Through much of the first decades of the 20th century, the Marx Brothers were a rising act in vaudeville theaters. In the early days of talking movies, they made the transition, and became film stars. In the early 1930’s the brothers broke into radio. Their radio show featured Groucho and Chico as they tried to run a law office known as Flywheel Shyster and Flywheel.
Sadly, only one complete episode, and a few fragments of shows are all that remain from this program with Groucho as Flywheel, and Chico as his sidekick, Revelli. Fortunately, the scripts from these shows do exist, and in the early 1990’s the BBC produced a series of remakes. Voice actors were hired to recreate the characters, and the scripts came to life once more. The actors do a wonderful job at presenting the characters just as they were created and styled by Groucho, Chico, and the rest of the original cast.
The excellent job done by voice actors, and production crew present old time radio to a new audience. Just as it might have been heard back then, only with better technology.
Scripts consist of comedy bits the Marx Brothers used on stage in their act, as well as from their movies. The routines were repackaged for radio programming. Even with the BBC productions, the cast occasionally made a few ad libs to add to the humor in the show.
The show was originally titled, “Beagle Shyster and Beagle,” but word on the street has it that there was a real life lawyer named Beagel who took offense at the use of his name. Although that story is true and documented, there’s another that isn’t. The new show was a hit, and recieved good ratings, but the sponsor wasn’t entirely sure of the show. Groucho’s style of humor was not one that sat well with everybody. It is said that when the show changed names, the only explanation Groucho gave to listeners was one episode where he claimed that he had gone through a divorce, and went back to his maiden name. Divorce was a huge social taboo at the time, and not one the sponsors felt was in good tast. The show wasn’t renewed for another season.
Groucho has had an impact on comedians all through the decades since this show was new, so a lot of the humor can feel like a cliche, or old jokes. Given the limits the humor pushed 80 years ago, it often is still relevant for people of today.
Tracks in the Show:
Show fragment. A five minute excerpt from 05-08-1933.
TV Interview with the cast of Flywheel Shyster and Flywheel. 1992. (8 min.)
Part 1 of Flywheels Production Of Romeo and Juliet. 06-09-1990.
Groucho Marx and Friends. Backstrap Molasses. (Danny Kaye, Jimmy Durante, and Ella Fitzgerald.)