Why Not Go Out On a Limb? Isn’t That Where the Fruit Is?

Mark Twain? Will Rogers? Frank Scully? Arthur F. Lenehan? H. Jackson Brown? Mother of H. Jackson Brown? Shirley MacLaine?

apple09Dear Quote Investigator: To succeed one must be willing to take risks and to enter the precarious realm of punishments and accolades. Here are four versions of an expression that appears in many self-help books:

1) Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.
2) Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
3) Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.
4) Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

This notion has confusingly been attributed to two famous humorists: Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence supporting the linkage to either Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

The earliest instance located by QI was printed in the show business periodical “Variety” in September 1950. The journalist Frank Scully coined the memorable phrase and included it in his column “Scully’s Scrapbook”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

To people who urge you not to go out on a limb I have a new twist. I gave it to Ken Murray and before he can use it I’m giving it to my public. It’s this: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

Within a week the powerful and widely-syndicated commentator Walter Winchell reprinted the saying in a section of his column called “Quotation Marksmanship”, and Winchell credited Scully: 2 3

Frank Scully: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In April 1952 “The Rotarian” printed a slight variant of the expression without attribution: 4

Good clincher for promoting a new idea: “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”

In 1955 “Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes” by Jacob M. Braude included an instance of the saying under the category label “enterprise” with an ascription to Scully: 5

Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
— FRANK SCULLY

In 1956 a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Lockney, Texas was addressed by a Baptist minister named Leon Hill who used a version of the saying without ascription: 6

Using frequent anecdotes to illustrate his point, Dr. Hill stressed that young America should be willing to take a few chances to get where it wants to go. “Don’t be afraid to get out on a limb — that’s where the fruit is.”

In 1958 “Reader’s Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor” included the following entry: 7

Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
—Frank Scully, quoted by Walter Winchell

In 1965 “The Pittsburgh Press” of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania published a letter to the editor that presented a slightly different version of the maxim with a different attribution: 8

As Will Rogers once said: “Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.”
SOPHIA SCHESSLER
North Hills

Will Rogers who died in 1935 was considerably more famous than Frank Scully. Yet, this late citation does not provide substantive support for ascribing the remark to Rogers.

In 1968 the industrious quotation collector Evan Esar placed another version of the adage without attribution in his collection “20,000 Quips and Quotes”: 9

Don’t hesitate to go out on a limb sometimes—after all, that’s where the fruit is.

In 1971 Billie Sol Estes was released from prison after serving time for a fraudulent business scheme. An article from the Associated Press news service ascribed to Estes an entertaining extended version of the adage: 10

Among his favorite homilies was one that says:
“You have to walk out on a limb to the far end, because that’s where the fruit is. If it breaks, you learn how far to go next time.”

In 1976 “The Xenia Daily Gazette” of Xenia, Ohio printed the following item: 11

TELL IT LIKE IT IS:
Go out on the limb. That’s where the fruit is — Will Rogers.

In 1977 a syndicated column called “The Aces On Bridge” by Ira G. Corn Jr. printed the saying and credited Rogers: 12

“Go out on a limb—that’s where the fruit is!” — Will Rogers.

In 1988 “The Speaker’s Sourcebook: Quotes, Stories, and Anecdotes for Every Occasion” by Glenn Van Ekeren presented an instance with a different attribution: 13

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.
Arthur F. Lenehan

In 1990 H Jackson Brown Jr. published a collection of sayings titled “P.S. I Love You” that he had recorded from letters written by his mother. The book became very popular, and its sayings have often been credited to H Jackson Brown Jr. although he ascribed them to his mother. Further, Jackson did not assert that all the sayings were original. The adage under investigation was included: 14

P.S. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.
I love you, Mom

In 1997 an advice columnist named Carol Kleiman writing in “The Chicago Tribune” referred to a card she had received which included an instance of the saying which was credited to the illustrious humorist Mark Twain: 15 16

Comment: I love the card you wrote to me on. It has a quote by Mark Twain that says: “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”

In 1997 a newspaper in Albany, New York published an article about Eddie Kilgallon who was a member of the country music band Ricochet: 17

“The hardest part in the whole country music business is the realization that if you really want to spread your wings and really give it a shot, you’ve got to move to Nashville,” Kilgallon declared during a stop in Virginia, where Ricochet was playing with John Michael Montgomery. “That’s the hardest thing that I ever did. But, you know, you can’t be afraid to go out on a limb ’cause that’s where the fruit grows.”

