I'll Say She Is!
"Why A Duck?" @ marx-brothers.org
By 1923, after close to twenty years -- separately and in various groupings -- in small-time show business and in vaudeville, it looked as if the Marxes' career as a team was over. As it turns out, they were about to enter the most exciting phase of their lives so far.
Joseph P. Beury had just purchased the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and was eager to get a show going. Joseph M. Gaites had two sets of scenery which he desperately wanted to build a show around. Chico ran into Tom Johnstone to whom he explained the Marxes' sad state of affairs: that their decision to quit the Albee circuit in favor of the Shuberts had ended in disaster with the Shuberts quitting vaudeville entirely. Now Albee wouldn't have them back and they were at liberty. Johnstone grabbed Chico and dragged him to Gaites' office. Chico and Gaites were both in a bind. Chico, because the money was running out; Gaites, because he had three weeks before a theater opening with two shows worth of scenery and no show. After brief negotiations it was decided to build a show around the Marx Brothers.
The brothers hastily put together a show using material from old vaudeville routines, as well as some new stuff by Will Johnstone. The music was contributed by Tom Johnstone and the Marxes had a show. After some dismal tryouts in Canarsie and Allentown, the boys brought the show to Philadelphia late in June of 1923. They were an instant success, and less than a year later they opened "I'll Say She Is!" on Broadway.
As fate would have it, Monday, May 19th, 1924 was a slow theater night. For this reason and Alexander Woollcott's inability to get anybody to cover for him, "I'll Say She Is!" brought the house down and caused rave reviews from Woollcott and others. The Marx Brothers' success on Broadway was assured.
Josephine: Lotta Miles -- Napoleon: Julius H. (Groucho) Marx
François: Leonard (Chico) Marx -- Alphonse: Herbert (Zeppo) Marx
Gaston: Arthur (Harpo) Marx
Footman: The Empress! (Empress walks downstairs L., followed by two pages. Everybody bows.) The Emperor! (Groucho Bows)
Napoleon:As you were. (Everybody bows again) Begone, peasants! Take French leave! (Everybody exits) (Turns to footmen) As for you, take that bib off -- we don't eat for an hour yet.
Josephine:Napoleon, did you hurt yourself? You told me you would be in Egypt tonight. You promised me the Pyramids and Sphinx.
Napoleon:That remains to be seen, but where are my faithful advisers, François, Alphonse and Gaston? Josephine, the whole thing Sphinx.
Josephine:Do you wish their advice?
Napoleon:Of course I do. They are always wrong. Let me think. (Business of posing with hand in coat and taking snuff) Ah! I love to sniff snuff.
Josephine:How often have I asked you not to use that horrible snuff?
Footman: Alphonse, First Gentleman-in-Waiting. (Passes Napoleon with outstretched arms to Empress)
Footman: François, Second Gentleman-in-Waiting.
François:Napoleon! (Passes Napolean with outstretched arms to Empress)
Napoleon:This devotion to me is touching, but it's not touching me. I must be quarantined -- irritating -- fills me with schmerkase.
Footman: Gaston, Third Gentleman-in-Waiting. (Heads straight for the Empress)
Napoleon:Well, they are all taking the detour. Over there, Gas! Emperor of the world, what is there left for me to conquer?
Alphonse: Go to the North Pole -- Africa.
François: Go to the end of the world.
Napoleon: What, Napoleon in Russia, and leave my Josephine alone with the Court?
Josephine: Napoleon, how can you doubt my love? (Business of everybody kissing the Empress)
Napoleon: There is a lot of heavy lipping going on around here, but somehow or other I got shoved out of it. Forgive me, my Queen. I don't doubt your love. When I look into your big blue eyes, I know that you are true to the Army. I only hope it remains a standing Army. Fortunately France has no Navy, but then every man has qualms. Even an Emperor. (Business with hat)
Josephine: Ah! Ah! Napoleon.
Napoleon: But I must not tarry. I must be off. Josephine, if I leave you here with these three snakes -- chiselers -- I must be off. I must be off to make Russia safe for sinus trouble. To make Russia safe for the five-year plan. That's how I bought this furniture.
Josephine: Napoleon, when you go, all France is with you.
Napoleon: Yes, and the last time I came home all France was with you, and a slice of Italy too.
François: He means me.
Napoleon: Oh, it's you.
Josephine: Napoleon, fight as you never fought before. Don't forget your flannels.
Napoleon: I shall not fire until I see the whites of their eggs, and you can lay to that. There's a good yolk, Josephine, when one wears flannels, one can't forget. Alphonse . . . François . . . well, it's still breathing. He took a crack at it. I'll leave my Josephine in your arms. My honor is safe. (Gaston does baseball slide onto dress)
François and Alphonse: Safe!
Napoleon: If you are going to get on, I'm going to get off. Get me a reservation for tomorrow night. It is like a free lunch counter. Three jolly wouldpeckers. Can you play . . . (To Gaston) Hey, wait until I'm through. Hereafter, gentlemen, the line forms on the right. Farewell, my Queen. Beyond the Alps lies more Alps, and the Lord 'Alps those that 'Alps themselves. Vive la France! (Music. Exit L.)
