Groucho Marx? Marshall Reid? Fanny Brice? Frank Case? Jane Ace? Goodman Ace? Rudy Vallée? Verree Teasdale? Robert Bloch? John Lennon? Ann Landers? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following humorous pun about comeuppance for poor behavior has been attributed to the famous comedian Groucho Marx. The slang term “heel” refers to a contemptible person:
Time wounds all heels.
The statement is a scrambled version of the following comforting aphorism about the mitigation of injuries:
Time heals all wounds.
The pun has also been attributed to hotelier Frank Case and radio performer Jane Ace. Would you please explore this saying?
Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx did deliver this comical line during the film “Go West” in 1940, but the expression was already in circulation. In addition, there is good evidence that Frank Case, Jane Ace and several other individuals employed the joke. Detailed citations are given further below.
The earliest citation located by QI appeared in a syndicated news column in December 1934. The remark was ascribed to someone named Marshall Reid. An explanatory anecdote was given to introduce the punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
In a Chicago cafe the other night, an elderly man passed a table.
“There goes George,” observed an onlooker. “When he was young, he was a handsome guy. Left a wife and two kids to starve, and ran off with another woman. And now look at him. Old, broke and very sad.”
“That’s the way-it-goes,” nodded Marshall Reid. “Time wounds all heels.”
Frank Case was a prominent hotelier who owned and operated the Algonquin Hotel in New York where the celebrated Algonquin Round Table convened. He appeared multiple times on a popular radio program hosted by the entertainer Rudy Vallée. During a broadcast in 1937 Vallée asked Case about “skippers”, hotel guests who attempt to leave without paying their bills. Case’s response included the quip: 2
We don’t have much trouble with skippers. If a man can’t pay his bill he usually tells me; pays me later. Of course, they’re a few heels who get away with things, but eventually as time goes by they all get caught. What I always say is “Time wounds all heels”.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1938 Frank Case published a memoir titled “Tales of a Wayward Inn” which recounted his experiences running the Algonquin. Case asserted that he created the jest during his radio appearance: 3
And no one enjoyed my own pun more than I, when Rudy Vallée asked me on the air about skippers, skippers being departed guests who neglect saving adieu to the cashier. “Well, we don’t know much about that; our people always pay, either now or tomorrow. Of course, there are a few heels who appear to get away with it, but time eventually catches up with them and they live to regret their evil ways. What I always say is, Time wounds all heels.”
This intriguing citation was given in three key reference works: “Nice Guys Finish Seventh” by Ralph Keyes, 4 “The Yale Book of Quotations” 5 and “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”. 6 The latter two are from Yale University Press.
In January 1938 the gossip columnist Erskine Johnson published an article filled with quotations from Hollywood figures. He ascribed an extended version of the joke to the singer and comedian Fanny Brice: 7
Fannie Brice: “Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels.”
In April 1939 a Louisiana newspaper published an article about a long-running radio show called “Easy Aces” starring Jane and Goodman Ace. Episodes of the comedy series were first broadcast in 1930, and during the 1930s Jane Ace became well-known for mangling adages to generate novel comical statements. One of her lines matched the pun under investigation, but it was not clear when she first delivered the remark to her radio audience. The primary writer of the show was Goodman Ace; hence, the expression has been credited to both Goodman and Jane: 8
Some recent malaprops uttered by Jane are:
“Time wounds all heels.”
“I always say a wife should take the bitter with the better.”
“Go hire a kite.”
“You’re getting my ghost.”
“No use crying over spoiled milk.”
Goodman Ace keeps a record of his malaprop creations in a little black notebook for handy references.
The linkage of the quip to Frank Case was strengthened by an advertising campaign for his memoir. For example, in May 1939 an advertisement in “The New Yorker” magazine prominently featured the quotation. 9
In November 1939 the magazine “Radio and Television Mirror” printed a short piece about “Easy Aces” that included another entertaining set of twisted sayings spoken by Jane Ace. The article stated that “Goodman writes all the scripts himself, and directs them too”: 10
Much more famous than her bridge mistakes now, are Jane’s desperate tussles with the English language. Here are a few of her prize remarks: “Time wounds all heels.” “Familiarity breeds attempts.” “I slept like a cop.” “I’m no shrieking violet.” “He lives by the sweat of his frau.” “It’s the gossip truth.”
