Where can you get a job that gives you the chance to see and gab with the great Groucho Marx and other classic movie legends just about every day? After Navy recall service in the Korean War, I was hired in 1953 to work in one of the most luxurious towns in America.
I became a $100-a-week employee of the Beverly Hills Citizen, now long out of print. It had been a twice-a-week free morning newspaper. After it was purchased that year by Will Rogers Jr., son of the famed humorist, it became a daily and required paid subscriptions.
One of my first tasks, in addition to writing local news stories, was to visit Beverly Hills families to recruit pre-teen paper delivery boys. (In 1953, no girls.) Each would solicit and collect $30 a month from subscribers and earn $20 in pay.
Many recruiting visits were to the upscale city’s most expensive mansions. Back then, they sold for a lofty half-million bucks. Today, they list for $10 million and more. It was a bit intimidating when ushered into posh living rooms, sometimes by a uniformed butler.
When I spoke with parents who were famed producers, actors and directors, my pitch was that the experience would give their boys real responsibilities and valuable learning for later business careers. It worked, and we soon had a 50-member corps of delivery boys.
Of course, being Beverly Hills brats, some delivered their newspapers from the back seats of family limos. Others found kids from more modest Los Angeles homes and paid them to do the deliveries.
One benefit of working for the newspaper was that I always could expect to bump into the era’s most famous people in Beverly Hills restaurants and stores. I recall seeing Jerry Lewis, James Stewart, Yul Brynner, Jack Benny, Charlton Heston, Lana Turner, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. And best of all, Groucho Marx.
Groucho’s house was just a short walk from the newspaper building, and he stopped by the front office several mornings a week to check on the news and talk with us. Far from the exaggerated slapstick character he portrayed on the screen, to us he was a kindly father figure.
As we became better acquainted, he asked about my Korean War service that had just ended. I told him it was with an aircraft carrier air group. We spent six months’ deployment in Korea and 18 months at a Navy air station before returning to civilian life.
I griped to him that the $100-a-week newspaper salary was less than my Navy chief petty officer pay had been. Groucho then gave me advice I followed for the next 40 career years. He told of early experiences with his brothers, and how they struggled with low-pay jobs to make their way out of NYC’s Lower East Side ghetto poverty.
Groucho said the best thing about being unhappy with a lousy job is that if you keep searching, whatever comes along has to be a better one. It worked for me, and I eventually achieved a 30-year management career with a major insurance company.
After all the many decades since, I still treasure my conversations with the kindly and brilliant Groucho Marx.