Groucho Marx? Frank Parker? Marty Allen? Steve Rossi? Dorothy Shay? Ed Reed? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian Groucho Marx apparently crafted a witty twist on beauty and inheritance. Here are two versions:
- He got his good looks from his mother. She’s a plastic surgeon.
- She got her good looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.
Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?
Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx who died in 1977 received credit for this joke by 1968, but it has a very long evolutionary history. A precursor in 1898 implied aesthetic enhancement via makeup instead of plastic surgery: 1
Ella—Where does Belle get her good looks from—her father or her mother?
Stella—From her father; he keeps a drug store.—New York Journal.
The above item from “The Times-Visitor” of Raleigh, North Carolina appeared in multiple newspapers with occasional small modifications. For example, “The McPherson Daily Republican” of McPherson, Kansas referred to “Bella” instead of “Belle” and acknowledged “Stray Stories” instead of “New York Journal”. 2
In 1904 a newspaper in Winston-Salem, North Carolina printed a variant that referred to an uncle: 3
Gossip No. 1.—Did Miss Hanson get her good looks from her father or her mother?
Gossip No. 2.—From her uncle; he keeps a drug store.—Princeton Tiger.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading
- 1898 August 5, The Times-Visitor (The Raleigh Times), (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1898 August 19, The McPherson Daily Republican, Artificial Beauty (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, McPherson, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1904 November 3, The Western Sentinel, (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 5, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