Cover image for Groucho Marx, private eye
Groucho Marx, private eye
Goulart, Ron, 1933-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
263 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Groucho Marx plays detective once more in this hilarious mystery, again aided by former crime reporter Frank Denby, who writes Groucho's radio show. The audacious comedian sets out to prove that a troubled movie actress isn't guilty of murdering a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. The story unfolds in the Hollywood of the 1930s, and the two consort with gangsters, crooked cops, movie moguls, actors, starlets, and agents.

Author Notes

Ron Goulart was born on January 13, 1933 in Berkeley, CA. Goulart has been a professional writer for over forty years and has published over 180 books. He is best-known for his mystery and science fiction books and is also considered the leading authority on comic books and strips. Goulart has been nominated twice for the Edgar Award. His first nomination was in the category of Best Original Paperback for his novel, After Things Fell Apart, in 1971. He was nominated again in 1989 in the category of Best Critical / Biographical work for his non-fiction work, The Dime Detectives. He also writes under the pseudonyms: Kenneth Robeson, Frank S. Shawn, Joseph Silva, and Con Steffanson.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Whether or not you are a Groucho Marx fan, you'll find yourself laughing at his terrible puns and silly gags in this second Groucho mystery set in 1930s Hollywood. The zany comedian joins forces with scriptwriter Frank Denby to exonerate an innocent actress accused of murder. Goulart's cast of characters could have come straight off a Paramount lot: cops on the take, shady gangsters, gorgeous starlets, and sneaky agents. In between episodes of their radio show, Groucho and Frank scour Tinseltown for clues to who really killed the evil Dr. Denninger, plastic surgeon to the stars. After reading a few of Groucho's hilarious monologues, readers may find themselves hearing the real Groucho's voice in their heads--a sensation that only heightens the fun. Although the plot isn't particularly complex, and the names of real movie stars are dropped a bit too often, this enjoyable little tale will charm the baggy pants off you. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

When a young singer offers him a fee for his services, Groucho Marx, PI, turns her down. "So far we run our detective agency on a completely altruistic basisÄsomewhat in the manner of Robin Hood. If you can envision a middle-aged Yiddish Robin Hood... suppose Rueben Hood would be too obvious a name?" As he did in Groucho Marx, Master Detective, veteran mystery and SF writer Goulart has caught the voice and social conscience of his hero to perfection, even if the mystery plot he's involved him in is a tad shopworn. It's 1938, and the name of the radio show that Groucho is starring in and narrator Frank Denby is writing has been changed to please a new sponsor. A leading plastic surgeon and drug supplier to the Hollywood elite is found shot to death; a faded star named Frances London is arrested for the crime; her daughter, a singer on Groucho's show, asks Groucho and Denby to use their real-life detective skills to clear her name. Some top gangsters are involved, as is the crooked Bay City cop who dogged the duo's heels in their first book. The story may be weak, but Groucho's jokes, some fine period details and guests appearances by everyone from Conrad Nagel to Nathanael West help make this a whole lot of fun. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Groucho Marx played detective again in the spring of 1938.     The second murder case that he set out to solve came along in the nick of time. The investigation that we undertook, he later claimed, quite probably distracted him from committing a murder himself.     The object of Groucho's contemplated homicide was a plump, freckled teenager who was blighting our lives that April. A nasty, mean-minded kid, known to movie audiences as Polly Pilgrim, she loathed Groucho and despised me. As Groucho frequently pointed out, she didn't loathe him half as much as he loathed her. "That unnatural child," he told me, "combines all the best qualities of Typhoid Mary, Ma Barker, and Louis B. Mayer."     Unfortunately Polly was the new costar of our radio show.     The show, now heard every Thursday night over the Nationwide Broadcasting Network, had taken on a new sponsor and a modified title. Our original sponsor had cancelled on us at the end of 1937. After a short hiatus, though, we returned to the air and changed our title from Groucho Marx, Master Detective to Groucho Marx, Private Eye . Instead of selling Orem Bros. Coffee our commercials were now peddling Mullens Pudding, whose snappy slogan was "It Comes in Five Flavorful Flavors." Later on I'll probably get around to listing all five of the flavors, but I can assure you now that, even though Groucho always insisted otherwise, herring was not one of them.     Groucho was still starring as private detective J. Hawkshaw Transom and I was still writing the scripts. But Polly, at the insistence of old Colonel Mullens himself, had been added to the cast to play Groucho's daughter Tippsy Transom. The Colonel, even after sitting through her movie performances in both A Girl, a Guy and a Symphony and That Brat Is Here Again , was convinced that she was destined to be another Deanna Durbin or Judy Garland. "If it was up to me," observed Groucho, "that midget Valkyrie would be destined, rather, for a long stay at either Devil's Island or Omaha, Nebraska."     