Chico Marx and the Eucalooka Tree

{the following is a story excerpted from A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father, by Chris Lemmon. For George Burns' 95th birthday, the Round Table members at Hillcrest (including Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, and Danny Thomas) threw George a Roast, at which Jack Lemmon and his son Chris were invited to perform. After the performance, Jack and Chris had the opportunity to hear Milton Berle tell this story about Chico Marx and the "Eucalooka" tree. Chris retold the story in his book and it is that version, from Chris' point of view, that is recounted here. Confused yet? Just read.}

All four Marx brothers were beloved members of Hillcrest and spent a great deal of time there, but of the four it was Chico who had the deepest passion for golf. He loved to play the game and he loved to bet on the game--and from what I've heard, it's fortunate he made a good living.

Chico had a regular group he would play with once or twice a week, and the money would fly. Chico also had what golfers call an "angry duck hook" which meant that he'd slam the ball way out to the right, and then, in midair, it would veer violently back, turning left, toward its original target. Hitting a draw from right to left can be a good thing if it's done in a controlled manner, but evidently Chico's hook was so heinous that people on neighboring fairways were known to take cover when he was in the neighborhood.

Now, according to the story, it just so happened that there was a huge eucalyptus tree two hundred yards out on the eleventh fairway, right where someone who has an "angry duck hook" would have to aim. Knowing this (and knowing as well Chico's propensity to take on just about any challenge), his fellow players would raise the stakes to astronomic heights whenever they reached the eleventh hole. And, invariably, Chico's drive would curve straight into the trunk of that (expletive) eucalyptus tree. And invariably, he'd jump up and down screaming, "(Expletive) Eucalooka tree" (unfortunately, watching Milton Berle jump up and down while imitating Chico Marx's thick Brooklyn accent can't be described in words). "I'm comin' out here wit a axe, I'm tellin' ya I'm gonna chop dat (expletive) down!" And still the game continued.

Over the years the bets increased, along with Chico's frustration, and finally one day Chico had enough. Standing on the eleventh tee, a cold sweat dripping down from his brow, he took his swing and watched as his ball traced its inevitable arc towards Eucalyptus globulus N.O. Myrtaceae.

"Son of a (expletive)!! That's it!!" he screamed. Then he turned to his playing partners who were doing their best to control their laughter.

"You tink dis is funny, huh? Every time that (expletive) Eucalooka tree gets me, huh? Pretty funny, huh?" At that his partners fell out, enraging Chico all the further.

"All right, I'm tellin' you what. Next week, I'm bettin' youz ten tousand dollars, longest drive, right 'ere!"

Despite their protests, Chico persisted, and the bet was on. It was all the talk of the club, and as the week wore on, furious side betting was observed from the course to the board room. It got to the point where daily odds were being displayed in the pro shop. As the day of reckoning grew closer, the tension in the air was almost palpable.

Chico was seen on the practice range, a place he'd barely acknowledged in the past, furiously hitting drive after drive, and taking as many lessons as humanly possible with the club pro--all to no avail. The "angry duck hook" only got worse. In fact, it got to the point where Chico's only hope of hitting the range in front of him was to aim pretty much perpendicular to it, directly at the clubhouse, which reportedly got the attention of more than one luncheon group seated on the veranda.

Finally, when the morning of the competition arrived, Chico's playing partners found themselves waiting on the first tee with a sizable gallery of senior club members gathered to watch. Fifteen minutes after their start time had been called, there was still no sign of Chico, and the members were starting to murmur about a no-show. But then, cool as a cucumber, he came striding out of the clubhouse, eyeing the crowd of elder members.

"What da hell's goin' on 'round 'ere? Aren't youz guys supposed ta be in da clubhouse playin' cards and dyin'?"

He approached his partners and tipped his hat. "Mornin' boys, shall we's get to it?"

And the game was on. As they played the front nine, the crowd thickened, and at the turn there were close to a hundred people following the group. All noticed how cool Chico seemed compared to his manic state during the previous week. Even his partners noticed the nonchalant attitude he affected through the front nine, as well as the better-than-usual play that accompanied it.

At last Chico and his entourage arrived at the eleventh tee. From the elevated hillock he took a long look out at the hole, then turned and smiled at the throng and his approaching partners.

"Everybody ready for showtime?" he called as the group crested the rise where they could look out over the eleventh fairway.

And there they were greeted by an amazing sight: the "Eucalooka" tree was gone. Chico had hired a bunch of guys to come in during the night and chop it down. There was stunned silence while Chico stood on the tee, chuckling at his playing partners.

"(Expletive) Eucalooka tree got what was comin' to it!" he announced. Then he turned, spiked his ball into the ground, aimed totally perpendicular to the fairway, let loose a huge swing, and, for the first time in his natural life, didn't hit an "angry duck hook".

As a matter of fact, he actually slammed the ball straight over the fence of Hillcrest's property line, straight over Motor Avenue and over the fence of Rancho Park golf course across the street, onto the fourteenth green, and straight into MGM boss Louis B. Mayer's rear end. {This is where I crack up!!}

Later on, in his cups, Chico was heard to lament, "(Expletive) Eucalooka tree--now I ain't never woikin' again."

{To the copyright police: I do not own this story or these words and I have given ample credit at the top of the post. Please do not sue me. As a matter of fact, it is extremely likely that this little excerpt of mine will increase reader interest in the book and so really, you should be sending me an ample royalty check, not to mention a big dose of thanks. You're welcome, don't mention it.}

1 comment:

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