In his later years, comedian Groucho Marx became the unlikely penpal of poet T. S. Eliot, and the following is just one of many witty letters sent back and forth between the pair. Some background: previous to this one, Marx had started a letter informally with “Dear Tom, If this isn’t your first name, I’m in a hell of a fix! But I think I read somewhere that your first name is the same as Tom Gibbons‘, a prizefighter who once lived in St. Paul.” to which Eliot replied, “I cannot recall the name of Tom Gibbons at present, but if he helps you to remember my name that is all right with me.” Hence the first half of this letter…
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Since you are actually an early American, (I don’t mean that you are an old piece of furniture, but you are a fugitive from St. Louis), you should have heard of Tom Gibbons. For your edification, Tom Gibbons was a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, which is only a stone’s throw from Missouri. That is, if the stone is encased in a missile. Tom was, at one time, the light heavyweight champion of the world, and, although outweighed by twenty pounds by Jack Dempsey, he fought him to a standstill in Shelby, Montana.
The name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. All male cats are named Tom — unless they have been fixed. In that case they are just neutral and, as the upheaval in Saigon has just proved, there is no place any more for neutrals.
There is an old nursery rhyme that begins “Tom, Tom, the piper’s son,” etc. The third President of the United States first name was Tom … in case you’ve forgotten Jefferson.
So, when I call you Tom, this means you are a mixture of heavyweight prizefighter, a male alley cat and the third President of the United States.
I have just finished my latest opus, “Memoirs of a Mangy Lover”. Most of it is autobiographical and very little of it is fiction. I doubt whether it will live through the ages, but if you are in a sexy mood the night you read it, it may stimulate you beyond recognition and rekindle memories that you haven’t recalled in years.
Sex, as an industry, is big business in this country, as it is in England. It’s something everyone is deeply interested in even if only theoretically. I suppose it’s always been this way, but I believe that in the old days it was discussed and practiced in a more surreptitious manner. However, the new school of writers have finally brought the bedroom and the lavatory out into the open for everyone to see. You can blame the whole thing on Havelock Ellis, Krafft-Ebing and Brill, Jung and Freud. (Now there’s a trio for you!) Plus, of course, the late Mr. Kinsey who, not satisfied with hearsay, trundled from house to house, sticking his nose in where angels have always feared to tread.
However I would be interested in reading your views on sex, so don’t hesitate. Confide in me, Tom. Though admittedly unreliable, I can be trusted with matters as important as that.
My best to you and Mrs. Tom