Category Archives: Groucho Marx

Book Blurb: I Was Convulsed with Laughter

Groucho Marx? S. J. Perelman? Apocryphal?

grouchodawn08Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was once asked to write a blurb for a book written by a friend. The result was this hilarious evaluation:

From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.

Was this really written by Marx? What was the name of the book under review?

Quote Investigator: In October 1929 “The Greeley Daily Tribune” of Greeley, Colorado printed an article about books that had been recently received by the local library. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” by S. J. Perelman is humor personified. Groucho Marx says of it, “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

In November 1929 the powerful syndicated columnist Walter Winchell also mentioned humorist Perelman’s newly published book. The following version of the comment ascribed to Marx was slightly different: the phrase “picked up your book” was replaced by “picked it up”: 2

S. J. Perelman, one of the more comical comedians on Judge, has written a book christened, “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” the words and pictures being by the master himself.

. . . Groucho Marx, of the Three Marx Brothers, has indorsed Mr. Perelman’s book in this manner: “From the moment I picked it up until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

The Google Books database contained a digital copy of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge”; however, access was restricted and only snippets were visible. Luckily, one snippet revealed the remark from Groucho Marx. QI contacted a librarian who accessed the volume and determined that parts of the dust jacket had been extracted and pasted into the book. The following message was printed on the jacket: 3

grouchonote07Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1929 October 7, The Greeley Daily Tribune (and The Greeley Republican), New Books Received by Greeley Library, Page 10, Column 3, Greeley, Colorado. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1929 November 20, The Scranton Republican, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 4 and 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. Database: Google Books, Book Title: Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, Book Author: Sidney Joseph Perelman, Year: 1929, Page Number: i (dustjacket), Access Restriction: Only snippets are visible, Database description: Electronic page scans of millions of books from major research libraries. (Accessed on January 27, 2015) link

Give the People What They Want and They’ll Come

Humorist: Red Skelton? George Jessel? Ace Goodman? Groucho Marx? Bert Lahr? James Bacon?

jessel07Funeral: Harry Cohn? Louis B. Mayer?

Dear Quote Investigator: A show business platitude states that success at the box office is achievable by simply giving the people what they want.

A harsh comical anecdote about a funeral reinterpreted this saying. The memorial service of a powerful and disliked movie mogul was surprisingly well attended. One ambivalent mourner asked another to explain the existence of the large crowd of attendees. The acerbic response was:

Give the public what they want, and they’ll come to see it.

Would you please explore this tale? What was the name of the movie potentate who had died? Who was telling the joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in 1941. A columnist relayed a quip made by the popular actor and comedian George Jessel: 1

And there was George Jessel’s box-office-ish remark about a funeral which was drawing enormous crowds of people into a church door as he passed—”Well, there you are, you see,” said Jessel. “Give ‘em what they want.”

The text above was located by top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake. Jessel was presenting a joke, and he was not actually attending a funeral. The adage was recognizable to readers even when it was truncated. The memorialized individual was nameless in the quip.

In later years this comical remark was linked to other wits such as Red Skelton, Ace Goodman, and Groucho Marx. In addition, the barb was precisely aimed at the prominent movie producers Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1942 March 8, Washington Post, Strictly Screwball by Katharine Brush, Quote Page L1, Column 3 and 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

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)

“If I Were Your Wife I’d Put Poison in Your Tea!” “If I Were Your Husband I’d Drink It”

Winston Churchill? Nancy Astor? Marshall Pinckney Wilder? Patrick O’Dowd? David Lloyd George? George Bernard Shaw? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

astor09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote in which an exasperated individual fantasizes aloud about giving poison to another person. The sharp rejoinder is surprising and hilarious. Usually the two named participants are Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill. Are you familiar with this story? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI of a strongly matching jest was published in November 1899. The excerpt below from an Oswego, New York newspaper acknowledged a source called the “Listener”. Neither participant was identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The “Listener” reports the following from the subway: On one of the recent warm days a sour-visaged, fussy lady got on one of the smoking seats on an open car in the subway.

