Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who Says A Movie Can't Change Your Life, Or Why I Wrote 12,000 Words About The Marx Brothers

Now that you've slogged through all 12,000 words I wrote about the Marx Brothers, I'm sure the first question that leaps to your mind is "Why, Mr. Monkey, why? Why would you write a novella about the Marx Brothers and not about, say, Charlie Chaplin or Jean Harlow?"

To which I would reply, "I did write a novella about Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow. See? Look here and here." But I wrote even more about the Marx Brothers—more about them than about anybody else so far—so it's a fair question.

To give you a fair answer, we have to go back a ways, back to my salad days when I was a young lawyer looking for a job and not finding one. I was a good lawyer, or had the potential to be—top quarter of my class, an editor on the law review, a clerkship for the chief justice of a state supreme court. But in the law, it's not what you know, or even who you know, but how much business you can bring into the firm—they're not subtle about asking the question—and the answer in my case, a poor boy who put himself through law school, was "none at all."

While I was clerking for the judge, I spent months looking for a permanent job in my hometown to no avail and then decided to aim higher—Washington, D.C. I sent out 204 (!) resumes, worked the phones, set up a sackful of interviews and flew to the nation's capital to pound the pavement for ten days, determined to come back with a job or else. It was all very old school, Horatio Alger stuff and you couldn't do it now, I don't think, with all the automated internet-driven application processes everybody seems to use these days.

And I interviewed, lots of interviews, but the one I remember is the last one on the afternoon before I flew home, an interview with a guy we here at the Monkey refer to as "Bellotoot." It was so last minute, with him tracking me down through the judge's secretary back home, that when I stepped into his office, I literally had no idea who he was or what he did—by such aimless applications of the Puritan work ethic are law offices and totalitarian regimes staffed—but you know, I needed a job and what the hell.

If you've ever been lucky enough to meet him, you know Bellotoot is a wonderful guy, with one of those rare grins that makes you happy just being in the same room with it. More to the point, he's also a movie fanatic who knows more about them than I ever will, and while he's talking about them, he does marvelous imitations, among them Don Rickles, Jimmy Stewart, Groucho and Chico Marx, and on and on. His "Curly Howard reads the works of Henry Miller" will put you in the floor.

None of which I knew when I sat down to talk to him, and he didn't know me, and for the first five minutes we talked about the sort of things you talk about in an interview. But as I was talking to him, I couldn't take my eyes off a makeshift nameplate sitting on the corner of his desk. "Rufus T. Firefly," it read, and even though I was desperate for a job, I couldn't think about anything else and finally I had to interrupt:

"I can't help but notice—Rufus T. Firefly. That's Groucho Marx in Duck Soup."

Bellotoot's eyebrows went up and that grin split his face. "You know, you're the first person ever to walk in here and know who Rufus T. Firefly is." And for the next forty minutes we talked about nothing but the Marx Brothers. We never did get back to talking about the job. And on the following Monday, he called me and made me an offer.

The rest is history. I moved to Washington, looked up a woman I knew from college—you know her as Katie-Bar-The-Door—we started dating and got married two years later. Bellotoot and I, of course, are still great friends, and he introduced me to the guy who actually made the Rufus T. Firefly nameplate for him, Mister Muleboy of The Mouth O' The Mule, the guy who a year ago buffaloed me into starting this blog. I wrote a couple of novels (unpublished, so don't ask), lived overseas, litigated million dollar cases in federal court, met or renewed friendships with all the other people I hang out with.

Et cetera et cetera et cetera. None of which would have happened without my obsession with Duck Soup and the Marx Brothers. And that's why I wrote 12,000 words about them.

Who says a movie can't change your life?

6 comments:

thingy said...

I love that, MM. : )

Now, I know who the mysterious Bellatoot is.

thingy said...

'Bellotoot.' Sorry, Mr. Toot.

Mythical Monkey said...

The Mysterious Bellotoot -- that was one of those Peter Lorre/Sydney Greenstreet movies, wasn't it?

VP81955 said...

Who said Marxism will get you nowhere?

Bellotoot said...

Wait a minute, Mr. Monkey! Was that you?

Mythical Monkey said...

Oops, now the cat's out of the bag ...