Alphonse: Darling, I'll be right back. (Exit L.)
François: Josie, I'll be hump back or half back. (Exit L.) (Gaston business with Josephine, Exit L.)
Alphonse: Why are you crying?
Josephine: I thought you were never coming.
Alphonse: I thought Napoleon was never going.
Josephine: Are you sure he has gone?
Alphonse: Yes, he just kissed me goodbye.
Josephine: Me, too.
Alphonse: Josephine! (Knock offstage)
Josephine: Alphonse! Hide! Someone is coming. (Napoleon peeps in)
Napoleon: Ten seconds I've been gone, and she is still vertical, and no one is here. Ah! She loves me. Isn't she beautiful? (Business of dancing) (Enter footmen)
Josephine: Alfred, bring champagne.
Napoleon: Get me a bologna sandwich. Never mind the bologna. Never mind the bread. Just bring the check. Get me a wine brick.
Josephine: Oh! It's you. I thought you were at the front.
Napoleon: I was, but nobody answered the bell, so I came around here.
Josephine: Well, what are you looking for?
Napoleon: My sword -- I lost my sword.
Josephine: There it is, dear, just where you left it.
Napoleon: How stupid of you. Why didn't you tell me? Look at that point. I wish you wouldn't open sardines with my sword. I am beginning to smell like a delicatessen. My infantry is beginning to smell like the Cavalry. Farewell, my Queen, farewell. I'm going any minute now, farewell. It's ten cents a dance. I run on the hour and the half hour. Get a load of this footwork. Get me while I'm hot, Josie.
Josephine: Napoleon, remember, I expect you to return home victorious.
Napoleon: Our just is cause. We cannot lose. I am fighting for France, Liberty, and those three snakes hiding behind the curtain. Farewell, vis-a-vis Fifi D'Orsay. If my laundry comes, send it general delivery, care of Russia, and count it -- I was a sock short last week. My brassiere was missing too. The last time I had to use my mashie and you might sew on a button hither and yon. Hither is not bad, but yon is terrible. Farewell, my Queen. Vive la France. (Music cue. Exit L.)
Alphonse: Josephine! (Knock offstage)
Josephine: Alphonse -- hide.
François: Josie, has he gone?
François: Anybody. Ah! Josie, you are so beautiful.
François: But, Josie, I am just starting.
Josephine: But remember, I'm an Empress.
François: Well, you don't Empress me very much. Why don't you marry me?
Josephine: What about Napoleon?
François: I'll marry him too. He's got money. He's the guy I'm really after.
Josephine: Why, that's bigamy.
François: Yes, and it's bigamy too.
Josephine: Please play. I love music. (François plays the piano) (Knock on door -- enter Napoleon) (François hides)
Napoleon: I passed a groundhog coming in here, Farewell, my Queen, farewell.
Josephine: Napoleon, now what's wrong?
Napoleon: I lost my sword. I had a swell chance to stab one of those Russians. It was right near the gates of Moscow. If I find my sword, I Moscow and get him. He promised to wait, but you can't depend on those Greasers. He was a Russian Serf. It Serfs me right. I'm sorry now Lincoln freed the Serfs, if that's the way they're going to act. I am getting disgusted with the whole war. If it rains tomorrow, I think I'll stay in bed. What are your plans, babe? The only thing that keeps me going is your devotion; it keeps me coming back too, I guess. It's women like you that make men like me like women like you. I guess I said something that time. Jo, you're as true as a three-dollar cornet, and believe me, that's nothing to blow about, and if you don't like it, you can trumpet. Where's my sword? Without my sword I'm a second lieutenant -- letter carrier. I'm always holding the bag. I'll be an elevator starter by the time you get through with me. Ah! There's my sword. I wish you wouldn't open sardines with my sword. Oh, no, we had that, didn't we? Looks like I'm off again. The Russians are in full retreat, and I'm right in front of them.
Josephine: Ah! Darling, when you're away at night, I do nothing but toss and turn.
Napoleon: I don't mind the turning, but cut out the tossing. There has been a lot of talk about that lately. Farewell, my Queen. Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and I've got rhythm -- last two weeks in August. (Music cue -- Exit L.)
Josephine: Gaston! I thought you were never coming. Won't you please play for me? (Gaston plays the piano. Knock is heard -- Gaston sits on couch -- Empress sits on Gaston's lap to hide him -- Napoleon enters)
Napoleon: Farewell, my Queen, farewell. One last kiss before I go. (Kneels and kisses Gaston's hand which is around Josephine's waist) My left flank has been turned -- my rear end has been cut off, but I'll fight it out. Have you been ploughing? Josephine, have you been hanging around a livery stable? I can't figure it out, as great as I am, I can't figure it out. (Business) One half of you are getting awfully fresh -- certainly having a good time. (Gaston puts finger to Empress' nose) Any answer I give you would seem disrespectful.
