Category Archives: Oscar Levant

Insanity Is Hereditary. You Can Get It from Your Children

Sam Levenson? Oscar Levant? W. C. Fields? Helen Gorn Sutin? Dave Berg? Ann Landers? Erma Bombeck? Grace Kelly?

heredity08Dear Quote Investigator: Many parents concur with a very funny quip that reverses the traditional notion of inheritance:

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.

This joke has been attributed to the newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck, the television host Sam Levenson, and the comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please resolve this ambiguity?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published on April 6, 1961 in an Oklahoma newspaper within a column containing a miscellaneous set of short comical items. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children.
—Sam Levenson

During the same time period, the syndicated columnist Walter Winchell printed the jest with an identical attribution: 2

Sam Levenson’s merciless truth: “Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children!”

During the following years: Oscar Levant employed the joke; Ann Landers and Erma Bombeck placed it in their respective newspaper columns; and Grace Kelly used a variant quip. Nevertheless, QI believes that Sam Levenson should receive credit for this witticism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1961 April 6, The Ada Weekly News, Strayed From the Heard by Connie Nelson, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Ada, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1961 April 7, San Diego Union, Walter Winchell’s America, Quote Page A16, Column 5, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)

First I Brush My Teeth and Then I Sharpen My Tongue

Dorothy Parker? Oscar Levant? Anonymous?

cougar10Dear Quote Investigator: A famously trenchant wit was once asked to describe the daily routine followed after arising:

I wake up in the morning and brush my teeth, and then I sharpen my tongue.

These words have been attributed to the writer Dorothy Parker and to the pianist comedian Oscar Levant. Would you please determine who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: In 1940 the Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson relayed the following remark from Oscar Levant though the name was misspelled as “Lavant”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Asked about his morning routine by an interviewer, Oscar Lavant cracked: “First I brush my teeth and then I sharpen my tongue.”

The ascription to Levant was supported by other columnists in the 1940s. The linkage to Dorothy Parker appears to have been constructed in the 2000s. Thus, the Parker connection was not substantive.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1940 September 26, Santa Cruz Evening News, Erskine Johnson’s Hollywood Today, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)

An Epigram is Only a Wisecrack That’s Played Carnegie Hall

Oscar Levant? Edmund Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I see on the website that you looked into a quotation credited to the pianist, actor, and wit Oscar Levant and showed that someone else probably said it first. But I am confident that the following quote was originally said by Levant, and it fits the theme of the blog:

An epigram is only a wisecrack that’s played at Carnegie Hall.

Could you tell me whether these are the words of Oscar Levant?

Quote Investigator: QI will be happy to research this saying for you. To understand the humor in the remark it is helpful to know that Carnegie Hall has historically been one of the top venues for musical performances in New York and the world. This epigram about epigrams does appear to be the creation of Levant, but the wording given above differs from the earliest instances found by QI.

In 1941 a collection titled “Thesaurus of Quotations” edited by Edmund Fuller listed the following version of the saying attributed to Oscar Levant [TQF]:

An epigram is a gag that’s played Carnegie Hall.

There are a few other versions of the saying. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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Beneath the Phony Tinsel of Hollywood You’ll Find the Real Tinsel

Oscar Levant? Ed Gardner? Henry Morgan?

Dear Quote Investigator: Every time I hear Hollywood referred to as Tinseltown it reminds me of the following quote:

Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you find the real tinsel underneath.

I have read this phrase in several places but was unsure who first created it. The internet quotation databases I consulted all point to the pianist, actor, and wit Oscar Levant as the originator, but I decided to do a deeper search emulating the QI-style! Now, I think the joke was created by Henry Morgan who was a radio comedian in the 1940s. What do you think? Will you investigate this clever remark?

Quote Investigator: Congratulations on your diligence in discovering the name Henry Morgan as a possible originator. There are citations in 1949 and the 1950s that credit Henry Morgan with a version of the joke. So, he may be the inventor; however, the earliest cite QI has discovered attributes the witticism to another individual, namely Ed Gardner who was a radio show writer and actor in the 1940s. The joke is ascribed to Gardner by the famous Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1947 [EGLA].

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