Tag Archives: Dorothy Parker

Shoot Them Now, While They’re Happy

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

typeparker07Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant wit Dorothy Parker’s career was based on writing. She composed screenplays in Hollywood, and she authored columns for the magazines “Esquire” and “The New Yorker”. Yet, she was not always happy with her literary livelihood.

Recently on Pinterest I saw a piece of comically lethal acerbic advice that Parker reportedly gave to friends of aspiring writers. Would you please tell me if this quip is an authentic Parkerism? Where exactly did it appear?

Quote Investigator: In November 1959 Dorothy Parker penned a book review column in “Esquire” magazine that evaluated the revised edition of the famous writing guide “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. Parker gave the work her highest recommendation and said it should be kept and treasured as a “forever” book. She also prescribed a form of euthanasia for budding writers. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

William Strunk taught Mr. White English at Cornell, and certainly he had no more gifted and proficient a pupil. It is a book to put alongside Fowler’s works, and I can think of no higher praise; I greatly doubt if there is any.

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1959 November, Esquire, Book Reviews by Dorothy Parker, Start Page 26, Quote Page 28, Column 4, Published by Arnold Gingrich, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)

You Can’t Teach an Old Dogma New Tricks

Dorothy Parker? Life Magazine? Maxson Foxhall Judell? Edwin G. Nourse? Tom Lehrer? Anonymous?

frisbee08Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage about age and recalcitrance is familiar to many:

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I am trying to trace a comical wordplay variant:

You cannot teach an old dogma new tricks.

This statement is usually attributed to the notable acerbic writer Dorothy Parker. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The saying was ascribed to Dorothy Parker in the 1968 volume “The Algonquin Wits” edited by Robert E. Drennan. The section about Parker included a miscellaneous collection of her witticisms, and the following was listed without any additional context: 1

“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”

Parker died in 1967, and it would be nice to have an earlier linkage. Perhaps future research will discover a better citation for her. The earliest evidence of this wordplay schema located by QI employed a positive version of the saying instead of the common modern negative version.

In 1928 the humor magazine “Life” published a special issue that contained several sections that parodied popular contemporaneous periodicals such as “The Saturday Evening Post”, “True Stories”, “Collier’s”, “Time”, and “McCall’s”. The section based on the “Christian Herald” included an article titled “The Message of Clara Bow: How One Man Heard That Message and What He Did About It” that discussed the very popular movie star Clara Bow. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Clara Bow comes to us like a breath of fresh air at a time when the lungs of civilization are clogged with the accumulated backwash of centuries of age-old traditions, age-old concepts, age-old dogmas. She has proved that you can teach an old dogma new tricks!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968, The Algonquin Wits, Edited by Robert E. Drennan, Section: Dorothy Parker, Quote Page 124, Citadel Press, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1928 May 3, Life, (Special Parody Section: “With Apologies to ‘Christian Herald'”), The Message of Clara Bow: How One Man Heard That Message and What He Did About It, Start Page 63. Quote Page 63, Column 2, Published at the Life Office, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

castle14Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker constructed several epitaphs for herself. I am interested in the following:

Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

When did she craft this fateful expression?

Dear Quote Investigator: QI has already examined a collection of epitaphs that have been ascribed to Dorothy Parker; this is the fifth and final member of the set, and it will be explored below. Here is a link to a webpage that has pointers to four other analyses.

In October 1924 “Vanity Fair” magazine published a feature presenting self-selected memorial remarks obtained from prominent artists and writers of the time:

A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs
Some Well-Known People Seize the Coveted Opportunity of Saying the Last Word

Most of the inscriptions were comical, but Parker’s blunt remark suggested an outlook of despair: 1

parkerthanksThe article was successful and “Vanity Fair” gathered another set of epitaphs for publication in June 1925. Parker responded with a more lighthearted saying: 2

Excuse My Dust

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1924 October, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1925 June, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 50, Quote Page 51, Column 3, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph illustration), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

If You Can Read This, You’ve Come Too Close

Dorothy Parker? Lillian Hellman? Ford Model T Label? Frank Sullivan? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

close07Dear Quote Investigator: The witty author Dorothy Parker was once asked to suggest an epitaph for her tombstone. Over the years she crafted several different candidates, and I am interested in the following saying which can be expressed in multiple ways:

If you can read this you are too close.
If you can read this you’ve come too close.
If you can read this, you are standing too close.

Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI plans to examine at least five different epitaphs that have been attributed to Dorothy Parker. Here is a link to a webpage that will have pointers to the five separate analyses when they are completed.

There is evidence that Dorothy Parker did present this saying as an epitaph for herself. This information emanated from Lillian Hellman who was a long-time friend of the writer, and who acted as her controversial literary executor. Hellman delivered a memorial speech after Parker’s death during which she asserted that Parker desired a gravestone with the following message:

If you can read this you’ve come too close.

Hellman’s remark was discussed in publications in 1968 and 1969 and in her own memoir. Detailed citations are given further below.

