Category Archives: Joe E. Lewis

Obscene and Not Heard

Groucho Marx? Ethel Barrymore? Maurice Barrymore? Paul M. Potter? Gertrude Battles Lane? John Lennon? Joe E. Lewis? Robert Heinlein? Marilyn Manson? Augustus John? Oscar Wilde?

barrymore12Dear Quote Investigator: There is well-known and often repeated admonition directed at young people who are making too much noise:

Children should be seen and not heard.

Wordplay has produced multiple quips which transform the phrase “seen and not heard” into other similar sounding statements:

Back in our day sex was obscene and not heard.
The writing was obscene but not absurd.
Graffiti should be obscene and not heard.
Women should be obscene but not heard.

Instances of these statements have been attributed to Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Ethel Barrymore, Robert Heinlein, and Oscar Wilde. Attitudes have changed over the years and some statements in this family grate on many modern ears. Would you please examine this family of adages?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence found by QI appeared in 1908 in the entertainment trade journal “The Billboard” within an extremely hostile and sarcastic review of a Broadway musical-drama called “The Queen of the Moulin Rouge”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Another septic musical comedy has been ulcerated on Broadway, this time it’s the Circle that needs disinfection—the play being none other than The Moulin Rouge…

Richard F. Carroll, a man of many changes which are humorously called disguises —mentions benignly that “little girls should be obscene and not heard.” And straightaway a laughter pandemonium shrieks itself to hoarseness; of course, it’s funny and Broadway is so quick to see wit. Then Hattie Forsythe, while doing an excruciating wriggle, gasps—”I’m crazy about this,” hurrahs again, long, loud and merry.

The book of the Broadway show mentioned above was written by Paul M. Potter; hence, he may have created the joke. 2 Alternatively, the remark may already have been in circulation.

The second instance in this family of sayings located by QI appeared in an anecdote recounted in “Nat Goodwin’s Book” by Nathaniel Carl Goodwin. The quip was spoken by Maurice Barrymore who was the patriarch of the famous theater family that included his children John, Lionel, and Ethel. A fellow actor named Wilton Lackaye was denouncing as salacious a new show located in the Hammerstein Theater in New York City, and Barrymore was humorously defending the performance of the lead actress while mentioning the poor acoustics of the capacious venue: 3

“You call that art,” asked Lackaye, “a wanton, expounding her amorous successes? What edification can that give? I tell you, Barrymore, you may be all right in your argument but the performance was simply nauseating, nasty and suggestive. The whole thing reeked with filth!”

“I know,” said Barrymore, quickly but quietly, “but you fail to realize, my dear Lackaye, that Hammerstein’s is a theatre where one may be obscene and not heard.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1908 December 19, The Billboard, Volume 20, Greater New York News by Our New York Correspondent, (Review of the musical-drama “The Queen of the Moulin Rouge”), Quote Page 6, Column 2, Published by Billboard Publications. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: IBDB Internet Broadway Database, Entry Title: The Queen of the Moulin Rouge, Show Opening Date: Dec 07, 1908, Show Closing Date: Apr 24, 1909, Total Performances: 160, Website Description: Database of Broadway show information provided by The Broadway League in association with Theatre Development Fund and New York State. (Accessed on January 14, 2016) link
  3. 1914, Nat Goodwin’s Book by Nat C. Goodwin, (Nathaniel Carl Goodwin), Chapter 6: “Barry” and Jefferson, Quote Page 43, Published by Richard G. Badger: The Gorham Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust) link

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

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


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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  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 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)

You Only Live Once – YOLO

Drake? Schlitz Beer? Fritz Lang? Honoré de Balzac? Joe E. Lewis? Frank Sinatra? Fyodor Dostoevsky? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2011 a song called “The Motto” by Drake was released, and it contained this expression:

You only live once.

The acronym YOLO was popularized by this song, I think. But I have heard the catch phrase for decades. I recall that the famous crooner Frank Sinatra entertained concert goers with the following version:

You only live once, and the way I live, once is enough.

Could you tell me about the history of this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: The actor and hip hop artist Aubrey Drake Graham records music under the name Drake. The song “The Motto” by Drake featuring Lil Wayne was released in November 2011 and was a hit. The lyrics included the phrase “You only live once” and the term YOLO along with the following repeated chorus “We bout it every day, every day, every day.”

The acronym YOLO was popularized by Drake, but it has been circulating for decades. The Associated Press news service in 1968 published an article titled “Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats” which included a discussion of the creative names assigned to yachts and other watercraft. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1

Naming the vessels, plain or fancy, is a chore that delights some owners. One fad is acronyms, initials of a phrase that spell a word of sorts.

The Pitoa translates “Patience is the Only Answer.” Tica is not named for an Aztec chieftain: It means, “This I Can’t Afford.” Yolo is short for “You Only Live Once.”

The above citation is the earliest evidence known to QI of the acronym together with its modern meaning. Thanks to top researcher Peter Reitan who located it and shared it with QI.

The general expression: “You only live once” (without YOLO) has a very long history. The precise phrasing of the sentiment is variable. For example, sometimes the pronoun “we” is used instead of “you” to yield: “We only live once”. Also, sometimes the word order is altered to produce: “We live only once”.

The earliest exact match for “You only live once” found by QI occurred in an 1896 English translation of the French work “La Comédie Humaine” (“The Human Comedy”) by the famed novelist Honoré de Balzac. The statement appeared in a passage describing a free-spending pair of characters: 2

… the couple made up, counting their New Year’s gratuities an income of sixteen hundred francs, all of which they spent, for they lived better than the majority of the common people. “You only live once,” said Madame Cibot.

Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.
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  1. 1968 June 30, Florida Today, Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats (Associated Press), Quote Page 42, Column 3, Cocoa, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1896, The Edition Definitive of the La Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac, Translated into English, [The Human Comedy], Volume 5, Page 74, Printed for Subscribers only by George Barrie & Son, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books full view) link