When word got out in 1946 that the Marx Brothers were planning to make a movie to be called A Night in Casablanca, the brothers were threatened with legal action by attorneys for Warner Brothers, makers of the 1942 classic Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Warner claimed the title of the new movie would have to be changed because it sounded too much like the earlier one and could confuse movie goers. This led to some very amusing letters from Groucho to the humor-challenged Warner attorneys, one of the more famous lines from which is, “I am sure that the average movie goer could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I would certainly like to try.” (So would a lot of men of a certain age. I found Bergman so appealing in that movie that more than a half century later I still get a rush when I hear a woman with a Swedish accent.)
This funny line of Groucho’s came to mind when I read of the ESPN (Even Sport Political Now) decision to pull sportscaster Robert Lee from an upcoming University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville because his name sounds a lot like Robert E. Lee, the late Confederate general and a very complex man who is currently out of favor with some real simpletons. Lee the sportscaster will do another game that day.
Let’s leave aside the question of whether Robert E. Lee’s name and memory should be toxic just now, and ask ourselves could ESPN executives really believe anyone could confuse sportscaster Robert Lee with General Robert E. Lee? First of all, General Lee, a European American, has been dead for 147 years. Sportscaster Lee is a very much alive Asian-American. These things alone should be sufficient clues for even the dimmest TV viewer to sort them. Also the two don’t look a thing alike. I don’t even know if young Lee has ever ridden a horse.
Groucho had a good deal of fun at the expense of Warner Brothers back in the day, not to mention got some great free publicity for his and his brothers’ new movie. It’s quite right now that we have a little fun at ESPN’s expense. The company is clearly as clueless now as Warner Brothers was then.
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