The Marx Brothers
On this site you'll find the complete script of I'll Say She
Is, including some variations. It has been pieced together
from various sources but most of it is available thanks to Peter
who provided me with a copy of the script from the Library of Congress,
stamped 10 November 1924.
In the 1920s, the Marx Brothers were stars of the vaudeville but hadn't made it yet with a big show and Broadway seemed even further away. In 1923, Chico chanced to meet an independent producer by the name of Joseph M. Gaites, who was looking for talent to put in front of some expensive scenery left over from several flops. His backer was James P. Beury, a Pennsylvanian millionaire who had just bought the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and needed something to play there during the summer of 1923.
The Marx Brothers hastily put together what amounted to a gigantic musical tabloid. It was based nominally on an unsuccessful musical comedy by Will and Tom Johnstone, originally written for British actress Kitty Gordon as Love For Sale. Both this and a hastily revamped successor, Give Me a Thrill, had expired quickly. Some of the songs and the basic idea, that of a millionairess looking for thrills, were kept, while mostly new material, suitable for the Marx Brothers, was added. Some of it, like the audition scene later filmed by Paramount in 1931, came from On The Balcony while other bits (like the celebrated Napoleon's First Waterloo) was written by Groucho and Will B. Johnstone.
Joseph M. Gaites favored four titled words and had previously produced shows named Take It From Me and Up In The Clouds, both written by the Johnstones. After considering the name You Must Come Over, the marxified version of Love For Sale/Give Me a Thrill were named I'll Say She Is!, the second half of a popular expression that began Isn't she a beauty?. Tryouts in Allentown, Pennsylvania, gave no indication that a Broadway hit was gestating. Then, on June 4, 1923, I'll Say She Is opened in the Walnut Street Theatre as "Philadelphia's first annual summer revue." Although the critics immediately recognized it as an elaboration of Gimme a Thrill, which had already played itself out over the Shubert circuit, they were impressed. So were the audiences.
Waters wrote in Variety: "The thread of plot concerns the efforts of eight men to give to a young and beautiful heiress a thrill in return for which she will bestow her hand and fortune on the lucky man. Among the thrills are those of gambling, of underworld crime, or riches, of poverty and of love. Quite naturally, these give opportunities for varied and attractive settings". Groucho later claimed that I'll Say She Is didn't have one piece of scenery that really belonged to the show. In his autobiography Groucho and Me, he adds; "There was hardly a show that had been on Broadway in the preceding twenty years that wasn't represented in the assortment of leftovers. There were pieces of scenery from The Girl of the Golden West, The Squaw Man, Way Down East, Turn to the Right and many others. If memory doesn't play me false (ah there, Mr. Woollcott), I'm sure we even had a piece of the river scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin, where Liza crosses the ice".
With the Philadelphia success of I'll Say She Is, the Marx Brothers started to feel more secure about their future in show business. When it ended its run the day after Thanksgiving, the show was taken on the road, where it played the rest of the year and into 1924. On May 19, 1924, I'll Say She Is opened on Broadway, at the Shuberts' Casino Theatre. Another show that was supposed to open the same night had been postponed, so first-string critics like Alexander Woollcott and Franklin P. Adams appeared at the Casino Theatre. Led by Woollcott, the critics raved unanimously; "Julius H. (Cracking) Marx and Arthur (Harpo) Marx had the house in an uproar, not once, but a number of times. Harpo was introduced as "Sir Joseph Ginzburg", a spark that set the audience laughing. Julius, with his painted mustache, and always smoking a rope of some kind, flashed in and out with humorous comment" (Variety, 28 May 1924).
"Beauty", the Leading Lady, was originally played by Muriel Hudson, but when the show reached Broadway, Carlotta (Lotta) Miles got the part. Born Florence Reutti, Lotta Miles adopted her stagename as a punning contribution to an advertising campaign by the Kelly Tyre company. Research by Dave O'Malley shows that she was known as the Kelly Tyre-girl as early as 1919. Lotta Miles appeared in one movie, Waterfront Lady in 1935, a film which also featured Robert Emmett O'Connor and Purnell Pratt, i.e. Detective Henderson and the Mayor in A Night At The Opera. Ms Reutti/Miles died of a heart attack in Hollywood on July 25, 1937 (obituary from Hamilton Journal - The Daily News provided by Robert Moulton).
I'll Say She Is ran for almost two years on Broadway. "We were the toast of town", Groucho said, "which is a lot better than being in a breadline".When the Marx Brothers got into the film business in 1929, their first film was made from their second show, The Cocoanuts. Their third show Animal Crackers became their second film in 1930 but why wasn't I'll Say She Is produced as a film? "Well", Groucho said, "Cocoanuts" had a story. "I'll Say She Is" was a series of funny scenes". In July 1999, ScotJohn96 reported on alt.comedy.marx-bros that First National negotiated with the Marxes in 1926 to make a motion picture. "Variety" March 24, 1926 said: "The story has been written by Will B. Johnstone...author of 'I'll Say She Is'...."
The Marx film would have been silent, as First National was not making talkies at that time. Will B. Johnstone Junior has said that his dad was hired as writer on the adaption of I'll Say She Is for a Marx Brothers movie but that he quit after a couple of weeks when he found out that they only wanted his name on the screen credit. This may indicate that the abandoned project in 1926 actually was an attempt to film I'll Say She Is. Another possibility is that the Marxes were willing to return to the first Broadway show in 1931 after filming The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, a theory that may explain why they revived Napoleon's First Waterloo for stage appearances in 1930 and used Theatrical Agency from the show as a trailer for the film that became Monkey Business.
Book and Lyrics by Will B. Johnstone