Just Close Your Eyes and Think of England

Queen Victoria? Lucy Baldwin? Pierre Daninos? Lady Hillingham? Lady Hillingdon? Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy? Apocryphal?

kiss12Dear Quote Investigator: There is a well-known though unreliable anecdote about the guidance offered to brides in the repressive Victorian era. Supposedly, Queen Victoria was asked by one of her newly married daughters about possible carnal activities in the marriage bed. Here are five versions of the response:

Just close your eyes and think of England.
Shut your eyes tight and think of England.
Lie still and think of the Empire.
Lie back and think of the Empire.
Lie still and think of a new way to trim a hat.

I doubt that this story is accurate. Sometimes one of the statements above is presented by a historian as archetypal advice in the 1800s without a specific attribution. Nowadays, these expressions are employed satirically. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Queen Victoria ever made a statement of this type. QI and several other researchers have attempted to trace expressions in this family and found that they started to appear in print in the 1900s and not the 1800s. A book published in 1973 asserted that the first statement was written in a personal journal in 1912, but no researcher has located this journal, and apparently the tale was apocryphal.

The earliest relevant evidence known to QI was published by an influential American newspaper columnist in 1943. Intriguingly, the topic was osculation and not conjugation, and the advice-giver was Lucy Baldwin who was the wife of the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Stanley Baldwin’s son tells this story of the day his sister went out with a young man who wanted to marry her. She asked her mother for advice, in case the young man should want to kiss her . . . “Do what I did,” said her mother, reminiscing of the beginning of her romance with the man who was to become Prime Minister, “Just close your eyes and think of England.”

The ellipsis above was present in the original text. This citation was included in two key reference works from Yale University Press: “The Yale Book of Quotations” and “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”. 3 4

It is conceivable that this was a bowdlerized version of a more ribald tale, but QI has not yet located supporting evidence for that hypothesis. An alternative conjecture would hold that the carnal element of this story was modified and amplified over time.

In 1954 “Les Carnets du Major Thompson” was published in French by Pierre Daninos. The following year an English translation titled “The Notebooks of Major Thompson: An Englishman Discovers France & the French” was released in the U.S. The character portrayals in the volume emphasized humor. The French author Daninos asserted that the English character Ursula had been prepared “for marriage in an entirely Victorian spirit”. The expression in the following passage was identical to the one used in the previous citation. Yet, the activity shifted from kissing to intimate coupling: 5

The day before she left home, Lady Plunkwell had delivered her final advice: “I know, my dear, it’s disgusting. But do as I did with Edward: just close your eyes and think of England!” Like her mother and her mother’s mother before her, Ursula closed her eyes. She thought of the future of England.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1943 May 18, Washington Post, Broadway Gazette by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  2. 1943 May 21, San Francisco Chronicle, Lyon’s Den: Churchill Learned a Vital Lesson from U.S. Magician by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 24, Column 1, San Francisco, California. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Alice Hillingdon, Quote Page 359, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 70, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1955, The Notebooks of Major Thompson: An Englishman Discovers France & the French by Pierre Daninos, Translated by Robin Farn, Chapter 8: Martine and Ursula, Quote Page 105, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Originally published in France as Les Carnets du Major Thompson by Librairie Hachette in 1954) (Verified on paper)

Even If You Win the Rat Race, You’re Still a Rat

Lily Tomlin? Jackie Gleason? Bill Cunningham? William Sloane Coffin? Russell Baker? Anonymous?

race10Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular quip about the competitive daily grind of the working world. Here are two versions:

1) Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat
2) So you’ve won the rat race. You’re still a rat.

The influential comedian Lily Tomlin employed a version of this joke. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Lily Tomlin used this gag by the 1970s, and a citation is given further below. Yet, the earliest appearance located by QI occurred in a book about the life of another famous comedian.

In 1956 “The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason” by Jim Bishop was published. Gleason wrote a letter to his estranged wife Genevieve that was reprinted in the volume. He used a version of the witticism particularized to the television broadcasting industry. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Television is a rat race, and remember this, even if you win you are still a rat.

In August 1956 a sports columnist named Bill Cunningham writing in “The Boston Herald” employed an instance of the joke, but he did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an anonymous “fellow”. The topic of the column was the perennial baseball conflict between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees: 2

It’s still a job lot pitching staff—like the fellow said, “You can win the rat race, but you’re still a rat”—but, oooooh, that Yankee hitting, especially in the clutch!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1956, The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason by Jim Bishop, (Undated letter from Jackie Gleason to Gen (Genevieve, estranged wife Gleason)), Quote Page 258, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1956 August 11, Boston Herald, Section: Sports, Bill Taking Off for Conventions: Leaves Sox, But He Saw Them Hit Second Place by Bill Cunningham, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Every Time We Teach a Child Something, We Keep Him from Inventing It Himself

Jean Piaget? Apocryphal?

sand07Dear Quote Investigator: Jean Piaget was an influential developmental psychologist who studied the learning strategies of children. I am trying to determine if he said the following:

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.