Josephine: Napoleon, dear, I thought you had gone away. (More business with hands on couch)
Napoleon: I guess that's what Studebaker means by free feeling. I was detained. My horse overslept. My horse had his valves ground. When a fella needs a friend. I lost my sword and rubbers. I was in the midst of furious fighting. (More business with hands on couch) You're going to need a lot of money for gloves this winter. You have more hands than a pinochle deck.
Josephine: Napoleon, that's a wonderful uniform you are wearing. (More business on couch)
Napoleon: Josephine, you haven't got my horse under there, have you? Have you shifted your ballast, or is it my astigmatism? Where's my sword? (Gaston and Josephine point) Josephine, were there three swords? There seems to be a difference of opinion. Ah! There's my sword. (More business on couch) Come on, the whole three of you. Where are my rubbers?
Josephine: Here they are. (Gaston puts feet out from under Empress' dress)
Napoleon: Are those your feet? Maybe you better go to war and I'll stay here. You're getting an awful pair of gondolas, Josephine. They must have crossed you with an elephant. You are getting an awful pair of dogs, Josie. Oh! You are breaking them in for me? I wish you wouldn't wear them around the house. You know what happened to Empress Catherine of Russia. Well, she was headstrong and footstrong too, and they had to send for the Court physician. (Business of putting on rubbers) Ah! Ah! Not tonight, Josephine. They certainly feel good, all right. I don't know who is wearing them, but they certainly feel good. (Cue for trumpet offstage) Josephine, what are they playing? That old Southern melody -- The Marseillaise in the Cold Cold Ground -- The Lucky Strike Hour. Vive la France. (Music -- Exit L.) (Napoleon returns) I forgot to forget my sword.
Josephine: Oh, dear. I feel so faint. I must have music, sweet music. The harp. (Josephine rings bell. Footman enters.) Bring in the harp. (Gaston starts to play and Josephine sings. Gaston stops and plays a few chords at the ends of phrases. After song, Gaston plays solo. At the end of solo, knock is heard.) Hide! Hide!
Napoleon: (From behind couch) Josephine, it's me, the head man.
Josephine: Not yet.
Napoleon: Not yet, what? Josephine, it's me.
Josephine: I can't see you.
Napoleon: You never could.
Josephine: Don't be so fresh.
Napoleon: I can't help it. I"m wrapped in cellophane.
Josephine: François, will you keep quiet? Do you want Alphonse to hear you?
Napoleon: Women! Don't try to wool the pull over my eyes. Women! Who's been here?
Josephine: I have.
Napoleon: Remember, you can feel some of the people all of the time, some of the people all of the time, all of the -- oh! The hell with that. I just made that up. Lincoln copped it from me. Someone has been here. Ah! He's a harp.
Josephine: 'Tis my harp, and I was practicing.
Napoleon: I don't want you practicing with a harp. That's why I built the English Channel. Deep stuff. Don't you think that your perfidiousness is apparent to me? Do you think you can stand there and make a schlemiel out of Napoleon? Do you think it's fun being Napoleon? How would you like to be Napoleon and stand like this for one hundred and fifty years -- a hundred and sixty? Someone has been here. I'm going to investigate. I'll smoke out these Siberian jackrabbits. (Napoleon throws snuff)
Josephine: I love but you. (Business of sneezing)
Napoleon: They say a man's home is his castle. Mine must be the Pennsylvania Station. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Josephine: Napoleon, no one has been here, no one is here.
Napoleon: Why, if I thought there was I'd . . . (Business of sneezing) What was that -- static?
Josephine: No, my hay fever. (More sneezing)
Napoleon: How many statics have you got? Officer of the guard, remove the swine. (Business of soldiers pulling Napoleon) Hey! You've got the wrong swine. If it wasn't so muddy, I'd take off. Come out here. I know you. (To Gaston) Take that off. I know you. (Tries to remove sword from sheath) Oh! I can't beat popular mechanics. (Gaston spits in sword holder) From Emperor to Cuspidor in two generations. So, my good Queen, while the Emperor has been winning victories on foreign fields, he has been losing on the home ground. So this is how you uphold the honor of the Bonapartes? Zounds on you, you Zanie. Zanes on you, you Zounie. Do you know what I"m going to do to you? Company fall in, right about face, forward march! (They exit)
Josephine: Napoleon, what are you going to do to them?
Napoleon: Look at them down there in the courtyard. The firing squad will soon give you my answer. (Business of Groucho doing a horse laugh) (First shot offstage) There goes Alphonse. (Second shot offstage) There goes François. (Third shot offstage) There goes Gaston. (After third shot, two soldiers run across stage in B.V.D.'s followed by Gaston) (Gaston fires two more shots onstage at soldiers) (Cue for curtain -- Music cue)
©1995-2006, Frank M. Bland
The pages under www.marx-brothers.org/whyaduck were originally created by Frank Bland for his site www.whyaduck.com. Frank did kindly give me permission to use the contents of his site.
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