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: 1
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 a letter of resignation: 2
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: 3
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. 4
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.
- 1949 October 20, Dunkirk Evening Observer, In Hollywood by Erskine Johnson, Page 22, Column 5, Dunkirk, New York. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1951 October 13, Collier’s magazine, Groucho Is My Pop by Arthur Marx, Page 14, Column 2, P.F. Collier, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 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) ↩
- 1992 [reprint of 1988 edition], My Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx, Pages 187-188, Robson Books Ltd., London. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