Quote Investigator

We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Samuel Goldwyn? Solomon S. Levadi? Ezra Goodman? Norton Mockridge? Michael Curtiz? Mickey Rooney? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When reminiscing about events from the nostalgia-tinged past the following figurative phrase is popular:

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

The famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn reportedly employed an unintentionally comical variant:

We have passed a lot of water since then.

Passing water is a euphemism for urination. The numerous speech errors assigned to Goldwyn are called Goldwynisms. Is this one authentic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this word-play located by QI appeared in a 1942 private letter from U.S. soldier Solomon S. Levadi who was sent to Australia during WWII. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dear Isaac: A lot of water has passed since I wrote you last from Fort Sill, and so have I since passed a lot of water. I’m in Australia now—where North is South and South is North; where the trees shed their bark instead of their leaves . . .

In the passage above the humor was deliberate, but the following citation described an inadvertent quip. In 1961 the publicist and journalist Ezra Goodman published a critical book about the entertainment business titled “The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood”. Goodman asserted that he heard the remark directly from Goldwyn: 2

Goldwyn claims that the Goldwynisms are the inventions of columnists, and says, “Some of them were very good and I wish I could take credit for them.” And still I have personally heard him utter some rather choice ones. Speaking of the old days, he once said, “We have passed a lot of water since then.”

The evidence linking the saying to Goldwyn is mixed. He died in 1974; hence, he was alive when Goodman’s book appeared. Yet, Goldwyn asserted that he “never said it” according to Peter Bart who was the long-time editor in chief of “Variety”. In addition, the remark has been ascribed to the prominent Hollywood director Michael Curtiz. Detailed citations are given below in chronological order.

In 1965 journalist Norton Mockridge who enjoyed and collected malapropisms and mangled phrases published “Fractured English” which included an instance of the saying. Mockridge credited an unnamed film producer in this book, but in the 1974 citation given further below he identified the speaker: 3

But I sort of go along with an old-time Hollywood producer who, recalling an early picture he had made, said solemnly, “We’re all passed a lot of water since then.”

In 1971 Philip French’s book “The Movie Moguls” attributed the comment to Goldwyn based on the testimony of Goodman: 4

. . . we might well agree with Sam Goldwyn who said (in a genuine Goldwynism recorded during a reminiscent discussion with Ezra Goodman), ‘We have all passed a lot of water since then.’

In 1972 “The Guardian” of London printed a review of the movie “Pulp” which noted that actor Mickey Rooney delivered the line on screen: 5

We’ve all passed a lot of water since then, as Rooney says, echoing Goldwyn.

In 1974 syndicated columnist Norton Mockridge stated that he heard the line directly from Michael Curtiz. Mockridge spelled “Curtiz” as “Curtis”: 6

There’s another famous malapropism often attributed to Sam, but it was uttered by the director Mike Curtis. Once when we were lunching he boasted about his successes and I, mildly malicious, reminded him about a terrible stinker he’d made.

“That,” he growled in his deep, rough voice, “was a long, long time ago. Let’s forget it. We’ve all passed a lot of water since then.”

In 1995 long-time “Variety” honcho Peter Bart described a lunch he had with Samuel Goldwyn during “his declining years”. At the time Bart was working for “The New York Times” and when the topic of Goldwynisms was raised the producer objected: 7

“I don’t think I really said most of those things anyway,” he reflected. “But I always especially liked one of the ‘Goldwynisms’ attributed to me. I was looking back on my early days at MGM and supposedly said, ‘Forget about all that, we’ve passed a lot of water since then.‘ I never said it, mind you, but that was a good one. The Times liked it too.”

In conclusion, QI credits Solomon S. Levadi with crafting this joke. QI tentatively accepts the testimony of Ezra Goodman and concludes that Samuel Goldwyn’s remark popularized the expression. QI is unsure whether Michael Curtiz employed the saying.

Image Notes: Portrait of Samuel Goldwyn from “Exhibitors Herald” in 1919; author: Underwood & Underwood; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of a bridge over water from kirkandmimi at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to anonymous person who wished to see more Goldwynisms analyzed. The request led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1945, Jewish Youth at War: Letters from American Soldiers, Edited by Isaac E. Rontch, Letter title: “Thresholds”, Location: Somewhere in Australia, Letter author: Captain Solomon S. Levadi, Letter date: September 16, 1942, Quote Page 122, Marstin Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1961, The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood by Ezra Goodman, Chapter 5: The Great Brain Robbery, Quote Page 178, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1965, Fractured English by Norton Mockridge, Chapter 4: How to Cohabit on a Movie, Quote Page 40, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1971 (Copyright 1969), The Movie Moguls: An Informal History of the Hollywood Tycoons by Philip French, Chapter 9: The Crumbling Pyramid, Quote Page 133, Published by Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1972 August 17, The Guardian, Hoodoo voodoo: Derek Malcolm on the week’s new films, Quote Page 10, Column 4, London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1974 February 20, The Evening Sun, Some Sam Goldwyn Gems by Norton Mockridge (United Features Syndicate) Quote Page B6, Column 8, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1999, Who Killed Hollywood? And Put the Tarnish on Tinseltown by Peter Bart, Essay: Latest Goldwynism: Fiscal Woes for Last True Indie, Acknowledgement: Variety, July 10, 1995, Start Page 60, Quote Page 63, Renaissance Books, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)