Next her sat a man who was smoking a cigar. More than that, the lady, sniffing, easily made out that the man had been eating onions. Still more than that, she had the strongest kind of suspicion that he had been drinking beer. The lady fussed and wriggled, and grew angrier, and looked at the man scornfully. Presently she could endure it no longer. She looked squarely at him and said:

“If you were my husband, sir, I’d give you a dose of poison!”

The man looked at her. “If I were your husband,” said he, “I’d take it!”

The popular story above was reprinted with minor alterations in multiple newspapers in the following days, months, and years. An early instance in the “New York Tribune” acknowledged “The Boston Transcript”. 2 3 Top researcher Barry Popik identified this primordial version of the repartee and located other valuable citations. 4

This joke has been evolving for more than one hundred years. In March 1900 the humorist Marshall Pinckney Wilder asserted authorship of the gag. By April 1900 a version with a comical Irishman was circulating. In 1902 a theatrical production switched the roles of the husband and wife.

In 1949 an instance with Winston Churchill delivering the punchline to an unnamed woman was printed in “The New York Times”. The story with Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill was recounted in a 1952 book called “The Glitter and the Gold”. It is conceivable that Churchill employed this line, but he would have been knowingly or unknowingly re-enacting a joke that had been circulating for many years.

In 1962 the legendary comedian Groucho Marx presented the gag, but he credited the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw with the punchline. The details for all these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1899 November 18, Oswego Daily Times, Right and Left, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Oswego, New York. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1899 November 19, Colorado Springs Gazette, Tales of the Town, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1899 November 19, New York Tribune, Section: Illustrated Supplement, Well Agreed, (Acknowledgement to The Boston Transcript), Quote Page 19, Column 3, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  4. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “‘If you were my husband, I’d poison your coffee’ (Nancy Astor to Churchill?)”, Date on website: February 09, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik com on August 26, 2014)

Speak When You’re Angry and You’ll Make the Best Speech You’ll Ever Regret

Ambrose Bierce? Henry Ward Beecher? Laurence J. Peter? Groucho Marx? Harry H. Jones? Anonymous?

bierce06Dear Quote Investigator: The rant of an enraged person often contains statements that necessitate contrite apologies later. Here is an adage reflecting this insight:

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

These words have been attributed to the preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the humorist Ambrose Bierce, and the quotation compiler Laurence J. Peter. Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI points to a famous comedian who is rarely mentioned in conjunction with this saying. In June 1954 a column titled “Inside TV” by Eve Starr was published in a North Carolina newspaper, and Starr reported on two jokes told by Groucho Marx during his show. Boldface has been added: 1

Groucho quips: “It takes a heap of spending to make a house a home.” His best advice to contestants is: “If you speak when angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Ambrose Bierce did write a parody fable that was tangentially related to this theme, and a detailed citation for this short tale is given below. However, QI has found no substantive evidence that Bierce wrote or spoke this quotation. Oddly, a major reference work stated that the expression appeared in Bierce’s “The Cynic’s Word Book” of 1906 which is better known under its later title “The Devil’s Dictionary”. However, QI has examined multiple editions of this book and the quotation was absent.

The misattribution to Henry Ward Beecher was based on an incorrect reading of an entry in a 1977 quotation collection created by Laurence J. Peter. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1954 November 3, Greensboro Record, Inside TV by Eve Starr, Quote Page B3, Column 4, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

There Are Two Classes of People in the World; Those Who Divide People into Two Classes and Those Who Do Not

Neil deGrasse Tyson? Robert Benchley? Kenneth Boulding? Ross F. Papprill? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

benchley06Dear Quote Investigator: I enjoy humor based on clever self-referential statements, and a great example is the following:

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide everybody into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.

