Each month, Anna Knoebel revisits letters from prominent writers and other artists to revive the dying art of letter writing. Anna is the editor and co-publisher of Abe’s Penny, a magazine of arts and literature delivered in the form of postcards.

 

One day in 1961, Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx (whose famous wit is evidenced in quips like, “A man’s only as old as the woman he feels,” and, “I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”) received a portrait request from Thomas Stearns “T.S.” Eliot (a man whom, though not known for his sense of humor, many consider to be the most important English-language poet in the 20th Century). Groucho was understandably surprised, but game, and sent the photograph of himself along with a request for one of T.S.

The letter that follows is Groucho’s response to T.S. after having received his portrait in return:


Dear T.S.:
Your photograph arrived in good shape and I hope this note of thanks finds you in the same condition.
I had no idea you were so handsome. Why you haven’t been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the basic stupidity of the casting directors.
Should I come to London I will certainly take advantage of your kind invitation and if you come to California I hope you will allow me to do the same.
Cordially,
Groucho Marx

 

(For a closer look, click the letter to zoom)

It took the men three years (during which time they were corresponding by letter) to finally meet. Groucho and his wife accepted an invitation to dine at the Eliot house, an experience later described in a letter from Groucho to his brother Gummo. There were awkward lulls in the conversation; neither man was inclined to discuss his own work, while the other was eager to praise it. They stopped writing shortly thereafter.

&nsbp;

***
– Anna Knoebel has been writing letters since she was about eight years old, often to her grandfather, who would send them back edited. She worked in publicity at MGM Studios in Los Angeles and as the Managing Editor of zingmagazine before co-founding Abe’s Penny with her sister, Tess. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter.
Letter credit: Container number, Groucho Marx Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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