Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Harpo Profile


I was excited when I came across an extensive profile of Harpo Marx in the December 1, 1928 issue of The New Yorker. I couldn't wait to read a contemporary account of his life -- written during the run of the stage version of "Animal Crackers" -- and I'd actually be able to contribute something to this blog OTHER than Frigidaire advertisements!

But then I realized it was written by Alexander Wollcott. Oh hell.

Only Wollcott -- and his flippant associates of the Algonquin Round Table -- could turn Harpo Marx's life and behaviour into a boring (and largely incomprehensible) profile. The Wollcott technique? Using sly, dry, ironic language to twist little-known personal anecdotes into descriptions of how gosh-darn unusual Harpo was and -- by extension and association -- how clever Mr. Wollcott was.

This was the entire problem with early New Yorker issues, this reliance on witty bon mots and self-aggrandizing style that managed to make even the most interesting subject sound like...well, a bunch of rich and cynical critics sitting around in a restaurant, trying to top each other's stories with a combination of embellishment, dry humour, and wordplay.

Is it any wonder that I reprint the newspaper advertisements more often than anything else?

6 comments:

The Vicar of VHS said...

"Excuse me, sir--while you were out, Harpo Marx called.

"Really? What did he want?"

(beat)

"He didn't say."

Muffy St. Bernard said...

You just made my day. :)

jj said...

But what I really want to know is (no, not are you experienced :) ) why are you wasting your time reading pseudo-intellects of the 20s? THEY never did anything in their life. THEY had no fun. And yet you have all this repressed anger against beer, rednecks and sport lovers. At least rednecks know how to have fun. :-)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Hope springs eternal! I'm looking forward to the time when The New Yorker finally "got serious."

But I can't just jump ahead to that time...I might miss something important. :)

Keep in mind that there's a difference between my cheap shots about "boors" and my feelings about people who just really like sports. People who simply "like sports" have all the good and bad qualities of everybody else...but "boors" add the qualities of being thick-headed and obnoxious.

bashford said...

Hmmm... what is this OpenID feature... ah, it links to Wordpress, cool!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

That feature actually WORKS?

Now maybe LiveJournal will stop treating me like a second-class citizen.