“Well, that was getting to be a lot of money…”

This is an anecdote from one of my favorite books of all time, The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, a collection of interviews and ephemera by Richard Anobile, credited to Anobile and Groucho Marx.

Groucho ~ I always smoked cigars. I was well known for smoking cigars. A lot of comedians smoked cigars, like George Burns.

Q – Was there a reason for it?

Groucho ~ Well, it gave you time to think. You could tell a joke, and then if the audience didn’t laugh you could take some puffs on the cigar. Sometimes that would give the audience a chance to think about the joke and give them time to laugh before you went on to the next joke. So it had a kind of value.

Q – What if the joke wasn’t funny?

Groucho Old GoldGroucho – Then we used a different cigar!
One time a guy came back to my dressing room. I’m not sure if it was during [the Broadway run of] Cocoanuts or Animal Crackers. Anyway he knocks at my door and I let him in and he tells me that he’s from the American Tobacco Company. They wanted me to appear in an ad that would say I smoked one of their cigarettes. I forget the name now, it may have been Camel or one of them. The guy said “I’ll give you $1500.00 to do the ad.” I told him I couldn’t do it because I didn’t smoke cigarettes and it would look pretty lousy if I did it. So he walks to the door and says, “I’ll give you $2500.” I said no again because everybody knows that I smoke cigars. So he started to leave again and says, “If you’ll endorse the product I’ll give you $3500!” Again I said no and he offered me $5000. I gave him the same argument but he said to me, “Look, this is the last offer I’m going to make. I’ll give you $7500!”
Well, that was getting to be a lot of money. I didn’t feel the qualms about it as I had felt when he was offering me $1500. So I said, “All right, give me the fucking paper to sign.” So I signed the thing that said I endorsed this cigarette and he gave me the check for $7500. But as the bastard is leaving, he pulls out a check for $10,000 and says, “You could’ve had the ten if you held out a little longer!”
I tell you, I gave a very bad performance that afternoon!

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