Groucho and I had agreed to stay with the show despite Polly Pilgrim, mostly because of the money. MGM hadn't extended the Marx Brothers contract after A Day at the Races had been released in the spring of the previous year. Zeppo, now an agent, convinced RKO to hire his three brothers for a one-shot deal. The initial money was very good, but after Groucho had read the script of Room Service he became convinced that the picture, even though his old friend Morrie Ryskind had worked on the screenplay, would not only never show a profit but might well finish the careers of the Marx Brothers. "It very probably will also end the careers of the Smith Brothers, the Wright Brothers, and the Brothers Karamazov along with it," he told me. "The thing would have to be greatly improved before you could even call it lousy. In fact, I understand a rustic off in Wisconsin someplace wants to use the script, once we're through with it, as the cornerstone of a vast turkey farm." While waiting for the cameras to roll over at the RKO studios, he concentrated on our radio show.     I'm Frank Denby, by the way. I'd been a crime reporter on the Los Angeles Times for five years, but at this point I was a radio scriptwriter. I met Groucho in the summer of 1937 when he'd picked me to turn out the scripts for his show. That autumn, when he turned amateur sleuth for the first time, I worked with him on solving the murder of a young actress he'd once been friendly with. With my experience in police reporting and his natural instincts for detection, we'd made a pretty good team. I saw myself as being a sort of Archie Goodwin to his Nero Wolfe. "I never heard of this Archie Goodwin," he assured me. "I did know Archy the cockroach, however. And, I must tell you, Rollo, he was a much better writer than you are. Even though woefully lacking in capital letters."     In terms of things in general, 1938 wasn't any improvement over the previous year. People had barely stopped worrying about the Depression, when what was being called the Roosevelt Recession came along and unemployment jumped again to 20 percent. And by April you could feel World War II getting closer and closer. Japan was occupying more and more of China, Franco and his forces were doing increasingly well in the Spanish Civil War, and Hitler and the Nazis had already taken possession of Austria.     The new murder case actually got going on a windy Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood, although we didn't know it at the time. The rehearsal for Thursday night's broadcast was due to start in fifteen minutes and I was sitting up in the booth overlooking Studio C in the brand new NBN building on Sunset.     "Did you hear about that asshole dying?" inquired Annie Nicola, who was slumped in her chair, knees against the control panel, smoking a Kool cigarette.     "Be more specific," I suggested.     "The poor man's Ronald Colman. Brian Montaine, star of The Sword of Charlemagne and far too many other costume epics." Annie was our show director, a dark-haired thickset woman in her early forties. Today she was wearing white slacks and a shaggy pullover.     "Yeah, it was on Johnny Whistler's Hollywood gossip segment on KNX this morning." I eased up out of my seat and backed away just as she exhaled more mentholated smoke in my direction. "Understand Montaine was in the middle of a new movie."     "Yet another costume epic. The Legend of King Arthur ."     The only other person in the booth just then was our announcer, Harry Whitechurch. "Laugh if you will," he said in his deep, rich, jovial voice, "but Montaine was one hell of an actor. And, which is rare in this town, a swell guy, too." He sighed and the pages of the script he was holding fluttered. "That's a tough break, dying at thirty-seven of a heart attack."     "C'mon, despite what his studio bio claimed, that hambone was at least forty-five," Annie told him. "I remember seeing him in Way Down East back in the silents."     "Well, that's still damn young to be felled by a heart attack," said the hefty announcer.     I glanced down at the studio stage and noticed that Polly, in a pale blue party dress, was sitting in one of the folding chairs sadly reading the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner . The headline, I knew, was about Brian Montaine's sudden death.     Then I spotted Groucho. He'd entered at the rear of Studio C and was slouching along the center aisle between the rows of plush audience seats. "I better go head him off," I said, hurrying for the door, "before he and Polly collide."     Groucho was wearing a lime green polo shirt, a plaid sport-coat, and slacks of a wheat-field brown. He had a dead cigar clenched between his teeth and his thinning hair was tousled.     "You look a mite windblown," I said, stepping into his path.     He halted, removed the unlit cigar from his mouth and eyed me. "I intend, and my press secretary will confirm this, to ignore an obvious setup line like that, young sir," Groucho informed me as he smoothed down his hair. "I'm wondering if I ought to mention that my press secretary isn't here at the moment because he's home pressing my other pair of good pants."     I shook my head. "I wouldn't, since the townspeople are already muttering about tar and feathers."     "Ah, but they've promised to use ostrich plumes for the feathers this time." He pointed a finger ceilingward. "And you know how fetching I always look in those. By Jove, Bunny, I've a mind to take them up on it."     Over her booth microphone Annie inquired, "Are you about ready to return to reality, Groucho, and consider starting our little rehearsal?"     