Wretched,” the actor says of the author. “What a jerk!” the wounded writer responds.
The combatants in Hollywood’s latest feud are screenwriter Arthur Marx, 56, and actor Carroll O’Connor, 52. Marx wants to do a biography of O’Connor, but the volcanic actor who created Archie Bunker intends to write his own life story.
O’Connor took out full-page ads in Hollywood trade journals to warn showbiz friends, colleagues and neutrals. “Dollings all,” his message read in quaint argot, “a very furtive fellow may come among you hunting bits of information…As he approaches you show him your backs, my luvs, not the way to my property. The still-forming vines of my life are hardly burgeoning, God knows. What fruit may come, let me write with mine own hands and offer when I judge it worthy. But expose not my pale buds to the ignorant teeth of the fox…” He signed off, “Your imperiled pal, Carroll.”
Because O’Connor implied that Marx’s previous works had attracted legal reprisals, Marx says he toyed briefly with the notion of suing. “But the idea of going into court and having to prove that I am the furtive fellow referred to in the advertisement seems ridiculous.”
An occasional playwright (The Impossible Years) and full-time film and TV scriptwriter (including one episode of All in the Family), Marx has written gossipy biographies of Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and the late Sam Goldwyn. He also has published two books recounting his often stormy relationship with his father, Julius, who is better known as the Marx brother named Groucho.
Whatever the strains of kinship, Arthur has prospered as “Groucho’s son.” He grew up in the Hollywood milieu, became a champion tennis player (good enough to play on the U.S. Davis cup team) and now works out of a Bel Air mansion which he shares with his wife, Lois, and three poodles.
Why write about O’Connor, whom Marx first met at one of Groucho’s parties? “I was fascinated with the guy because he really seemed to be the antithesis of the character he plays on television,” says Marx. “Carroll is not a one-dimension character. He has a master’s degree, is a former schoolteacher and has always seemed to be a fighting liberal. He is full of ambiguities.”
As a result of O’Connor’s ad, Marx’s sources are drying up. “I called John Rich, who directed some of the first segments of All in the Family, and he said he couldn’t talk to me,” Marx reports sorrowfully. And Maude star Bea Arthur told Marx “she couldn’t remember anything” about her friend O’Connor.
Denying that the spat is just a publicity stunt, Marx vows to hang in there. But O’Connor’s record with lawsuits should worry him a little. Last November the actor won a $500,000 judgment against Swank magazine for an interview “concocted” without his permission. This time he says he’s going to sue for every cent the Marx book makes, including any advance. “I am,” the actor says, “going to take it all.”