Ilka Chase vs. Anonymous Actress? Ilka Chase vs. Humphrey Bogart? Sylvia Strum Bremer vs. Cynic? Liz Carpenter vs. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.? Eric Morecambe vs. Ernie Wise?
Dear Quote Investigator: For many years ghostwriters have been composing books for well-known celebrities. The following prickly repartee shows that authorship is a sensitive topic:
“I enjoyed your book. Who wrote it for you?”
“Thanks. I wrote it myself. Who read it to you?”
Would you please examine the provenance of this banter?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in April 1942. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Meow! A catty actress visited the “Now, Voyager” set in H’wood and congratulated Ilka Chase on her recent book. “I enjoyed it,” she said. “Who wrote it?”
“Darling,” clawed Ilka, “I’m so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?”
The book referenced was Chase’s autobiography “Past Imperfect” which was released to reviewers in 1941.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
A precursor joke about reading appeared in September 1941 within an anecdote about Toots Shor who operated a popular eatery. Shor praised a recently published newspaper column, and entertainer Jerry Lewis sourly said “Who read it to you, y’crumb?”: 2
Shor was silent for a long time . . . Lost in thought. One of the other men at the table, feeling sorry for him, turned to Lewis and said, “That was a punk thing to say, Lewis. You’ve hurt Toots’ feelings.”
Toots looked up from his reverie, “Oh . . . no he didn’t,” he said, “I was just trying to think who did read it to me?”
Winchell published the Ilka Chase quip in April 1942, and the “Chicago Tribune” printed the following similar version in May: 3
This bit of repartee, between Ilka Chase and a Hollywood actress whose name is deleted by request, comes from Henrietta Fort Holland.
Actress: “Darling, I loved your book. Who wrote it for you?” Miss Chase: “Thank you, darling. Who read it to you? “
In 1946 columnist Earl Wilson included the tale in his book “Pikes Peek or Bust”. The offensive inquiry was spoken by the movie star Humphrey Bogart instead of an unnamed actress: 4
Ilka Chase has been battling it out with men and women for some years. Once Humphrey Bogart spoke fulsomely to her of her latest book. “I thought it was wonderful,” he said. “I liked every chapter of it. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Who wrote it for you?”
“I did,” replied Miss Chase. “Who read it to you?”
In 1947 the columnist Sylvia Strum Bremer reproved herself for missing a chance to use the zinger: 5
For instance, when that cynic said: “I like your column, who writes it for you?” Why didn’t I answer, “Glad you like it—who reads it to you?”
In 1979 an abbreviated version of the Toots Shor tale appeared in “The Book of Sports Quotes” by Bert Randolph Sugar: 6
Bob Considine, after Toots Shor told him, “I liked your column today,”
“Who read it to you?”
In 1990 “Movie Anecdotes” by Peter Hay misdated Chase’s book while sharing the anecdote: 7
Soon after the publication of Past Imperfect (1945), Humphrey Bogart was introduced to its author, Ilka Chase.
“I thought it was wonderful,” he said sincerely. “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. By the way, who wrote it for you?”
“I did,” said the columnist. “But who read it to you?”
In 1994 “The Penguin Dictionary of Jokes, Wisecracks, Quips, and Quotes” printed a generic instance: 8
I enjoyed your book immensely. Who wrote it for you?
I’m so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?
In 1999 “The Signet Book of American Humor” published a version of the tale featuring White House staff director Liz Carpenter as the quick witted author: 9
When Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., stopped Carpenter to make the following comment, “I liked your book, Liz. Who wrote it for you?” she replied brightly, “I’m glad you liked it, Arthur. Who read it to you?”
The popular English comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise employed the joke as presented in the 2003 volume “Morecambe & Wise: Their Funniest Jokes, One-Liners and Sketches”: 10
Ernie: Would you like to read my new novel? I’ve got a copy here, hot off the press.
Eric: I’d love to – I very much enjoyed your last book. Who wrote it for you?
Ernie: I’m so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?
In conclusion, based on current evidence Ilka Chase deserves credit for this sharp rejoinder. The exchange has been used by comedians, and may have been independently recreated in later years.
(Great thanks to Nigel Rees whose discussion of this topic in the April 2018 edition of “The Quote-Unquote Newsletter” led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1942 April 29, Richmond Times-Dispatch, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1941 September 10, The Miami Herald, On the Line: Dodgers and Cardinals To Attract Bettors by Bob Considine (International News Service Sports Writer), Quote Page 12A, Column 2, Miami, Florida. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1942 May 12, Chicago Daily Tribune, Front Views and Profiles by Kate Massee, Quote Page 15, Column 7, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1946, Pikes Peek or Bust by Earl Wilson, Chapter: Women Are Witty!, Quote Page 211, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1947 July 22, The Daily Times, Syl-o-ettes by Sylvia Strum Bremer, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1979, The Book of Sports Quotes by Bert Randolph Sugar, Quote Page 10, Published by Quick Fox, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1990, Movie Anecdotes by Peter Hay, Chapter 18: Social Studies, Quote Page 215, Oxford University Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1994, The Penguin Dictionary of Jokes, Wisecracks, Quips, and Quotes, Compiled by Fred Metcalf, Topic: Books, Quote Page 25, Column 1, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1999, The Signet Book of American Humor, Edited by Regina Barreca, Quote Page 48, A Signet Classic Book, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2003, Morecambe & Wise: Their Funniest Jokes, One-Liners and Sketches, Sketch title: Bottom of the Pops!, Star Page 100, Quote Page 100, Ebury Press: An Imprint of Random House, London. (Verified with scans) ↩