Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

How a UCLA Student in the 70s Saved the Marx Brothers

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 3, 2023 3:03 am

How a UCLA Student in the 70s Saved the Marx Brothers

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 2154 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.


August 3, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Steve Stoliar grew up as the ultimate Marx Brothers fan. Little did he know that he would lead the charge to save one of their long-lost movies.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share these powerful perspectives from real people with MG so their experiences can help inspire the MG community and educate others about this rare condition. Listen to find strength in community on the MG journey on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. to protect your retirement savings now from rising inflation. Right now, we're offering up to $10,000 in free silver when you open a qualified gold IRA account while supplies last.

Visit goldco.com slash iHeart. This is our American Stories, and up next, we bring you a story of how one devoted Marx Brothers fan went on to uncover a long-lost Marx Brothers movie. Here's Steve Stolier to tell us his story. I am currently a screenwriter and author and also do voiceover work, but I was not always in the business, although I was always interested in show business. When I was but a small child in St. Louis, which is where I was born, I would see I Love Lucy episodes, where wherever Lucy and Desi would go, they seemed to run into famous celebrities, so I assumed that's what Los Angeles or Hollywood was like. Our family moved to LA when I was pushing eight years old, and on the airplane that we took, Andy Griffith was sitting several rows in front of us and Red Skelton was sitting in the road directly in front of us. And so I thought, wow, it really is like I Love Lucy. There's celebrities everywhere.

We haven't even landed in Hollywood, and there's two stars who I know who they are, and I watch their shows. This is cool, and Red Skelton was very cool. He kept entertaining my sisters and me the whole flight. For me, he kept one of those little pop guns where you push the back and a cork on a string comes out. He had that tucked into his suit jacket, and every now and again, he would just turn around and shoot me with his pop gun. This was, of course, before there were any airline safety restrictions.

I don't know that you could bring a pop gun onto a plane now, but in 1962, there was no problem with it. So I had already met two famous people by the time our plane touched down. As I say, I've always had a fascination with famous people, and specifically the Marx Brothers, and then within that subset is Groucho, my favorite of the Marx Brothers. I'm not sure exactly when I became aware of him slash them, but I did have an Uncle Joe in St. Louis who was balding, wore glasses, had a mustache, smoked a cigar, and wiggled his eyebrows so that when I did discover the real Groucho, I thought, he's just like Uncle Joe.

That's interesting. And my parents used to quote lines from Marx Brothers movies like being vaccinated with a phonograph needle. So when I finally discovered their films and became aware that I am watching the Marx Brothers in this movie, that was probably around early high school. And I wondered where they'd been hiding all my life, and I wanted to see all their movies. And this is perhaps difficult to grasp for the Gen X and Millennial generations, but we could not simply view what we wanted to view by punching it up on a device, or even watching Turner Classic movies, or even having the DVD or videotape. I had to, we would get the TV guide each week, and I would go through it with a pencil, and I would circle the movies I wanted to see, which invariably were old movies that they put on in the wee twilight hours of the middle of the night, early morning, after Johnny Carson, after Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show, into that strange netherworld of local car commercials. And I would just sort of will myself to stay awake.

I don't know how I did it. I mean, now I'll drift off on the couch at 10.30, but back then, if they were showing monkey business starting at 2.48, I just made myself stay up and watch it, and then I could knock that off my list of movies I had to see. So it was very difficult trying to see them. And there was one, you know, I read whatever scant books there were and articles that came out about the March Brothers or Groucho, and I quickly became aware of the fact that their second film, Animal Crackers, which had been a very successful stage play in the late 20s, and then was their second film, Made at Paramount, in 1930, I hadn't seen that, and I wasn't able to see it, because when Paramount sold their early films to MCA Universal in the late 50s, it included Animal Crackers, but because of basically a technological error, they didn't renew the copyright on Animal Crackers, so the rights had reverted back to the authors and composers of the stage play. And for the longest time, Universal didn't think it was worth spending money on an old black and white March Brothers movie to clear the rights and reissue it.

So it just became this phantom film. They owned it, but they couldn't show it, and in the meantime, they redistributed all of their early Paramount films and syndicated those in television, and you may have seen, they would have that big shield at the beginning that would say, a MCA TV release, and I used to want to go up to the TV with a Marx a lot and add an N after a MCA TV, because it just bothered me. But Animal Crackers was not included in those packages, so it was this great, unseen Marx Brothers film, and it was supposed to have been one of their best. I mean, Groucho played Captain Spaulding, so his theme song, Hurray for Captain Spaulding, came from that. A lot of his quoted lines like, I shot an elephant in my pajamas, came from that. And when I graduated high school, I began to attend UCLA, first as a history major, because I really didn't think you could make any kind of living in entertainment unless you were just astonishingly talented and had endless perseverance, and I didn't put myself in either of those categories.

