Marc Connelly? Nicholas Longworth? S. H. Hale? Franklin P. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a list of the funniest ripostes, but it did not include the squelcher that I believe is the best. An unhappy card player wished to embarrass a bald man who was excelling. The disgruntled man placed his hand on the winner’s gleaming dome and said, “Hey, this feels smooth and soft exactly like my sweet wife’s behind.”
In response the man touched his glabrous scalp thoughtfully and said, “That is curious. You know; you’re right.”
The punchline of this anecdote was been attributed to the playwright Marc Connelly who was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table and to Nicholas Longworth who was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Would you explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: The earliest published version of this tale found by QI was set in a barber shop and was less risqué. In July 1924 “The Roswell Daily Record” of Roswell, New Mexico printed the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[ref] 1924 July 12, The Roswell Daily Record, Local Snap Shots (Contributed), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Roswell, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
S. H. Hale tells this one on a fresh young barber he had working for him several years ago. This particular barber thought he would kid a bald-headed man.
“Don’t you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek”.
The customer reached up and stroked his head for a moment and then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it.”
The word “cheek” presented a double-entendre, but QI believes that the Roswell newspaper editor in 1924 probably expected readers to think of the face and not the buttocks.
The joke was bawdy, and it suggested cuckoldry; hence, coarser instances probably circulated only via the spoken word initially. Newspapers in the 1920s printed a version with the phrase “my wife’s cheek”, and periodicals in the 1950s printed a variant referencing “my wife’s leg”. By the 1960s a biography printed an instance with “my wife’s bottom”, and a memoir printed an instance with “my wife’s behind”.
Privately printed literature was more candid. In 1934 a limited edition collection of taboo humor included an instance with “my wife’s ass”. The rejoinder was attributed to Mark Connelly.
Nicholas Longworth was Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931, i.e., after the barber shop version of the anecdote was circulating. He died in 1931. The earliest citation found by QI crediting the punchline to Longworth was published in a 1968 book about Washington politics. Detailed information is given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The anecdote was published in July 1924 in New Mexico as noted previously. In September 1924 a newspaper in Marshall County, Iowa printed the following similar instance:[ref] 1924 September 25, State Center Enterprise, Editorial and Feature Page, Coming Back Fast, Quote Page 2, Column 3, State Center, Marshall County, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
We don’t dare mention any names, but the boys are telling about one of our barbers who thought he would kid the bald-headed man.
“Do you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek.”
The customer reached up, stroking his head for a moment, then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it?”
In 1929 the joke continued to circulate when an instance with the phrase “my wife’s cheek” was printed in “The Evening News” of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.[ref] 1929 May 11, The Evening News, (Filler item), Quote Page 10, Column 7, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]
In 1934 a compilation of ribald, taboo-breaking, and grotesque material was privately released under the title “Anecdota Americana: Second Series”. This work was the sequel to a 1927 volume. The story was printed with the punchline credited to Marc Connelly although the first name was misspelled as “Mark”. Franklin P. Adams was another member of the Algonquin Round Table who wrote a popular newspaper column:[ref] 1934, Anecdota Americana: Second Series by J. Mortimer Hall, An Anthology of Tales in the Vernacular, Edited without Expurgation, Item Number: 215, Quote Page 85, Published by Humphrey Adams, Boston. (Jack Horntip Collection)[/ref]
Franklin P. Adams was sitting next to Mark Connelly at a dinner recently. In his usual facetious vein, F.P.A. rose, and putting his hand on Mark’s gleaming, hairless, dome said, “Say you know Mark, this feels just like my wife’s ass.”
Connelly ran his hand over his own head and said, “By God, Frank, so it does.”
By the 1950s a variant emerged that referred to a different region of the body. In March 1954 “The Canyon News” of Canyon, Texas published the following instance with the phrase “my wife’s leg”:[ref] 1954 March 24, The Canyon News, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 7, Column 2, Canyon, Texas. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]
One evening a wise guy sauntered over to a table where a bald-headed friend of his was eating and decided to heckle him. He rubbed his hand over his friend’s bald head and commented: “You know, Joe, your head is so soft and smooth—it feels just like my wife’s leg.”
Joe reached up, patted his own bald head and replied, “Darned if it don’t.”
In September 1954 a similar version was printed in the “Daily Sikeston Standard” of Sikeston, Missouri:[ref] 1954 September 16, Daily Sikeston Standard, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Sikeston, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]
One evening recently I was having a drink with my friend Sam when a young smart-alec sauntered over to our able and spotted Sam’s very bald head.
“You know, Sam,” he said, “your head is so soft and smooth, it feels just like my wife’s leg.” Sam reached up, patted his own head and replied, “Damned if it don’t!”
The story was printed in other newspapers and trade journals in the following years, e.g., the “Lodi News-Sentinel” of Lodi, California.[ref] 1954 October 8, Lodi News-Sentinel, (Advertisement for Fuller & Sons; filer item), Quote Page 5, Column 2, Lodi, California. (Google News Archive)[/ref]
In 1968 the journalist and political analyst Stewart Alsop published “The Center: People and Power in Political Washington” which included a version with the quip credited to Nicholas Longworth:[ref] 1968, The Center: People and Power in Political Washington by Stewart Alsop, Quote Page 80, Published by Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
Perhaps his most crushing riposte was directed at a presumptuous Congressman who passed his hand over Longworth’s bald head and remarked, “Feels just like my wife’s bottom.”
