Robert Benchley? Marc Connelly? Corey Ford? Bennett Cerf? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A financially unstable comedian once asked his long-time bank for a large loan. He was dumbfounded when his request was granted, and he immediately withdrew all his money from the institution while giving the following explanation:
How can I trust a bank that would lend money to such a poor risk?
Would you please explore this anecdote?
Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the 1967 compilation of short personality profiles titled “70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest”. Playwright Marc Connelly wrote a chapter about his eccentric friend Robert Benchley who was a popular actor and humorist. One night, Connelly visited Benchley and found him in a pensive mood. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
“That bank of mine is very strange,” he said, finally. “I went there this morning because I needed a loan. And do you know something? They gave it to me just like that.”
The next day he went to the bank and withdrew his account. “I don’t trust a bank,” he muttered, “that would lend money to such a poor risk.”
Benchley died in 1945. So, the colorful anecdote was about an event that occurred many years before Connelly shared it. The story might be true. Alternatively, Benchley may have constructed a fanciful tale to entertain his friend, or Connelly may have embroidered remarks from Benchley.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Groucho Marx has received credit for a thematically related saying about clubs: I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member. QI has written a separate article about that well-known quip which has been circulating since 1949.
In 1967 the anecdote appeared in “70 Most Unforgettable Characters” as noted above. Interestingly, in 1967 the story about Benchley also appeared in Corey Ford’s memoir titled “The Time of Laughter”: 2
Once, when living in Crestwood, he asked his local bank for a loan, and it was given to him without question. After brooding about it overnight, he withdrew all his savings in the morning. “I don’t trust a bank,” he explained, “that would lend money to such a poor risk.”
Ford was a humorist and his book described the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers and entertainers who often ate lunch together in the 1920s. Robert Benchley and Marc Connelly were members of the group, and Ford sometimes joined them. QI conjectures that Ford heard the tale from Connelly.
The anecdote appeared in a third book in 1967 titled “The Modern Handbook of Humor” by Ralph L. Woods. The text was similar to the version given by Marc Connelly who was acknowledged. 3
In 1968 “The Algonquin Wits” edited by Robert E. Drennan included a version of the episode with the same punchline. This was the introductory line: 4
Better than anyone else, Benchley recognized his own irresponsibility in matters of finance.
In March 1968 “The Boston Globe” of Massachusetts printed an instance within its series called “Globe man’s daily story”. Connelly was acknowledged: 5
Marc Connelly used to tell how the late Robert Benchley went to a bank for a loan and—much to his own surprise—was granted it readily. The very next day Benchley went to the bank and withdrew the whole sum that had been placed in his account.
“I couldn’t trust a bank that would loan money to such a poor risk,” he explained.
In August 1968 publisher raconteur Bennett Cerf printed an instance in his syndicated newspaper column while acknowledging Ford: 6
In is flavorsome, delightful book, “The Time of Laughter,” Corey Ford recalls Robert Benchley’s running feud with banks . . . Once he sought a loan from a bank in California, and it was given to him without question. The next day he closed his account there, explaining “How can I trust a bank that would lend money to such a poor risk?”
In conclusion, Marc Connelly presented this anecdote about Robert Benchley in 1967. Connelly stated that he heard the comical remarks directly from Benchley who had died more than twenty earlier. The long delay reduces the credibility of the story, but QI still thinks Benchley deserves credit. Corey Ford also shared the anecdote in 1967, but he did not claim to have witnessed Benchley spin the tale.
Image Notes: Illustration of a golden piggy bank from QuinceMedia at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.
(Many thanks to the anonymous person who wondered if this joke antedated the thematically related quip about club membership ascribed to Groucho Marx. Based on current evidence, Marx has priority.)
- 1967, 70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest, Chapter: Rare Benchley by Marc Connelly, Start Page 196, Quote Page 199 and 200, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1967, The Time of Laughter by Corey Ford, Chapter 3: The Best Years of Life, Quote Page 24, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1967, The Modern Handbook of Humor by Ralph L. Woods (Ralph Louis Woods), Section: The Haves and Have-Notes, Sub-Section: Bankers and Depositors, Quote Page 47, Column 2, The McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1968, The Algonquin Wits, Edited by Robert E. Drennan, Quote Page 42, Citadel Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1968 March 18, The Boston Globe, Globe man’s daily story, Quote Page 18, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1968 August 12, Wilkes-Barre Record, Try & Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 12, Column 5, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