In January 1940 a columnist in New York described a parlor game called “Mumbled Jottoes” which was based on taking a well-known saying or phrase and altering it by switching the initial sounds or letters of two words. Thus, “Jumbled Mottoes” was transformed into “Mumbled Jottoes”. A game participant would construct an altered phrase together with a short illustrative tale; the other players would attempt to guess the phrase. The article presented an example: 11
“Henry Luce, the publisher of Time Magazine, went to a cocktail party. Arriving, he was disgusted to find that nearly everyone present was a heel. He stood it for awhile and finally whipped out a knife and began slashing all the heels, wounding them.” The answer to that one is: “Time wounds all heels.”
Also, in January 1940 the powerful Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper attributed the expression to a notable dance instructor: 12
Arthur Murray switches the old proverb to fit Hollywood: “Time wounds all heels!”
In February 1940 a review of the movie “I Take This Woman” mentioned that the joke was included in the dialog. The main stars were Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr, but the line was spoken by supporting actress Verree Teasdale: 13
Enough good lines (“Time wounds all heels!”) to compensate for some incredible cliches (“Did I remember to tell you I adore you?”)—and Tracy, with the gorgeous Lamarr, making the whole thing almost believable.
The Marx Brother’s film “Go West” was released in December 1940, but some of the jokes were known in advance. A newspaper article published in August correctly stated that Groucho Marx was planning to employ the pun: 14
A Groucho Marx line from the picture-in-the-making, Go West: “Time wounds all heels.”
As usual, the Marx Brothers’ gags for the film have been audience-tested on personal appearance tours. “It’s the only way,” says Groucho, “but I’m not going to do it any more. Too tough a grind. It was all right when I was fourteen, but not now.”
After “Go West” was released a columnist noted perspicaciously that claimants to the jest were numerous: 15
The line forms to the left for those who claim they said Groucho Marx’ line in “Go West”—“time wounds all heels”—first.
In January 1941 a journalist spoke to Jane Ace and told her that the pun she spoke was sometimes ascribed to Rudy Vallée. She asserted that the line was crafted by her and not by Vallée or her husband: 16
Goodman Ace writes the Easy Aces scripts, but Jane contributes an occasional idea and many a malaprop for which her part is famous. The following are her favorites, as I got them direct from her one day at Radio City: . . . “Time wounds all heels.”
I remember telling Jane Ace that Rudy Vallee is credited with introducing the last gem, but Jane insists that the “Time wounds all heels” line is hers as an original.
In April 1942 the prolific award-winning horror and fantasy writer Robert Bloch published a short story in “Fantastic Adventures” which used the jest as its title: 17
Time Wounds All Heels by Robert Bloch, pages 192 to 205
In 1951 Margaret Case Harriman who was the daughter of Frank Case published “The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table”. She believed that her father had originated the comical expression: 18
Father never considered himself a wit, and this gave him an enchanting air of surprise whenever he said something really good. He said so many good things that most of them have passed into legend—unfortunately uncredited. The now-famous, “Time wounds all heels” was his; and the comment on a too-talkative woman, “When you ask her a question it’s like taking your finger out of the dike.”
In 1976 a syndicated column called “Quote-Unquote: What people are saying” ascribed the quip to the famous musician John Lennon: 19
“I have no grudges because in the end, time wounds all heels.”
— John Lennon answering whether he held any enmity for the Nixon administration which pushed for the ex-Beatle’s deportation from the United States.
The iconic advice-giver Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer) used the expression multiple times over a period of decades in her widely-syndicated column. In fact, a 1979 compilation of quotations assigned the word play to Landers. 20 The following passage appeared in a 1963 column: 21
CONFIDENTIAL to heartsick: Time wounds all heels and he’ll get his. Don’t spend another minute thinking about how to get even.
In conclusion, QI would tentatively credit Marshall Reid with formulating this adage based on the 1934 citation. Interestingly, it is possible that the saying was constructed independently on multiple occasions. Current knowledge is incomplete, and this article presents a snapshot.
