SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Erin Fleming, accused of cheating and abusing Groucho Marx while she was his companion, claimed today in often disjointed testimony that she 'kept him alive' in his later years.
Miss Fleming, accused by the Bank of America, executor of Marx's estate, of taking $400,000 from the estate by deceit, was admonished by the court several times to limit her answers to the questions asked and refrain from personal comments.
The former showgirl, who has been under psychiatric care for mental stress she attributes to the suit, testified for 90 minutes Monday morning but was unable to return to the stand for the afternoon session because she felt ill.
'I supported Groucho,' said Miss Fleming, who was Marx's live-in companion during the last six years of his life. 'I supported him with my ideas. I kept him alive.'
Miss Fleming testified Monday that her goal during during her years with Marx 'was to persuade Groucho that life was better than death.'
'In my capacity as a helper, my job was to persuade Groucho that life was better than death,' she said. ''My business was making sure he didn't have a heart attack.'
In his will, Marx left the bulk of his estate to his three children. Miss Fleming received $150,000, plus partnership in a company Marx founded.
The 42-year-old former showgirl, who has been under psychiatric care for mental stress she attributes to the suit, testified for 90 minutes Monday but was unable to return to the stand for the afternoon session because she felt ill.
Miss Fleming said she fired Arthur Tucker, Marx's accountant-business manager, because his combative relationship with Marx was causing the feeble actor stress.
Attorney J. Brin Schulman, the Bank of America attorney, read from a letter Tucker wrote to Marx in 1974, decribing his firing as 'the saddest day of my life.'
'There is something wrong,' Tucker said in the letter, 'and I can assure you there's nothing wrong in this office.'
While Schulman implied after reading Tucker's letter that Miss Fleming fired Tucker to gain control of Marx's finances, the comedian's companion said she dismissed Tucker to end years of arguing between the two.
'That was their sex life, for heaven's sake,' Miss Fleming said alluding to the constant barbs and insults Tucker and Marx traded during their 27-year business relationship. She said her only concern was 'Groucho's health.'
Witnesses for the bank testified last week that Miss Fleming was a cruel, greedy woman who transformed a bright and witty Groucho into a frightened, senile old man.
But Miss Fleming testified Monday that as late as three years before his death, Marx was still a 'knockout' who spent time dancing in his living room to Cole Porter records.
During a lull in the questioning, Miss Fleming said the suit over Marx's estate could be settled 'in five minutes if the opposing counsel had one ounce of sense.'
At one point, Miss Fleming, who entered the court wearing a long mink coat and high-heeled black boots, berated Schulman for filing the suit and charged the attorney with siphoning attorney's fees the Marx estate.
Miss Fleming, who filed a $100-million countersuit against the bank Jan. 19, was Marx's companion during the six years before his death in 1977 at age of 86.