“I Insured My Voice for $1,000,000.” “Wonderful! What Did You Do with the Money?”

Miriam Hopkins? Apocryphal?
hopkins01Dear Quote investigator: While watching the television show “The Voice” a friend told me about an entertaining zinger. One singer was trying to impress another singer by describing an insurance policy:

Singer 1: “I Insured My Voice for One Million Dollars.”
Singer 2: “Wonderful! What Did You Do with the Money?”

A version of this rejoinder has been attributed to the actress Miriam Hopkins. Would you explore this tale to determine the participants?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI was printed in a Boston, Massachusetts newspaper in October 1936 which acknowledged a correspondent in Rome, Italy. The first participant in the repartee was male and was only identified as a “famous singer”. The short item was grouped with a collection of jokes in a humor column called “In Lighter Vein”. The value of the insurance policy was denominated in British pounds: 1

“I insured my voice,” stated the famous singer, “for £50,000.” “And what,” asked his rival, “have you done with the money?”—Marc Aurelio (Rome).

The same comical tale was printed in “The Literary Digest” of New York, “The Era” newspaper of Bradford, Pennsylvania, and the “Chester Times” of Chester, Pennsylvania in October 1936. 2 3 4 The three periodicals credited Marc Aurelio of Rome.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In November 1936 a modified version of the jest was published in “New Castle News” of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The amount of the policy was changed from 50,000 to 250,000 and the currency was switched from pounds to dollars: 5

HE COULD COLLECT

“I insured my voice,” stated the famous singer, “for $250,000.”
“And what,” asked his rival, “have you done with the money?”

In December 1936 “The Literary Digest” printed another slightly different version and acknowledged a Kentucky paper: 6

Retort Courteous—”I insured my voice,” stated the famous singer, “for $50,000.”
“And what,” asked his rival, “have you done with the money?”—Louisville (Ky.) Journal.

In 1943 a trade publication for milk producers included an instance of the gag: 7

“I insured my voice for $100,000,” said a pompous singer.
“And what,” asked his rival, “did you do with the money?”

In 1946 a variant of the comical tale was published in an Omaha, Nebraska newspaper, and in this instance the insured singer was female: 8

Famous Singer: I insured my voice for 250 thousand dollars.
Her Rival: And what did you do with the money? You certainly didn’t spend it on clothes.

In 1949 the industrious anecdote collector Bennett Cerf featured a version of the story in his syndicated newspaper column. Cerf’s article was the earliest evidence located by QI that linked the clever gibe to Miriam Hopkins 9

Miriam Hopkins made her debut as one of the “Eight Little Notes” who served as the chorus of the First Music Box Revue. . . . On the out-of-town tryouts an ageing soprano was pencilled in for a leading role, and sought to impress Miss Hopkins. “I’ll have you know,” she declared, “that I insured my voice for $50,000.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Miss Hopkins. “What did you do with the money?”

In 1951 the gag was retold as part of a meta-joke in a four panel comic strip by H. T. Webster. After a man set up the jest and delivered the punchline his companion in the final panel responded with incomprehension: 10

Well, what did she do with the money?

The 1989 volume “Broadway Anecdotes” by Peter Hay contained an instance similar to Cerf’s version with an aging soprano conversing with Hopkins. The date given was 1921: 11

“You know, my dear, I insured my voice for fifty thousand dollars.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Miss Hopkins in all sweet innocence. “And what did you do with the money?”

In conclusion, QI believes that this tale probably began as a humorous fictional tale. The connection to Miriam Hopkins was established years after the joke entered circulation. In the earliest instances the lampooned singer was male and not female.

Image notes: Microphone photo was taken by Evan-Amos and released into the public domain. Miriam Hopkins publicity photo is in the public domain according to Wikipedia.

(Special thanks to Gerry who sent QI a set of zingers to investigate.)

Notes:

  1. 1936 October 6, Christian Science Monitor, In Lighter Vein: Oof!, Quote Page 15, Column 6, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  2. 1936 October 10, The Literary Digest, Volume 122, Number 15, The Spice of Life, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Unz)
  3. 1936 October 14, The Era (Bradford Era), Morning Musings, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Bradford, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1936 October 26, Chester Times, So They Say, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Chester, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1936 November 4, New Castle News, (Freestanding filler item), Quote Page 17, Column 2, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 1936 December 19, The Literary Digest, Volume 122, Number 25, The Spice of Life, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Unz)
  7. 1943 August, Inter-State Milk Producers Review, (Freestanding filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Published by Inter-State Milk Producers’ Cooperative, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Internet Archive) link
  8. 1946 June 7, Evening World-Herald (Omaha World Herald), Cat Session, Quote Page 10, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  9. 1949 March 6, Boston Globe, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page A2, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  10. 1951 April 19, Boston Globe, Four-Panel Cartoon: And Nothing Can Be Done About It by H. T. Webster, Quote Page 22, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  11. 1989 copyright, Broadway Anecdotes by Peter Hay, Quote Page 353, Oxford University Press, New York. (Verified on paper in 1990 paperback)