Groucho Marx and public domain issues regarding copyright
(too old to reply)
Bill Guess
2004-08-20 21:01:12 UTC
When Warner Brothers got wind that the Marx Brothers were intending to
release "A Night in Casablanca" the legal dept. sent a warning shot
regarding the use of "Casablanca" in a movie title.

The following is Groucho's response:

Dear Warner Brothers:

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding
it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated
making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca
belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few
days after our announcement appeared that we received your long,
ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your
great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of
Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his
alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of the
common), named it Casablanca.

I just don't understand your attitude. Even if you plan on
re-releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could
learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don't
know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name
without your permission. What about "Warner Brothers"? Do you own
that, too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but
what about Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you
were. We were touring the sticks as The Marx Brothers when Vitaphone
was still a gleam in the inventor's eye, and even before us there had
been other brothers -- the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan
Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and "Brother, Can You Spare a
Dime?" (This was originally "Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?" but this
was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave
all the money to the other one and whittled it down to, "Brother, Can
You Spare a Dime?")

Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original
name? Well, it's not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand,
I can think of two Jacks -- there was Jack of "Jack and the
Beanstalk," and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks, sure in the belief
that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are
imposters. I can think of two Harrys that preceeded you. There was
Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived
on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately,
Appelbaum wasn't too well known. The last I heard of him, he was
selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner.

Now about the Burbank studio. I believe this is what you brothers call
your place. Old man Burbank is gone. Perhaps you remember him. He was
a great man in a garden. His wife often said Luther had ten green
thumbs. What a witty woman she must have been! Burbank was the wizard
who crossed all those fruits and vegetables until he had the poor
plants in such a confused and jittery condition that they could never
decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the
dessert dish.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but who knows -- perhaps Burbank's
survivors aren't too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out
pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank's name
and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the
Burbank family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than
they are of the fact that from your studio emerged "Casablanca" or
even "Gold Diggers of 1931."

This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you
it's not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner
Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and
that you, yourselves, know nothing at all about this dog-in-the-Wanger
attitude. It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that the heads of
your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am
acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly
black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that
out-Saroyans Saroyan.

I have a hunch that this attempt to prevent us from using the title is
the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief
apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well -- hot
out of law school, hungry for success and too ambitious to follow the
natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your
attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair,
double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he
won't get away with it! We'll fight him to the highest court! No
pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the
Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin and we'll
remain friends till the last reel of "A Night in Casablanca" goes
tumbling over the spool.


Groucho Marx

--*For some curious reason, this letter seemed to puzzle the Warner
Brothers legal department. They wrote -- in all seriousness -- and
asked if the Marxes could give them some idea of what their story was
about. They felt that something might be worked out. So Groucho

Dear Warners:
There isn't much I can tell you about the story. In it I play a Doctor
of Divinity who ministers to the natives and, as a sideline, hawks can
openers and pea jackets to the savages along the Gold Coast of Africa.

When I first meet Chico, he is working in a saloon, selling sponges to
barflies who are unable to carry their liquor. Harpo is an Arabian
caddie who lives in a small Grecian urn on the outskirts of the city.

As the picture opens, Porridge, a mealy-mouthed native girl, is
sharpening some arrows for the hunt. Paul Hangover, our hero, is
constantly lighting two cigarettes simultaneously. He apparently is
unaware of the cigarette shortage.

There are many scenes of splendor and fierce antagonisms, and Color,
an Abyssinian messenger boy, runs Riot. Riot, in case you have never
been there, is a small night club on the edge of town.

There's a lot more I could tell you, but I don't want to spoil it for
you. All of this has been okayed by the Hays Office, Good Housekeeping
and the survivors of the Haymarket Riots; and if the times are ripe,
this picture can be the opening gun in a new worldwide disaster.


Groucho Marx

--*Wanting the movie described in more detail got them the

Dear Brothers:

Since I last wrote you, I regret to say there have been some changes
in the plot of our new picture, "A Night in Casablanca." In the new
version I play Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart. Harpo and
Chico are itinerant rug peddlers who are weary of laying rugs and
enter a monastery just for a lark. This is a good joke on them, as
there hasn't been a lark in the place for fifteen years.

Across from this monastery, hard by a jetty, is a waterfront hotel,
chockfull of apple-cheeked damsels, most of whom have been barred by
the Hays Office for soliciting.

In the fifth reel, Gladstone makes a speech that sets the House of
Commons in a uproar and the King promptly asks for his resignation.
Harpo marries a hotel detective; Chico operates an ostrich farm.
Humphrey Bogart's girl, Bordello, spends her last years in a Bacall

This, as you can see, is a very skimpy outline. The only thing that
can save us from extinction is a continuation of the film shortage.


Groucho Marx
2004-08-21 12:41:26 UTC
Post by Bill Guess
When Warner Brothers got wind that the Marx Brothers were intending to
release "A Night in Casablanca" the legal dept. sent a warning shot
regarding the use of "Casablanca" in a movie title.
This is a great story. Where'd you get it?
Joseph Pietro Riolo
2004-08-22 13:26:15 UTC
Post by mcp6453
Post by Bill Guess
When Warner Brothers got wind that the Marx Brothers were intending to
release "A Night in Casablanca" the legal dept. sent a warning shot
regarding the use of "Casablanca" in a movie title.
This is a great story. Where'd you get it?
Likewise, I would like to know where the letters come from. Also,
I wonder if they are real.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this
post in the public domain.
Bill Guess
2004-08-22 23:12:51 UTC
I was in WalMart the other day and saw a copy of Forbes Book of Great
Business Letters, which I bought. Edited by Erik Bruun. Groucho's
was certainly the best one. It's authentic and not a stunt some have
said over the years that Groucho manufactured.

In the book there is a letter from Bill Gates to computer hobbyists
calling them a bunch a thieving scum, written in '75, I think.

There is a fantasic letter from a Kroger manager Michael J. Cullen in
which he describes in perfect detail the modern supermarket and how
Kroger should leap at his notion. Large store, high volumn, sell some
items at or below cost, locations away from city centers in order to
accomodate parking. etc, etc,.

Kroger ignored the letter. Cullen quit and ran with the idea and
ushered in the modern day supermarket.

If I were a large company I'd much rather have that Groucho letter
than some cheesy Frank Lloyd Wright building as part of my corporate