rhythm a director brings to a TV talk show….
Between those two occasions, Otto Preminger made a movie called
Skidoo. It was pro-acid propaganda thinly disguised as a comedy
And the part of God was played by Groucho Marx. Recently Tim Leary
cheerfully admitted to me: “I was fooled by Otto Preminger. He was
much hipper than I was.”
The Lenny Bruce Connection
Steve Allen became the first subscriber to the Realist in l958. He sent
in several gift subscriptions, including one for Lenny Bruce, who was
busy fighting the press label “sick comic.” Lenny and I developed a
close friendship. In 1962, Playboy assigned me as editor of his
autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, which they
Traveling around with Lenny Bruce wee an incredible delight. It was a
theatrical education to watch him sculpt his offstage perceptions into
onstage routines. But, as his environment became more and more the
courtroom, so did the contradictions of the law become more and
more the canvas for his craft.
Although Lenny was a tremendous influence on me as a performer, I
was not at all into drugs at the time. Once I asked him about the
apparent inconsistency between his free-form lifestyle and his having
to stop everything in order to shoot up. He replied, “Well, you stop to
eat, don’t you?”
He described heroin-“It’s like kissing God.” And who could fault him
In the winter of 1964, stoned on a combination of DMT and LSD, Lenny
fell backward through the window of his San Francisco hotel room. At
the precise moment that he was suspended in midair, he uttered: “Man
shall rise above the rule!” Then he surrendered to the law of gravity
and plummeted to the sidewalk below. Both legs had to be put in casts
and for a while he became the Hermit of Hollywood Hills.
Around that time, Jerry Hopkins- who had opened the first head shop in
L.A., and later became the biographer of Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison
was producing the Steve Allen show. He arranged for me to do a
one-night stand at the Steve Allen Theater. Lenny Bruce was in the
audience, and so was Groucho Marx.
At one point in the show, I was talking about the importance of having
empathy for other people’s perversions.. During a question-and answer
session that followed, Lenny stood up on his crutches and asked what I
had meant by that.
“Well, once I was sitting in the subway-it was rush hour and really
crowded-and an elderly lady’s buttocks kept rubbing against my
shoulder, and I began to get aroused. . .”
“You’re sick! Lenny yelled.
“Thank you, Mr. President, “I responded, ending the show right there.
Later, I met Groucho Marx for the first time.
“That was very smart, the way you finished,’ he said. “Besides, I was
getting fidgety in my seat.”
The Ram Dass Connection
By the mid ’60s I had become such a dope fiend that I kept my entire
stash in a bank-vault deposit box. Once a week I would don my Cosa
Nostra sweatshirt (We aim to please!”) and get my supply of LSD-to give
away sell, swallow, whatever.
It was, for you brand-name fans Owsley White Lightning-300
micrograms of separate reality. I bought my acid from Dick Alpert to
finance his trip to India where his guru renamed him Baba Ram Dass.
“Come fuck the universe with me,” his postcard beckoned, but I already
had an American guru-Mortimer Snerd, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s
dummy. One time Bergen asked his main dummy, Charlie McCarthy
“What are you doing? Charlie answered, “Nothing.” And then Mortimer
Snerd said in his goofy bucktooth country bumpkin style, “Well, how
d’ya know when yer finished?”
Anyway Ram Dass kept seeking illumination and having his feet kissed
by strangers, while I stayed at home and got a call from Groucho Marx.
He was going to be in an Otto Preminger film called Skidoo, and it was
pretty much advocating LSD, and he had never tried it but was not only
curious but also felt a responsibility to his audience not to steer
them wrong so could I get him some pure stuff and would I care to
accompany him on the trip?
I did not play hard to get.
The acid with which Ram Dass- in his final moments as Dick Alpert
failed to get his guru higher was the same acid that I had the honor of
taking with Groucho Marx. As I left the bank vault that week, I was
breathing slowly and deeply so that I would not laugh my ass off in the
The Groucho Marx Connection
We ingested those little white tabs one afternoon at the home of an
actress in Beverly Hills.
