Category Archives: Al Capone

You Can Get Much Further with a Kind Word and a Gun than with a Kind Word Alone

Al Capone? Irwin Corey? Ted Bessell? Robert De Niro? Willie Sutton? Apocryphal?

alcapone05Dear Quote Investigator: The notorious gangster Al Capone reportedly had an odd sense of humor and joked about using coercion. Here are three versions of a saying that is attributed to him:

You get a lot more from a kind word and a gun than from a kind word alone.

You can go further with a smile and a gun, than with a smile alone.

You can get more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.

I am very skeptical. Capone died in 1947, and I haven’t been able to find any expressions like this credited to him when he was alive. The famous actor Robert De Niro did utter the saying in a movie when he was playing the role of Al Capone. Would you explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Al Capone made a remark of this type. The earliest citations suggest that the line was created by a comedian named Professor Irwin Corey who performed as an eccentric academic spouting parodic erudition.

In 1953 the trade journal “Variety” published a transcript of an NBC radio broadcast presenting a “survey of humor, down through the ages”. Corey appeared as a comical Hamlet-like character. Emphasis added by QI: 1

I have a simple philosophy which is poignant. Shoot a point, point blank, unsubtle, simple, poignant. My philosophy is you can get more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.

Corey’s linkage of the quip to Hamlet was odd because within Shakespeare’s play Hamlet wields a sword and not a gun. However, by 1969 Corey had heightened the humor of the line by attaching the words to Al Capone.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order including the 1969 citation.

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Notes:

  1. 1953 July 29, Variety, Survey of Humor: Double-Talk Hamlet, Start Page 36, Quote Page 51, Column 2, Published by Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest Variety Archive)