Friars Club? Delaney Club? Beverly Hills Tennis Club? Hillcrest Country Club?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful story about Groucho Marx and an elite private club. I have heard so many variants of this tale that I was hoping you would investigate. In one version Groucho resigns from a club, and in another version he refuses to join a club. He sends a telegram or a letter saying something like the following:
- I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
- I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.
- I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
- I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.
The club is called: The Friars Club of Beverly Hills, The Delaney Club, The Lambs Club, The Beverly Hills Tennis Club, or The Hillcrest Country Club. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: Evidence shows that Groucho Marx crafted a magnificently humorous line that has become a comedy classic. However, the same evidence does not reveal the exact wording of his comical gem or the precise circumstances of its employment. Yet, there is some agreement; for example, sources concur that Groucho was resigning from a club, and he was not refusing to join one.
On October 20, 1949 the Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson published the tale. This is the earliest instance located by QI [EJGR]:
Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
On October 13, 1951 the only son of Groucho, Arthur Marx, published a version of the anecdote in Collier’s Magazine. This is the earliest variant by a close family member with intimate knowledge of Groucho. Over the years Arthur Marx recounted different narratives of this episode, and some will be presented further below. In 1951 he said that Groucho joined the Friars Club at the insistence of friends, but he did not participate. So Groucho sent in a letter of resignation [AMG1]:
In the next mail, he received a letter from the club’s president, wanting to know why he had resigned. My father promptly wrote back, “Because I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member!”
In 1959 Groucho himself told about resigning a club in his memoir “Groucho and Me”, but he presented a fictionalized version of the story in which the club was referred to as the Delaney Club [GMGR]:
The following morning I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.
In 1988 Groucho’s son wrote another description of the resignation in his book “My Life with Groucho: A Son’s Eye View”. In this version Groucho resigned from the Hillcrest Country Club and not the Friars Club or the Delaney Club [AMG3].
I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
These four variants of the tale are the most salient in QI’s opinion, but several more are available. No one seems to know the exact wording of the resignation message which is endlessly mutable. Here are selected citations in chronological order.
As noted above the earliest cite located by QI is dated October 20, 1949 in Erskine Johnson’s gossip column. The next cite is dated October 27, 1949 in the newspaper column of Jimmie Fidler. The phrasing is slightly different [JFGR]:
Groucho Marx, irrepressible wit. In resigning from the Friars club Mr. Marx, incapable of passing up an opportunity for a gag-line, wrote: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
On November 2, 1949 the columnist John Crosby told the tale. He said the resignation was from the Friars club and the wording of the message was the same as that given in Erskine Johnson’s column [JCGR]. In January of 1950 the high-circulation Reader’s Digest mentioned the anecdote and cited Crosby [RDGR]:
Groucho Marx recently, I’m told, resigned from the Friars Club with the simple, chilly explanation: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
— John Crosby in New York Herald Tribune
In March of 1950 the humorist Leo Rosten wrote a profile of Groucho Marx for Look magazine that included a different wording for the saying. This variant appeared in the Yale Book of Quotations [LMGR][YQGR]:
To the Friars Club in Hollywood, from which he recently resigned, he sent the following note: “I do not care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”
In April of 1951 the Los Angeles Sentinel ran a distinctive version of the anecdote which named the Lambs Club as the recipient of the resignation message [LSGR]:
When Walter Kiernan was inducted as President of Circus, Saints and Sinners (the lorgnette club in NY), he telegram’d the following message: “.. please accept my resignation. I do not care to belong to any organization that would have me as President!” Thass awright, Sam, but it’s the same witty wordage Groucho Marx wired to the sediddy Lambs club in ’48!
In October of 1951 Groucho’s son wrote an article for Collier’s magazine as noted above. Here is a longer excerpt [AMG1]:
Once, however, when he was in a gregarious mood, he let some friends persuade him to join the Friars Club. After months of refusing to take part in any of the club’s activities, he finally decided it was foolish to pay dues any longer and sent in his resignation. In the next mail, he received a letter from the club’s president, wanting to know why he had resigned. My father promptly wrote back, “Because I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member!”
