Richard Anobile, Chronicler of the Marx Brothers, Dies at 76

Richard Anobile, a prolific creator of film books whose friendly collaboration with the anarchic comedian Groucho Marx on a project called “The Marx Bros. Scrapbook” turned sour when Marx sued to stop its distribution after reading his unedited quoted remarks in print, died on Feb. 10 in Toronto. He was 76.

His wife, Elizabeth (Golfman) Anobile, said the cause was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Mr. Anobile (pronounced a-NO-buh-lay) first entered the world of Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx with the publication of “Why a Duck?” (1971) — the title is based on wordplay between Groucho and Chico over the word “viaduct” in “The Cocoanuts” (1929) — which combined blowups of frames from scenes in eight of the comedy team’s films with the dialogue that accompanied them. Groucho Marx wrote the introduction.

“The Marx Bros. Scrapbook,” published two years later, was a more ambitious project, and it brought Mr. Anobile into closer contact with Groucho, then in his 80s, through an introduction by his agent.

In addition to excerpts from his many hours of interviews with Groucho, the book included photographs and illustrations, as well as playbills, reviews, advertisements, family scrapbook entries and pages from film scripts. Mr. Anobile also interviewed the other two surviving Marx brothers, Gummo (who left the group long before they started making movies) and Zeppo, as well as friends like Jack Benny.

Writing in The Chicago Sun-Times, the film critic Roger Ebert called the book “the all-time definitive work on the subject.”

But Groucho regretted the publication of his raw opinions of people like his brother Chico (“All he could do was shoot the piano keys”); Noël Coward and Truman Capote (whom he tarred with gay slurs); George M. Cohan (“a no-good Irish son of a bitch”); S.J. Perelman, who contributed to the scripts of two Marx Brothers films (“I hated the son of a bitch and he had a head as big as my desk”); and Marilyn Monroe, who had a small role in “Love Happy” (1949), the brothers’ last film.

In late 1973, he sought an injunction in New York State Supreme Court to stop the distribution of the book, although it had already been delivered to bookstores nationwide. He argued that it contained “defamatory, scandalous, obscene and inflammatory matter” and that Mr. Anobile had assured him that he was going to turn his raw language into respectable prose.

Whatever it was he had said — to paraphrase a song he had sung in “Horse Feathers” (1932) — he was against it.

To prove that Groucho had said what he had said, Mr. Anobile brought the tapes of their interviews into court. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1974, Mr. Anobile recalled cautioning him not to say anything during the interviews that he did not want to see published.

He added, “He signed a jacket of the book, ‘This is a wonderful book, Richard, thanks to you.’”

Marx — who staged one of his depositions in a Manhattan hotel suite wearing a shirt patterned with the titles of Marx Brothers films and bearing the slogan “Money talks” — never got the injunction or the $15 million in damages that he had demanded.

Mr. Anobile told the blog Brain Dead and Loving It in 2018 that the case was settled after Groucho Marx’s death in 1977.

Richard Joseph Anobile was born on Feb. 6, 1947, in the Bronx. His father, Joseph, was a government worker; his mother, Isabella (Lanzella) Anobile, was a homemaker who sometimes worked in a bakery. He grew up watching old comedies on television and studied film at the City College of New York; he said he directed one film there but grew disenchanted with the courses and got a job in the paid obituaries department of a newspaper.

Another job, with the film collector Raymond Rohauer, led him to work on retrospectives of the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy at the supermarket heir Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art in Manhattan. In 1969, he published his first book — “Drat: Being the Encapsulated View of Life by W.C. Fields in His Own Words” — about the comedian with the bulbous nose and misanthropic screen persona who starred in films like “It’s a Gift” (1934) and “The Bank Dick” (1940).

It was the start of an unusual publishing career. Mr. Anobile went on to combine movie frames and dialogue in books that ambitiously reconstructed complete films, including “Casablanca,” “Psycho,” Stagecoach,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Frankenstein” and “Play It Again, Sam.” He used the same formula to describe “verbal and visual gems” in the films of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers.

He continued to publish into the 1980s, when he realized that people were more likely to watch a film on videocassette than experience it through a book-length, frame-by-frame reconstruction.

He moved into television production — where he had wanted to be since he was in college — and worked largely as a postproduction supervisor on movies like “Liberace: Behind the Music” (1988) and “Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story” (2004), and series including “Murdoch Mysteries.” He was also the associate producer of some TV projects and, last year, a producer of episodes of “The Kings of Napa,” a series about the wine business on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Anobile is survived by his stepdaughter, Tamara Kruger. His two previous marriages ended in divorce.

When Mr. Anobile began work on “Why a Duck?,” he recalled, he envisioned creating a short, simple book, like “Drat,” filled with quotations and stills from Marx Brothers films. Instead, it became a detailed 288-page book, with scenes matched to their dialogue.

“I became so involved with their comedy that I began having guilt feelings about hatcheting my way through their films, plucking one line here and one line there and pawning it off as representative of their humor,” he wrote in “Why a Duck?” “So, faced by the bulk of what I had already accumulated, I decided to do what no one had tried — compile as complete a volume as possible by attempting a literal translation from celluloid to paper.”

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