Mon, 29 Nov 2004
I stayed up all night reading a biography of Groucho Marx. I came across these interesting Canada-related anecdotes:
- Groucho once picked up gonorrhea from a hooker in Montreal.
- The first time Groucho met Charlie Chaplin was when they were both performing on the Vaudeville circuit in, of all places, Winnipeg. Chaplin was getting $25 a week and owned one shirt, which he took off and washed every two weeks.
- Another time, also in Winnipeg, Jack Benny passed Groucho’s dressing room and heard laughter. Poking his head in, he found Groucho all alone, laughing at a book by the Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock. That’s how Benny started reading Leacock, whom he considered to be the funniest writer ever.
It’s surprising to me that Winnipeg was such a theatrical hotspot in the early years of the 20th century. I guess back then it was a relatively more important centre. In 1910, when up-and-coming stars like Chaplin and the Marx Brothers were performing there, Winnipeg already had 170,000 people, while Los Angeles only had half a million. Since then Winnipeg has pretty much stagnated. It still hasn’t reached a million, and I expect this is the high-water mark. Eventually world population growth will slow and then reverse, and folks will drift away from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to more attractive climates, and future Canadians (if any still exist who think of themselves as Canadians) will regard the wind-eroded metropolises of the Prairies as artifacts of a doomed colonisation, the way we now regard the Viking ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.