Cover image for Elementary, my dear Groucho
Elementary, my dear Groucho
Goulart, Ron, 1933-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 1999.
Physical Description:
261 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne books."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



In 1930s Hollywood, Groucho Marx and his assistant, Frank Denby, turn detectives when a dead body is found on the set of the newest Sherlock Holmes movie, sitting in Holmes' chair and stabbed with Holmes' letter opener.

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 3

Booklist Review

The idea of Groucho Marx and an unknown scriptwriter sidekick solving crimes must have been a tough sell, but thankfully, author Goulart convinced his publisher to give the wacky premise a try. Now in its third installment, the series keeps getting better. This time we see a more serious side to Groucho, as the comedian finds himself in the midst of a murder involving Nazis in Hollywood. It all starts when the Jewish director of a Sherlock Holmes flick is killed on the set, and Groucho and sidekick Frank try to find the murderer before the pompous actor playing Holmes is able to do so. Cleverly juxtaposing Groucho's hilarious monologues against the very real threat posed by the Nazis, Goulart adds an edge to the series without sacrificing the comedy. He also avoids random name-dropping this time, having mastered the trick of seamlessly incorporating famous people into the action. Great fun for fans of Hollywood in the Golden Age. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Puns abound as Goulart teams garrulous Groucho with the comedian's writing partner, Frank Denby, for another Hollywood caper (Groucho Marx, Private Eye, etc.). When the two go to the set of a Sherlock Holmes movie, they find German director Felix Denker dead in the detective's armchair on the set of 221b Baker Street. Having already solved a number of murders, Groucho and Frank again decide to play detectives, especially since Miles Ravenshaw, portraying Holmes in the Mammoth Studios production, has issued a publicity challenge declaring he can nab the killer before they do. The duo discover that Denker fled his native country in 1934 with his wife, a former professor of history now working in Mammoth's historical research department. She admits that their marriage wasn't ideal: she and her husband had separated because Felix had had a series of affairs, the last of which ended a few days before his death, when his lover accidentally drove off a cliff. When Groucho and Frank visit Denker's trysting spot, they find Nazi tomes, odd keepsakes for a man who was active in the Anti-Nazi League. Then a friend of Denker's lets on that the director had a secret he was about to make publicÄbut what was it? In order to best the sham shamus in solving the case, Groucho and Frank must dodge bullets while testing the theory of mind over matter. Chance meetings with celebrities and Groucho's constant wordplay keep the action light and snappy. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-When the script girl finds director Felix Denker shot to death on the set of the newest "Sherlock Holmes" movie, the first people she meets up with are Groucho Marx and Frank Denby. The two men work well together as comedian and scriptwriter, respectively, and as amateur detectives. Among the jumble of clues and red herrings, they come face to face with the German American Bund, a group of pro-Nazis. Setting his story in the late 1930s in Hollywood, Goulart includes everyday details of the times. He uses the quick-witted banter of Groucho's dialogue to solidify the famous character much as he has done in his previous Marx and Denby mysteries. Denby's character continues to develop into the solid, dependable second to Groucho. Jane, Denby's wife, strengthens the plot by sharing her insight and general knowledge and serves well as an interested third party and a balance to the two men. Not many mysteries offer sharp one-liners and a plethora of puns along with a strong story line, but this one does. An expertly crafted read.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One It was shortly before Christmas of 1938 that Groucho Marx matched wits with Sherlock Holmes.     The whole business began as an ill-advised Hollywood publicity stunt, but before everything was over Groucho and I became a detective team again and found ourselves involved in trying to solve a couple of murders.     "This detective stuff is all well and good," Groucho had conceded, "but the next time you get me on a team, see if you can make it the Los Angeles Angels. I just know I'd make a delightful shortstop. I've already had several years experience as a doorstop, but that's not as good exercise."     