October 2 is Groucho Marx’s birthday so we’re going to mix the Monkey Business cocktail as Drink of the Day. After all, Mr. Marx got into a lot of monkey business with his brothers in the movies they made, not the least of which was the film Monkey Business.
Born in 1890 as Julius Henry Marx in Manhattan, New York, he was a master of his trade. As a comedian, actor, writer, television star and vaudeville performer he fit the times with its transition from vaudeville to silent film to talkies to television. The original example of the quick wit, he lives on through the ever-popular “Groucho glasses.” You know, the horn-rimmed glasses with large plastic nose, bushy eyebrows and mustache that were first marketed as a novelty item in the early 1940s. We’re sure you have a pair stashed away somewhere, so go ahead, put them on and we’ll soon get to the Monkey Business recipe.
Growing up with four brothers in Manhattan, Groucho’s mother Minnie aspired for her sons to enter theater like their uncle. His earliest career wish was to become a doctor, but he left school at the age of 12 due to a family lack of money. He tried some entry-level office work but ended up taking to the stage as a singer. By 1909 his mother assembled her sons into a vaudeville singing group but that didn’t go so well.
After a lackluster performance the brothers began cracking jokes onstage to amuse themselves. Suddenly they discovered that audiences liked them better as comedians and the die was cast.
Groucho, of course, developed his trademark look: glasses, cigar, thick greasepaint moustache and eyebrows. He walked with one hand on the small of his back and his torso bent over with his other arm swinging. This, in fact, was an exaggerated parody what had become fashionable among young men of the time. Of course, this led to the Groucho glasses you either have or should.
Best known today for films made with his brothers Harpo, Chico and Zeppo, Duck Soup is often considered the finest. Others like Monkey Business, Animal Crackers, A Night at the Opera and a Day at the Races were also successful. They were comedies, and it’s only natural that Groucho provided memorable quotes over the years.
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
“He’s so full of alcohol, if you put a lighted wick in his mouth he’d burn for three days.”
“I must confess, I was born at a very early age.”
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
The Monkey Business Cocktail
Inspired by the movie names we selected the Monkey Business as Drink of the Day. After all, if you want duck soup or animal crackers this is the wrong place to look. In the film Monkey Business he and his brothers Harpo, Chico and Zeppo were stowaways in an ocean liner. It’s their first film that wasn’t an adaptation of one of their Broadway shows. As usual, off key singing and bad dancing are part of the mix. Hilarity ensues.
As things turn out there is more than one Monkey Business cocktail out in the wild. One is really a variation of the Bees Knees with banana liqueur added. The one we lean toward was created by Frederick Robert Yarm, a cocktail enthusiast living in Boston. He has written a couple of books on the history of Boston cocktails and publishes the Cocktail Virgin blog.
Sticking with banana liqueur for anything having to do with monkeys, this version is really a variation on Ada Coleman’s Hanky Panky. And indeed, it really is a Hanky Panky with a bit of banana liqueur added. This addition softens the Fernet Branca in a way many drinkers will enjoy.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 1½ oz Gin
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- ¼ oz Banana Liqueur We recommend Giffards, which is relatively easy to find and high quality.
- ¼ oz Fernet Branca
- Garnish: orange twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Express orange twist over drink and garnish glass.
- Queue up Marx brothers movie.
“Hold me, Groucho…closer…CLOSER!”
“…any closer, I’ll be behind ya.”