The Freedonia Gazette
"Why A Duck?" @ marx-brothers.org
The Marx Brothers Study Unit was created in 1978 as an organization within the National Film Society. The NFS had organized several dozen "study units" by bringing together members with a common interest a producer/director/performer, a film genre, or an era. Once the NFS brought the people together, they left it up to each Study Unit to decide what kind of formal or informal organization each unit would have (elected officers, dictatorship or anarchy), how each would operate (by phone, by mail, and/or by meeting at the annual NFS film convention) and what their projects and goals would be. Most Study Units simply consisted of a few members exchanging letters in round-robin fashion, and most (if not all) have since disbanded. In fact, the NFS itself disappeared quite a few years ago. (So much for my Lifetime Membership!)
We realized from the start that our group had a lot of things to share with the rest of the planet, so the Marx Brothers Study Unit quickly opened up its membership to anyone who was interested, even if they were not NFS members. There were no dues nor entrance requirements. If you said you wanted to join, you were in. A self-appointed moderator (i.e., a dictator) served as the clearinghouse for information about members' expertise and experiences, for members' opinions on Marx-related topics, and for projects suggested by members for the membership as a whole.
Our first project was to begin publishing The Freedonia Gazette, a 20-page magazine devoted to the Marx Brothers. (As all Marxists know, the title comes from the 1933 film, Duck Soup, in which Groucho is dictator of the mythical country of Freedonia.) The magazine is run on a not-for-profit basis by an all-volunteer staff. The artists, writers and editors prepare their work in their spare time, in exchange for a complimentary copy of any issue their work appears in. In theory, the magazine is published semi-annually, but because of the informal nature and volunteer staff, and the fact that we have lives outside the Marx Brothers, deadlines are nonexistent and issues are predictably late. [In the mean time, Marxists can keep busy reading and rereading back issues. Most are still available, but the first four are now sold out.]
When we do get around to publishing, in addition to photographs and drawings, articles include well-researched biographical pieces about particular aspects of the Marxes' lives and careers, interviews with people who knew the Marxes, reviews of books or documentaries which mention the Marxes, reviews of stage shows which impersonate the Marxes, and interviews with the stars or creators of these shows. From time to time we set the record straight by correcting errors which other writers have made. Each issue also includes a two-page column of current news about the influence of the Marxes on the world today.
We try to balance the pedantic with the light-hearted to keep the magazine fun, and there's usually a grain of subtle wit throughout each issue. We occasionally publish humorous articles when they're original and funny, but we don't publish lame attempts at humor just for the sake of including "humor." Of course, humor is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.
The information for many of our articles comes from the archives of our publisher, Paul G. Wesolowski. He assembled this collection as "just a hobby." In real life he's a former CPA who works as Controller for a small-business finance company. The collection now includes more than 50,000 magazine and newspaper articles dating to 1905, several thousand film stills and other photographs, hundreds of rare posters from more than a dozen countries, and much more.
In addition to the magazine, this information and these photos have been used in James Robert Parish's reference book The Funsters (Arlington House, 1979); in the late Hector Arce's definitive, authorized biography Groucho (Putnam's, 1980); in Maxine Marx's Growing Up With Chico (Prentice-Hall, 1980); in Dorothy Herrmann's S.J. Perelman, A Life (Putnam's, 1986); in Arthur Marx's My Life With Groucho (Robson Books, 1988); in Allen Eyles' The Films of the Marx Brothers (Citadel, 1992), in Miriam Marx Allen's Love Groucho: Letters From Groucho Marx to His Daughter Miriam (Faber & Faber, 1992), in Robert Bader's Groucho Marx And Other Short Stories and Tall Tales (Faber & Faber, 1993) and in a forthcoming Marx Brothers Encyclopedia edited by Glenn Mitchell (1996).
Photographs and film clips from the collection were used in Robert Weide's 110-minute documentary, "The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell," which first aired on PBS in 1982 and is now available on laser disc and videocassette. Other film clips and photos from the collection were included as a supplemental chapter on a special Criterion Collection laser disc of A Night at the Opera, released in 1987. Even more photos and a few clips were used in "Here He Is ... The One, The Only ... Groucho," a documentary which first ran on HBO in October, 1991. Other photos were used in the 1993 "Biography: Groucho Marx" on the Arts & Entertainment cable network. Wesolowski also provided stills for "The Marx Brothers At Home," which will air on American Movie Classics later in 1995.
Hundreds of rare and unusual photos were used in "The Unknown Marx Brothers," a two-part documentary which Paul also co-produced, which debuted on The Disney Channel in October, 1993. It will be released on videocassette and as a CD-ROM in 1996. In addition to the two-plus hours of the original program, the CD-ROM will contain additional video clips, additional illustrations, and dozens of pages of text material supplied by PGW.
For several years Paul was guest speaker at "Freedonia Marxonia," a film festival and symposium held at the State University of New York's College at Fredonia. Wesolowski has been interviewed by a number of magazines, newspapers and radio stations, and in December 1991, his collection was profiled when he was interviewed by Andy Marx (Groucho's grandson) for the American Movie Classics cable television network.
Over the years the Study Unit lost its identity within The Freedonia Gazette, but the magazine has continued to provide all of the same benefits. We answer questions from readers. We offer contemporary Marxabilia which isn't readily available elsewhere. Each year we host an Open House so readers can meet each other, watch rare videotapes, trade memorabilia, and view our publisher's collection of Marxabilia. The Open House is usually held on one day during the Memorial Day weekend, but to find out the exact date, you'll have to read The Freedonia Gazette.
©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.
If you find text referring to "I" or "me" on pages under www.marx-brothers.org/whyaduck, this will usually refer to Frank.