Tallulah Bankhead? Herb Stein? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: You have previously examined a quotation attributed to the movie star Tallulah Bankhead. Perhaps you would be willing to look at another quip. Here are two versions:
1) Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don’t have time.
2) It’s the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time.
Should Bankhead receive credit?
Quote Investigator: In August 1956 the widely-syndicated gossip columnist Earl Wilson printed an instance of the joke which he categorized as a “pearl”; however, Wilson provided no attribution. The ellipsis was in the original text: 1
EARL’S PEARLS . . . Good girls keep diaries; bad girls don’t have the time.
Shortly afterwards in November 1956 the quip was ascribed to Bankhead in a Canadian newspaper although the wording was slightly different: 2
Tallulah Bankhead says: “It’s good girls who keep diaries of what they do. Bad girls never have the time.”
—Daily Express Service
In the following years the joke was further disseminated with the linkage to Bankhead usually preserved. Eventually the columnist Earl Wilson reprinted the jest, and he too ascribed the remark to Bankhead.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In May 1957 the joke appeared in the pages of the mass-circulation periodical “Reader’s Digest” in a section called “Toward More Picturesque Speech”. Bankhead was credited and a popular magazine of the 1950’s was acknowledged: 3
Love and Marriage: It’s the good girls who keep diaries—bad girls never have time (Tallulah Bankhead in Look)
In July 1957 an instance was published in the “Evening World-Herald” of Omaha, Nebraska. The phrasing precisely matched the version given in the “Reader’s Digest”: 4
It’s the good girls who keep diaries—bad girls never have time.—Tallulah Bankhead.
In 1961 the syndicated quotation-maven Bennett Cerf shared the quip with his readers, but he credited an economist: 5
FROM THE MAXIMS of Herb Stein: “To err is human, but when the eraser wears out before the pencil, you’re overdoing it.” “It’s the good little girls who keep diaries; the bad little girls don’t have the time.”
In 1962 Earl Wilson revisited the saying in his newspaper column and credited Bankhead: 6
“Good girls keep diaries,” notes Tallulah Bankhead. “Bad girls never have the time.”
In conclusion, QI believes this quip should be ascribed to Tallulah Bankhead. The phrasing was variable and the words did not appear in an interview or speech, but there was no other substantive rival attribution.
Image Notes: Publicity photo of Tallulah Bankhead via Wikimedia Commons. Diary with flower from JamesDeMers at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1956 August 22, Aberdeen American-News (Aberdeen Daily News), It Happened Last Night by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1956 November 21, The Calgary Herald, The Button Box (acknowledgement to Daily Express Service), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1957 May, Reader’s Digest, Volume 70, Toward More Picturesque Speech, Quote Page 76, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1957 June 26, Evening World-Herald (Omaha World Herald), So They Said, Quote Page 14, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1961 February 1, Tonawanda News, Section 2, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 9, Column 1, North Tonawanda, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1962 December 26, The Morning Herald, It Happened Last Night by Earl Wilson, Sub-section: Earl’s Pearls, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