Groucho was interested in the social background of the drug. There were
two items that particularly tickled his fancy.
One was about the day acid was outlawed. Hippies were standing
around the streets waiting for the exact appointed minute to strike so
they could all publicly swallow their LSD the exact second it became
The other was how the tour bus would pass through Haight-Ashbury
and passengers would try to take snapshots of the local alien creatures,
who in turn would hold mirrors up to the bus windows so that the
tourists would see themselves focusing their cameras.
I told Groucho about the first thing I ever sold to the old Steve Allen
show. It was a sketch called “Unsung Heroes of Television. ” Among the
heroes was the individual whose sole job it was to listen intently the
whole half hour for somebody to say the secret word on “You Bet your
Life and then to drop that decoy duck when the word was said.
He told me about one of his favorite contestants “a gentleman with
white hair, on in years but a chipper fellow. I inquired as to what he
did to retain his sunny disposition. “Well, I’ll tell you, Groucho,” he
says “every morning I get up and I make a choice to be happy that day.”
We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was
accustomed to playing rock ‘n’ roll while tripping, but the record
collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we
heard the Bach “Cantata No. 7 Groucho said, “I may be Jewish, but I was
seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think
Bach knew he was doing that?
Later, we were listening to the score of a musical comedy Fanny There
was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something
like, “Welcome home, says the clock”, and the chair says, “Welcome
home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started
acting out each line; as if he were actually being greeted by the duck,
the chair and so forth. He was like a child, charmed by his own ability
to respond to the music that way.
There was a point when our conversation somehow got into a negative
space. Groucho was equally bitter about institutions such as marriage
(“like quicksand”) and individuals such as Lyndon Johnson (“that
potato-head”). Eventually, I asked, “What gives you hope?
Groucho thought for a moment. Then he said just one word out loud:
After a while, he started chuckling to himself. I hesitated to
interrupt his revelry. Finally he spoke: “I’m really getting quite a
kick out of this notion of playing God like a dirty old man in Skidoo.
You wanna know why? Do you realize that irreverence and reverence
are the same thing?”
“If they’re not, then it’s a misuse of your power to make people laugh”
And right after he said that, his eyes began to tear.
When he came back from peeing, he said, “Everybody is waiting for
miracles to happen. The human body is a goddam miracle.”
He mentioned, “I had a little crush on Marilyn Monroe when we were
making Love Happy . I remember I got a hard-on just talking to her
on the set.
During a little snack: “I never thought eating a fig would be the
biggest thrill of my life.”
He held and smelled a cigar for a long time but never smoked it.
“Everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy,” he mused. “A miniature
Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls
you out-he says, ‘Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.’ And
your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy -“Oh, Ollie, I couldn’t help it,
I’m sorry, I did the best I could. . . ‘”
Five years later, my book, How a Satirical Editor Became a Yippie
Conspirator in Ten Easy Years, was published by Putnam. Editor William
Targ sent an advance copy to Groucho, and he sent back a postcard that
was as eerie as it was complimentary: “Thanks for the book. I am
sending this card to you, because I don’t know where Mr. Krassner
lives. Or even if he is alive. At any rate, it’s a hilarious book and I
predict in time he will wind up as the only live Lenny Bruce. ”
The year after that, I was heavy into my Manson investigation. During
the acid trip with three of his family members Squeaky Fromme, Sandra
Good and Brenda McCann I got an even more awesome compliment.
Sandy Good had once seen me perform at The Committee in San Francisco.
Now she was saying to me, “When people used to ask me what Charlie was
like, I would compare him to Lenny Bruce and Paul Krassner.”
My heart thumped rather strangely.
Sandy had been a civil-rights activist. But Charlie Manson stepped on
her eyeglasses, threw away her birth control pills, remolded her
personality and transformed her value system. So now she was parroting
Charlie’s racism and asking me to tell John Lennon that he should get
rid of Yoko Ono and “marry his own kind.”
I’ve never met Charlie Manson, although I’ve corresponded with him. But
I have heard a tape of his rap, and he definitely used humor as a tool
For the first time I understood in my guts what Groucho Marx had meant
about misusing the power to make people laugh.
