Thursday, June 14, 2007

Margaret Dumont

Global projects, names without faces, conference calls that are either too early or too late for someone, you know how it goes. How do we really know it is not all just bots talking to one another? How do I know I am not a bot?

There's this woman at work who leads an important, company-wide conference call. There is no mistaking her confidence. If confidence were to somehow manifest as bright light, this woman's confidence would leave us all blinded. That is, assuming light rays could travel through the phone lines, flow through our ears and damage our optical apparatus from the inside. The conference call begins with a very crisply intoned greeting which is all business and that is quickly followed by her opening up the always-updated checklist. No jokes about needing a vacation to recover from the vacation, no weather updates. Just business. She keeps everyone honest and follows up on every "action item" on the checklist. The calls have never exceeded the allotted time. It is true that while I am still hazy about the exact purpose of the call, it is getting the work done.

Dylan wrote about such a woman in "Maggie's Farm" (ladies and feminists, please don't take my comparison too literally):

Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law.
Everybody says
She's the brains behind pa.

But that voice. Something about that voice. It reminded me of someone. Listening to her speak on the conference call the other day, I suddenly knew which Maggie she sounded like: Margaret Dumont!

Ms. Dumont was a star of the silver screen in the Nineteen-thirties and Forties. In her most well-known roles, she was at the receiving end of the world's funniest comedy team, the Marx Brothers. In fact, she was practically the "Fifth Marx Brother". She always played the stiff, stuffy, upper-crust woman in all her films, with names like "Mrs Dukesbury" and "Mrs Teasdale". Her "straight man" persona made Marx Brothers' jokes seem funnier. Take this demented exchange from "Duck Soup":

Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency, I thought you'd left!
Chicolini: Oh no, I no leave.
Mrs. Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes!
Chicolini: Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

So what about it?

Nothing at all. A co-worker's voice reminds me of Margaret Dumont and I just wanted to tell you that. Here's to Maggie.


Tabula Rasa said...

maybe you could check if she was vaccinated with a phonograph needle?

MockTurtle said...

Hahaha I know EXACTLY what you mean!
Do you remember her as Mrs Upjohn in 'A Day at the Races'? Pure Groucho (Doctor Hack-ana-bush) fodder. - "Dr. Hackenbush tells me I'm the only case in history. I have high blood pressure on my right side and low blood pressure on my left side."
That voice still rings in my ears.

km said...

Guys, please don't start with those Groucho quotes. I'll be on IMDB for the rest of my day. (MT: remember the whole "Armstrong/headstrong" exchange from Duck Soup? It kills me every time.)

Really, that poor lady took a LOT of insult from The Grouch.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Oddly enough as I read this I too remembered the Upjohn/Hackenbush exchanges from "Day at the Races". She was the foil those guys needed, their jokes all revolving around her. What about the rumour that she never really got their jokes anyway? true?