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REVIEWING GROUCHO, HARPO, CHICO, JIMMY STEWART—AND ME

It’s a bit awkward reviewing projects in which I am involved. I’ve always made a practice of stating it up front, even though in most cases I’m only a contributor and not responsible for the documentary, book, or DVD as a whole. That doesn’t mean I can hide or ignore my enthusiasm for some of these endeavors, and that’s true of these new releases.

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I am quoted in the promotion of Robert S. Bader’s massive new tome Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers On Stage (Northwestern University Press). Robert is a friend who has been obsessively pursuing this project for years, documenting little-known (and often unknown) facts about the brothers’ early years in vaudeville and eventual move to Broadway. It’s amazing to ponder how long they worked together before they ever set foot in front of a camera. I call Robert’s book “a revelation” because that’s exactly what it is. One of the services he has rendered for posterity is debunking many fanciful but usually fictitious stories that Groucho, Harpo and Chico spun about themselves for years. He also provides eye-popping illustrations I’ve never seen before. Visit his website HERE

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I am happy to be an interviewee in Constantine Nasr’s new 80-miute documentary The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos, which is part of Universal Home Entertainment’s new four-disc Blu-ray set comprising all of the Marxes’ early talkies: The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup. There’s little that hasn’t already been said about these peerless comedians but I still found it entertaining to trace their careers and methodology with the help of such experts as Robert Bader, Dick Cavett, Groucho’s grandson Andy, F.X. Feeney, David Mandel, Jeffrey Vance, Drew Casper, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Anthony Slide, and Harpo’s son Bill. I also provide a commentary track for Duck Soup in tandem with Robert Bader which I hope is fun to listen to. The set offers new high-resolution scans of the original film negatives and excerpts of Harpo and Groucho’s appearances on the Today show. Check it out HERE

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I have never been a chapter in someone else’s book before. I now find myself in that unusual position thanks to Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph’s  A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies (University Press of Mississippi). When I was starting out as an 8mm and 16mm hobbyist when I was a kid, I never thought of collectors in a heroic light; most of the folks I knew were strange, even nutty. Many of them survived a well-publicized attack on film collectors in the 1970s by the FBI. I had friends who moved their prints to the homes of parents or friends lest a Federal agent come knocking on their door. How times have changed! Now collectors have emerged as “good guys” in the ongoing effort to save as much of film history as possible. You’ll meet a fascinating array of these characters in this colorful and well-written book. Check it out HERE

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Finally, when Robert Matzen asked if I would write a foreword to his book Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (Goodknight Books) I said yes because I’ve admired his other work, especially his books on Errol Flynn. In this fascinating text he traces Stewart’s experiences during World War II, from his efforts to enlist—despite the wishes of his studio, MGM—to his insistence on engaging in combat. For the rest of his life Stewart politely refused to discuss his wartime years except in the broadest terms. Here, for the first time, you will learn what he endured and why it changed him forever as a man and as an actor. The most poignant tribute the author has received is the quote he prints on his back cover from Stewart’s daughter Kelly, who says “As Jimmy Stewart’s children, we have always known that our father’s service during the war was the most significant event of his life, although he rarely spoke of it. This book gives us the best glimpse we will ever have of what that experience was like for him and the men he flew with. Thank you, Robert Katzen.” Check it out HERE

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight.

He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?)

He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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