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The Original Owner of "The Gookie"

The puffy-cheeked, cross-eyed look that Harpo gave onstage came from a cigar-store roller who heavily concentrated on his work, so much that he made a hilarious face without realizing. Who was this "gookie"? What happened to the cigar store? A letter from Fergus Gwynplaine MacIntyre explains:

Greetings to the webmaster of the "You're Only Young Forever" site. My name is Fergus Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I am the author of the N.Y. Daily News article which you referenced on your website. It was my article which revealed, for the first time, that Amadeo Gucci was the true source of Harpo Marx's 'Gookie'. This information was never published anywhere before I divulged it in my Daily News article. You may have heard of Irving Caesar. He was the songwriter who wrote the lyrics to 'Tea for Two', 'Swanee', 'I Want to Be Happy' and many other classic songs. He lived to be over 100 years old. Irving Caesar was raised in the same Yorkville neighbourhood as the Marx brothers, and knew them during their childhood and adolescence. Irving Caesar (1895-1996) was younger than Gummo but older than Zeppo, so during their Yorkville days he was slightly in awe of Chico, Harpo and Groucho, as they were all several years older than him. When I first had read Harpo Marx's (and Rowland Barber's) reminiscence about the cigar-maker named 'Gookie', I realised that this was very unlikely to be a real name, and it occurred to me that 'Gucci' -- a common Italian name -- was far more likely. The Marx boys, being of German-Alsatian descent, would have been unfamiliar with Italian names (Chico's accent notwithstanding). If the cigar store had displayed the name 'Gucci' on the door or in a window, the boys would naturally have mispronounced this name as 'Gookie'. I was introduced to Irving Caesar a few years before he died. Well into his nineties, his memory was excellent, and he reminisced freely about his Yorkville boyhood. Without mentioning the Marxes or my theory, I asked him if he recalled a cigar-roller named Gucci. I was careful to give this name its Italian pronunciation -- 'Gootchey' -- so as to avoid influencing Caesar's memory. With a broad smile on his face, he recalled that there had indeed been a cigar-merchant named Amadeo Gucci who made his own wares in the window of his shop in Lexington Avenue. "We called him Gookie," Caesar told me, without specifically including the Marx brothers in his comment. Doing some detective work, I tracked down some old Manhattan business directories, and I believe that I have established the location of Gucci's (Gookie's) cigar store. It no longer exists. Simon Louvish's biography of the Marx Brothers, 'Monkey Business', states that Harpo's inspiration for the Gookie was a cigar-maker named Gehrke. This is nonsense. The Marxes, raised in a German-speaking household, would have been well aware of the correct pronunciation of the name 'Gehrke'. But with no knowledge of Italian, they would not have known how to pronounce 'Gucci'.

Pinchy-Winchy and Peasey-Weasey to all Marx Brothers fans!

Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre

 


Note to Mr. MacIntyre from the webmistress: It seems I could not reply to your email because the delivery failed. So here I shall thank you VERY much for this information. We all appreciate it. (I will also check out your book soon!) I hope you see this note. Thanks again!

 

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