We initially got tangled up with the case early on a Tuesday morning in December. It was one of those gray, blurry Los Angeles days, overcast and not quite warm enough. A few stray seagulls were circling up in the morning mist, intermittently visible, their mournful cries muffled.     I was driving and Groucho was sitting, slightly slouched, in the passenger seat of my new Ford sedan. He was quietly singing "Jeepers Creepers" in a very bad Swedish accent and keeping time on the dashboard with his unlit cigar. "This vehicle is a considerable improvement over your late Plymouth coupe," he observed, inserting the cigar between his teeth. "Though I really miss that raccoon tail you used to fly from your radio antenna, Franklin."     I'm Frank Denby, by the way, and I'd been writing Groucho's comedy detective show for radio. That, however, had been canceled back in October and right at the moment we were collaborating on a script for a screwball movie comedy. It was about a poor girl who inherits a bus line and the tentative title was Cinderella on Wheels . We were driving, on that overcast morning, out to the Mammoth Studios in the valley to talk to a producer about our idea.     And let me mention here, for those of you who've been following these accounts, that I'd been married since June to Jane Danner, America's best-looking cartoonist. Groucho had served as our best man and also volunteered to sing "Oh, Promise Me" at the ceremonies. We'd allowed him to do that only after he'd promised he wouldn't accompany himself on his guitar nor throw in the yodels he'd been inserting during the wedding rehearsals.     While my career was momentarily floundering, Jane was doing swell. She'd sold her Hollywood Molly comic strip in September and as the end of the year approached her syndicate had succeeded in placing it in just under 150 newspapers around the country. Her salary had climbed to seven hundred dollars a week. She'd already earned enough to buy us this new car in addition to a new bicycle for herself.     "I sure hope we sell this damn script," I said to Groucho as we neared the Mammoth Studios spread. "I'm enlightened enough to be able to live off my wife's income for a short spell, but I'd feel a hell of a lot better if my own funds weren't hovering near zero."     "Look on the bright side, Rollo," advised Groucho, fishing a book of Trocadero matches out of the pocket of his exuberantly plaid sports coat but making no effort to light his dead cigar. "As long as you're a kept man, it's nice that you're being kept by such a bright, attractive young lady as Jane. Now, the last woman who kept me insisted on keeping me in a very cramped duffel bag. What with me, my salt and pepper shaker collection, and all those stray duffels in there, it was far from roomy. It was, in point of fact, nearly seventy-seven hot, weary miles from roomy and up hill all the way."     A pair of workmen in coveralls were on a scaffold putting up a new billboard on the high white stucco wall that surrounded the fifteen acres that Mammoth covered. The headline of the big poster read: Miles Ravenshaw IS Sherlock Holmes in Mammoth Pictures' Production of THE VALLEY OF FEAR! The top third of Ravenshaw had already been slapped up and you could see his deerstalker cap, his meerschaum pipe, and a profile that suggested that he believed whoever it was who'd once told him that he looked a lot like John Barrymore.     "Miles Ravenshaw," muttered Groucho as I guided the car up to the gilded wrought-iron studio gates. "I'd call him a ham, except that would be an insult to all the self-sacrificing pigs who donated their backsides so that the world could have ham on rye."     "They say that Ravenshaw was a Scotland Yard inspector before he became an actor."     Groucho expressed his disbelief with a rude noise. "Of course, for religious reasons I can't have anything to do with a ham of any sort," he said. "I'm even forbidden to drop in on the Three Little Pigs, nor can I so much as huff and puff and blow any of their houses down." He waggled his unlit cigar. "I'm sorely tempted to mention an attractive miss I once encountered in a Baja California bordello who could not only huff and buff but ... but, no, some things are best left unsaid."     I stopped a few feet from the closed gates. "That'd make a good motto for you," I suggested.     "It would indeed, Rollo, and I may well use it in my forthcoming B movie, Think Fast, Mr. Motto ."     Just outside the gates was a tile-roofed guard shack with a single palm tree rising up beside it. A plump uniformed guard in a dark gray uniform came shuffling out and walked over to the car, his hand resting casually on the holster at his right side. "How can I help you, gents?" he inquired, looking in at Groucho.     "I'm deeply hurt, Oscar," said Groucho. "After we served three years in the Foreign Legion together, I hoped you'd never forget me."     