In 2012 “The Daily Mirror” in London published a piece called “Wisdom of the World’s Great Wits” and the notable actress Shirley MacLaine was included. The saying was attributed to her. MacLaine was the author of the bestselling 1983 book “Out on a Limb”: 18

SHIRLEY MACLAINE American actress, 78 . . .
“Sex is hardly ever just about sex.”
“Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. It’s where all the fruit is.”

In conclusion, QI believes that Frank Scully should be credited with the statement he wrote in 1950. The adage was crafted after the death of Mark Twain and Will Rogers; hence, barring a message from the afterlife, neither is a likely candidate for ascription. The mother of H Jackson Brown Jr. placed the saying in the postscript of a letter, but she did not coin it.

Image Notes: Picture of an apple tree limb with apples from Hans on Pixabay. The image has been retouched, cropped, and resized.

(Great thanks to quotation quizmaster Arlen Grossman whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Dan J. Bye of Sheffield Hallam University for accessing the key 1950 citation in “Variety”.)

Notes:

  1. 1950 September 20, Variety, Scully’s Scrapbook by Frank Scully, (Dateline: Dare’s Wharf, California, September 15), Quote Page 61, Column 4, Published by Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1950 September 25, The High Point Enterprise, In New York: Winchell, Winchell, Plus Winchellisms by Walter Winchell (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 7, High Point, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1950 September 25, Lincoln Evening Journal, Walter Winchell Your New York Correspondent (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 5, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1952 April, The Rotarian by the Way, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1955, Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes by Jacob M. Braude, Topic: Enterprise, Quote Page 137, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper in third Printing of May 1956)
  6. 1956 March 10, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, Lockney Urged to ‘Look Ahead’ as C-C Stages Annual Banquet by Mac Sebree (Avalanche Staff Writer), (Continuation title: Lockney C-C), Start Page 1, Quote Page 10, Column 7, Lubbock, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1958, Reader’s Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor, Selected by the Editors of the Reader’s Digest, Section: Capsule Wisdom, Quote Page 467, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1965 November 3, The Pittsburgh Press, Letters to the Editor, (Letter to the editor from Sophia Schessler of North Hills), Quote Page 30, Column 5, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive)
  9. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Section: Risk, Quote Page 689, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  10. 1971 April 27, Lexington Herald, Billie Sol Estes Is Granted Parole, (Continuation title: Billie Sol), (Associated Press), Start Page 1, Quote Page 12, Lexington, Kentucky. (GenealogyBank)
  11. 1976 August 13, Xenia Daily Gazette, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Xenia, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  12. 1977 November 18, Jefferson City Post-Tribune, The Aces On Bridge by Ira G. Corn Jr., Quote Page 10, Column 3, Jefferson City, Missouri. (NewspaperArchive)
  13. 1988, The Speaker’s Sourcebook: Quotes, Stories, and Anecdotes for Every Occasion by Glenn Van Ekeren, Section: Growth, Quote Page 194, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  14. 2000 (Copyright 1990), P.S. I Love You by H Jackson Brown Jr., Quote Page 45, Rutledge Hill Press, a Thomas Nelson Company, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with Amazon Look Inside in 2000 paperback edition)
  15. 1997 July 22, Chicago Tribune, Readers Offer Some ‘Perky’ Feedback On Age Bias Issue by Carol Kleiman, Quote Pages 3 and 4:1, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  16. 1997 July 27, Tulsa World, Column: Working Woman, Article: Readers Offer `Perky’ Feedback on Age, Author/Byline: Carol Kleiman (Chicago Tribune), Quote Page E8, Tulsa, Oklahoma. (NewsBank Access World News)
  17. 1997 August 29, The Times Union, Section: Life & Leisure, Article: Ricochet Effect Country Music Performed Finds You Can Come Home Again as His Band Appears in East, Author/Byline: Greg Haymes (Staff Writer), Quote Page D1, Albany, New York. (NewsBank Access World News)
  18. 2012 August 3, The Daily Mirror, Article: Wisdom of the World’s Great Wits – I’m free of all prejudices …I hate everyone equally, Quote Page 10, London, England. (NewsBank Access World News)