Don’t Take Life So Serious, Son … It Ain’t Nohow Permanent

Pogo? Walt Kelly? Porky Pine? Albert Alligator? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Walt Kelly created the landmark comic strip “Pogo” which combined beautiful artwork with entertaining humor. One strip contained a philosophical remark suggesting that one should not take life too seriously because of its transience. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The “Pogo” strip published on June 24, 1950 was part of a story arc in which the character Albert Alligator faced the possibility of appearing as a defendant in a legal trial. When Albert saw a gallows-like structure being built he fainted. The first line below is spoken by the porcupine character named Porky Pine who is propping up the body of the unconscious Albert. The second line is spoken by a squirrel character who is building the ominous structure, and the third line is spoken by Porky to Albert as he is revived with a splash of water. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

HEY … FETCH SOME BRANCH WATER!

WHAT’S A MATTER HIM?

DON’T TAKE LIFE SO SERIOUS, SON … IT AIN’T NOHOW PERMANENT.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1947 a columnist in a Tampa, Florida newspaper reported that a sign near a roadway displayed a precursor expression: 2

SERIOUS
A sign at the Sulphur Springs cab stand reads: “Why take life so serious—you never get out of it alive anyway.”

The June 1950 syndicated “Pogo” strip containing the target quotation mentioned above appeared in newspapers such as the “Long Beach Independent” of Long Beach, California and “The Clarion-Ledger” of Jackson, Mississippi. 3

In September 1950 the “Bedford Gazette” of Bedford, Pennsylvania printed a real estate advertisement containing a close variant of the statement on the 1947 sign: 4

DON’T TAKE LIFE SO SERIOUS
YOU CAN’T GET OUT ALIVE
So enjoy yourself: in this lovely 6 room COLONIAL STYLE HOME on W. Pitt Street.

In 1951 Walt Kelly’s strips featuring anthropomorphic creatures residing in the Okefenokee Swamp were collected and published in book form under the title “Pogo”. The strip with the quotation was included in this early book. 5

In 1952 a columnist of “The Shreveport Times” in Louisiana recalled a slightly altered version of the statement from “Pogo”: 6

PHILOSOPHICAL INJUNCTION FROM POGO (And how did we ever get along without Pogo?) . . . “Don’t take life too serious; it ain’t nohow permanent.”

In 1975 “The New York Times” mentioned omnibus editions of “Pogo” and also printed a slightly modified version of the quotation: 7

As Pogo once said, “Don’t take life too serious. It ain’t nohow permanent.”

In 2011 Fantagraphics Books published “Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips – Volume 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder” which included the strip with the quotation. 8

In conclusion, Walt Kelly deserves credit for the text he wrote for the June 24, 1950 “Pogo” comic strip. Precursors were circulating by 1947 or earlier. Also, over the years modified versions of the expression have been disseminated.

(Great thanks to quotation expert Fred R. Shapiro whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Shapiro located an instance of the original syndicated comic strip containing the quotation. Special thanks to Robin Hamilton and S. N. Colowick who provided scans to QI. Thanks also to discussants Todd Mason, Anton Sherwood, George Thompson, Wilson Gray, Bill Mullins and Jeff Prucher.)

Notes:

  1. 1950 June 24, Long Beach Independent, Comic Strip: Pogo by Walt Kelly, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Long Beach, California. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1947 April 24, The Tampa Daily Times, Today in Tampa by Sam Mase, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Tampa, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1950 June 24, The Clarion-Ledger, Comic Strip: Pogo by Walt Kelly, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Jackson, Mississippi. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1950 September 22, Bedford Gazette, Section: Want Ads, (Real Estate Advertisement from Suburban Real Estate Company), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Bedford, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1951, Pogo by Walt Kelly, Chapter IX: Every Day Has Its Dog, Start Page 107, Quote Page 122, Simon and Schuster, New York.(Verified with scans; thanks to Robin Hamilton and S. N. Colowick)
  6. 1952 November 30, The Shreveport Times, Around Our Town by Viva Begbie, Quote Page 2A, Column 6, Shreveport, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1975 September 21, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, Book Ends, Quote Page 45, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  8. 2011, Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder, Edited by Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson, (Date recorded in corner of first panel, third row, of comic strip “6-24”; this notation referred to June 24, 1950), Quote Page 131, Fantagraphics Books, Seattle, Washington. (Verified with scans; thanks to Robin Hamilton)