Groucho Marx? Chico Marx? Popular Song? Peggy Hopkins Joyce? Dorothy Dix? Ace Reid? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend when the wife of a famous comedian caught him in bed with another person the entertainer was unperturbed and denied that anything improper was occurring:
Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?
This remark has been attributed to Groucho Marx. Some say the line was employed in a movie. Would you please examine its provenance?
Quote Investigator: The 1933 movie “Duck Soup” included a scene containing a similar quip without the word “lying”. The remark was spoken by Chico Marx who was playing the character Chicolini. He was imitating the appearance of the character played by Groucho Marx causing other members of the cast to confuse their identities.
The following exchange occurred between the actress Margaret Dumont playing Mrs. Gloria Teasdale and Chico Marx. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Teasdale: Your Excellency, I thought you left.
Chicolini: Oh no. I no leave.
Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes.
Chicolini: Well, who ya gonna believe me or your own eyes?
QI believes that Chico’s humorous interrogative evolved over time, and the genesis can be traced back to the early 1900s. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1904 the “Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel” described a song depicting a scenario of ambiguous infidelity: 2
There is a popular song entitled “Do You Believe Your Baby or Your Eyes”. It tells of a young man who saw his sweetheart showing a rival more attention than he considered in good form, and he argued with her. She denied it. He declared he saw her with his own eyes. She again denied it, and inquired, “Do you believe your baby or your eyes”? He hesitated a moment, and replied, “I believe my baby”.
In 1918 “The Abbeville Press and Banner” of South Carolina published a fanciful column containing a sequence of missives from “Paddy, the Irishman”, a comical stereotype. Paddy discovered his sweetheart in the arms of another man and later challenged her with his unpleasant discovery. His unhappiness led him to travel south to make a new life. The following scene paralleled the earlier song: 3
I told her of the other fellow as gently as I could, and to my utter astonishment she denied the whole thing, denied that there was another fellow, that he had been to see her, and about the caresses.
But said I, “I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Well,” she said, “I say it is not true. Are you going to believe your baby, or are you going to believe your eyes?”
That got me a little, and I had to think. Finally I said to her, “Well, I suppose I will have to believe my baby, but I am surely going South for my eyes.”
In 1921 Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a flamboyant actress known for marrying millionaires, was the subject of a profile that appeared in several newspapers. She was still in her twenties, but she responded humorously to an inquiry about her age: 4
Peggy was then asked her age. “Believe your baby or believe your eyes,” she lilted. “I’m 80 years old today. I feel all of that. I’ve had rheumatism and a bad tooth”.
In 1933 Chico Marx employed an instance of the quip in the movie “Duck Soup” as mentioned previously.
In 1948 the influential syndicated advice giver Dorothy Dix used the phrase “lying eyes” while referring to a situation of love and self-deception: 5
There is something to think about in the old story of the wife who trusted her husband so completely that she said if she even saw him philandering with another woman, she wouldn’t believe it. She would know it was her lying eyes.
In 1971 a one panel comic by Ace Reid depicted a sheriff with a flashlight encountering cattle thieves. The caption contained an instance of the saying with the word “lyin'”: 6
“Now Sheriff, — er you gonna believe us or them lyin’ eyes of yores!“
In 1972 a columnist in Longview, Texas told an anecdote in which a husband who was too cozy with a barmaid was caught by his wife. The husband delivered the line: 7
“Looky here, Honey. Are you going to believe what I tell you about this or are you going to believe your lying eyes?”
In 1997 “The Boston Globe” of Massachusetts reported that lawyer Daniel Petrocelli attributed a version of the quip to Groucho Marx: 8
Petrocelli drew laughs at one point by likening Simpson’s explanations to a line he said was delivered by Groucho Marx when the comedian’s wife caught him in bed with another woman: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”
In 2017 a Groucho attribution was suggested by a columnist for “The Miami Herald”: 9
We are trapped in a Groucho Marx routine: “Who are you going to believe, me, or your lying eyes?”
In conclusion, the song “Do You Believe Your Baby or Your Eyes” was in circulation by the early 1900s. The song depicted the comical notion of disbelieving the evidence supplied by one’s own eyes to maintain an illusion of amorous fidelity. The phrasing of the punchline evolved over time, and a popular quotation was spoken by Chico Marx in the 1933 film “Duck Soup”. The phrase “lying eyes” was introduced conceptually by 1948. It appeared within a concise phrase by 1971. Groucho Marx died in 1977, and he implausibly received credit by 1997.
(Great thanks to Steve Wilkerson whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to discussants Laurence Horn, Wilson Gray, Jonathan Lighter, Andy Bach, and others.)
- YouTube video, Title: “Chico Not Groucho: Who Ya Gonna Believe, Me or Your Own Eyes – Duck Soup – Firefly Chicolini”, Uploaded on Jan 23, 2017, Uploaded by: James Schneider, Comment: Scene from 1933 movie “Duck Soup”, (Dialog starts at 9 seconds of 20 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on July 31, 2018) link ↩
- 1904 May 5, Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, (Untitled short article), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1918 February 22, The Abbeville Press and Banner Big Financial Scheme Exposed, (Letter from Paddy, the Irishman), Quote Page 4, Column 3, Abbeville, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1921 May 25, The Evening News, Orange Blossom Romance of Peggy Joyce Is Bared, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 March 10, The Daily Argus-Leader, Should Mother of 3 Wed? by Dorothy Dix, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1971 July 4, The El Paso Times, Cowpokes (One-panel comic) by Ace Reid, Quote Page 7D, Column 1, El Paso, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1972 February 24, The Longview Daily News, Questions Tougher As Campaign Warms by Ed Leach, Quote Page 4A, Column 6, Longview, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997 January 23, The Boston Globe, Simpson defense begins summation by Adam Pertman (Globe Staff), Quote Page A6, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2017 May 24, Statesman Journal, America’s political discourse is going off course by Leonard Pitts Jr. (Columnist for The Miami Herald), Quote Page 10A, Column 3, Salem, Oregon. (Newspapers_com) ↩