Groucho Marx? A. E. Thomas? Beatrice Faber? Sidney Skolsky? Hugh Herbert? Walter Catlett? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When Groucho Marx was leaving a boring party he supposedly said:
I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
Did Groucho really insult a host or hostess in this way, or did he use this line in a comedy routine? Incidentally, I saw this quote when I was reading about the fun word “paraprosdokian” which refers to a figure of speech that contains a surprising or unexpected ending.
Quote Investigator: In a newspaper piece he wrote in 1962 Groucho denied that he ever used this quip to actually insult someone in real life. The details are given further below. Indeed, the earliest examples known to QI were not spoken by Groucho.
In the 1930s the stories told in movies were sometimes serialized in newspapers. In June 1935 an Iowa paper serialized the movie “No More Ladies”. The movie was based on a stage play by A. E. Thomas, and the adaption was performed by Beatrice Faber. The quip appeared in chapter one of the serialization. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
She dropped a kiss on Fanny’s forehead. “Good night sweet. If you see Sherry tell him I had a lovely evening but this wasn’t it.”
Many thanks to Andrew Steinberg who located the above citation.
In October 1936 the Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky credited the joke to a popular comedian named Hugh Herbert who had appeared in many movies. Today, Herbert is not well-known, but Groucho’s fame is uneclipsed: 2
Hugh Herbert leaving a party, said to the hostess: “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”
In November 1936 a column about Sacramento, California asserted that the line was used by an unnamed young man: 3
When goodnights were being said, the girl remarked politely to a well-known out-of-town boy, “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” The boy replied just as politely, “Yes, I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.” (Now, I ask you was that nice?)
In 1940 Cosmopolitan magazine published “I Cover Hollywood” by Sidney Skolsky. The columnist printed the quip again, but this time he assigned the phrase to another actor. The context was a discussion of a big party scene in the motion picture “Public Deb No. 1” which was directed by Gregory Ratoff: 4
Director Ratoff was thinking of using the best line ever pulled at a Hollywood party as a tag for his party sequence. It actually occurred, however, when Walter Catlett, on leaving a swanky party, said to the hostess, “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”
In 1941 the Reader’s Digest attached the words to Groucho Marx. A footnote indicated that the performer Eddie Cantor supplied the quotation and ascription: 5
“I’ve had a wonderful evening,” said Groucho Marx to his hostess as he was leaving a dull Hollywood party, “but this wasn’t it!”*
* Contributed by Eddie Cantor
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1941 a newspaper in Iowa printed the gag and attributed it to Groucho. The wording differed slightly from the Reader’s Digest text: 6
“I’ve had a wonderful time,” said Groucho Marx to the hostess on leaving the dull party, “but this wasn’t it.”
In 1942 the joke appeared in Edmund Fuller’s compendium “Thesaurus of Anecdotes”. The version given was identical to that in the Reader’s Digest. 7
In 1946 a newspaper in Nebraska presented the anecdote in dialog form: 8
Comedian Groucho Marx attended a dull dinner party, which kept him yawning all evening. As he was preparing to depart, the hostess said:
“I hope you had a pleasant time, Mr. Marx!”
“I had a wonderful time,” cracked Groucho, “but this wasn’t it.”
In 1962 Groucho wrote an article published in a newspaper supplement called “This Week Magazine”. He disclaimed the joke by writing: “I never made that mean remark in real life.” This leaves open the possibility that Groucho used the quip in a comedy routine or monologue. But QI has not yet located direct evidence for this: 9
That grouchy Shaw crack reminds me of a rebuff I’m supposed to have uncorked as I took leave of my hostess at a Hollywood dinner-party; “I’ve had a wonderful evening, Madame; but this wasn’t it.”
Cross my heart, I never made that mean remark in real life.
In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of research results, and it may be updated as more discoveries are made. Currently, the earliest citation points to the written serialization of the 1935 movie “No More Ladies”. The play was created by A.E. Thomas. According to IMDB Rachel Crothers, Edith Fitzgerald, George Oppenheimer all worked on the screenplay. In addition, the adaption to serial form was performed by Beatrice Faber. Any one of these writers might have contributed the quip. QI does not know if it was present in the original play, and QI has not seen the movie.
Groucho was first connected to the quip in 1941 several years after it was already in circulation. He may have said it in a comedy routine, but QI believes Groucho’s assertion that he did not say it after attending an actual party.
Image Notes: Groucho Marx image from the Photograph Collection of Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons. Low resolution image of the promotional material for the film “No More Ladies” Cropped screenshot of Hugh Herbert from the trailer for the film Dames via Wikimedia Commons.
(Thanks to Andrew Steinberg who sent to QI the citation dated June 20, 1935.)
Update History: On April 5, 2016 the citations dated June 20, 1935 and November 13, 1936 were added to the article.
- 1935 June 20, The Bedford Times-Press, No More Ladies From the stage play by A. E. Thomas, Adapted by Beatrice Faber from the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Picture, Chapter One: A Date with Sherry, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Bedford, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1936 October 14, Augusta Chronicle, Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Page 4, Column 4, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1936 November 13, The California Eagle, Sacramento, Quote Page 13, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1940 September, Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan, I Cover Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Start Page 55, Quote Page 119, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1941 March, Reader’s Digest, Volume 38, Party Chatter, Page 116, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1941 March 13, The Alden Times, “School Chatter: Fifth Column”, Page 5, Column 3, Alden, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1942, Thesaurus of Anecdotes by Edmund Fuller, Page 131, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1946 October 30, Omaha World Herald, Anecdotes of the Famous: Enjoyment, Page 8, Column 1, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1962 March 11, Salt Lake Tribune, Section: This Week Magazine, Groucho’s Who’s Who of Great Ha-Ha’s by Groucho Marx with Leslie Lieber, Subsection title: Groucho didn’t say it, Page 15, Salt Lake City, Utah. (NewspaperArchive) ↩