Laughter Is an Instant Vacation

Milton Berle? Bob Hope? Eugene P. Bertin? Connie Nelson? Robert Zwickey? Dale Turner? Anonymous?

vacation08Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian Milton Berle was a major star for decades on radio and then on television. The following insightful adage has been attributed to him:

Laughter is an instant vacation.

I have also seen these words credited to Bob Hope who was another top comedian with extraordinary longevity. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: This expression was ascribed to Milton Berle in 1977, and in 1985 Bob Hope included the adage in an essay he wrote for the UPI news service. So linkages exist for both comedians, and full citations are given further below. Yet, the phrase was already in circulation before 1977.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the “Pennsylvania School Journal” in 1968. A column called “Ravelin’s: Threads Detached from Texture” by Eugene P. Bertin stated that laughter was an “instant vacation”; however, the phrasing was not compact. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

There is a purifying power in laughter. It is truth in palatable form. It is instant vacation. Seeing the comical side of many situations makes life a great deal easier. It’s like riding through life on sensitive springs that ease every jolt.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1969 a column titled “Strayed from the Herd” by Connie Nelson in “The Ada Weekly News” of Ada, Oklahoma printed a miscellaneous set of poignant, cogent, and/or comical items. A version of the adage was included that used the word “laugh” instead of “laughter”. The ellipsis was in the original text: 2

Laziness is the habit of resting before you get tired.

Laugh . . . . the only instant vacation.

Prejudice is weighing the facts with your thumb on the scales.

In 1976 a version of the adage was published in at least two newspapers: one in Harrisburg, Illinois and one in Chariton, Iowa. The words appeared as a freestanding item at the top of a page, and someone named Robert Zwickey was credited: 3 4

LAUGHTER: “Instant vacation.” Robert Zwickey

In 1977 a columnist in the “Southern Journal of Optometry” based in Atlanta, Georgia ascribed the saying to Milton Berle: 5

“I agree with Milton Berle when he says, ‘Laughter is an instant vacation.’ To that I add, ‘For me and so many others, laughter is therapy, be you the laugher or the laughee.”‘

In 1983 a columnist named Rev. Dale Turner in the “The Seattle Times” of Washington employed a version of the maxim without attribution: 6

The capacity to smile, chuckle or laugh is one of God’s greatest gifts. But unfortunately for many people, the gift of humor lies dormant or underdeveloped. Laughter has a tonic effect. It is an instant vacation — a tranquilizer with no side effects.

In 1985 the prominent humorist and actor Bob Hope wrote an essay for the United Press International news service that was published in many newspapers. Hope included the saying, but he disclaimed credit: 7 8

But of equal importance to my happiness and health are involvement with people and being able to laugh and, thankfully, make others laugh. It’s been said laughter is an instant vacation. True. Fun is good medicine with healing power. Laughter is a tonic.

In 1989 a reporter for “The Capital Times” of Madison, Wisconsin spoke to a teacher named Sue Lerdahl who taught classes in creative thinking and humor at “Edgewood College” in Madison. Lerdahl delivered an instance of the saying: 9

“Humor abounds in the reality of everyday living,” Lerdahl added. “We must learn to recognize it, grab a hold of it and savor it.” So a hearty laugh in the midst of a hectic day is like taking an instant vacation, Lerdahl said.

In 1997 a syndicated newspaper puzzle feature called “Celebrity Cipher” printed the solution to a previous cryptogram which consisted of a quotation attributed to Berle: 10

PREVIOUS SOLUTION:
“Laughter is an instant vacation” — Milton Berle

In 1998 the words of the venerable nonagenarian Bob Hope were recounted in a Louisiana paper which acknowledged the “TV Guide”: 11

Hope, who turns 95 on May 29, spilled the secret to his longevity in the May 23 issue of TV Guide: “Everyone tells you it’s diet and exercise. But laughter is it. Laughter is therapy – an instant vacation.”

In conclusion, it is possible that Eugene P. Bertin formulated the notion of laughter as an instant vacation though he did not express it compactly. Also, the evidence is not strongly compelling; future research may find earlier instances. QI believes it is unlikely that any of the other individuals mentioned in this article crafted the saying. The unsatisfactory designation anonymous may be the most accurate ascription.

On the other hand, the well-known humorists Milton Berle and Bob Hope can be credited with popularizing the expression.

Image Notes: Beach with drink from PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay. Publicity photo of Milton Berle circa 1943; public domain image acquired via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to George Mannes whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to the helpful librarian at University of North Florida for scans of the 1968 citation. Also, special thanks to John McChesney-Young for obtaining scans of the 1977 citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1968 April, Pennsylvania School Journal, Ravelin’s: Threads Detached from Texture by Eugene P. Bertin, Quote Page 450, Column 1, Published by The Pennsylvania State Education Association, Editorial offices: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to great librarian at University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida)
  2. 1969 March 27, Ada Weekly News, Strayed from the Herd by Connie Nelson, Quote Page 4, Column 8, Ada, Oklahoma. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1976 May 19, The Daily Register (Harrisburg Daily Register), (Freestanding quote at top of page), Quote Page 13, Column 7, Harrisburg, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1976 June 17, Chariton Herald-Patriot, (Freestanding quote at top of page), Quote Page 8, Column 7, Chariton, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1977 July, Southern Journal of Optometry, Volume 19, Number 7, Editorial Comment: The Therapy of Laughter by Jack Runninger, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Published by Southern Council of Optometrists, Atlanta, Georgia. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)
  6. 1983 July 23, Seattle Daily Times, The gift of humor by Rev. Dale Turner (Times columnist), Quote Page B16, Column 1, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 1985 January 14, Miami Herald, Section: Living Today, Hope: ‘Fun Is Good Medicine’ by Bob Hope (Written for United Press International), Quote Page 1C, Miami, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)
  8. 1985 January 18, Marietta Journal, Hope’s advice: Good health through good humor by Bob Hope (Written for UPI news service), Quote Page 7B, Column 3, Marietta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)
  9. 1989 September 12, Capital Times, Section: PM, Humor: We All Need Belly Laughs Every Day by Debra Carr-Elsing (Capital Times Staff Writer), Quote Page 15, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewsBank Access World News)
  10. 1997 June 20, Sentinel (Santa Cruz Sentinel), Celebrity Cipher by Luis Campos, Quote Page B-7, Column 1, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1998 May 19, Times-Picayune, Section: National, Column: People, Roseanne Has It All Again, Compiled by J.E. Bourgoyne Quote Page A11, New Orleans, Louisiana. (NewsBank Access World News)