The origin of the phrase chosen by Parker was intriguing to QI. The statement was used as a comical cautionary sign appearing on the back of Ford Model T automobiles during the 1920s. Parker humorously repurposed the expression and shifted its semantics. She performed the same alchemy on the statement “Excuse My Dust” as discussed here.

In January 1925 a newspaper in Portland, Oregon reported on a sign that had been seen in Pennsylvania. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A Novel Warning.

A driver of a motor car In Washington, Pa., while trailing a small coupe, noticed very small letters on the spare tire covering. Anxious to know what was being advertised, he drove close enough to read the inscription, which said: “If you can read this you are too darn close.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1925 January 11, The Sunday Oregonian (Oregonian), Section 7, A Novel Warning, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)

Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written

Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

write09Dear Quote Investigator: Writing is an arduous task for many skilled authors. There is a popular family of sayings that contrasts the elation of accomplishment with the struggle of composition:

1) I hate to write, but I love having written.
2) I loathe writing, but I love having written.
3) Don’t like to write, but like having written.
4) I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.
5) Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.

Fantasy and science fiction author George R. R. Martin whose books are the basis for the celebrated “Game of Thrones” television series apparently employed this saying. Famous wit Dorothy Parker is also sometimes credited with the remark? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: George R. R. Martin did use an instance of this expression during a 2011 interview, and the details are given further below. However, QI has found no substantive linkage to Dorothy Parker.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a Minnesota journal named “The Bellman” which acknowledged another periodical called “Detroit Saturday Night”. The novelist Frank Norris was recognized for his works “The Octopus: A Story of California” and “The Pit: A Story of Chicago”. In 1915, a decade after his death, a letter written by him was discovered and published. Norris described his work habits as a writer, and the following excerpt contained an instance of the saying under investigation: 1

I write with great difficulty, but have managed somehow to accomplish 40 short stories (all published in fugitive fashion) and five novels within the last three years, and a lot of special unsigned articles. Believe my forte is the novel. Don’t like to write, but like having written. Hate the effort of driving pen from line to line, work only three hours a day, but work every day.

Believe in blunt, crude Anglo-Saxon words. Sometimes spend half an hour trying to get just the right combination of one-half dozen words. Never rewrite stuff; do all hard work at first writing, only revise—very lightly—in typewritten copy.

These words of Norris were widely disseminated by multiple news outlets in 1915 and 1916, e.g., “The Racine Journal News” of Wisconsin, 2 “The Charleroi Mail” of Pennsylvania, 3 and “The Chicago Tribune” of Illinois. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1915 December 4, The Bellman, Volume 19, The Bellman’s Book Plate, The Writing Grind, (Acknowledgement to Detroit Saturday Night), Start Page 642, Quote Page 643, Column 1, Published by The Bellman Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915 December 17, Racine Journal News, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Racine, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1916 January 11, Charleroi Mail, How One Novelist Wrote, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Charleroi, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1916 February 13, Chicago Tribune, Tabloid Book Review by Fanny Butcher, Quote Page G4, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

This Is On Me

Dorothy Parker? William P. Rothwell? Soaker? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

onme11Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker was also known as an imbiber. She would sometimes generously buy a round of drinks for her companions using the phrase:

This is on me.

Once when asked to create an epitaph for her tombstone she selected the expression above because of its dual meanings. One interpretation would remind her friends of convivial occasions. The other interpretation would prosaically specify that the stone stood above her mortal remains. Did Parker really choose this inscription, and is it on her tombstone?

Quote Investigator: QI plans to examine at least five different epitaphs that have been attributed to Dorothy Parker. Here is a link to a webpage that will have pointers to the five separate analyses when they are completed.

Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and books published in 1968 and 1970 asserted that Parker mentioned this expression as a possible humorous epitaph. Detailed citations are given further below. Nevertheless, the words did not appear on the marker above her ashes. The actual commemorative statement can be read near the end of this article.

This joke has a long history and instances have been circulating for more than one hundred years. For example, in July 1896 the humor magazine “Life” printed a comical dialog about a grave marker. The term “soaker” referred to a heavy drinker. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

BRIGGS. That was rather an appropriate inscription they put on Soaker’s tombstone.
GRIGGS: What was it?
“‘This is on me.'”

Dorothy Parker was born in 1893; therefore, barring preternatural precocity, she did not craft this quip though she may have employed it.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1896 July 16, Life, Volume 28, Issue 707, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 572, Column 3, Published by Life Office, New York. (ProQuest)

Wherever She Went, Including Here, It Was Against Her Better Judgment

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

grave10Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker was once asked to create an epitaph for her tombstone. Apparently, she crafted several different candidates for inscription over the years. I am interested in the following:

Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.

Did the coruscating Algonquin Round Table member compose this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI plans to examine at least five different epitaphs that have been ascribed to Dorothy Parker. Here is a link to a webpage that will have pointers to the five separate analyses when they are completed.