The heavyset Oscar chuckled, shaking his head. "Sorry, I didn't recognize you right off, Mr. Marx," he told him. "You know, because you don't have your mustache."     "I don't?" He touched his fingertips to his upper lip, then turned to scowl at me. "As soon as we send for a matron, Rollo, you'll be thoroughly searched. Mustache snatching is a serious thing and, if my vast knowledge of the law doesn't play me false, I am almost certain it's a capital crime. It may well also be the capital of North Dakota, but we won't be certain of that until the returns come in from the outlying provinces. Lord knows how long that'll take, since they've been out lying with ... but, enough. You get my point, I'm sure."     Oscar took off his visored cap to scratch at his thinning blond hair. "I hear your last movie was a flop, Mr. Marx."     "You hear? Didn't you have the nerve to go see Room Service? "     "Well, I'd like to see all your Marx Brothers pictures," he assured Groucho, "but my wife just can't stand you. In her opinion you never play anything but a sex-crazed lecher in any of your movies."     "That's because I am a sex-crazed lecher," he responded. "But I'm struggling to make a living despite such a handicap. Isn't that the American way? Yes, a man may work to overcome his handicaps and make a name for himself. The name I wanted to make for myself was Edgar Rice Burroughs, but they told me it was already taken. I then selected Tarzan and it turned out some nudist over at MGM had dibs on that. Groucho Marx was just about all that was left, except for the Marx of Zorro and I thought that sounded too foreign for an actor who specializes in playing ice-skating ingenue parts."     "We've got an appointment with Lew Marker," I told the chuckling guard.     "Lew Number Two, huh?" The guard shrugged and shook his head. "Somebody of your stature, Mr. Marx, ought to be seeing Lew Number One."     Lew Goldstein, the head of the whole Mammoth operation, everybody called Lew Number One. Marker had the nickname Lew Number Two.     "I'm working my way up the ladder," Groucho assured Oscar. "Why only last year I wasn't able to see anybody higher than Lew Number Four-oh-six."     Chuckling once more, he said, "Park in Visitors' Lot A, folks," and went trotting back to his hut.     A moment later the gates shivered and then rattled open inward.     Giving the guard a lazy salute, I drove onto the studio grounds.     "I don't think all that much of Lew Marker myself," admitted Groucho. "Yet my esteemed brother, Zeppo, assures me that the fellow is greatly interested in talking to us about Cinderella on Wheels ."     The buildings were all of the popular cream-colored stucco and red tile roof school. There were several stretches of bright green lawn and rows of assorted kinds of palm trees. "Marker's produced a string of screwball comedies," I reminded him, stopping to let a starlet decked out as an aviatrix cross the street. " Crazy About You, This One's on Me, That Was My Wife . Irene Dunne came near getting an Academy Award nomination for one of them."     "The best of the bunch," said Groucho, lighting the cigar and exhaling smoke, "contained, and I'm quoting an exhaustive study conducted by the Greenwich Observatory, five laughs during its entire length. And the heartiest one came when the audience read the name of the musical director in the opening credits."     My Ford looked to be the least expensive car in the row I parked in, possibly the least expensive in the whole damn lot.     When I mentioned that to Groucho, he said, "True, but you have the curliest hair."     "My hair isn't curly at all."     "Well, gee, Penrod, you don't have to bite a guy's head off when he's only trying to cheer you up."     We were scheduled to meet Marker over at Soundstage 4, where he was going to be sitting in on the shooting of scenes for his latest comedy, She Married the Butler .     We never made the appointment.     As we were walking past Soundstage 2, the big metal door slid open with a clattering bang. A pretty blond young woman came running out, pale under her tennis court tan.     She was wearing white slacks and a dark blue cable-stitch pullover sweater. "In there," she called to us, waving her hand in the direction of the doorway she'd just come stumbling through. "A dead man."     "We could, Rollo," suggested Groucho, "continue on our way and ignore this entirely."     "But we won't," I said, running toward the frightened girl. Chapter Two The blonde thrust both her slim arms around me, pressing hard against my ribs, then leaned her head against my chest. "They shot him," she murmured in a low, choked voice. "He's all bloody."     "Are they still in there?" I asked as I pushed her, gently, back a foot or so from me and nodded at the open doorway of the shadowy soundstage.     "He's dead. I'm certain he's dead." Her hand was shaking as she brought it up to brush a tangle of blond hair back from her forehead. "I came looking for him, you know, because he wasn't in his office and I had to ask him something about the script revisions. Somebody's shot him. I don't know who."     Putting both hands on the shivering woman's shoulders, I said, "Take it easy now. Tell me who it is that's dead."     She straightened up some, looking into my face. Her mascara had run from the crying and her eyes were underscored with sooty blurs. "Do you work here at the studio?"     "Although noted far and wide for my patience and stoicism," said Groucho, moving closer, "I would like to know when it's going to be my turn to get hugged?"     "Oh, it's you, Mr. Marx," said the young woman. "You probably don't remember me, but I used to be a script girl at MGM back when you were still active in the movies."     "Somebody else who missed seeing Room Service ." He slipped out of his flamboyant sports coat, shimmying quite a bit in the process, and draped it over the shivering girl's shoulders. "The important thing for a shock victim is to keep warm. That's a little something I learned during my years as a den mother with the Brownies. Soon as the Saint Bernard shows up, we'll give you a slug of brandy."     I asked him, "You know her?"     "Whilst trotting over here, I reflected to myself that the rear view was deucedly familiar." He shrugged. "Alas, the name escapes me."     "I'm Isobel Glidden." She was shivering less. "I've been a script girl here at Mammoth for close to a year, Mr. Marx."     "Don't be so formal, my dear. You can call me Hopalong."     "Okay, Isobel," I said, "Let's get back to this dead man--do you know who it is?"     "Yes, of course." When she nodded, Groucho's jacket started to slip down off her right shoulder. "It's Mr. Denker."     "Would that be Felix Denker," asked Groucho as he rearranged the coat, "the noted émigré director?"     "Yes, he's got a three-picture contract with the studio."     "I ran into him quite a few times at Anti-Nazi League festivities, Rollo," Groucho told me. "I admired his political stand, even though I thought Denker himself was an unmitigated putz and a pain in the tokus." He puffed on his cigar. "But I suppose it's not polite to speak too ill of the dead. So cancel the putz part of that remark."     Pointing a thumb at the wide doorway, I suggested, "We'd better go take a look."     Groucho patted Isobel on her lower back. "Are you capable of guiding us, my child?"     "I think so, yes," she said. "I really have to go back there eventually anyway. I dropped my script on the set when I saw him sitting there dead." The dead man was sitting stiffly in Sherlock Holmes's armchair in the study at 221B Baker Street. He was tilted to the left in the velvet chair, his rigid left arm hovering over the small stack of early twentieth-century magazines that were scattered on the end table.     Felix Denker, a lean man in his middle fifties, had been shot twice on the upper right side of his chest. His twisted ascot and the front of his cream-colored silk shirt were splotched with dark, dried blood. His black hair was still neatly parted in the middle and slicked down, but his monocle had fallen to the floor of the set and lay on the white bearskin rug. There was no sign of a gun.     With Isobel's help, we'd located the control panels and turned on sufficient lights.     Careful not to disturb anything too much, I'd approached the body of the murdered director. Judging by the progress of rigor mortis, I figured he'd been shot several hours earlier. "Looks like he's been dead since last night," I said. "When'd you see Denker last, Isobel?"     She'd remained at the edge of the set, her reclaimed script clutched tightly to her chest with both hands. "Well, when I left the studio yesterday evening at around six, Mr. Denker was still in his office in the Directors Building."     Groucho was wandering around in the simulation of Holmes's lodgings. "I assume Felix was directing The Valley of Fear ?" he asked the blonde.     "Yes, and he hated it."     "Having to work with Miles Ravenshaw would give anybody the heebie-jeebies." Groucho leaned over to peek into the microscope that rested on the chemistry bench in the corner. "How'd Little Egypt get in there?"     "He and Mr. Ravenshaw were continually squabbling, sure, but that wasn't what upset him," explained Isobel, trying to look at Groucho without looking at the corpse. "Mammoth had pretty much promised Mr. Denker that he'd be directing only quality films, but then they stuck him with a mystery. His first American film, Lynch Mob , was nominated for an Oscar in 1936, you know."     "Yes indeedy, Felix had mentioned that fact to me on more than one occasion." Groucho was inspecting the pipe rack on the set wall. "It always annoyed him when I stoutly insisted that I'd once seen a Walt Disney Silly Symphony with the same title as his masterpiece."     "Was he shooting the Holmes movie here last night?" I asked Isobel.     "No, we did only outdoor stuff yesterday over at the London standing set." She frowned. "We weren't due to use this set until this afternoon. I only tried hunting for him here because he had a habit of looking over the day's sets by himself sometimes."     "So he might've dropped in here last night to do that?"     "I suppose, yes."     "That's odd." Groucho was crouched next to Denker's body, eyeing his stiff left hand. "Forefinger's bloody."     There was dried blood thick on the dead director's finger. "Hey, it looks like he scrawled something on the cover of that magazine."     The top magazine was a prop copy of The Strand from 1915. Up just under the logo Denker had apparently started to write something on the pale cover, using his own blood for ink.     "Appears to be the number four," concluded Groucho, squinting.     It did look like an open-topped numeral four. "A dying message, maybe?" I glanced over at the script girl. "Four mean anything?"     Isobel shook her head. "It could mean just about anything," she pointed out. "Part of a phone number, you know, or an address, or a page number--and isn't there a Sherlock Holmes story with four in the title?"     "Dying messages always annoy me." Groucho straightened up, with a slight creak, still looking at what the dead man had written on the cover. "Victims in B movies are always penning cryptic phrases in ancient Persian or gasping out a snatch of lyric from a fifteenth-century madrigal to give the sleuths a hint as to who did them in." He paused to puff on his cigar. "Much simpler, in my opinion, if you just dashed off something like `I was knocked off by Erwin L. Hershman of Twenty-six-B Sycamore Lane in Pismo Beach.' Or `My wife's lover--I mean, the lout with the tattoo--did this, officers. It's my guess they're shacked up at this very moment in the Starcross Motel in Anaheim. Go get 'em.'"     I took a look around the set, tapping my fingers on Holmes's Stradivarius that rested on a table near the door. "Well, I guess we'd better alert the security people about this," I said, "and they can call the local cops."     "Exactly, Rollo. There's absolutely no need whatsoever for us to get any further involved." Groucho was slouched in the chair that Dr. Watson usually occupied, gazing up into the crosshatch of catwalks and dangling lights high above us. "We'll do our civic duty, pause only long enough to pose for a few flattering photos for the gentlemen of the press, then journey on to our appointment with Lew Marker."     "I hope," said Isobel quietly, sniffling, "these things don't really come in threes."     Groucho popped to his feet. "What's that, Izzy?"     I asked, "Somebody else has been murdered?"     "Oh, it wasn't a murder," she answered. "But, you know, I can't help wondering if this darn movie isn't jinxed."     "Details, dear child, provide us with some details," Groucho requested, easing in bent-leg strides toward her.     Isobel rubbed at her nose with her thumb. "Well, Mr. Marx, it was only five days ago that Marsha Tederow got killed," she explained. "She was an assistant art director here at Mammoth and was working with Mr. Denker on The Valley of Fear ." She gestured in a vaguely northerly direction. "It was really awful--car accident way up on Mulholland someplace. Her coupe went off the road and down into a gully. It exploded and ... Marsha was only twenty-seven and very attractive."     Narrowing my left eye and nodding at Groucho, I said, "A coincidence?"     "It makes no never mind, Mother Westwind," he told me. "What you're doing is letting these Holmesian surroundings affect your impressionable young brain. Although we performed brilliantly as amateur sleuths on a few memorable occasions in the past, we are not on the premises today in that capacity. No, I'm here, Mr. Anthony, simply to sign a contract to coauthor Cinderella on Wheels and then reap the huge financial rewards that Movietown bestows upon its truly gifted writers. While I'm at it, I might reap a few acres of alfalfa, too, but only so it'll distract the farmhands and keep them from dallying with my daughters. For, as Salvador Dalf so wisely put it when he was halfway through a six-day bike race and realized he had neglected to bring his bicycle, `Six time six is thirty-six except in months that begin with a letter of the alphabet.'"     "That's a cute title," said Isobel.     "What's a cute title--Salvador Dalf?"     "No, I mean Cinderella on Wheels ."     "We already registered it with the Screen Writers Guild, sister, so beware," he warned as he lurched closer to her.     I said, "Let's find a telephone, so we--"     "Would you folks mind putting up your hands?" inquired a voice off in the shadows beyond 221B.