The True Friend Walks In When Others Walk Out

Walter Winchell? Robert Hill? C. R. Durrant? William T. Ellis? Milton Berle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you encounter difficulties some nominal friends will walk away from you, but your genuine friends will offer help and support. Here are two versions of an apposite adage:

(1) The true friend walks in when others walk out.
(2) A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

This saying has been ascribed to the influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Would you please explore the origin of this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: A precursor appeared in 1916 within a periodical based in Atlanta, Georgia called “The Presbyterian of the South”. Friendship was discussed in a piece about the biblical patriarch Enoch with the byline R. H. The initials probably referred to co-editor Reverend Robert Hill of Dallas Texas. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He is truly a friend who comes when all else goes, who walks with you when all others are walking from you.

The statement above used the phrases “comes” and “walks with you” instead of “walks in”. Thus, the syntactic match was inexact, but the semantic match was close.

In 1924 “The Border Cities Star” of Ontario, Canada published an article about a meeting of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Reverend C. R. Durrant, past grand chaplain of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, delivered a speech containing an instance of the saying: 2

“That is why friendship is the basis of Oddfellowship,” he said, “and the reason why it is so strongly emphasized by the Order. To have friends, one must, above all, be friendly himself. The friend walks in when others walk out. He is like a sunbeam, binds like a chain and guides like a vision.”

QI believes that this saying evolved over time and should be labelled anonymous. Walter Winchell printed the saying in his column repeatedly starting in 1933. Hence, he helped to popularize the adage, but he did not coin it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In April 1928 a newspaper in Battle Creek, Michigan published a story about a group home for elderly women. The saying was referenced: 3

So this group of women became “the friends who walk in as the rest of the world walks out.”

In June 1928 the syndicated religion columnist William T. Ellis presented a collection of “Seven Sentence Sermons”. The first single-sentence sermon was the following with an anonymous attribution: 4

A friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.—Anon.

In 1930 a version with the phrase “true friend” appeared on a sign in a store in Missouri: 5

On the wall of a jewelry store in Macon is this fine definition of a true friend: “A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” To which might also have been added: And he is the rarest bird on earth.—Monroe County Appeal.

In 1932 a version using the phrase “real friend” appeared in an Idaho newspaper: 6

A real friend is one who walks in when everyone walks out.

In 1933 Walter Winchell printed an instance in his widely-syndicated newspaper column: 7

Definition of a friend: One who walks in — when the rest of the world walks out.

Also in 1933, the saying was attributed to William K. Flynn, a high school football coach in New Jersey: 8

It was summed up in his definition of a “friend”. “A friend,” said Coach Flynn, “is the guy that walks in when all others walk out.”

In 1934 Winchell mentioned the saying again: 9

Ever since I passed on my favorite line on friendship—the mail has been thick with them . . .

Howard Marsh offers: “Your true friends tip you off—the falsies will tip you—over” . . . Tops, however, still is: “A real friend is one who walks in—when the rest of the world walks out”.

In 1939 an instance appeared as a banner across the top of the front page of the “Nevada State Journal” of Reno, Nevada: 10

A True Friend Is That Person Who Walks In When The Rest Of The World Walks Out On You

In 1952 Walter Winchell mentioned the adage again. The term “Satevepost” meant “The Saturday Evening Post”: 11

A Satevepost contributor is credited with one of this column’s most quoted and cribbed cracks: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out” The Sateveposter spoils it this way: “A friend is one who walks in when all the others walk out”.

In 1954 Winchell revisited the topic. “Coronet” was a magazine, and the term “WW” meant “Walter Winchell”: 12

Coronet fell for an old WW punchline: “A Friend Is One Who Walks In When the Rest of the World Walks Out.”

In 1955 Herbert V. Prochnow’s “Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms” ascribed the adage to Winchell: 13

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. Walter Winchell

In 1962 the collection “Apples of Gold” compiled by Jo Petty included a variant: 14

A friend is one who comes to you when all others leave.

In 1989 the saying appeared in “Milton Berle’s Private Joke File”: 15

A real friend is a guy who walks in when everybody else walks out!

In conclusion, the earliest close match appeared in a speech by Reverend C. R. Durrant in 1924. But QI believes that the saying evolved over time, and it was not coined by an identifiable individual. Walter Winchell included the saying in his column in 1933, and he can be credited with popularizing the saying.

Image Notes: Illustration of three friends from 3dman_eu at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person who wondered whether the attribution to Walter Winchell was accurate. This inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1916 January 19, The Presbyterian of the South, Enoch: For the New Year–A Meditation by R. H., Start Page 2, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Atlanta, Georgia. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1924 April 28, The Border Cities Star (The Windsor Star), 600 at Lodge Celebration: 105th Anniversary of Oddfellows Observed, Quote Page 5, Column 8, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1928 April 28, Battle Creek Enquirer, Section: Business and Professional Women’s Club Edition, Emily Andrus Home, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Battle Creek, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1928 June 22, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Dr. Ellis’ Bible Talk by William T. Ellis, Seven Sentence Sermons, Quote Page 15, Column 5, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1930 March 29, The Kansas City Times, A Rare Bird (Filler Item), Quote Page 26, Column 6, Kansas City, Missouri. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1932 August 11, Soda Springs Sun (Caribou County Sun), Local and Personal, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Soda Springs, Idaho. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1933 December 12, The Scranton Republican, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 5, Column 4, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1933 December 13, Asbury Park Press, Coach Flynn Is Host To Grid Men, Quote Page 12, Column 5, Asbury Park, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1934 January 24, Courier-Post, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 10, Column 4, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1939 June 20, Nevada State Journal, (Banner at the top of the page), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Reno, Nevada. (NewspaperArchive)
  11. 1952 March 18, Daily Times-News, Walter Winchell of New York, Quote Page 4A, Column 3, Burlington, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  12. 1954 February 15, The Washington Post, Walter Winchell of New York, Hottest Scandal in Town, Quote Page 23, Column 6, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  13. 1955, Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms by Herbert V. Prochnow, Topic: Friends, Quote Page 115, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  14. 1962, Apples of Gold, Compiled by Jo Petty, Topic: Love, Unnumbered Page, The C. R. Gibson Company, Norwalk, Connecticut. (Verified with scans)
  15. 1989, Milton Berle’s Private Joke File: Over 10,000 of His Best Gags, Anecdotes, and One-Liners by Milton Berle, Edited by Milt Rosen, Topic: Friends and friendship, Quote Page 272, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)