We Attend the Openings of Envelopes

Andy Warhol? Sylvia Miles? Wayland Flowers? Jack O’Brian? Rex Reed? Olivia Goldsmith? Ivana Trump? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The opening of an exciting theatrical production or an innovative art museum can be a prestigious event with an impressive guest list. Yet, many openings are weary exercises in public relations with unremarkable attendees. A self-promoter who showed up at a large number of openings delivered the following gently mocking line:

I would attend the opening of an envelope.

The same barb has comically been aimed at a well-known performer:

That person would attend the opening of an envelope.

The famous pop artist Andy Warhol and the Academy Award nominated actress Sylvia Miles have been linked to these lines. Would you please explore this family of quips?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the Broadway gossip column of Jack O’Brian in 1974. The actress Sylvia Miles was the target of an elaborate version of the jest. The ellipsis in the following appeared in the original text. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

A carbonated Sylvia Miles of course turned up at Cue Mag’s salute to Debbie Reynolds; Syl turns up at all openings; last week the madcap mummer attended half a dozen openings, including one envelope, two appendectomies and a cellar door . . . It’s not a good opening if it’s Miles-away.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In June 1975 the comedian puppeteer Wayland Flowers used the quip during a performance as reported by gossip columnist Earl Wilson: 2

Of gadabout Sylvia Miles: “She’d go to the opening of an envelope.”

In October 1975 columnist Wilson continued to circulate the joke:
3

Gadabout Sylvia Miles, has begun to like Wayland Flowers’ line, “She’ll go to the opening of an envelope”.

In 1977 Miles spoke to a “Newsday” journalist and unhappily wondered why she was required to constantly justify herself as a “serious person”: 4

Why indeed? Partly because her friend, Rex Reed, reaching for laughs on a Tonight Show appearance early this year, trotted out a line that had been making the rounds locally. “Everybody knows,” he said, “Sylvia Miles would go to the opening of an envelope.”

In August 1977 the pop artist Andy Warhol embraced and extended the joke according to columnist Melvin Maddocks in “The Christian Science Monitor”: 5

. . . the reasonably wise and certainly desperate words of a premier party-goer, Andy Warhol: “I never go out alone. I am always surrounded by my entourage at any party. We go to openings of envelopes, openings of books — which are better — and closings of doors. That is to say, we go out a lot. But I still don’t understand or believe in parties.”

In 1979 columnist Broadway Jack O’Brian revisited the topic and uncovered evidence that Miles was unwilling to attend some openings: 6

The Bdwy. legend that actress Sylvia Miles will attend any opening, including an envelope, was punctured: the Epstein Bros., who own a W. 55th Strewt bldg., for fun tossed an “opening” bash for the building’s new door; Sylvia snubbed it.

In 1987 “Newsday” reported that Warhol continued to employ variants of the gag: 7

ANDY WARHOL’S 15 minutes seemed destined never to end for two reasons. The first was his artistic vision. The second was his sense of humor. “Everyone says I’d go to the opening of an envelope,” he once commented. “Well, last night I went to the opening of an escalator at Bergdorf’s. That’s almost as good as an envelope.”

In 1994 “Hollywood Babble On: Stars Gossip About Other Stars” by Boze Hadleigh included a series of related quips: 8

Bob Hope would attend the opening of a supermarket.
—Marlon Brando

Cesar Romero would attend the opening of a napkin.
—Jim Backus

Yes, but Michael York would attend the opening of an envelope.
—Glenda Jackson

In 2004 “Women’s Wicked Wisdom: From Mary Shelley to Courtney Love” by Michelle Lovric revealed that the joke was being updated for a new generation of celebrities: 9

If Ivana Trump outlives me, I know she’ll be at my funeral because she shows up to the opening of an envelope.
Olivia Goldsmith

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. Based on the 1974 citation this barb was initially crafted by Jack O’Brian and Sylvia Miles was the first target. Wayland Flowers helped to popularize the joke by 1975. Andy Warhol employed the gag in a self-aware manner to laugh at the mechanisms of celebrityhood and publicity in 1977.

Image Notes: An illustration of flying letters from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to quotation expert Nigel Rees who included this expression in his reference “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” (2001) and mentioned it in his newsletter in July 2019. Rees presented a 1979 citation referring to Sylvia Miles. He also noted a linkage to Andy Warhol and Wayland Flowers. In addition, thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who explored this topic in 2014. Popik found citations beginning June 1975. Further thanks to Bill Mullins who pushed back the date of Jack O’Brian’s 1974 column by a few days.)

Notes:

  1. 1974 January 23, The Jersey Journal, The Voice of Broadway: Comics take Brando’s tango by Jack O’Brian, Quote Page 30, Column 4, Jersey City, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1975 June 16, Aberdeen American News, Eddie Fisher singing along comeback trail by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1975 October 13, St. Joseph Gazette, America Still Laughs by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4A, Column 3, St. Joseph, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1977 January 30, The Sunday Record, Is Sylvia for real?: Critics disagree by Jerry Parker (Newsday), Start Page B16, Quote Page B19, Column 4, Hackensack, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1977 August 18, The Christian Science Monitor, Cold showers and parties by Melvin Maddocks, Quote Page 26, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  6. 1979 November 20, Asbury Park Press, Voice of Broadway Jack O’Brian , Quote Page B7, Column 1, Asbury Park, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1987 February 23, Newsday, Hangin’ Out With Andy by Susan Mulcahy, Quote Page 5, Long Island, New York. (ProQuest)
  8. 1994, Hollywood Babble On: Stars Gossip About Other Stars by Boze Hadleigh, Chapter: In the Slimelight (negative dish), Quote Page 35, A Birch Lane Press Book: Published by Carol Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  9. 2004, Women’s Wicked Wisdom: From Mary Shelley to Courtney Love by Michelle Lovric, Section: Revenge & Other Sweet Things, Quote Page 239, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)