Tag Archives: Joe Franklin

It’s Nice To Be Important, But More Important To Be Nice

Roger Federer? John Templeton? Walter Winchell? Kay Dangerfield? James H. Lane? Tony Curtis? Bob Olin? Sidney Blackmer? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Antimetabole is a clever literary technique in which a phrase is repeated, but key words are reversed. For example:

It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

This line has been attributed to the tennis superstar Roger Federer and the renowned investor and philanthropist John Templeton. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI conjectures that this statement evolved from an adage composed by the powerful widely-syndicated columnist Walter Winchell. Yet, many years before Winchell’s brainstorm an interesting precursor appeared in the “Trenton Times” of Trenton, New Jersey in 1905. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“If it is important to be nice, it is nearly as important to look nice. You may be full of kindness and desire to make others happy, but if you cannot cross a room without knocking down a chair or two, or answer a question without turning crimson and glaring at the floor, people will never really believe in your good intentions.”

The statement above contained two very similar repeated phrases, but the key words were not reordered; hence, antimetabole was not employed. In addition, the overall meaning differed substantially from the expression under examination.

In April 1937 Walter Winchell concluded his column with a remark he had sent via telegram. Winchell used the slang word “swell” which corresponded to “nice” in that time period: 2

In reply to the wire of Jeff L. Kammen, of Chicago: The last line was: “Your New York Correspondent, who wishes to remind celebrities that it is swell to be important—but more important to be swell!”

QI hypothesizes that someone during the following decade exchanged “swell” and “nice” to produce the popular modern saying from Winchell’s adage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1905 February 21, Trenton Times, For the Window Garden, Quote Page 6, Column 2 and 3, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1937 April 13, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Walter Winchell On Broadway (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 2, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Part Went for Liquor, Part for Women, Rest Spent Foolishly

Channing Pollock? George Raft? Tug McGraw? Stan Bowles? George Best?

Dear Quote Investigator: George Raft was my favorite film star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. He often played gangsters and was memorable in “Some Like it Hot”. Raft was known for his high income in Tinseltown and for his wild profligacy. The quotation that interests me appeared in his obituary in 1980 [RFT80]:

Raft … made, and squandered, about $10 million in his movie career, and later joked: “Part of the loot went for gambling, part for horses and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly.”

Did Raft really say this or is it part of his legend?

Quote Investigator: Yes, QI thinks Raft did say it, but he probably was not the first person to do so.

This exact quote appears in a profile of Raft written when he was 71 years old for Parade, the mass circulation Sunday newspaper magazine, dated 1966 October 23 [RFT66]. Raft says he purchased a racehorse for the star Betty Grable.

There is more evidence that Raft did utter the quip contained in an autobiographical book by Joe Franklin the host of a long-running talk show. Franklin says that Raft told him a close variant of the quote that includes alcohol [RFT95]:

George Raft told me on my show that he spent all of the $10 million he made on women, horses, gambling, and whiskey – and the rest he spent foolishly.

Interestingly, the full-text databases of today reveal that this joke has a large number of variations. For example: the money is spent on wine, whiskey, booze, liquor, women, horses, gambling, the finest duds, and three mustache curlers. The spendthrift is identified as George Raft, a hobo, a marine, a cat skinner, or a sailor.

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