Erin M Fleming

Erin M Fleming


    Erin Fleming (13 August 1941 – 15 April 2003) was a Canadian actress who was best known as the companion and "secretary" to Groucho Marx in his final years

    Fleming was born Marilyn Fleming in New LiskeardOntarioCanada. She appeared in minor roles in six films between 1965 and 1976, during which time she became acquainted with Marx and moved into his house.

    Fleming's influence on Marx was controversial. Many close to him admitted that she did much to revive his popularity; these efforts included a series of one-man shows, culminating in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall which was released on a best-selling record album and an honorary Academy Award he received in 1974. Groucho's comic persona (and real-life behavior, as well) included a playful but wolfish pursuit of women. As such, observers felt the apparent relationship with a young starlet boosted Groucho's ego, adding to his vitality. Others, including Marx's son,Arthur, described her in Svengali-esque terms, accusing her of exploiting an increasingly senile and frail Marx in pursuit of her own stardom.

    In the years leading up to Marx's death in August 1977, his heirs filed several lawsuits against Fleming. One allegation leveled against Fleming was that she was determined to sell Marx's favorite car, a Cadillac, against his wishes. When Marx protested, it was said, Fleming threatened, "I will slap you from here to Pittsburgh." Another allegation had her dancing nude around Marx, fondling herself and asking "Don't you wish you could have some of this?" Many people close to Marx believed Fleming was abusive towards him. Arthur wanted temporary conservatorship of his father, and took Fleming to court. According to the book Raised Eyebrows by Groucho's secretary Steve Stoliar, Fleming had several personal problems; he stated in his book that she used drugs, hadmood swings, and was given to inappropriate outbursts, both in public and in private.

    One bizarre incident involved Fleming hiring private detectives to search the Marx home for listening devices that she thought had been installed at Arthur Marx's behest. The purpose of hidden surveillance was for him to gain leverage in their court battle. The detectives found no listening devices, but did find bag of used hypodermic syringes and vials of pharmaceutical grade tranquilizers. These were controlled narcotics that could only be administered by medical professionals and had not been prescribed to Groucho or anyone else who would have had access to the property. Fleming directed the detectives to dispose of the syringes and vials in a storm drain at the edge of the property. Instead, the private detectives took them to the local police to report what they had found. Very soon, the media erupted with lurid stories, reaching the inference that Groucho was being drugged against his knowledge or that of his doctors.

    The court battles dragged into the early 1980s, but judgments were eventually reached in favor of Arthur Marx, ordering Fleming to repay $472,000 to the Marx estate.

    Fleming's mental health deteriorated in the 1990s. She was arrested once in the Los Angeles area on a weapons charge, and spent much of the decade in and out of commitments to various psychiatric facilities.[citation needed] She was also reportedly impoverished and homeless in her final years, living on the streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

    Fleming committed suicide in 2003 by shooting herself.

    Raised Eyebrows book review

      “Raised Eyebrows” could easily have been written as a delightful memoir only. It is that, but much more. There’s no way Stoliar could have avoided dealing with the rhino in the room: the enigmatic, half-mad Erin Fleming, the young woman who came into Groucho’s life at a crucial time and who became, in a complex and bizarre way, his Lady Macbeth. As you’ll see, she was equally adept at doing wondrous things for Groucho, and appalling ones.

      Depending on whom you ask, she was either the best or worst thing that could have happened to the aging star, who provided her a pass into a world of fame and the big time that she could never have otherwise achieved. In my view, she was both: the worst and the best. Young and pretty and vivacious when Groucho met her, Erin and her ambition worked — some would say wormed — their way into his home and she became, in effect, his life-manager. Her story as told by Stoliar is the stuff of one swell hair-raising novel or movie.

      On the plus side, she got Groucho up and out of near despair at a time when he was feeling forgotten. (A woman who lived near Groucho described how, in a deeply lonely period of his life following a divorce, he would walk his dog in front of his neighbors’ homes, hoping, she said, to be invited in for a drink, a visit or a meal. That gets to me.)

      Another paradox about Groucho was the contrast between his claim to be shocked by the dirty talk and material of the 1960s and ’70s and his own propensity for the hilarious, filthy remark.

      “I don’t belong in this age,” he said once on my show, where he also discussed the Broadway musical “Hair” and its then-shocking nudity. “I was going to go buy a ticket,” Groucho said, “but I went back to my hotel room, took off my clothes, looked at myself in the mirror and saved eight dollars.” (He’d have saved a lot more today.) Would-be comedy writers: Note the perfect ad-lib wording, syllable count and cadence.

      Bader did some bowdlerizing of Groucho’s stuff in the original edition of his book, and has kicked himself for it. In the interval he decided to restore everything, feeling it was not his duty to deny the reader Groucho unadulterated. (Congratulate me for not using the phrase “letting it all hang out.”)

      Did I mention that both books are updated from previous versions and that both contain enough rich new stuff to delight the heart and mind of the earlier reader? Stoliar’s update on Erin Fleming re-visits the old question about whether she eventually attained the state of genuine madness.

      Long-memoried viewers of Ted Koppell’s “Nightline,” on the very night the verdict in the crazy “Erin Fleming vs. Bank of America” trial came down against her (there is much to Google on this case), would not need a degree in psychiatry to diagnose what appeared to be someone certifiably unhinged. Imagine the lack of charm and appeal it would take to cause a jury to decide against a young woman, in favor of so revered an institution as a bank! At one point, news-coverage viewers of the trial got to see Fleming point across the courtroom and shriek at a Bank of America attorney, “That man murdered Groucho Marx!”

      Stoliar’s update section also includes some fascinating information about Erin’s mystery-enshrouded demise.

      The truth is, Marx devotees will need to get both books. And if you’re not a devotee, get them anyway. Fix a drink, light a fire (I won’t add “only if you have a fireplace”), put one book on each side of you and dip alternately. There are so many worse ways you could spend your time.

      Trying as usual to think of how to close this off, a problem Groucho never had in his letters, I remembered an example. He once ended:

      Well, Richard (I’d say “Dick” but my secretary is a spinster), I’m running out of things to say. And they should be running out of me.
      Anyway, good-bye ’til hell freezes over. And if you’ve read this far, there’s something wrong with you.