Life Is Not a Rehearsal

Drake? Lawrence T. Holman? Chet Huntley? Katharine Ross? Rose Tremain? Wayne Dyer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: William Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage”, and the metaphor of life as a theatrical performance has a very long history. The quotation that interests me fits in this metaphorical framework, but I think it was coined recently:

Life is not a dress rehearsal.
This is your life, not a dress rehearsal.
Life is not a rehearsal.
And life ain’t a rehearsal the camera’s always rollin’.

Can you tell me who originated this saying?

Quote Investigator: This is a modern proverb that may not be traceable to an individual. The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1953 in the Covina Argus-Citizen newspaper of Covina California. Pastor Lawrence T. Holman of the Church of the Nazarene used the expression as the title of an evening sermon: 1

7:30 p.m. — EVANGELISTIC SERVICE. Special songs by “Jad” Scroggins. Sermon by the pastor: “LIFE IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL!”

In 1972 an advertisement for a real estate development in Big Sky, Montana used a version of the adage. The resort area was conceived by Chet Huntley who was a prominent television journalist and anchorman. The ad was aimed at executives looking for homesites offering recreational activities such as skiing, fishing, golf, tennis, and riding. 2

You’re too busy running to catch planes, running to catch cabs and trying to stop running long enough to catch lunch.

Well, it’s time you realized this isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is your life.

It’s time you were introduced to Chet Huntley’s Big Sky: Over 10,000 acres of the most beautiful country in this world.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In March 1976 the astrology column of Sydney Omarr began with the following introduction: 3

From a Sagittarian philosopher: Many people seem to live their lives as if this were a dress rehearsal. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real thing. The curtain is up and all the stops are out. You are alive. Start living!

In March 1977 the film and stage actress Katharine Ross was interviewed in an article that highlighted her recent Golden Globe Award. Ross employed the adage: 4

“Life is the key to everything. Remember, this isn’t a dress rehearsal we’re going through, it’s the real thing.”

In August 1977 the popular gossip columnist Liz Smith noted that a version of the proverb appeared on the garments of a stylish designer: 5

“THIS IS YOUR LIFE, NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL”—so reads the slogan on the New York-manufactured Judith Michaels T-shirts and what a good thing to remember every single day.

In 1980 top quotation expert and BBC broadcaster Nigel Rees saw a version of the saying in graffiti form: 6

In December 1980 I spotted this in the Eight-O Club, Dallas, Texas, and included it in my Graffiti 3 (1981): ‘This is not a dress rehearsal, this is real life.’

The website quotes.dictionary.com has an entry for the saying using information licensed from Columbia University Press. The phrase is ascribed to a British author based on a citation dated 1989 in the Sunday Correspondent of London: 7

Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Rose Tremain (b. 1943)

A 2009 edition of a book by the self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne W. Dyer included an instance of the maxim: 8

Somehow we’ve got this notion that life is a dress rehearsal. It isn’t. This is it!

In 2010 the song “Miss Me” by Drake featuring Lil Wayne was released, and the lyrics included a version of the saying. The actor and hip hop artist Aubrey Drake Graham records music under the name Drake: 9

And life ain’t a rehearsal the camera’s always rollin’

In conclusion, currently, the earliest instance of the proverb found by QI was written as a sermon title by pastor Lawrence T. Holman of Covina California in 1953. But QI believes this can probably be antedated, and the origin is probably untraceable. QI suggests using the label Anonymous to designate the source.

(Great thanks to Mike who asked about this saying which he first heard in 1980.)

Notes:

  1. 1953 May 7, Covina Argus-Citizen, Section II, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Your Church Invites You, (Schedule of Church of the Nazarene, Location: First and College, Pastor: Lawrence T. Holman), Covina, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1972 November 9, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for: Chet Huntley’s Big Sky in Big Sky, Montana.) Quote Page 6-G, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1976 March 13, Seattle Daily Times, Astrological Forecast by Sydney Omarr, Quote Page D2, Column 5, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1977 March 12, Indiana Evening Gazette, Katharine Ross Has Chance At Coveted Oscar by Dick Kleiner (NEA News Service), Quote Page 8, Column 9, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1977 August 3, Times-Picayune, Section 4, “Mrs. K. Shops; Miss M. Declines Debate” by Liz Smith, Quote Page 4, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 2006, Brewer’s Famous Quotations edited by Nigel Rees, Section Billy Connolly, Quote Page 152 and 153, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. (Verified on paper)
  7. Dictionary.com Quotes, (Data based on The Columbia World of Quotations (1996), Columbia University Press), Quotation by Rose Tremain: Life is not a dress rehearsal, (Accessed quotes.dictionary.com on June 2, 2013) link
  8. 2009, Staying on the Path: Easyread Super Large 24pt Edition, by Wayne W. Dyer, Quote Page 93, Read How You Want: Your Customized Book Source. (Google Books Preview)
  9. YouTube video, Title: Drake – Miss Me ft. Lil Wayne, (Music video by Drake performing Miss Me; copyright 2010 Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records), The words of the quote are delivered at: 2:27 of 6:02, Uploaded by DrakeVEVO on Aug 19, 2010. (Accessed youtube.com on June 1, 2013)