March 22, 1967

In 1961, comedians Groucho Marx and Woody Allen met for the first time and embarked on a friendship that would last 16 years. Marx – the 45-year-old eldest of the couple – reminded Allen of “a Jewish uncle in my family, a wise Jewish uncle with a sarcastic wit”, while Allen was, according to Marx in 1976, “the most comically talented important around”. In March 1967, after a long pause in their correspondence which Allen found infuriating, Marx finally wrote him a letter. Despite efforts to determine its meaning, the “WW” that Marx uses to address Allen remains a mystery.

Dear WW:

Goodie Ace told an unemployed friend of mine that you were disappointed or annoyed or happy or drunk that I didn’t answer the letter you wrote to me a few years ago. You know, of course, there’s no money to answer letters – unless they’re letters of credit from Switzerland or the Mafia. I am writing to you reluctantly, because I know you are doing six things simultaneously – five including sex. I don’t know where you find the time to correspond.

Your play, I hope, will still be in play when I arrive in New York the first or second week of April. It must be terribly boring for the critics who, if I remember correctly, said it wouldn’t do because it was too funny. Since it’s still running, they must be even more annoyed. It happened to my son’s piece, on which he collaborated with Bob Fisher. The moral is this: don’t write a comedy that makes the audience laugh.

This critical issue has been discussed since my Bar Mitzvah almost 100 years ago. I never told anyone this, but I received two gifts when I grew out of childhood into what I imagine today to be manhood. An uncle, who was then in the money, gave me a pair of long black stockings, and an aunt, who was trying to make me, gave me a silver watch. Three days after receiving these gifts, the watch disappeared.

The reason he disappeared was because my brother Chico didn’t play pool as well as he thought. He snagged it in a pawn shop on 89th Street and Third Avenue. One day, while wandering aimlessly, I discovered it hanging in the window of the shank shop. If my initials hadn’t been engraved on the back, I wouldn’t have recognized it, because the sun had dulled it so much that it was now coal black. The stockings, which I had worn for a week without ever having them washed, were now a heather green. It was my total reward for surviving 13 years.

And that is, briefly, why I haven’t written to you in some time. I still wear the stockings – they’re not my stockings anymore, they’re just parts of my leg.

You wrote that you were coming here in February, and I, in a frenzy of excitement, bought so much cold cuts that if I had kept it cold cash instead of cold cuts, that would have supported my contribution to the United Jewish Union. Welfare fund for 1967 and ’68.

I think I’ll be at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. And for God’s sake, don’t have any more success – it’s driving me crazy. My best wishes to you and your boyfriend, little Dickie.