Light load: Anonymous warehouse worker saves Groucho Marx’s TV history

by MM&D staff

BEVERLY HILLS, California—Movie and TV film is hard to store.

It needs to be kept under specific climatic conditions. It often comes in multiple reels which need to be kept and catalogued together. And most importantly, it takes up a lot of precious room in warehouses.

As production companies and studios find themselves short on storage, it has become a common practice to simply get rid of old reels. Sometimes they are donated to museums, institutions or educational facilities, but often they have just been dumped as garbage. To save money and space, the BBC erased many masters of early Dr Who episodes. The same thing happened to a number of early episodes of The Tonight Show, including Johnny Carson’s debut show.

Recently, the website BoingBoing published a piece by Andy Marx—grandson of the famous eyebrow-waggling, cigar-smoking Groucho Marx—that tells of how a similar fate was averted for a large portion of Groucho’s TV history.

Andy recounts how he was at Groucho’s for lunch in 1973. Also in attendance were a trio of famous performers (Marcel Marceau, Elliot Gould and Jack Nicholson). At one point, the phone rang, and Andy went to answer the call. He recalls the conversation:

“I work at the NBC storage warehouse in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,” the man said. “We’ve got several boxes of 16mm reels of film from ‘You Bet Your Life’ and we were wondering if Mr Marx wants any of it. If not, we’re going to destroy all of it tomorrow.”

“Destroy it?” I asked incredulously. “Why would you do that?”

“We’re trying to clear space for the newer shows. There’s a lot of stuff from the ’50s and ’60s that we’re getting rid of. If Mr Marx would like it, we’ll be happy to send all of the reels to him.”

To read about how Groucho originally turned down the offer, what it took to persuade him to change his mind, and just what UPS delivered to his house (spoiler: much more than expected) click here.