Groucho Marx? S. J. Perelman? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was once asked to write a blurb for a book written by a friend. The result was this hilarious evaluation:
From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
Was this really written by Marx? What was the name of the book under review?
Quote Investigator: In October 1929 “The Greeley Daily Tribune” of Greeley, Colorado printed an article about books that had been recently received by the local library. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
“Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” by S. J. Perelman is humor personified. Groucho Marx says of it, “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
In November 1929 the powerful syndicated columnist Walter Winchell also mentioned humorist Perelman’s newly published book. The following version of the comment ascribed to Marx was slightly different: the phrase “picked up your book” was replaced by “picked it up”: 2
S. J. Perelman, one of the more comical comedians on Judge, has written a book christened, “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” the words and pictures being by the master himself.
. . . Groucho Marx, of the Three Marx Brothers, has indorsed Mr. Perelman’s book in this manner: “From the moment I picked it up until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
The Google Books database contained a digital copy of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge”; however, access was restricted and only snippets were visible. Luckily, one snippet revealed the remark from Groucho Marx. QI contacted a librarian who accessed the volume and determined that parts of the dust jacket had been extracted and pasted into the book. The following message was printed on the jacket: 3
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Top quotation researcher Fred Shapiro who is the editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations” contacted a bookseller who examined a copy of Perelman’s book: 4
The bookseller Peter Stern graciously sent me a scan of the dust jacket of S. J. Perelman’s _Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge_ (1929). On the jacket appears the following:
_In an open letter to S. J. Perelman, GROUCHO MARX says:_
“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
In 1962 Perelman was profiled in “LIFE” magazine and the quip was referenced; however, the wording was altered. The phrase “picked up your book” was reordered to yield “picked your book up”, and “I put it down” was changed to “I laid it down”: 5
Then in 1929, when he was 25, came his first wild literary confection, Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge. Groucho Marx, reviewing it, said, “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.” Perelman dashed to Hollywood and wrote Marx’s funniest films—and many others, including Around the World in 80 Days, for which he got a special Oscar.
The 1989 edition of “Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter” included an instance of the joke on the back flap. Interestingly, the comical target of the remark was reassigned from a book by Perelman to a book by Rosten: 6
Groucho Marx said of one of Mr. Rosten’s books: “From the moment I picked this book up until the moment I put it down, I could not stop laughing. Some day I hope to read it.” But once you pick up Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter, you won’t put it down until you have a host of jokes for every friend and every occasion—from weddings and banquets to the office and everyday conversation.
In conclusion, this quip was crafted by Groucho Marx, and in 1929 it appeared on the book jacket of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge” by S. J. Perelman. Some modern instances have altered the original wording.
(Great thanks to Fred Shapiro whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to the librarian who examined “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge”.)
- 1929 October 7, The Greeley Daily Tribune (and The Greeley Republican), New Books Received by Greeley Library, Page 10, Column 3, Greeley, Colorado. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1929 November 20, The Scranton Republican, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 4 and 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- Database: Google Books, Book Title: Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, Book Author: Sidney Joseph Perelman, Year: 1929, Page Number: i (dustjacket), Access Restriction: Only snippets are visible, Database description: Electronic page scans of millions of books from major research libraries. (Accessed books.google.com on January 27, 2015) link ↩
- Mailing List Archive: American Dialect Society, Message Subject: Groucho Marx Quote Verified, Message From: Fred Shapiro, Date of message: May 17, 2010. (Accessed listserv.linguistlist.org on January 27, 2015) ↩
- 1962 February 9, LIFE, Volume 52, Number 6, Close-up: S. J. Perelman – The Cranky Humorist, Start Page 85, Quote Page 85, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1989 (Copyright 1985), Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter, Compiled by Leo Rosten, Quote Location: Back Flap, Published by Bonanza Books, New York; Distributed by Crown Publishers, New York.(Originally published by Crown, New York in 1985)(Verified with scans of 1989 edition) ↩