Movie Comedy – The Wicked Wit of The West

26 Dec


Love to laugh? Love old comedy movies?

Irv The Nerve

I recently discovered a gem of a book about screenwriter Irving Brecher entitled The Wicked Wit of the West: The last great Golden-Age screenwriter shares the hilarity and heartaches of working with Groucho, Garland, Gleason, Burns, Berle, Benny & many more.

Oy, that’s a mouthful!

Who is Irving Brecher you may ask?

Irving Brecher was a comedy writer and the only screenwriter to write two Marx Brothers moviesAt the Circus and Go Westall by himself. He also punched up The Wizard of Oz, wrote Shadow of the Thin ManZiegfeld Follies, and adapted musicals Bye Bye Birdie and Meet Me In St. Louis for film.

Harpo Marx called him “Irv the Nerve.”

Groucho Marx called him “The Wicked Wit of the West.”

Author, folk journalist, and radioman extraordinaire Hank Rosenfeld spent six years getting to know Irving while they collaborated on this delightful memoir.

The Wicked Wit of the West

Hank Rosenfeld

A few questions for Hank:

Barb: This book is insightful in portraying Irv, a brilliant comic mind, but also comedy writing, comedians, screenwriting, and making movies in general. Did Irv understand his place in film history?

Hank: He understood that writers are never respected. Witness the video he did during the WGA strike in ’07. (at bottom of post)

Barb: Describe the meeting between comedy star Milton Berle and the nineteen year old Irving Brecher.

Hank: You mean where Irv leaves jokes at his stage door and Milton opens it nekkid?

Barb: Yup. (Ya gotta read the book for the juicy details!) What is your favorite story about Irv and Groucho Marx?

Hank: Picturing the two of them climbing out the window of the hotel in 1947 Moran, Wyoming scared of cowboys with guns after Groucho insulted the gal who brought the Old Fashioneds, with the pix of them falling out of the jeep in the home movie shot of that same trip, and how it ended in Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel (just opened a week) and Groucho still carrying emergency tomatoes in a brown paper bag and on the drive home getting the phone call offering him the job as host of YOU BET YOUR LIFE which paid for the rest of his life, I mean, what a trip — and there’s 16mm footage to prove it — plus the bear!

Barb: What are some of your favorite “Irv the Nerve” comedy one-liners?

Hank: So many of course, like his jokes for Groucho in Go West after he falls down the saloon steps and says to Chico: “Forget the water, force brandy down my throat.” (Which I thought would be a cool title for the book, can’t you just see it across the cover in big block font: “FORCE BRANDY DOWN MY THROAT!” And other things I wrote for Groucho to say, etc.)  His Chico line from the same movie: “I no like-a this West. I’d like-a the West much better if it was in the East.”

How he loved reading Philip Roth and called his novels: The Gripes of Roth.

Some of the ones that “put me away” were when we did a “lightning round” of Q & A to test his quick wit (Pastrami on Wry on pages 278 – 283). I set him up and he put me away. HR: “Why do people kiss?” IRV: “It’s more sanitary than shaking hands.” HR: “What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?” IRV: “My bad memory. I keep forgetting to die.”

Thank you, Hank Rosenfeld for the laughs & for sharing Irv Brecher with us.

The Wicked Wit of the West is available in paperback on Amazon


If you have any comments or stories about Irving, please tweet them @HaBarb or post on Facebook. THANK YOU!


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