So while I continued to love watching old movies and study up on all these people, I figured I would be a history major and maybe teach history, something like that. And I saw that a print of Animal Crackers was going to be shown at a revival house theater in Orange County in December of 73, and I wasn't sure how they were able to show it, but I didn't care. And all of my friends piled into one car. This was also during a gasoline crisis, an oil crisis, when gas was being rationed, but we didn't mind blowing most of a tank of gas to be able to finally see this missing link in the Marx Brothers' small canon. And you're listening to Steve Solier, and he is telling the story of the lost Marx Brothers film. And by the way, it is a small canon, but if you do get a chance, it is easy to see these movies now. By the way, there was a time when it was impossible. You just had to wait for them to appear on TV, and you did have to read that TV guide, and I remember circling all my favorite things, too, and all of Americans did, and that was it.

That was it. And by the way, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and Horse Feathers were the way to go, and watch it with the kids. It's the cleanest and yet most subversive comedy you'll ever see, a lot like what they were doing with Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny and just delightful, clever stuff, and they were never pushing a line, and yet they were. When we come back, more with Steve Solier, his story about a missing Marx Brothers movie, here at Our American Stories. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis, from early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone.

Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. They said inflation had peaked. They said prices were coming down.

Well, they were dead wrong. The new inflation numbers just came in and inflation is back up. Contact Goldco today to protect your retirement savings now from rising inflation. Right now, we're offering up to $10,000 in free silver when you open a qualified gold IRA account while supplies last. Visit Goldco.com slash iHeart. Visit Goldco.com slash iHeart. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.

This is the total package. Premium finishes, a lush interior, unrivaled tech, and unbelievable torque, all powered by an electric heart. Nissan has been pushing the boundaries of what's possible for 90 years. Loaded with new electric and semi-autonomous technologies, the Ariya is Nissan's most powerful EV ever. When you're ready to unlock the thrill of driving, do it in luxury. Do it in the all-new, all-electric Nissan Ariya. And see for yourself why the Ariya is the EV for people who love to drive. Visit NissanUSA.com to learn more about the all-new 2023 Nissan Ariya. Available features, limited availability.

Contact your dealer for local inventory information. And we're back with our American stories and Steve Stolier's story. And we've learned that due to a filing error, animal crackers had become unavailable to the public. When we last left off, Steve had found a bootleg copy that was being shown about 40 minutes away from his home, and he and his friends from college, well, they hopped in a car in the middle of a gas shortage to finally cross this film off their bucket list.

Let's return to Steve. I mean, they only made 12 or 13 movies in all, so it was a substantial coup to be able to finally see Animal Crackers. It was a terrible print. It was a bootleg dupe of a dupe, and the images were murky and the sound was... Oh, we couldn't hear it very clearly. But the point was, oh, my God, we're watching Animal Crackers. I figured that you couldn't find Groucho's name in the phone book and just call him up to tell him that it was playing, but from looking through the Beverly Hills phone book, I did know that Harry Ruby was in the Beverly Hills phone book. Harry Ruby had co-written the songs for Animal Crackers and had also worked as a writer on several of the early March Brothers films and was one of Groucho's closest friends. So I called him up, and he didn't answer, but a nurse answered and took my name and phone number, and I think if he himself had answered, none of what transpired would have taken place because he wouldn't have had my name and number. It was just a matter of conveying to him to tell Groucho that it was playing, that Animal Crackers was playing in Orange County. But because she took my name and number, I got a call from Harry Ruby, which at the time was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me because this was one step removed from Groucho himself, and I had a nice chat with him about several things, and he said, well, I'll tell Groucho about this. And I thought, oh, my God, he's going to tell my hero about this.

And I called all my friends and told them. And then New Year's Day of 74, I got a phone call from a woman named Erin Fleming, and I'd kept up on articles about what Groucho was up to, and I knew she was very close to Groucho. She had sort of become his manager, and she had arranged a series of one-man shows in 1972 where Groucho would transfix the audience for 90 minutes or so and take home a bunch of money. I did attend the one in L.A. in December of 72 and was able to see Groucho at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. My friend and I were sitting towards the back.

Our tickets were $9.50, which was a fortune and would not even pay for parking now at the Dorothy Chandler, but be that as it may. And he was quite old and frail, which really took the wind out of me to see him that way because the press had led me to believe that good old Groucho at 80-something or other, just as sharp as ever, and instead this old man shuffled out and said, I want to take a bow for Harpo and for Chico because without them I wouldn't be here tonight. And he read off cue cards, but it was still just electrifying realizing that I was in the same room as Groucho, and I clapped so hard my hands stung the next morning because I wanted...

