Saturday, September 12, 2020

Groucho Marx's Copy of The Hokinson Festival

Responding to some of my recent posts about Helen E. Hokinson (1893-1949) and her cartoons, Stephen Kroninger sent along an old press photo showing Groucho Marx (1890-1977) at home in his study. On one shelf at the far right Stephen had somehow discerned a copy of The Hokinson Festival, the 1956 cartoon collection memorializing Hokinson including a memoir by her collaborator James Reid Parker. Stephen reports that this very book is today in the library of Frank Ferrante, the actor and distinguished portrayer of Groucho.

AP photograph courtesy Stephen Kroninger
Stephen has circled the dust jacket of The Hokinson Festival and he provides a photo of his own dust jacketed copy for reference. Once you know what you're looking at, there is no mistaking it, although you might need to find yourself a jeweler's loop.
The Hokinson Festival (1956)
Stephen Kroninger's photo of his copy

So good old Groucho owned a copy of The Hokinson Festival! Naturally, I wanted to know all about it. Stephen suggested I contact Frank Ferrante to find out what he knew about the photograph and about Groucho's old cartoon book. Not a bad idea... You can pretty much infer what my queries were from Frank's gracious reply:

The photo of Groucho looks to me like late 1950s—From his home office on 1083 Hillcrest in Beverly Hills. The book was handed down to his daughter Miriam Marx Allen and from her to me. There is no signature or personalization by any party nor is there an estate stamp. There seems to be some water damage and the dust jacket is no longer. Bookstand below the publication you reference is in my living room as is the 1935 Columbia Encyclopedia that’s placed upon it. There are multiple items in his office in that photo that are now in my possession.

Terrific! With that information in hand, I contacted Steve Stoliar, author of Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House. He expended some effort in the 1970s cataloguing Groucho's home library and I was curious whether he might have remembered seeing the cartoon book.

He replied:

I don't have anything to add on the Hokinson item. I wouldn't have known who she was at the time and was far too distracted by his inscribed Benchleys, Kaufmans, Perelmans, etc. His bedroom office still looked very much like that when I worked there, although the big dictionary in the wheeled stand somehow migrated into the main hallway.

On the other hand, I was gratified to learn that the press photo itself was familiar to him. Indeed Steve owns a print of it that formerly resided in the "morgue" of the Herald Examiner and he was able to provide me with the written copy that originally accompanied it. Here then is the full caption:

"Groucho's Den In New Home—
Comedian Groucho Marx settles down to business affairs of the moment in the new $250,000 home he and his wife, Eden, built so she could have a new sunken circular bathtub. The study is Groucho's domain.
Associated Press Photo."
Saturday, March 12, 1958 [Herald-Examiner]
AP photograph courtesy Stephen Kroninger
AP caption courtesy Steve Stoliar

That date would make the book only two years old in this photo. It is gratifying to know that Groucho, a world-class comedian, possessed at least one collection by Hokinson, a world-class cartoonist. As Steve notes, Groucho had a library teeming with significant work by the great prose humorists of his day. Are we at all surprised that he followed the work of Helen Hokinson too?

September 20, 2020 Update:  Stephen's two photos and four additional ones from Frank Ferrante previously appeared in The Marx Brothers Council, a private Facebook group. There was some discussion there as well. Members may access the February 12 posting here.

Note:  My thanks first go to master collagist and illustrator Stephen Kroninger who found the photo that connects Groucho Marx, my favorite comedian, with New Yorker cartoons, my great passion. His discovery is at the very limit of my eyesight; in fact I'm quite sure I never would have spotted the book even if I had the photograph enlarged and hung above my own sunken circular bathtub. This is Stephen's 33rd contribution to the blog and not the first to knock my socks off.

Thanks too go to Frank Ferrante for carefully answering all of my questions about the book. He is new to the blog today. Welcome aboard, Frank. Just don't expect to find anything about bloggery in that 1935 encyclopedia.

I can't believe my luck! Steve Stoliar just happened to be sitting on his own copy of this press photo. Many thanks to him as well. This is his fourth mention here on the blog, not that it's a competition. By the way, I greatly enjoyed the expanded audiobook edition of Raised Eyebrows narrated by Steve himself and I give it my highest recommendation.

I still have questions. For example, did Groucho ever meet Helen Hokinson? It's probably not all that farfetched. Harpo Marx and New Yorker editor Harold Ross certainly knew each other from the Algonquin Round Table, so there are no more than three degrees of separation between Groucho and Hokinson, at least if my math is right. Verifiable anecdotes wanted. 

More broadly, I would love to hear from readers who have a little something to share regarding celebrities and their cartoon books, particularly New Yorker cartoon books. If you've got the goods, drop me a line. I'd be interested in posting rare Marxiana as well, and I don't mean Karl.

No comments:

Post a Comment