marx brothers

When insults had class



These glorious insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.

A member of Parliament to Disraeli:
“Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease”. “That depends, Sir,“ said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

“He had delusions of adequacy.” - Walter Kerr

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”- Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great
pleasure.” -Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” - William Faulkner
(about Ernest Hemingway).

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” - Moses Hadas

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” - Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” - Oscar
Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a
friend…. if you have one.”
(George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill)
“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second  …. if there is
one."  (Winston Churchill, in response.)

"I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” -
Stephen Bishop

“He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” - John Bright

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” -
Irvin S. Cobb

“He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” -
Samuel Johnson

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” - Paul Keating

“In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” -
Charles, Count Talleyrand

“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” - Forrest Tucker

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” -Mark Twain

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” - Mae West

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” - Oscar Wilde

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.”
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” - Billy Wilder

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” Groucho Marx

An anecdote from Harpo Marx, from his book Harpo Speaks!

Hollywood, 1931:
My little bungalow in the Garden of Allah was a peaceful retreat. It was the best place to practice (harp) I ever had–until a piano player moved into a bungalow across from mine and shattered the peace.

I was looking forward to a solid weekend of practice, without interruptions, when my new neighbor started to bang away. I couldn’t hear anything below a forte on the harp. There were no signs the piano banging was going to stop. It only got more overpowering. This character was warming up for a solid weekend of practice too.

I went to the office to register a complaint. One of us had to go, I said, and it wasn’t going to be me because I was there first. But the management didn’t see it my way. The new guest, whose playing was driving me nuts, was Sergei Rachmaninoff. They were not about to ask him to move.

I was flattered to have such a distinguished neighbor, but I still had to practice. So I got rid of him my own way.

I opened the door and all the windows in my place and began to play the first four bars of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor, over and over, fortissimo. Two hours later my fingers were getting numb. But I didn’t let up, not until I heard a thunderous crash of notes from across the way, like the keyboard had been attacked with a pair of sledge hammers. Then there was silence.

This time it was Rachmaninoff who went to complain. He asked to be moved to another bungalow immediately, the farthest possible from that dreadful harpist. Peace returned to the Garden.

I didn’t really know until much later how sharp my intuition had been. I found out the great pianist and composer detested his Prelude in C-sharp Minor. He considered it a very Minor piece of work. He was haunted by it everywhere he went, by students who butchered it and by audiences who clamored for it, and he wished he’d never written it. After playing the damned thing nonstop for two hours I knew exactly how he felt.