Shielding his eyes with the cigar-holding hand, he hunched and squinted up at her. "We aren't due to return to reality until late next Tuesday, dear lady," he told our director. "For myself, and I can't speak for the rest of the expedition, I don't intend to return until I've seen the Pyramids. The last trip, as you may recall, the Pyramids were out of town and I was terribly disappointed. I was also terribly dressed, which accounts for their not giving us a table close to the Sphinx. They did seat us near the Finks, a delightful couple in spite of their poor bladder control, and it turned out to be just the bestest summer vacation Penrod and I ever had, teacher."     "You're the Gertrude Stein of comedy, Groucho," Annie assured him.     "Thanks, but I really don't think I'm masculine enough to stand in for Gertie." He suddenly dodged around me and went loping toward the stage.     Before I could catch up with him, he trotted up the side steps, went sprinting over to Polly, and lifted the newspaper free of her pudgy fingers.     "Oaf," she remarked, grabbing at it.     "I merely wish to borrow the funnies, Miss Borgia," Groucho explained. "I haven't perused Barney Google yet today and I'm eager to learn if--"     "Don't you know he's dead." Sniffling, she succeeded in snatching the Examiner out of his grasp.     Groucho rose up on his toes, looking stunned. "Barney Google is dead?" he said forlornly. "Gad, I saw him only yesterday and he looked simply lovely. I was, I have to admit, a trifle concerned about those googly eyes of his and suggested he see an oculist at once. Or, at the very least, an ocarina, which is a female oculist except in February. The point being--"     "It's Brian Montaine who's dead, you halfwit." Polly rolled the paper up and attempted to swat him with it. "And he was a better actor than you'll ever be."     Groucho bobbed clear of her swing. "Don't be too sure about that, Pollyanna. Not until you've seen me in a suit of armor."     "You're nothing but a cheap buffoon." She tried for another swat, but I, gently, caught her arm.     "What say," I suggested, "we call a truce?"     "This little whippersnapper has accused me of being a cheap buffoon." He inserted the cigar back between his teeth. "I'll have you know that I happen to be just about the most expensive buffoon in this man's town."     "Might we, Groucho, think about starting?" Margaret Dumont, who was playing our perennial dowager Mrs. Uppercase, had walked out onto the stage, script in hand.     "Maggie, my pet, you're a vision." He hurried over to her in bent-knee fashion and clutched her hand. After kissing it a few times, he let go and stepped back. "Just look at you, Miss Chloe. The last time I saw you, my dear, you were a mere slip of a girl and now--why, I declare, you're at least three slips, two girdles, four pairs of shorts, and one of those dojiggers that holds up stockings. My lands."     The rest of the cast, which included Hans Conreid, who was playing Inspector Sprudelwasser, and Rob Stolzer, who was Rosco the office boy, had arrived by now and were occupying the row of folding chairs.     Harry Whitechurch cleared his throat majestically and stepped up to one of the microphones.     "If you're through cavorting, Groucho," mentioned Annie from above, "we'll get going on this run-through."     "I haven't cavorted since I was eleven," he told her. "But, let's be truthful, if they hadn't caught me doing it out behind the barn I might be cavorting still."     Harry nodded at Groucho and grinned. He leaned into the mike and said, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. From the heart of Hollywood we present--Groucho Marx, Private Eye, starring none other than Groucho Marx. And brought to you by Mullens Pudding. Remember, it comes in five flavorful flavors. Chocolate, Vanilla, Butterscotch, Strawberry, and--"     "Herring," said Groucho as he shuffled over to his microphone.     Harry chuckled and then added, "Pistachio."     "I thought you could only eat pistachios in months with an R in them."     "Annie," piped up Polly.     "Yes, dear?"     "You were supposed to tell him."     "Tell him what, honey?"     "Not to make faces at me, but he's doing it already."     "Don't make faces at the kid, Grouch," suggested the director from behind the wide glass window of the booth.     He spread his hands wide and assumed a guileless look. "I swear to you, Annie, that my face froze this way on a recent trip to the icehouse. Alas, it's locked in an expression of deep revulsion, but that, I can assure one and all, has nothing whatsoever to do with that odious gnat yonder."     "Nertz." Polly stuck out her tongue at him.     "Might I suggest that both you adolescents stop this now," said Margaret Dumont.     "I apologize, Maggie." His apologetic bow was so deep that it caused him to bonk his head against the mike.     "Take it from the top again, Harry," said Annie, coughing out smoke.     We managed to get all the way through my script with only a few minor incidents. Midway in the show, on orders from Colonel Mullens, we had to insert what he referred to as "a musical interlude." That meant the comedy had to stop while Polly Pilgrim sang "a light opera favorite" each and every week.     Actually, she had a very good voice. I just didn't think it fit very well into a baggy pants show like ours.     Groucho had refrained from making faces at her or, as he sometimes did, tickling her while she was going for the high notes. But during her rendition of the "Indian Love Call" he did put his forefinger under his chin, roll his eyes, and stand on one foot in a cherublike pose when she came to the "calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo" part.     Polly quit in midsong, ran over and gave him a hearty kick in the ankle.     "Foul," cried Groucho as he began hopping around in a small circle.     The rehearsal wound up at a few minutes after five that afternoon and I hadn't the slightest notion that Groucho and I would soon be teamed again on a murder investigation.     And I sure didn't suspect who our client was going to be.