I have not seen a precise citation for this. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found an exact match for the expression above, but Jean Piaget did make a similar remark in an article “Some Aspects of Operations” published in 1972 in a symposium titled “Play and Development”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly…

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  1. 1972, Book title: Play and Development: A Symposium with Contributions by Jean Piaget, Peter H. Wolff and Others, Editor: Maria W. Piers, Article title: Some Aspects of Operations, Article author: Jean Piaget, Start Page 15, Quote Page 27, Published by W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

Millions Are To Be Grabbed Out Here, and Your Only Competition Is Idiots

Herman J. Mankiewicz? Apocryphal?

clapperboard07Dear Quote Investigator: I have just returned from seeing an expensive Hollywood fiasco. While watching the film I was reminded of a vibrant telegram that a successful Hollywood writer reportedly sent to cajole another scribbler to join him. He made promises such as: “millions of dollars can be grabbed” and “the only competitors are idiots”. Did this telegram actually exist? Can you determine who sent it and who received it?

Quote Investigator: In 1954 the prolific Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht published a memoir titled “A Child of the Century” which included the text of a telegram he was sent before he began his acclaimed career in motion pictures. The screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz enticed Hecht to join him in Tinseltown with a dream of wealth in a note delivered by a Western Union messenger. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The telegram he delivered on this spring day in 1925 came from the unknown Scythian wastes of Hollywood, Calif. It read, “Will you accept three hundred per week to work for Paramount Pictures. All expenses paid. The three hundred is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.
“Herman Mankiewicz.”

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  1. 1954, A Child of the Century by Ben Hecht, Quote Page 466, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)

Time Wounds All Heels

Groucho Marx? Marshall Reid? Fanny Brice? Frank Case? Jane Ace? Goodman Ace? Rudy Vallée? Verree Teasdale? Robert Bloch? Ann Landers? Anonymous?

foot08Dear Quote Investigator: The following humorous pun about comeuppance for poor behavior has been attributed to the famous comedian Groucho Marx. The slang term “heel” refers to a contemptible person:

Time wounds all heels.

The statement is a scrambled version of the following comforting aphorism about the mitigation of injuries:

Time heals all wounds.

The pun has also been attributed to hotelier Frank Case and radio performer Jane Ace. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx did deliver this comical line during the film “Go West” in 1940, but the expression was already in circulation. In addition, there is good evidence that Frank Case, Jane Ace and several other individuals employed the joke. Detailed citations are given further below.

The earliest citation located by QI appeared in a syndicated news column in December 1934. The remark was ascribed to someone named Marshall Reid. An explanatory anecdote was given to introduce the punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In a Chicago cafe the other night, an elderly man passed a table.

“There goes George,” observed an onlooker. “When he was young, he was a handsome guy. Left a wife and two kids to starve, and ran off with another woman. And now look at him. Old, broke and very sad.”

“That’s the way-it-goes,” nodded Marshall Reid. “Time wounds all heels.”

In 1938 Frank Case published a memoir titled “Tales of a Wayward Inn” which recounted his experiences running the Algonquin Hotel where the celebrated Algonquin Round Table convened. Case achieved sufficient fame to appear multiple times on a popular radio program hosted by the entertainer Rudy Vallée. Case asserted that he created the jest and used it during a radio appearance. An exact date was not specified: 2

And no one enjoyed my own pun more than I, when Rudy Vallée asked me on the air about skippers, skippers being departed guests who neglect saving adieu to the cashier. “Well, we don’t know much about that; our people always pay, either now or tomorrow. Of course, there are a few heels who appear to get away with it, but time eventually catches up with them and they live to regret their evil ways. What I always say is, Time wounds all heels.”

This intriguing citation was given in three key reference works: “Nice Guys Finish Seventh” by Ralph Keyes, 3 “The Yale Book of Quotations” 4 and “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”. 5 The latter two are from Yale University Press.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1934 December 21, Lowell Sun, All In A Day by Mark Hellinger (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Lowell, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1938, Tales of a Wayward Inn by Frank Case, Chapter 11, Quote Page 231 and 232, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York. (Verified on paper in Fourth Printing May 18, 1939)
  3. 1992, Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations by Ralph Keyes, Entry: Time wounds all heels, Quote Page 124, HarperCollins, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Frank Case, Quote Page 138, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Entry: Time wounds all heels, Quote Page 259, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Actor: A Guy Who If You Ain’t Talking About Him, He Ain’t Listening

Marlon Brando? Gladwin Hill? George Glass? George Alan O’Dowd? Anonymous?

masks07Dear Quote Investigator: Performers on stage and screen are sometimes stereotyped as egocentric. Here is one formulation of that critique:

An actor’s a guy who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.

