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Classic Hollywood: A Marx Brothers revival? You bet your life

With the presidential election just around the corner, the Marxist party is on the rise again. Karl? No! Try Zeppo, Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Gummo.

I'm Scott Sandell, and welcome to another special edition of Classic Hollywood.

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Several projects this year have celebrated the zany comedy of the Marx Brothers. Among them: "The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection," a Blu-ray box set that restores the racy scenes and suggestive dialogue in "Animal Crackers"; "Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage," an in-depth book by Robert S. Bader; and "I'll Say She Is," an off-Broadway revival of the Marx Brothers' first Broadway musical.

Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx and Margaret Dumont in "Animal Crackers"
Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx and Margaret Dumont in "Animal Crackers" (Universal)

Rob Zombie is even attached to direct a film adaptation of the book "Raised Eyebrows," written by Steve Stoliar, who served as Groucho's personal secretary and archivist.

Donald Liebenson has the lowdown, along with some theories about the Marxian revival and how some of today's college students reacted when they were shown "Duck Soup." 

THE CHARMER

Warren Beatty is coming back to the silver screen with "Rules Don't Apply" as director, screenwriter, producer and actor, and Times staff writer Mark Olsen went to Beatty's house off Mulholland Drive for a must-read interview with the star.

Academy Award-winning director, producer, writer and actor Warren Beatty.
Academy Award-winning director, producer, writer and actor Warren Beatty. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

"Rules Don't Apply" is framed around Howard Hughes, but whatever you do, don't call it a biopic. Beatty had a rather lengthy explanation for what the movie is and isn't about.

The actor, who was once said to be considering a presidential candidacy in the 2000 race, was much more succinct when asked if he was surprised by the ugliness of this year's campaign: "You're calling it ugly. I would call it ridiculous."

YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS

Times columnist Patt Morrison spoke with Carl Reiner, who at 94 years old is publishing memoirs and children's books and tweeting up a storm. (You'll recognize in an instant whom he backs in the presidential race.)

He described a memorable encounter with Hedy Lamarr when they were sitting on a panel show: "I was talking to the host, and she reached into her pocketbook and took out a cigarette and I, being a gentleman, without looking at her, went like this [mimes a cigarette lighter] and I heard this voice say, Carl, vat are you going to do — light my lozenge? She'd taken out a lozenge, not a cigarette!"

EMERITUS STATUS

The spooky 1958 drama "Home Before Dark," starring Jean Simmons, was written by Eileen and Robert Bassing. Last week, Robert, now 91, got a letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The opening paragraph: "As of today, your Academy membership will be changed to emeritus (non-voting) status."

Bassing has been a member of the academy since 1958 and, after having received a request for further credits to keep his membership active, supplied the titles of unproduced screenplays he says he wrote in the 1960s and '70s for major studios and the likes of Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen. As Glenn Whipp's story on Bassing continues, "most of his other produced credits came in television, though he did co-write the 1977 zombie movie 'Evil Town,' directed by Curtis Hanson under a pseudonym."

Bassing is one of an estimated 60 to 70 members who have had their status changed as the film academy looks to diversify its membership. But Bassing says, "I just don't understand why they thought it was necessary."

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AROUND TOWN

The work of Joan Blondell doesn't get the attention it once did, but Times film critic Kenneth Turan happily notes that the late actress is getting a five-week UCLA Film & Television Archive career retrospective. It begins at 7:30 tonight with screenings of "Blondie Johnson," "Blonde Crazy" and "Big City Blues." 

On Nov. 21, the film academy will host a 70th-anniversary screening of "It's a Wonderful Life," with cast members Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu), Carol Coombs Mueller (Janie) and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy), and Tom Capra, son of director Frank Capra.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" marks its 55th anniversary with a Fathom Events screening at theaters nationwide on Nov. 27 and 30. It will include commentary from Turner Classic Movies host Tiffany Vasquez.

Mel Brooks will introduce a double feature of "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" on Nov. 12 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

-- Mel Gibson goes from most hated man in Hollywood to receiving a standing ovation.

-- At 75, Wonder Woman was named an honorary U.N. ambassador. But not everyone is happy about that.

-- The African American Film Critics Assn. will honor Sidney Poitier with its first Icon award.

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton star in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton star in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." (Columbia Pictures / Getty Images)

-- Norman Brokaw, a talent agent who represented Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, has died at 89.

-- Speaking of the King, Priscilla Presley says there is no way Elvis would be on Twitter if he were alive today.

-- The latest iteration of "The Odd Couple," on CBS, will pay tribute to the late Garry Marshall on Monday night.

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-- Bob Dylan has been reached and says he'll turn up for the Nobel Prize ceremony "if it's at all possible."

-- The Muppets will retake Manhattan for the 90th anniversary of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 24.

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page.

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