Longworth passed his own hand over his own head, and then said thoughtfully: “By golly, it does, doesn’t it?”
In 1968 the journalist Jane Grant who was a co-founder of “The New Yorker” magazine published a memoir. She ascribed the remark to Connelly and specified a precise location:[ref] 1968, Ross, the New Yorker, and Me by Jane Grant (Jane C. Grant), Chapter 7, Quote Page 120 Published by Reynal and Company, New York, In association with William Morrow & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
Marc Connelly and Bob Benchley were most likely to stun their listeners with their spontaneous remarks.
One day Marc was holding forth at Tony’s, our favorite drinking hangout, when a rival wag came in and stopped at his table. As he stood over Marc, the newcomer gently rubbed Marc’s bald head, then said: “Huh, that feels just like my wife’s behind.”
Marc stroked his head, thoughtfully. “Why so it does,” he said.
A character in the 1970 novel “The Goy” by Mark Harris presented an instance of the tale and described the retort as “the wittiest remark I ever heard”:[ref] 1970, The Goy by Mark Harris, Quote Page 59, Published by The Dial Press, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
As he sat down he passed his hand across Tikvah’s head and said, “Do you know, your head feels like my wife’s ass,” whereupon Tikvah, passing his own hand thoughtfully over his own bald head, replied, “Say, it does, doesn’t it?”
In 1972 a biography of Algonquin Round Table member George S. Kaufman was published. The joke was retold, and the punchline was attributed to Connelly:[ref] 1972, George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait by Howard Teichmann, Quote Page 70, Published by Atheneum, New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
Marc Connelly, a reporter on the Morning Telegraph, became Kaufman’s first successful collaborator and his lifelong friend. Connelly, a round, winning, Puckish fellow, had few inhibitions.
As he was sitting at the Round Table, an acquaintance walked by and ran a hand over Connelly’s bald head. “That feels just as smooth and as nice as my wife’s behind,” the fellow said. “So it does,” Connelly answered.
In 1975 a book about the colorful wife of Nicholas Longworth titled “Princess Alice: A Biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth” was released, and the biographer presented an incident involving a congressman during which Nicholas employed the retort:[ref] 1975, Princess Alice: A Biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth by James Brough, Chapter 15, Quote Page 273, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)[/ref]
The fifty-six-year-old Speaker’s bawdy wit improved with age like keg whiskey. At luncheon one day, an incautious congressman playfully ran his hand over Nick’s shiny scalp and commented, “It feels just like my wife’s backside.” Nick instantly repeated the gesture. “So it does,” he replied.
The barber shop version of the anecdote continued to circulate in the 1970s. The following instance with “my wife’s cheeks” appeared in 1976 in the “Big Spring Herald” of Big Spring, Texas:[ref] 1976 March 14, Big Spring Herald, Flush was weak: Around the rim by Walt Finley, Quote Page 4A, Column 6, Big Spring, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
GOOD OL’ Bill Factor, reports: The barber shop was crowded. The barber was trying to embarrass Uncle Russ. He cupped his palm over Russ’s bald head and rubbed affectionately. “You know, Russ, your old ball head feels just like my wife’s cheeks.”
The onlookers tittered. Uncle thought about that for a moment, then rubbed his hand over his bald pate the same way the barber had, then brightened up with: “By golly! It shore does, don’t it!”
In 1986 a book about New York burlesque theaters operated by the Minsky brothers in New York was reviewed in “The New York Times”. The book reviewer reported that a version of the bald joke was told by burlesque comedians. The date was not specified, but the shows were popular in the 1920s and 1930s:[ref] 1986 March 30, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Book Review by Gerald Jay Goldberg, (Book Under Review: Minsky’s Burlesque by Morton Minsky and Milt Machlin), Quote Page BR11, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]
Burlesque comics were less interested in art than in the broadest sort of cornball humor — sometimes slapstick, often raunchy:
“STRAIGHT MAN (running his hand over the bald comic’s head): Ya know, Charlie, your head feels exactly like my wife’s backside!
“COMIC (running his hand over his own head): Ya know? You’re right!”
In conclusion, tracing this quip has been difficult because of the fragmentary and probably sanitized early published evidence. The first person linked to the tale was someone named S. H. Hale in 1924. The rejoinder was spoken by an unidentified barber shop customer.
QI believes that Marc Connelly probably did deliver the punchline, and it was heard by other members of the Algonquin Round Table. He may have crafted the quip before 1924. Alternatively, he may have been re-enacting an existing joke. Admittedly, there is a third possibility: the joke simply may have been pinned to Connelly because he was a witty bald member of a famously clever group.
The evidence connecting the joke to Nicholas Longworth is weaker because he died in 1931, and the first published linkage appeared in 1968. The version set in a barber shop was printed in a newspaper before he became Speaker of the House.
(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)