How to Write Copy Like Groucho Marx

By Ray Schulz

Most of us know Groucho Marx as a comedian. And he was indeed one of the best. Adorned with a greasepaint mustache, he played an impertinent hustler in Marx Brothers classics like “A Night at the Opera” and “Duck Soup.” Then there was his long run as host of TV’s “You Bet Your Life.”

Well, it turns out that Groucho had another talent—for direct mail copywriting. Yes, he once wrote to booksellers to promote his book: “Groucho’s Letters.” And in the best direct mail tradition, he touted the benefits and asked for the order.

It must have worked: The book was a bestseller. But this was not your typical B2B sales letter.

For starters, the one-page missive appeared under a Groucho Marx letterhead—hardly corporate. Second, it referred to his sex life (or lack thereof). Finally, need we say, it was funny.

Was it ghostwritten? I doubt it: It sounds too much like Groucho or one of his characters—Otis B. Driftwood, Rufus T. Firefly or J. Cheever Loophole.

I don’t know about you. But all I have to do is picture the cigar-smoking Groucho to feel good.

Enjoy.

Feb. 28, 1967

Dear Bookworms and Bookies:

As you and the world knows, I have a classic book bursting forth next April called “Groucho’s Letters,” or something like that. This is no ordinary book like those hack pieces of writing that infest the best seller lists in the New York Times and other throw away papers.

Now let’s get down to cases. I have worked for two decades on this book, sacrificing my sex life whenever I could, turning down girls that I used to turn up, fighting high cholesterol night and day, abstaining from rich curries and buttermilk pancakes – in short, living like the most dedicated monk. Bananas and then more bananas until they stuck out of my ears.

And what have I been doing this for? Certainly not for money. Let me tell you here and now, I’ve got more money than a lot of you bookish fellows. George Bernard Shaw, an Irish writer of little note, wrote hundreds of letters to Mrs. Patrick Campbell and made a fortune. He wrote her a 12-page letter every day and she wrote him a 2-page letter once a week. Finally she quit the weekly letter and began sending him souvenir postcards from various watering troughs in the Dardanelles. And baby, from what I hear, she wasn’t alone on those islands. His letters were magnifique, but naturally, they took a lot of his time, what little time he had left after combing his whiskers and riding his bicycle. Mrs. Campbell, on the other hand, didn’t have any whiskers and didn’t have a bicycle. At any rate, Bernie never got to first base with her. This is the kind of stuff my book is loaded with.

My book can be a smash if you bookdealers have guts enough to neglect all the other merchandise you’re hawking in your literary warrens. So just put your shoulders to the wheel. Those of you who don’t have a wheel, just drop a note to Bob Gottlieb, care of Simon and Schuster, and see what you get back. This book is a cinch as people love to read letters because they like to stick their noses in other people’s business.

So for God’s sake, get on the ball. I have a wife and five children that I know of, and they’re all starving. People will treasure these letters because they’re loaded with sex, wisdom, jocular sayings and a special chapter on how to avoid probate. This is for those who feel they’re on their last legs. Now then, it’s up to you.

Groucho

P.S. My publisher (an impecunious sort) demanded that we include an order form. Feel free not to use it.

It’s too bad about Groucho. He should have stuck to copywriting and forgotten those crazy ideas about show business.

Thanks to the Mal Warwick Agency for forwarding this letter. 

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