The version of the joke given above appeared in a tweet by the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. 1 Do you know who originated this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this joke located by QI was published in “Vanity Fair” magazine in February 1920. The humorist and actor Robert Benchley wrote “an extremely literary review” of an unlikely book, a massive tome with densely printed type: The New York City Telephone Directory. Benchley was unhappy with the “plot” and said, “It lacks coherence. It lacks stability.” His article included the following memorable remark. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson @neiltyson, Tweet date: December 13, 2013, Tweet time: 11:25 AM, Retweets: 3,845, Favorites: 2,847, Tweet text: There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide everybody into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. (Accessed on February 7, 2014) link
  2. 1920 February, Vanity Fair, “The Most Popular Book of the Month: An Extremely Literary Review of the Latest Edition of the New York City Telephone Directory” by Vanity Fair’s Book Reviewer (Robert Benchley), Start Page 69, Quote Page 69, Conde Nast, New York. (HathiTrust) link link

What Did Groucho Marx Do When Someone Switched On a Television?

Groucho Marx? Apocryphal?

grouchobook01Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx became famous on Broadway before moving on to starring roles in Hollywood. His comical skills and adaptability also allowed him to master radio and television. Yet, reportedly one of his sharpest remarks playfully disparaged TV:

I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into the other room and read a book.

I have been unable to confirm this quotation with a solid source. Would you please tell me if these were the words of Groucho?

Quote Investigator: Two distinct versions of this remark appeared in 1950. One version was included in a short essay written by Groucho Marx for the periodical “Tele-Views” which was similar to “TV Guide”. The main purpose of the article was to convince readers to tune in to a new television program to be hosted by Groucho commencing October 1950. The program was a televised adaption of the comedian’s already popular radio quiz show “You Bet Your Life”. The piece “King Leer” was reprinted in the collection “The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx”: 1

I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.

That’s a pretty cynical attitude for “the leer”—that’s me, Groucho—and now that I’m a part of television, or “TV” as we say out here on the Coast, I don’t mean a word of it.

The text ended with the following suggestion:

All I can say is this: Walk, don’t run, to your nearest television set in October, tune to KNBH, and join us for our first TV session of You Bet Your Life. I think you’ll like it.

QI has not yet identified the precise issue of “Tele-Views” that contained the essay though the final sentence above clearly indicated that it ran sometime shortly before October 1950. In addition, the book “Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales” asserted that the piece ran in September: 2

A September 1950 piece called “King Leer” appeared in television listings around the country to promote the impending debut of the television version of “You Bet Your Life.”

The second version of the quotation was published in the August 1950 issue of the mass-circulation “Reader’s Digest” as a freestanding short item: 3

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book. —Groucho Marx

It is possible that the editors of “Reader’s Digest” had access to a draft of Groucho’s essay in advance, or they may have been sent the quote by a publicist.

Interestingly, the common modern wording of the quotation combined elements of the two early versions above from 1950. Version one used “educational”, and version two used “educating”. Version one referred to “the library”, and version two referred to “the other room”. The modern instance used “educational” and “the other room”.

QI believes that the first version which was written by Groucho has the most support and should be given preference.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2000, The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx, Selected and edited by Stefan Kanfer, (“King Leer” by Groucho Marx; reprinted from “Tele-Views”; the precise date of appearance is not given), Start Page 207, Quote Page 207, A Vintage Original: Vintage Books, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1993, Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx, Edited by Robert S. Bader, Section: Introduction, (Introduction by Robert S. Bader is dated April 1993), Quote Page xxix, Faber and Faber, New York. (Verified with images of 1999 paperback reprint edition of 1993 first edition) (Amazon Look Inside)
  3. 1950 August, Reader’s Digest, Volume 57, (Freestanding quotation), Quote Page 80, The Reader’s Digest Association.(Verified on paper)

Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms or an Oxymoron

Groucho Marx? George Carlin? John Charteris? Theodor Reik? Shirley Hazzard? Niall MacDermot? Sam Ervin? Anonymous?

carlin02Dear Quote Investigator: The famous comedians Groucho Marx and George Carlin are both credited with a joke that can be expressed in many ways. Here are some examples:

Military Intelligence is an oxymoron.
Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.
Military Intelligence are two mutually exclusive words.
Military Intelligence are two terms that do not go together.

Did either of these well-known humorists make a remark of this type?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that both Groucho Marx and George Carlin employed a version of this quip. However, the earliest evidence located by QI points to a surprising person. John Charteris was a British Brigadier-General and the primary intelligence officer for Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the leader of the British Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 1

In 1931 Charteris wrote “At G.H.Q.” which described his experiences at the military general headquarters during the war. Charteris employed an instance of the expression when he recounted the dismissive attitude of a statesman toward information obtained via intelligence work. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 2

Curzon did not give much time to Intelligence work. I fancy Military Intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms.