The Jerry Rubin Connection
After our acid trip, I had only a couple of contacts with Groucho.
The first concerned a rumor that he had said “I think the only hope
this country has is Nixon’s assassination.. I wanted to verify whether
he had actually said that.
“I deny everything”, he joked, then admitting he had indeed said it
over a luncheon interview with a now defunct magazine, Flash.
“Uh, sorry, Mr. Marx, you’re under arrest for threatening the life of
the president. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed A Night at the
Opera. Here, now, if you’ll just slip into these plastic handcuffs….”
I wrote to the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Justice,
asking about the status of the case against Groucho, particularly in
view of the indictment of Black Panther David Hilliard for using
similar rhetoric. Here’s the reply I received:
Dear Mr. Krassner:
Responding to your inquiry, the United States Supreme Court has
held that Title 18 U.S.C., Section 87) prohibits only “true” threats.
It is one thing to say “I” (or we) will kill Richard Nixon when you are
the leader of an organization which advocates killing people and
overthrowing the government; it is quite another to utter the words
which are attributed to Mr. Marx, an alleged comedian. It was the
opinion of both myself and the United States Attorney in Los Angeles
(where Marx’s words were alleged to have been uttered) that the latter
utterance did not constitute a “true” threat.
Very truly yours,
/s/, /James L. Browning Jr. United States Attorney
The second occasion was at the Los Angeles Book Fair in 1976, where
Groucho was scheduled to speak, along with Tim Leary and Jerry Rubin.
Leary was dressed all in white except for a black string tie. He was
now advocating suburban space colonies.
“Migration,”. he proclaimed, “is the number one tool of the DNA code.”
There was speculation that this might really be a metaphor about the
way we ought to behave on earth. Utopian planning for life on a
celestial way station is bound to serve as a model for people changing
themselves their institutions and systems on our own planet, whether or
not we actually start sending out satellites covered with Astroturf.
Leary took a slight swipe at Rubin, mentioning an ex-radical who said
“Kill your parents” and had now written a book on how to contact your
deceased parents through astral travel. Rubin had issued a press
release requesting the media not to refer to him as a former Yippie
leader. Somewhere there must have been a headline: FORMER YIPPIE LEADER
ASKS NOT TO BE CALLED FORMER YIPPIE LEADER”
A few years previously, Jerry Rubin had helped organize a press
conference to denounce Tim Leary as a snitch, although Leary insisted
that he never got anybody in trouble. Now, Rubin was scheduled to
appear at the Book Fair on the same evening as Leary but he rearranged
it for the next evening in order to avoid a public confrontation-or,
worse yet, a public embrace-in front of all those eagerly popping
Nevertheless, Jerry Rubin served as a unifier at the Book Fair.
It had been announced that Groucho Marx would not speak from the stage
in the Ambassador Hotel ballroom, but rather on a one-to-one basis with
folks whose books he would be autographing. This turned into a mob
scene. So Jerry found Groucho’s companion, Erin Fleming, and suggested
that if they walked back around a certain way it would bring them
directly onto the stage. She followed his advice.
Groucho looked frail and unsmiling, but he was alert and irreverent as
the audience fired questions at him.
Was he working on a film now?
“No,” I’m answering silly questions
What was his favorite film?
“He should be in jail.”
Is humor an important issue in the presidential campaign?
“Get your finger out of your mouth.”
What does he dream about?
“Not about you.”
What inspired him to write?
“A fountain pen; a piece of paper.”
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I called out, “Groucho, what gives you
This time he said, “The world.”
There was hardly any standing room left in the auditorium, but one man
sat on the floor rather than take the seat occupied by a rubber Groucho
Paul Krassner author of The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race” by Seven
Stories Press, and is the editor of the legendary The Realist.
“Paul Krassner started the irreverent underground magazine, The
Realist, in 1958. He’s collaborated with Lenny Bruce, started the
Yippies with Abbie Hoffman, and took acid with the Manson girls
and Groucho Marx (although not at the same time).”