Whatever You Have Read That I Said Is Almost Certainly Untrue, Except . . .

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The movie star Tallulah Bankhead apparently grew tired of seeing misquotations, and she proclaimed that any quotation ascribed to her was inaccurate:

…except if it is funny, in which case I definitely said it.

I thought you might enjoy this topic. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In July 1957 “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published a column containing a miscellaneous set of the sayings together with attributions under the title called “Quotes of the Week”. One statement was germane. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Tallulah Bankhead: “Whatever you have read that I said is almost certainly untrue, except if it was funny, in which case I definitely said it.”

Bankhead lived until 1968, and QI believes that this citation provides good support for the accuracy of the ascription. Yet, the statement did not appear directly within an interview which incrementally reduced its credibility.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In October 1958 the synidicated gossip columnist Hy Gardner printed a slightly different version of the same quip ascribed to Bankhead. 2 The word “which” was changed to “that”: 3

Tallulah Bankhead: “Whatever you have read I have said is almost certainly untrue except if it is funny. In that case I said it.”

More than a decade later in 1970 the joke was still in circulation. A newspaper columnist in Eureka, California discussed a book called “The Wit of Women” by Lore and Maurice Cowan, and two remarks credited to Bankhead were reprinted. Once again the phrasing was slightly different, e.g., the statement began “Whatever you read” instead of “Whatever you have read”: 4

Tallulah Bankhead (1903-1968): “The only thing I regret about my past is the length of it. If I had to live my life again I’d make all the same mistakes — only sooner.” And: “Whatever you read I have said is almost certainly untrue, except if it is funny, in which case I definitely said it.”

In 1997 an instance was included in “The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes” compiled by H. Aaron Cohl: 5

Whatever you have read I have said is almost certainly untrue, except if it is funny, in which case I definitely said it.
Tallulah Bankhead

In 2001 the famous and long-lived gossip columnist by Liz Smith employed the quotation as an epigraph. Bankhead received credit and the text matched that given in the previous citation. 6

In conclusion, Tallulah Bankhead should be credited with this quip, and QI suggests using the 1957 version which is currently the earliest instance.

(Thanks to the friend who suggested exploring this entertaining quotation.)


  1. 1957 July 29, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Quotes of the Week, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1958 October 20, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Hy Gardner Calling: Ava Gardner Says Suitor Tops Hubbies No. 1, 2, 3, Quote Page 4A, Column 8, Ogden, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1958 October 20, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Hy Gardner: Best of Broadway, Quote Page 19, Column 7, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1970 December 1, The Times Standard, Redwood County by Andrew Genzali, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Eureka, California. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1997, The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes, Compiled by H. Aaron Cohl, Topic: Humor, Quote Page 241, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York. Distributed by Workman Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 2001 July 27, The Journal News, Sarah Jessica Parker counterattacks by Liz Smith, Quote Page 8E, Column 1, White Plains, New York. (Newspapers_com)