Frank Case used the quip during a 1937 radio broadcast, and he indicated in his memoir that he believed he was the originator. It is conceivable that Case had been using the expression for years. But the 1934 evidence retains evidentiary precedence.
Jane Ace used the pun during the “Easy Aces” radio show, but the exact date of the episode was uncertain to QI. The show began in 1930; hence, she may have spoken it before 1934. The joke may have been scripted by Jane Ace or Goodman Ace either individually or collaboratively.
Groucho Marx used the joke in “Go West” in 1940, and he was an important locus for its popularization. Frank Case’s book and its advertising campaign also popularized the pun; as did Jane Ace’s humorous radio character.
Image Notes: Publicity photo of Jane and Goodman Ace for the radio show “Easy Aces”. Image of foot bones from “Science of Dress” via Wikimedia Commons.
(Great thanks to Jeffrey Guterman, Jenni, and Edward Banatt whose tweets on this topic led QI to formulate this question and share this exploration. Great thanks to Frank Solensky who told QI about the Rudy Vallée radio broadcast dated June 17, 1937 during which Frank Case used the jest. Solensky provided a link to a webpage with an MP3 audio file of the broadcast, so QI could verify Case’s statement.)
Update History: On December 11, 2019 the 1976 citation was added.
- 1934 December 21, Lowell Sun, All In A Day by Mark Hellinger (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Lowell, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- Website: Old Time Radio Downloads, Audio title: Rudy Vallee Royal Gelatin Hour Guest Tallulah Bankhead, Audio description: Frank Case was also a guest, Air Date on website: June 17, 1937, Audio quotation location: 38 mins, 58 secs of 57 mins 44 secs) Website description: Audio files of old radio show broadcasts. (Accessed oldtimeradiodownloads.com on May 26, 2017) link ↩
- 1938, Tales of a Wayward Inn by Frank Case, Chapter 11, Quote Page 231 and 232, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York. (Verified on paper in Fourth Printing May 18, 1939) ↩
- 1992, Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations by Ralph Keyes, Entry: Time wounds all heels, Quote Page 124, HarperCollins, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Frank Case, Quote Page 138, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Entry: Time wounds all heels, Quote Page 259, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1938 January 28, San Mateo Times, Behind the Make-Up by Erskine Johnson, Quote Page 10, Column 6, San Mateo, California. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1939 April 20, State Times Advocate, Aces Are High in Air Comedy, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1939 May 20, The New Yorker, (Advertisement for Tales of a Wayward Inn by Frank Case), Quote Page 92, Column 3, The F-R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified in online database of page scans) ↩
- 1939 November, Radio and Television Mirror, Volume 13, Number 1, Tuesday’s Highlights, Quote Page 46, Published by Macfadden Publications, New York. (Internet Archive) ↩
- 1940 January 22, Seattle Daily Times, New York by Dale Harrison, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1940 January 31, San Francisco Chronicle, Stage by Hedda Hopper, Quote Page 9, Column 2, San Francisco, California. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1940 February 11, Sunday Times-Advertiser (Trenton Evening Times), Section 3, Hollywood Correspondent’s Film Impressions by Robbin Coons, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1940 August 29, Buffalo-Courier Express, Hollywood by John Chapman, Quote Page 9, Column 8, Buffalo, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1940 December 16, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Hollywood by Hugh Dixon, Quote Page 25, Column 4, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1941 January 18, Long Island Daily Press, Viewing Radio With Jack Shafer, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Jamaica, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1942 April, Fantastic Adventures, Volume 4, Number 4, Time Wounds All Heels by Robert Bloch, (Short Story) Start Page 192, Quote Page 192, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Unz) ↩
- 1951, The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table by Margaret Case Harriman, Quote Page 36, Rinehart & Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1976 August 16, Corsicana Daily Sun, Quote-Unquote: What people are saying (Newspaper Enterprise Association), Quote Page 2B, Column 3, Corsicana, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Quote Page 169, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1963 June 27, Aberdeen American News (Aberdeen Daily News), Your Problems by Ann Landers, Quote Page 9, Column 2, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank) ↩