I know this sounds weird, but I wanted vibrations from my applause to reach his eardrums because I knew that was as close as I was ever going to get to him. So anyway, getting back to January of 74 when I got this call from Erin Fleming, she had been on stage with Groucho at the evening with Groucho, and she had gotten the message from Harry Ruby about Animal Crackers, and what she wanted to know was how could they show it? How was it legal for them to show it? How did they get the rights to it?

And of course I didn't know any of this. I was just this kid that was a Marx Brothers fan, and she wanted to take me with her to Universal Studios to go up to the office of Sidney J. Scheinberg, the president of Universal, as sort of an Exhibit A of a kid who would drive all the way to Orange County to see Animal Crackers, and so she was hoping that that would make the difference and then Universal would clear the rights and release the movie. I was skeptical, but I was flattered all to hell that she wanted to be in touch with me, and she and Groucho, they had to go because they were going to see Woody Allen's Sleeper. Also while I was on that call, I said, while I have you here, something has been on my mind for a while.

Some of the books I've seen say Groucho was born in 1895, and others say 1890, and I wondered which one was the real date, and she said just a minute, Groucho, what year were you born? And in the distance I hear 1890. And she said, did you hear? And I said yes, and I thought, oh my God, he's in the room with her.

I can't handle this. I talked to friends and we thought it would be a better idea rather than just having this one kid try to argue the case to re-release the movie. I would form a committee at UCLA, a petition drive, and we would get hundreds or thousands of signatures from like-minded young people that we would want to see this movie and would pay to see it if it came out. So some friends and I formed the committee for the re-release of Animal Crackers.

We set up a table on Brew and Walk, which is where all of the causes had tables for either gay rights, ending the war in Vietnam, and then you had this group of kids trying to get an old March Brothers movie off the shelf, and people were so suspicious about signing the petition. You know, this was right during Watergate, and someone said, you know, is the government going to get a copy of this? Does the FBI get a copy? No, no, it's just that you have to be a registered voter. Do I have to print and put together?

No, it's just to get this movie. And I was staying in touch with Erin Fleming, and she arranged for Groucho to come to UCLA and alerted the press about our cause. And sure enough, in spring of 1974, Erin and Groucho came to UCLA. I said, Groucho, I am very happy to be meeting you after all this time. And he said, well, you should be. And Erin said, this is Steve Stolyar.

He's the one trying to get Animal Crackers re-released. And Groucho said, well, did you get it? And I said, not yet, but we're working on it. And he said, you better, or I'll fire you. And I said, I didn't realize I was working for you.

How much are you paying me? And he said, a little less than nothing. And it was just this most remarkable pinch-me-is-this-really happening.

We sat side by side answering reporters' questions about the movie. And I remember one reporter said, Mr. Marks, what is the purpose of your appearance here today? And he said, I expect to get lunch.

And she said, but besides that, I may get dinner. So there was still a lot of, you know, I was so disheartened after seeing how frail and old and shaky he was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 72, but here he was still being Groucho with his silliness and twisting phrases. And that was very heartening after having been disheartened. So we talked to the press and they ran their stories. And sure enough, Universal relented and decided to reissue the film.

They would show it in L.A. and New York and then be done with it. It's like, here, here it is. Go look at it.

Leave us alone. We have more important movies to worry about. It had a re-premiere at the U.A. Westwood and I went in a tuxedo and my family went and the other members of the committee. It was like our night and Aaron and Groucho were there and we watched Animal Crackers, a fresh print, clear. You could see what was going on.

And it ended up breaking the house record that had been set several years earlier by the French Connection. And it was very gratifying for me to be at a coffee shop in Westwood and look across the street and see a line of kids in t-shirts and blue jeans and tennis shoes waiting to pay money to see this Marx Brothers movie. What great storytelling and thanks to Robbie for bringing it to us. And a special thanks to Steve Stolier. And by the way, to find out more, order Steve's book, Raised Eyebrows, My Years Inside Groucho's House. And there are a whole bunch more stories like this one.

You can find it at Amazon or all the usual suspects. The story of Steve Stolier, his effort to get Animal Crackers re-released, his story here on Our American Stories. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share these powerful perspectives from real people with MG so their experiences can help inspire the MG community and educate others about this rare condition. Listen to find strength in community on the MG journey on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Add a little manly to your wedding vows with Manly Bands, the handcrafted wedding bands made from the coolest stuff on earth.

Your love is one of a kind. That's why Manly Bands are made from unique materials with stories waiting to be told. Choose from dinosaur fossils, meeting rites, even deer antlers. And for the diehard fans, Manly Bands offers officially licensed fandom rings. Get 20% off with Code Podcast. Go to manlybands.com today. Manly Bands, the most badass wedding bands on earth. This is a licensed product of MLB Players Inc.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-03 04:10:11 / 2023-08-03 04:19:21 / 9

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime