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.

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Notes:

  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 twitter.com 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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Notes:

  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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Notes:

  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 oxforddnb.com 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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Notes:

  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.”

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Notes:

  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)

When I Read About the Evils of Smoking, I Gave Up Reading

Groucho Marx? Henry G. Strauss? Phil Harris? Joe E. Lewis? Anonymous?

grouchosmoke01

Topic: Smoking? Drinking?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of jokes about smoking, drinking, and reading. The quips certainly do not reflect the actions of role models, but they are funny:

  • When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.
  • He read so much about the ill effects of smoking that he gave up – reading!
  • When I read about the bad effects of drinking I decided to give up reading.
  • A man was so horrified by what he read about effects of smoking that he gave up reading.

When did this family originate? Were the initial gags about smoking or drinking?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1950. The topic of the quip was smoking, and the words were ascribed to a well-known comedy superstar: 1

Groucho Marx says he became disturbed over the effects of smoking, after reading an article on the subject, he gave up reading. (That’s right, not smoking. That’s Groucho.)

In 1954 a version of the joke was told in the Parliament of the United Kingdom where it was credited to Henry G. Strauss who later became Lord Conesford. Strictly speaking Strauss assigned the gag to an anonymous American: 2

As I listened to the hon. Baronets I could not help thinking of a story told to the House two weeks ago by my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. H. Strauss) about the American who was so horrified at what he had read in the newspapers about smoking that he gave up reading.

The comedic remark credited to Strauss was reported in North American papers, e.g., the Lethbridge Herald or Lethbridge, Alberta, 3 and the Big Spring Daily Herald of Big Spring, Texas. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1950 July 07, The Hartford Courant, Informing You by M. Oakley Stafford, Page 24, Column 1, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
  2. 1954 March 10, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, “CITY OF LONDON (VARIOUS POWERS) BILL (By Order)”, Speaking: Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington), HC Deb 10, volume 524, cc2306-61. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on 2012 September 19) link
  3. 1954 March 29, Lethbridge Herald, Sayings: [H. G. Strauss, Parliamentary Secretary, UK Board of Trade], Quote Page 4, Column 4, Lethbridge, Alberta. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1954 May 3, Big Spring Daily Herald, Around The Rim – The Herald Staff: At Least Sand Storms Give Us A Chance To See The Country, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Big Spring, Texas. (NewsArchive)

“It Took Me Fifteen Years to Discover That I Had No Talent for Writing.” “Did You Quit?”

Robert Benchley? Mark Twain? Walter Winchell? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of the funniest quotations about writing is usually credited to the brilliant wit Robert Benchley:

It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.

I was very surprised to find the same joke attributed to Twain in the comprehensive collection “Everyone’s Mark Twain”:

After writing for fifteen years it struck me I had no talent for writing. I couldn’t give it up. By that time I was already famous!

Was this quip created by Robert Benchley, Mark Twain, or somebody else?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this comical remark was crafted by neither Twain nor Benchley. The earliest version of the joke located by QI was about writing poetry. It was published in the humor magazine Puck in February 1912 under the title “COULDN’T AFFORD TO THEN”. The generic names SCRIBBLER and FRIEND were used to designate the speakers in a dialog: 1

SCRIBBLER.—It took me nearly ten years to learn that I couldn’t write poetry.
FRIEND.—Gave it up then, did you?
SCRIBBLER.—Oh, no. By that time I had a reputation.

In March 1912 the same joke was reprinted in other periodicals with an acknowledgement to Puck, e.g., Springfield Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts, 2 Seattle Daily Times of Seattle, Washington, 3 and The Jersey Journal of Jersey City, New Jersey. 4

In September 1912 The Independent, a weekly magazine based in New York City, printed a variant that referred to writing stories instead of poetry: 5

“It took me nearly ten years to learn that I couldn’t write stories.”
“I suppose you gave it up, then?”
“No, no. By that time I had a reputation.”
—New York American.

The quip was retold, and the phrasing evolved for decades, but the creator was left unnamed. The earliest connection to Mark Twain located by QI appeared in the popular newspaper column of Walter Winchell in 1946. The first known attachment of the joke to Benchley occurred in an issue of Reader’s Digest in 1949. Also, Nathaniel Benchley, the son of Robert, attributed the joke to his father in a biography he wrote in 1955. The details are provided further below.

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Notes:

  1. 1912 February 28, Puck, Volume 71, Couldn’t Afford To Then, Unnumbered Page [Page 5 by count], Column 3, Keppler & Schwarzmann, New York. (HathiTrust)
  2. 1912 March 02, Springfield Republican, Had a Reputation, [Acknowledgement to Puck], Page 17, Column 7, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1912 March 05, Seattle Daily Times, “Couldn’t Afford to Then”, [Acknowledgement to Puck], Page 7, Column 2, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank))
  4. 1912 March 23, Jersey Journal, “Scissorettes: Too Late.”, [Acknowledgement to Puck], Page 16, Column 4, Jersey City, New Jersey (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1912 September 19, The Independent, [Weekly Magazine], Pebbles, [Acknowledgement to New York American], Page 679, Column 2, New York. (Google Books full view) link

I’ve Had a Perfectly Wonderful Evening, But This Wasn’t It

Groucho Marx? Sidney Skolsky? Hugh Herbert? Walter Catlett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When Groucho Marx was leaving a boring party he supposedly said:

I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

Did Groucho really insult a host or hostess in this way, or did he use this line in a comedy routine? Incidentally, I saw this quote when I was reading about the fun word “paraprosdokian” which refers to a figure of speech that contains a surprising or unexpected ending.