These words are usually attributed to the Oscar-winning star Marlon Brando. Did Brando create or employ this saying? Also, was the statement aimed at a specific actor?

Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that Marlon Brando did use and popularize this expression. But there is also evidence that he did not craft it originally.

The earliest citation located by QI was published in a profile by journalist Gladwin Hill of the prominent actor Kirk Douglas in “Collier’s” magazine in 1951. The expression of acerbic disapproval was used to describe Douglas by an unnamed acquaintance. The word “ain’t” was not part of this version. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“He is the complete Hollywood actor,” an acquaintance remarked, “in that if you’re not talking about him, he isn’t listening. He’s incapable of participating in a conversation without shifting it around in the first five minutes to Kirk Douglas.”

By June 1955 TV impresario Ed Sullivan printed the saying in his gossip column. Sullivan noted that Marlon Brando had collected the humorous saying and was now using it. The context indicated that Brando had not created the self-deprecating remark: 2

Marlon Brando has a file of jokes about actors. He just added this one: “An actor is a guy, who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.” He and Jean Simmons are terrif’ in “Guys and Dolls.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1951 July 21, Collier’s, Hollywood’s “Heavy” Heartthrob by Gladwin Hill, (Subtitle: Kirk Douglas made his name in films by playing a new kind of villain: you feel sorry for him while you despise him), Start Page 20, Quote Page 67, Column 1, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)
  2. 1955 June 10, The Morning Herald, Little Old New York by Ed Sullivan, Quote Page 13, Column 3, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

Excuse My Dust

Dorothy Parker? Hudson Six Owner? Alexander Woollcott? Apocryphal?

epitaph08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker was once asked to create an epitaph for her tombstone. Apparently, she crafted several different candidates for inscription over the years:

1) Excuse My Dust

2) Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

3) This Is On Me

4) If You Can Read This You’ve Come Too Close

5) Wherever She Went, Including Here, It Was Against Her Better Judgment

Are these really from the pen of Dorothy Parker?

Quote Investigator: This article will only discuss the phrase “Excuse My Dust”, and separate articles will be written to examine the other statements.

In 1925 artists, writers, and other prominent figures were asked by the periodical “Vanity Fair” to compose their own epitaphs for publication in the June issue. Parker complied, and her response was depicted together with other replies: 1

parkerepi07QI believes that Parker’s statement and many of the other expressions in the article were meant to be comical and were not serious suggestions for inscription on memorials. In fact, some of the sayings may have been constructed as spoofs instead of being supplied by celebrities themselves.

Interestingly, before Parker presented her remark to “Vanity Fair” it was already being used in the burgeoning realm of motorized transport in the 1910s and 1920s where it was affixed to the back of vehicles. Parker humorously repurposed the expression and shifted its semantics.

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  1. 1925 June, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 50, Quote Page 51, Column 3, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph illustration), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

You Can’t Be a Real Country Unless You Have a Beer and an Airline

Frank Zappa? Apocryphal?

beer07Dear Quote Investigator: Did the Frank Zappa really say that a proper country needs a beer and an airline?

Quote Investigator: In 1989 “The Real Frank Zappa Book” was published by the well-known songwriter and musician, and it included an instance of the remark mentioned above. Zappa was not eager to write a book, but he offered an important rationale in the introduction. Boldface and italics in this excerpt and the next were present in the original text: 1

One of the reasons for doing this is the proliferation of stupid books (in several languages) which purport to be About Me. I thought there ought to be at least ONE, somewhere, that had real stuff in it.

The chapter titled “America Drinks & Goes Marching” contained the following passage: 2

Every major industrialized nation has A BEER (you can’t be a Real Country unless you have A BEER and an airline—it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need A BEER).

Below are the conclusion and acknowledgements.

