"Closer, hold me closer," Amazonian Esther Muir whispers seductively to Groucho Marx, whose reply comes fast and furious: "If I hold you any closer, I'll be in back of you." (Drum roll.) The amusing repartee comes from A Day at the Races, the comedy for which Esther Muir will always be remembered. Esther was the typical statuesque '30s vamp but with one difference: a keen sense of humor. And she certainly needed both humor and timing fending off all three Marx brothers and, before them, Wheeler and Woolsey. Yet despite her success in handling some of Hollywood's brightest farceurs, Muir was rarely appreciated as the gifted comedienne she obviously was. All too often she was wasted in stock assignments playing the garden-variety femme fatale with nary a smile in sight.
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A former model, Muir had made her theatrical bow in the chorus of the Greenwich Village Follies and later became a foil for comedian Charlie Ruggles in both Mr. Battling Butler (1923) and Queen High (1926). A starring role in the farce His Girl Friday brought her to the attention of Hollywood, where in 1931 she made her screen debut as a murderess in A Dangerous Affair and wed dance director Busby Berkeley. The union, it seems, was doomed from the outset and lasted less than a year. Berkeley, she later explained, "was a lovely person but a real mama's boy." Most of the time she was "more his keeper than his wife."
As a screen performer, Esther Muir came into her own with So This Is Africa (1933), lampooning documentary filmmaker Osa Johnson on a back-lot expedition that included the zany Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. The jaunt was filled with naughty double entendres and the Hays Organization took umbrage to the point where censorship was tightened considerably thereafter. Consequently, Muir's vamps became much tamer and she appeared mainly on Poverty Row. MGM cast her all too briefly in the gargantuan The Great Ziegfeld (1936), where she traded barbs with Fanny Brice; and she was at the top of her game attempting to seduce Groucho Marx in the aforementioned racetrack farce. But her subsequent performances were uniformly disappointing and she retired from the screen in 1942. Divorced from her second husband, lyricist Sam Coslow, Muir made a couple of stage comebacks but spent most of her energy on a real estate business, retiring a very wealthy woman. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi