Not that these two men weren’t already legends in their day, but with the passage of time, the iconic statuses of both Ray Bradbury and Groucho Marx are now gargantuan. For the two to come together for a segment of You Bet Your Life, it almost feels like a squandered opportunity to create something larger. Damn you, passage of time, for not letting me appreciate things for what they are.
The year was 1955. The fresh-faced Bradbury was still a young man in the science fiction world, with only two novels and three short story collections out. But since those two novels were The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, it’s safe to say he was a success. The cigar-chomping Marx was no longer the movie star he once was, hosting a game show which, in his own words, was something only washed-up actors did. But You Bet Your Life allowed Marx to do what he did best: spend an ample amount of time ad-libbing corny, though always witty, asides with guests. (Just like Family Feud allowed Richard Dawson to utilize his talent of placing his lips on anything with a vagina.) Enjoy it for yourself.
The clip is amazing for all the obvious reasons, but all the more so for pointing out just how quick and on his game Groucho Marx was. When Bradbury answers Groucho by stating his mother went to school with Jack Benny, the lascivious arch in Groucho’s bushy brow is inherently funnier than whatever the latest “stand-up with a sitcom” is on NBC. Genius doesn’t need a set-up.
In case you’re wondering, I asked my SuperComputer 3000 what the modern equivalent of this clip would be, and the punch card the machine ejected said, “Jonathan Franzen on The Price Is Right with Drew Carey.” And it doesn’t take a fictional computer to tell me how shitty that would be.