The entry containing the text above appeared in a section dated February 5, 1916, but it may have been updated and amplified later, sometime between 1916 and 1931.

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  1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Entry: John Charteris, (1877–1946) by J. M. Bourne, Oxford University Press. (First published 2004; online edition dated October 2008) (Accessed on June 20 2012) link
  2. 1931, At G.H.Q. by John Charteris, (Diary entry is dated February 5, 1916 but the content may have been amplified at a later date), Quote Page 135 and 136, Cassell and Company, Ltd., London. (Verified on paper; Thanks to the librarians at Denison University)

I Never Forget a Face, But I’ll Make an Exception in Your Case

Groucho Marx? Alan Gale? Anonymous?

Groucho02Dear Quote Investigator: When I am at a party I sometimes have trouble recalling the name of a person I have met before. But my recalcitrant memory has no difficulty remembering the line credited to Groucho Marx:

I never forget a face, but in your case I’d be glad to make an exception.

When I performed a search I found some other versions:

I never forget a face, but I’ll make an exception in your case.
I never forget a face—but I’m willing to make an exception in your case.

Is this a genuine Groucho joke or is it just a quip with a fake nose and glasses?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI all points to Groucho Marx as creator of this jape. The February 13, 1937 issue of “The Literary Digest” published a piece about psychology and memory. Conventional advice givers have emphasized the desirability of memorization, but this article accentuated the practice of forgetting. The author mentioned the now classic joke credited to Groucho: 1

It’s the art of forgetting; and all it amounts to, really, is the reverse English of memory. In fact, some psychologists find it as important as the art of memory.
Groucho Marx facetiously shows how effective it can be in his gag: “I never forget a face — but I’m going to make an exception in your case!”

A few days later, a columnist named E. V. Durling in the Washington Post presented the same joke with a variant wording and an ascription to Groucho. This citation was listed in the key reference “The Yale Book of Quotations”: 2 3

Groucho Marx. My nomination for Public Wisecracker No. 1. When and where was it Groucho said to somebody. “I never forget a face—but I’m going to make an exception in your case.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1937 February 13, The Literary Digest, Psychology: Art of Forgetting: Magic Formula, Page 29, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Unz)
  2. 1937 February 16, Los Angeles Times, On the Side with E. V. Durling, Page A1, Los Angeles, (ProQuest)
  3. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Julius Henry ‘Groucho’ Marx, Quote Page 498, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

This Is Not a Novel To Be Tossed Aside Lightly. It Should Be Thrown with Great Force

Dorothy Parker? Sid Ziff? Bennett Cerf? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

parkerbook02Dear Quote Investigator: The most scathingly hilarious quip about a novel is credited to the famous wit Dorothy Parker who reportedly included it in a book review:

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

Unfortunately, no one seems to know when this line was written or spoken. Also, I have not been able to determine the name of the book that was being slammed. Could you explore this?

Quote Investigator: Multiple researchers have attempted to locate this joke in the writings of Dorothy Parker and have been unsuccessful. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the mass-circulation periodical Reader’s Digest in February 1960. The phrasing was slightly different, and the words were not ascribed to Parker: 1

From a book review: “It is not a book to be lightly thrown aside. It should be thrown with great force.”
—Sid Ziff in Los Angeles Mirror-News

Based on current information QI believes that Sid Ziff was the most likely creator of this humorous expression. Yet, the joke was reassigned to Dorothy Parker within a few years by Bennett Cerf who specialized in collecting and popularizing quotations. Cerf included the saying in his widely-syndicated newspaper column in October 1962: 2

FROM A BOOK REVIEW BY DOROTHY PARKER: “This is not a novel to be thrown aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1960 February, Reader’s Digest, Volume 76, On the Critical Side, Quote Page 180,  The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1962 October 10, Lewiston Evening Journal, Try And Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 15, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. (Google News Archive)