In 1954 Groucho’s son wrote on the subject a second time in his book “Life with Groucho”. Here is an excerpt [LGGR]:
Jessel has always been able to make Father laugh, and as a favor to him, he joined the Hollywood chapter of the Friars Club a couple of years ago. But Father doesn’t like club life, and, after a few months, he dropped out. The Friars were disappointed over losing him, and wanted to know why he was resigning. They weren’t satisfied with his original explanation — that he just didn’t have time to participate in the club’s activities. He must have another, more valid reason, they felt.
“I do have another reason,” he wrote back promptly. “I didn’t want to tell you, but since you’ve forced the issue, I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
In 1959 Groucho presented a humorously fictionalized account in his memoir “Groucho and Me”. The comedian described an event at the Delaney Club during which he was unhappily seated next to a “barber who had cut me many times, both socially and with a razor” [GMGR]:
At one point he looked slowly around the room, then turned to me and said, “Groucho, we’re certainly getting a lousy batch of new members!”
I chose to ignore this remark and tried talking to him about Chaucer, Ruskin and Shakespeare, but he had switched to denouncing electric razors as a death blow to the tonsorial arts, so I dried up and resumed drinking. The following morning I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.
In 1988 Groucho’s son presented a third recounting of the episode. This time the identity of the club is changed from the Friars to the Hillcrest Country Club [MLGR]:
In the late thirties, when our whole family was very much into tennis, Groucho decided to drop out of the Hillcrest Country Club, because he didn’t want to have to pay dues to two clubs, the other one being the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. But he found he just couldn’t phone the Board of Directors and tell them he was quitting. They insisted he write an official letter of resignation. This request resulted in one of his most oft-quoted lines:
I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
In conclusion, this is one of Groucho’s quintessential jokes. Yet, the specifics of the anecdote vary, and no one has presented physical evidence of the letter or telegram. QI suggests using the version of the line given by Groucho in his memoir, or the earliest 1949 version.
(Many thanks to Gregory B. Gregory whose email provided the inspiration for the construction of this question and the performance of this investigation.)
[EJGR] 1949 October 20, Dunkirk Evening Observer, In Hollywood by Erskine Johnson, Page 22, Column 5, Dunkirk, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
[AMG1] 1951 October 13, Collier’s magazine, Groucho Is My Pop by Arthur Marx, Page 14, Column 2, P.F. Collier, New York. (Verified on paper)
[GMGR] 1995 [reprint of 1959 edition], Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, Chapter 24, Page 321, Da Capo Press Inc., New York. (Verified with Amazon Look Inside)
[AMG3] 1992 [reprint of 1988 edition], My Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx, Pages 187-188, Robson Books Ltd., London. (Verified on paper)
[JFGR] 1949 October 27, Oregonian, Stanley Kramer Praised For Making Economy Films by Jimmie Fidler, McNaught Syndicate, Page 6 [GNB Page 26], Column 4, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
[JCGR] 1949 November 2, St. Petersburg Times, Marx Badgers Contestants by John Crosby, [Unreadable Page Number; Maybe 12] GN Page 14, Column 6, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News archive)
[RDGR] 1950 January, The Reader’s Digest, Rejoinders, Page 140, Volume 56, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
[LMGR] 1950 March 28, Look magazine, Groucho…The Man From Marx by Leo Rosten, Page 83, Column 1-2, Cowles Communications, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
[YQGR] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Groucho Marx, Page 498, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
[LSGR] 1951 April 05, Los Angeles Sentinel, From Harlem to Hollywood by J.T. Cipson, Page B1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
[LGGR] 1954, Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx, Page 54, New York, Simon and Schuster. (Google Books snippet view; Visually verified on paper thanks to a librarian at the University of South Florida) link
[MLGR] 1988, My Life with Groucho: A Son’s Eye View by Arthur Marx, Pages 187-188, Robson Books, London. (Verified on paper)