The Marx Brothers Strategy to Avoid Being Kept Waiting

#MarxBrothers #meetings #waiting #punctuality

No one likes to be kept waiting, but what can you do? All of us have had the unenviable experience of showing up at the appointed time for something, only to find that not everyone holds to the same standard of punctuality. We may fuss, and we may fume, but is there any option other than to just sit and wait? The next time you find yourself in that situation, you might consider the approach taken by the Marx Brothers that ensured they were never kept waiting again.

Irving Thalberg was an executive at MGM Studios. As the man responsible for working with the Marx Brothers to bring A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races to the screen, he was well respected and liked by the comedic brothers. Thalberg had one characteristic the brothers disliked, however: lack of punctuality.


Top, left to right, Harpo Marx, Groucho March, and Chico Marx. Bottom, Irving Thalberg

Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx had already achieved fame on the stage and had grown accustomed to being treated with the respect that typically comes with stardom. Their earliest meetings with Thalberg taught them a different lesson. They arrived punctually for appointments, only to find Thalberg’s office shut.

The brothers tried waiting patiently. Then they attempted other techniques to get Thalberg’s attention. They even tried blowing cigar smoke under his door and yelling, “Fire!” in a vain attempt to get him to open the door and let them in.

Once they had an appointment at 10:00 a.m. Thalberg kept them waiting until 5:00. When he finally beckoned for them to enter the office, Groucho would have none of it. He told Thalberg that they would be back at 10:00 the next morning, and that he had better not keep them waiting.

The next morning, the boys were there promptly at 10:00. At 10:30, Thalberg let them in, but before they could get down to business, he excused himself and left to meet with someone else. This was too much for the irritated Marx Brothers, who quickly devised a way to drive home the importance of punctuality. When Thalberg returned to his office, he was met with the sight of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, squatting nude in front of his fireplace, roasting potatoes on sticks.

This seemed to do the trick, and for several weeks, Thalberg was quite punctual in all of his meetings with the Marx Brothers. The lesson did not stick, however. A few weeks after the naked potato-roasting incident, the boys showed up for a meeting and were kept waiting once again. This time they found a number of heavy file cabinets and barricaded the office door. It took Thalberg an hour to get into his office.

From that point forward, Thalberg was never late to a meeting with the Marx Brothers.

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