Quote Investigator: In a newspaper piece he wrote in 1962 Groucho denied that he ever used this quip to actually insult someone in real life. The details are given further below. Interestingly, the two earliest examples located by QI were not spoken by Groucho.

In 1936 the Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky credited the joke to a popular comedian named Hugh Herbert who had appeared in many movies. Today, Herbert is not well-known, but Groucho’s fame is uneclipsed [ACHH]:

Hugh Herbert leaving a party, said to the hostess: “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”

In 1940 Cosmopolitan magazine published “I Cover Hollywood” by Sidney Skolsky. The columnist printed the quip again, but this time he assigned the phrase to another actor. The context was a discussion of a big party scene in the motion picture “Public Deb No. 1″ which was directed by Gregory Ratoff [WCHC]:

Director Ratoff was thinking of using the best line ever pulled at a Hollywood party as a tag for his party sequence. It actually occurred, however, when Walter Catlett, on leaving a swanky party, said to the hostess, “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”

In 1941 the Reader’s Digest attached the words to Groucho Marx. A footnote indicated that the performer Eddie Cantor supplied the quotation and ascription [GMRD]:

“I’ve had a wonderful evening,” said Groucho Marx to his hostess as he was leaving a dull Hollywood party, “but this wasn’t it!”*
* Contributed by Eddie Cantor

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Now We’re Just Haggling Over the Price

George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Groucho Marx? Max Aitken? Mark Twain? W. C. Fields? Bertrand Russell?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous story about sex and money that I have heard in myriad variations. A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:

She: What kind of woman do you think I am?

He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

This joke is retold with different famous individuals filling the roles. Often Bernard Shaw is mentioned. Did anything like this ever happen? Who was involved?

Quote Investigator: The role of the character initiating the proposal in this anecdote has been assigned to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson and others. However, the earliest example of this basic story found by QI did not spotlight any of the persons just listed. In addition, the punch line was phrased differently.

In January 1937 the syndicated newspaper columnist O. O. McIntyre printed a version of the anecdote that he says was sent to him as a newspaper clipping. This tale featured a powerful Canadian-British media magnate and politician named Max Aitken who was also referred to as Lord Beaverbrook [MJLB]:

Someone sends me a clipping from Columnist Lyons with this honey:

“They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: ‘Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?’ She said she would. ‘And if be paid you five pounds?’ The irate lady fumed: ‘Five pounds. What do you think I am?’ Beaverbrook replied: ‘We’ve already established that. Now we are trying to determine the degree.”

Note that this newspaper version does not use the blunt phrase “sleep with”. Instead, a more oblique expression, “live with”, is employed to conform to the conventions of the period.

Top-researcher Barry Popik has performed very valuable work tracing this tale, and we have incorporated some of his discoveries in this article. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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The Main Thing Is Honesty. If You Can Fake That, You’ve Got It Made

Groucho Marx? George Burns? Jean Giraudoux? Celeste Holm? Ed Nelson? Samuel Goldwyn? Daniel Schorr? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest advice I was ever given as a sales associate was from another seasoned employee:

The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Later, I read or heard this type of advice several times. For example, a television actor being interviewed said something like:

The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you’re in.

The expression varies but the basic joke is the same. Could you explore this saying to see where it began?

Quote Investigator:  Groucho Marx, Samuel Goldwyn, and George Burns have each been credited with versions of this remark. George Burns did include a version in his third memoir in 1980, but this was a relatively late date. QI has located no substantive evidence supporting an ascription to Marx or Goldwyn.

The earliest evidence QI has found for this type of remark appeared in a syndicated newspaper column by Leonard Lyons in 1962. The popular Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm attributed the words to an anonymous theater actor [LLCH]:

Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. invited a panel of performers – including Celeste Holm and Shelly Berman – to discuss the trends in show business. Miss Holm spoke of the vogues in acting, and said she heard one actor say: “Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty … and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.”

In 1969 an actor named Ed Nelson who played the character Dr. Michael Rossi on the soap opera Peyton Place stated a version of the maxim in Life magazine. QI believes that multiple later occurrences of the expression can be traced back to this instance, but usually the actor’s name was omitted [ENPP]:

… Ed Nelson (Dr. Rossi) summed up what he had learned in his five years on the show. “I’ve found that the most important thing for an actor is honesty,” he said. “And when you learn how to fake that, you’re in.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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