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  1. 1999 (1989 copyright), The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso, Section: Introduction, Quote Page 9, A Touchstone Book: Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper in 1999 reprint edition; originally published in 1989 by Poseidon Press, New York)
  2. 1999 (1989 copyright), The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso, Chapter 12: America Drinks & Goes Marching, Quote Page 231, A Touchstone Book: Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper in 1999 reprint edition; originally published in 1989 by Poseidon Press, New York)

If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

Winston Churchill? Douglas Bloch? Linda Crew? Mario Murillo? Brian Mulroney? Wally Amos? Ron Kenoly? Anonymous?

flames07Dear Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill is often associated with quotations about steadfastness and tenacity. Consider the following saying:

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I have seen this statement attributed to Churchill several times, but I have never seen any solid citations. Are these really the words of the famous British Prime Minister?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. In 2009 the publication “Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill” stated that the saying above was “not by Churchill, or at least not verifiable in any of the 50 million published words by and about him”. 1 In addition, the statement was placed in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions” in the book “Churchill By Himself” which is the most comprehensive collection of quotations from the statesman. The editor was Richard M. Langworth, the top expert in this domain. 2

This adage is difficult to trace because of the malleability of its expression. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Oregonian” newspaper of Portland, Oregon in 1990. A self-help author and counselor named Douglas Bloch was profiled in an article that employed a version of the saying in its title: “If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop”. The phrase “don’t stop” was used instead of “keep going”. Within the body of the article Bloch spoke a slightly different two-part comment-response version of the maxim to his interviewer. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 3

When someone says, “I’m going through hell,” the best response is to tell them, “Don’t stop!” Bloch maintains. If we see that pain, grief and tough times are a process and that it will get better, we’re less likely to get stuck in the hell.

Based on current evidence Bloch is a plausible candidate for creator of this adage.

In 1993 the book “Ordinary Miracles” by Linda Crew was published with a saying that closely matched the title of the 1990 article. The author gave no ascription and indicated that the expression was already in circulation 4

He studied me for a moment. “You do seem to be under a lot of stress with this. Why don’t you consider just taking a breather? Even if you’re determined to go on, nothing says you have to do it right away.”

No, I had to be done with this one way or the other. You know what they say—when you’re going through hell, for Pete’s sake, don’t stop.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2009-2010 Winter, Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill, Number 145, Around & About, Quote Page 9, Column 2, The Churchill Centre & Churchill Museum, Andover, Hampshire, United Kingdom. (Verified with PDF) link
  2. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions, Entry: If you’re going through hell, keep going. (Kindle Location 19706)
  3. 1990 November 18, The Oregonian, Edition: Fourth, Section: Living, If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop by Jann Mitchell (The Oregonian staff), Quote Page L04, Portland, Oregon. (NewsBank Access World News)
  4. 1993, Ordinary Miracles by Linda Crew, Quote Page 179, Published by William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Whenever a Friend Succeeds, a Little Something in Me Dies

Gore Vidal? Wilfrid Sheed? Anonymous?

ladder08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a mordant expression that reflects the corrosive nature of jealousy. Here are four versions:

1) Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
2) Every time a friend succeeds I die a little.
3) When a friend succeeds, a small part of me dies.
4) Every time a friend succeeds, something in me dies.

This self-revelatory statement is usually attributed to the writer Gore Vidal. Could you please explore this remark?

Quote Investigator: In February 1973 the essayist Wilfrid Sheed penned an article in “The New York Times” titled “Writer as Wretch and Rat” about the vanity, rivalry, and bitterness experienced by some wordsmiths. The earliest strong match for the saying known to QI appeared in this article, but Sheed disclaimed authorship and ascribed the words to Gore Vidal. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Envy? Oh yes. Wanton. “Every time a friend succeeds I die a little.” Only a writer could have said that. In fact, I thought I’d said it myself, only to learn that Gore Vidal had beaten me to it by years — the upstart.

In September 1973 a long profile article about Gore Vidal by journalist Susan Barnes was published in “The Sunday Times Magazine” of “The Sunday Times” newspaper in London. Barnes spoke to friends of Vidal such as the prominent actress Claire Bloom. The following passage began with Bloom’s words followed by an instance of the saying spoken directly by Vidal who stated that he had written it somewhere previously: 2

“I’ve never seen the cynical side of him that comes out in public. I’ve never heard him say anything personally hurtful about any of his friends. Gore makes a great division here. I love gossip about my friends. He loves gossip about public people.”

Vidal says this is an exaggeration. “It was I who wrote: whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

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  1. 1973 February 4, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Writer as Wretch and Rat by Wilfrid Sheed, Quote Page 2, Column 1, (ProQuest Page 324), New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1973 September 16, The Sunday Times, Section: The Sunday Times Magazine, Behind the Face of the Gifted Bitch by Susan Barnes, (“A profile of Gore Vidal, whose latest novel, Burr, will be published early next year”), Start Page 44[S], (Quote appears in the first column on page 3 of 5 within the article), London. England. (Gale Digital Archive of The Sunday Times)