9 October 2021

Send this minor masterpiece whizzing through the film exchanges of America

In December 1948, production wrapped on Irving Cummings' It's Only Money, a RKO comedy starring Jane Russell, Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra. The film was not released right away, despite positive preview screenings and a fair amount of publicity in the film magazines. RKO boss Howard Hughes decided to put the film on the shelf, where it subsequently sat for three years. (Why Hughes chose not to release it remains unclear; it has been said that his intense dislike of Frank Sinatra —the men had a shared interest in Ava Gardner— may have been a motive.)

Someone who didn't like the picture being shelved was Groucho Marx. After performing with his brothers for decades, Groucho was working on his solo career and therefore eager to have It's Only Money released. In January 1951, two years after filming had ended, Groucho wrote to Howard Hughes and asked him to finally get "this minor masterpiece" off the shelf and into film theatres. It's not clear if Groucho's letter had anything to do with it but eleven months later the film was released. Hughes had given the picture a different title, though, i.e. Double Dynamite, apparently a reference to Russell's breasts. Due to Hughes' resentment towards Sinatra, Sinatra received third billing and his face didn't even appear on the film poster.

Double Dynamite was released in December 1951, receiving negative reviews and bad box-office results. Years later, Groucho said that with the film "[his] acting career almost went down the drain" while co-star Jane Russell dryly commented: "He [Sinatra] was playing a dumb little guy and I was playing a dumber little girl and it was a stupid picture, but we sang in it." (To watch and listen to the songs, click here for It's Only Money, sung by Sinatra and Groucho, and here for Kisses and Tears by Sinatra and Russell.)

In January 1951, Groucho wrote the following letter to Howard Hughes, perhaps later wishing he had never sent it.

January 23, 1951

Dear Mr. Hughes:

Between retooling for the war effort and dueling with Wald and Krasna, I presume you are a fairly busy man. However, I wonder if you could spare a few moments to release a picture that was made some years ago involving Jane Russell, Frank Sinatra and your correspondent. The name of the picture, if memory serves, is "It's Only Money". I never did see it but I have been told that at its various previews it was received with considerable enthusiasm.

I am not a young man any more, Mr. Hughes, and before I shuffle off this mortal coil if you could see your way clear to pry open your strong box and send this minor masterpiece whizzing through the film exchanges of America, you would not only have earned my undying gratitude but that of the United Nations, the popcorn dealers of America and three RKO stockholders who at the moment are trying to escape from the Mellon bank of Pittsburgh.

Groucho Marx 
Source: The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx (1967) 

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