Joseph Curtin? Earl Wilson? Adolphe Menjou? Paul H. Gilbert? Danny Kaye? Fred Allen? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving great fame is a common goal, but the drawbacks of mass popularity emerge clearly whenever someone succeeds. There is a joke based on this insight that chides celebrities who wear dark glasses. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the gossip column of Earl Wilson in July 1947. The radio actor Joseph Curtin received credit for the jibe. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
WISH I’D SAID THAT: A celebrity, said Joseph Curtin, is a guy who works all his life to become famous enough to be recognized—then goes around in dark glasses so no one’ll know who he is.
This quip can be expressed in many ways; hence, it is difficult to trace. Earlier citations may be discovered by future researchers.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1928 the prominent U.S. actor Adolphe Menjou wore dark glasses to conceal his identity as reported in several newspapers. By the 1940s this strategy had become a humorous cliché: 2
Adolphe Menjou wrote from Paris that incessant rain made the dark glasses, which he wore to avoid being recognized in the streets, very unpleasant.
Dark glasses are not always a complete disguise, as I learned when a boulevard traffic cop caught me double parking for the second time in one week.
Some of the celebrities who were ostensibly attempting to hide their identities really wished to be discovered to validate their fame. A show business columnist made that comical point in 1941: 3
Last but not least, we find the angriest man in all America. He’s the celebrity who pulls his collar up and wears dark glasses so that nobody will recognize him. And doggone it, nobody does!”
In July 1947 Joseph Curtin received credit for the joke in a gossip column.
In June 1948 the joke was formulated as a definition and published in the syndicated column “Daffynitions” by Paul H. Gilbert: 4
CELEBRITY: A man who works hard to become recognized and then goes around in dark glasses so no one’ll know who he is.
In October 1948 a columnist in a Howell, Michigan newspaper printed the remark without attribution: 5
Definition of a celebrity: one who works all his life in order to be well known and then goes through back streets wearing dark glasses in order to avoid being recognized.
In November 1948 the quip was ascribed to actor and singer Danny Kaye: 6
Danny Kaye says a celebrity is a man who works all his life to become famous enough to be recognized . . . and then goes around in dark glasses so no one will know who he is!
In 1949 the “Arkansas Democrat” of Little Rock, Arkansas printed an instance under the heading “Swiped Daffynitions”: 7
Celebrity—One who works all his life in order to be well known and then goes through back streets wearing dark glasses in order to avoid being recognized.
In 1952 comedian Fred Allen published a column in a Boston, Massachusetts newspaper, and he included the joke: 8
A celebrity is a person who works all his life to become well known and then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.
In conclusion this quip has been employed by a wide variety of funny people. Currently, Joseph Curtin is the leading candidate for creator although his position is tentative, and new evidence will probably emerge in the future.
Image Notes: Picture of dark glasses from qiye at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.
(Great thanks to L whose inquiry about this chestnut led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also thanks to previous researchers Nigel Rees, Fred Metcalf, Fred Shapiro, and Barry Popik. Popik found citations beginning in October 1948. Special thanks to researcher Peter Reitan who located the entertaining 1941 citation.)
- 1947 July 12, The Times Recorder, Big Town Heat by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Zanesville, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1928 July 19, Spokane Daily Chronicle, Hollywood Stars Have Fickle Hair by Mollie Merrick, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Spokane, Washington. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1941 January 5, The San Francisco Examiner, Going to Town with Mark Hellinger, (Six drawings and accompanying descriptions), Quote Page Unnumbered (32), Column 4, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 June 2, Paterson Evening News (The Paterson News), Daffynitions by Paul H. Gilbert, Quote Page 20, Column 3, Paterson, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 October 13, Livingston County Press, That’s the Way We Heard It, Quote Page 14, Column 6, Howell, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 November 12, The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, Our Film Folk by Leon Gutterman, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1949 May 6, Arkansas Democrat, Run of the News by Karr Shannon, Swiped Daffynitions, Quote Page 13, Column 2, Little Rock, Arkansas. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1952 June 3, Boston Traveler, Neal O’Hara On Vacation, So Take It From Fred Allen, Quote Page 71, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank) ↩