The expression given by the questioner above was published in a short story written by Parker that was published in “The New Yorker” magazine in 1929. Parker included herself as a character within her own story, and the Parker character recommended the inscription for her own gravestone. At the beginning of the tale, the character was expressing regret about her decision to attend a dinner party. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Oh, I should never have come, never. I’m here against my better judgment. Friday, at eight-thirty, Mrs. Parker vs. her better judgment, to a decision. That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment. This is a fine time of the evening to be thinking about tombstones.

Parker’s tone was humorous, and the statement was not inscribed on her actual grave marker.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1929 October 19, The New Yorker, But the One on the Right by Dorothy Parker, Start Page 25, Quote Page 25, The F-R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

Excuse My Dust

Dorothy Parker? Hudson Six Owner? Alexander Woollcott? Apocryphal?

dust11Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker was once asked to create an epitaph for her tombstone. Apparently, she crafted several different candidates for inscription over the years:

1) Excuse My Dust

2) Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!

3) This Is On Me

4) If You Can Read This You’ve Come Too Close

5) Wherever She Went, Including Here, It Was Against Her Better Judgment

Are these really from the pen of Dorothy Parker?

Quote Investigator: QI plans to examine the five Parker attributed epitaphs listed above. As each analysis is completed the corresponding quotation will be converted into a link. Clicking the link will lead to the matching analysis. This article will discuss only the phrase “Excuse My Dust”, and separate articles will be written for other statements.

In 1925 artists, writers, and other prominent figures were asked by the periodical “Vanity Fair” to compose their own epitaphs for publication in the June issue. Parker complied, and her response was depicted together with other replies: 1

parkerepi07QI believes that many of the expressions in the article were meant to be comical and were not serious suggestions for inscription on memorials. In fact, some of the sayings may have been constructed as spoofs instead of being supplied by celebrities themselves. Fascinatingly, the words of Parker were included in a marker at her resting place as indicated further below.

The origin of the phrase selected by Parker was surprising to QI. The statement was already being used in the burgeoning realm of motorized transport in the 1910s and 1920s where it was affixed to the back of vehicles. Parker humorously repurposed the expression and shifted its semantics.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1925 June, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 50, Quote Page 51, Column 3, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph illustration), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me

Dorothy Parker? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Earl Wilson? Robert Harling? Anonymous?

longworth10Dear Quote Investigator: The most trenchant comment pertaining to gossip that I have ever heard is often attributed to the wit Dorothy Parker. The quip is based on altering the following conventional instruction on etiquette:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Here are three versions of the twisted variation:

If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit by me.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.
If you can’t say something good about someone, sit here by me.

These words have also been credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who was the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and a long-time Washington socialite known for adroit remarks. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a magazine profile of Alice Roosevelt Longworth titled “The Sharpest Wit in Washington” published in “The Saturday Evening Post” issue of December 4, 1965. Interestingly, the expression was not spoken; instead, it was embroidered on a pillow. Also, the word “good” was used instead of “nice”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

We walked to Mrs. Longworth’s upstairs sitting room, where she often reads until six o’clock in the morning. Books were piled everywhere on the tables and on the floor, and contemporary newspaper clippings were strewn on the side tables. Coyote skins were lying on the backs of two large, comfortable chairs, and on one of the chairs was a pillow with the words, IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT SOMEONE, SIT RIGHT HERE BY ME.

Longworth definitely popularized the expression, and she may have crafted it. There is no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker employed the saying though it has been attributed to her in recent decades.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1965 December 4, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 238, Issue 24, The Sharpest Wit in Washington by Jean Vanden Heuvel, (Interview with Alice Roosevelt Longworth), Start Page 30, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premiere EBSCO)

How Can They Tell?

Dorothy Parker? Wilson Mizner? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

parker07Dear Quote Investigator: Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, and his highly reserved character in social settings led to the nickname “Silent Cal”. A few years after his death in 1933 two similar anecdotes began to circulate about the spoken reaction to the news of Coolidge’s demise. Reportedly, when the wit Dorothy Parker was notified she said:

How can they tell?

Also, when the raconteur Wilson Mizner was told he said:

How do they know?

What evidence is there for these two tales?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the 1936 book “Enjoyment of Laughter” by Max Eastman in a chapter about the use of exaggeration in humor: 1

…Dorothy Parker’s remark when told that Calvin Coolidge was dead: How can they tell?

In 1937 a review of Eastman’s book was printed in “The Glasgow Herald” of Scotland, and the remark ascribed to Parker was reprinted 2

But here one gives the prize to Dorothy Parker, that vitriolic lady who “can’t read Wodehouse.” When told that President Coolidge was dead all she said was, “How can they tell?”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1936, Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman, Quote Page 155, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1937 May 13, The Glasgow Herald, American Humour (Book Review of Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman), Quote Page 2, Colum 4, Glasgow, Scotland. (Google News Archive)]