Category Archives: Mae West

Keep a Diary, and Perhaps Someday It Will Keep You

Mae West? Margot Asquith? Lillie Langtry? Anonymous?

diary07

Dear Quote Investigator: The movie star, screenwriter, and sex symbol Mae West once spoke a humorous line about keeping a diary, but I do not recall the precise phrasing. She said a diary might provide the diarist with financial support in the future. Are you familiar with this quip, and do you know when she said it?

Quote Investigator: Mae West wrote the screenplay of the 1937 movie “Every Day’s a Holiday”. She also played the role of Peaches O’Day and delivered this line: 1 2

I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.

However, Mae West probably did not originate this comical remark because it was in circulation fifteen years before the movie was released. In 1922 an instance of the joke was attributed to the well-known socialite and notable diarist Margot Asquith. Also, in 1925 the line was ascribed to the stage actress and member of high society Lillie Langtry. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1967, The Wit and Wisdom of Mae West, Edited by Joseph Weintraub, Page title: Every Day’s a Holiday, Quote Page 47, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Diaries, Quote Page 118, Column 2, Cassell, London, Also: Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Mae West? Aristophanes? Apocryphal?

maewest08Dear Quote Investigator: Screenwriter and sex symbol Mae West is usually credited with the following ribald line:

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

But I have seen many variations of this comical remark:

  1. Is that your pipe in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
  2. Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  3. Are you packin’ a rod or are you just glad to see me?
  4. Is that your sword or are you just glad to see me?

Can you determine which joke is the original and when it was spoken or written?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was in a 1958 book about a New York theatre producer titled “The Nine Lives of Michael Todd” by Art Cohn. In 1944 the play “Catherine Was Great” which was produced by Todd and starred Mae West opened on Broadway. The author Cohn stated that West improvised the humorous line of dialog when she was interacting with her fellow star Gene Barry: 1

Barry, playing Lieutenant Bunin, was unaccustomed to carrying a sword, and in the second act, during an embrace, his scabbard came between him and his Empress.

A covert smile stole over Mae’s face. “Lieutenant,” she ad-libbed with a Westian leer, “is that your sword or are you just glad to see me?”

There is some confusion about whether a version of this quip was used by Mae West in a movie during the 1930s or 1940s. Top quotation expert Fred R. Shapiro writing in The Yale Book of Quotations states that the line was not used by West in her early films: 2

Often ascribed to West’s film She Done Him Wrong, but the line does not appear in that or any of her other pre-1967 movies.

West claimed in remarks published in the 1980s that she employed the saying in the 1930s while speaking with a policeman. In addition, West did utter the saying in the 1978 film Sextette which was based on a play she wrote. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1958, The Nine Lives of Michael Todd by Art Cohn, Quote Page 193, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Mae West, Page 809, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

I Used To Be Snow White, But I Drifted

Mae West? A College Student? Anonymous?

maewest02Dear Quote Investigator: The actress, screenwriter, and sex symbol Mae West was well-known for delivering double entendres. Here are two examples of clever lines with multiple meanings:

I was once pure as snow, but then I drifted.
I used to be Snow White but I drifted.

Did Mae West coin either of these quips?

Quote Investigator: A version of the first joke was in circulation on college campuses by the 1920s. In 1921 the student publication “The Virginia Reel” from the University of Virginia printed the following: 1

“She was as pure and as white as snow.”
“Yes, but she drifted.” — Yale Record.

The earliest evidence known to QI of a match for the second joke appeared in 1938 in the syndicated Hollywood gossip column of Ed Sullivan who credited the words to West: 2

Mae West tells vaudeville audiences: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

Note that West referenced the fairy tale character Snow White, but the earlier joke simply referred to white snow. Hence, West added another comical layer of symbolism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1921 April 18, The Virginia Reel, (Freestanding quotation), Quote Page 30, Published by the students of the University of Virginia. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1938 May 4, Augusta Chronicle, Hollywood by Ed Sullivan, Page 4, Column 5, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)