His Mother Should Have Thrown Him Away and Kept the Stork

Mae West? Jack Wagner? Joe E. Lewis? Charley Weaver? Cliff Arquette? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Hollywood screen siren Mae West once verbally lacerated the villain of a movie by saying that when he was born his mother should have kept the stork and disposed of him. Would you please help me to determine the name of the movie?

Quote Investigator: Mae West starred in the 1934 film “Belle of the Nineties”. The reviewer in the “New York Herald Tribune” was impressed by West’s comical line about the antagonist. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1934 September 22, New York Herald Tribune, On The Screen by Richard Watts Jr., (Movie Review of “Belle of the Nineties”), Quote Page 10, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref]

I can recommend to you Miss West’s characterization of her villain, who was, it seems, so worthless that when he was born “his mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”

Mae West received credit as the primary writer of the film, and Jack Wagner received credit for additional dialogue. Hence, QI is not completely sure who created the line. Mae West certainly deserved credit for popularizing the insult; however, a form of the joke was already in circulation as indicated below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1902 “The Chicago Sunday Tribune” published the following elaborate instance of the joke on a humor page titled “Merry Andrew’s Jest and Jingle”:[ref] 1902 May 25, The Chicago Sunday Tribune, Page Title: Merry Andrew’s Jest and Jingle, Quote Page B4, Column 5, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Little Bobby sat on the front steps crying most disconsolately. Kind Mrs. Treller, who was passing, stopped to inquire the whyfore of Bobby’s tears.
“There’s a boy baby in the house what came last night,” sobbed Bobby, “and papa says the stork brought it.”
“Well, I’m sure, Bobby,” said Mrs. Treller, “that now you have a nice little brother to play with.”
“I hain’t, though,” wailed Bobby. “I’d druther they’d a kept the stork.”

In 1934 Mae West played the heroine Ruby Carter in “Belle of the Nineties”. Roger Pryor played the hero Tiger Kid, and John Miljan played the villain Ace Lamont. The reviewer in “The New York Times” mentioned that the plot placed obstacles between the heroine and the hero:[ref] 1934 September 22, The New York Times, The Screen: Mae West and Her Gaudy Retinue in “Belle of the Nineties” by Andre Sennwald, Quote Page 12, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Sinister interests conspire to separate them, and Ruby is forced to fight for what she politely refers to as her honor against the evil and wax-mustached Ace Lamont, proprietor of the Sensation House. This last is of a vintage so objectionable as to cause the amiable Ruby to remark, “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”

The reviewer in “The Baltimore Sun” of Maryland reprinted a few lines from the film:[ref] 1934 September 28, The Baltimore Sun, Screen: Mae West On Screen At Keith’s Theater In “Belle Of The Nineties” by Donald Kirkley, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Baltimore, Maryland. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Ruby—A man in the house is worth two in the street.
Ruby—His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
Ruby—The wildest men make the best pets.
Ruby—It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.

In 1942 syndicated gossip columnist Ed Sullivan reported a joke told by comedian Joe E. Lewis about performer Jimmy Durante who was famous for his prominent proboscis:[ref] 1942 August 10, Daily News, Little Old New York by Ed Sullivan, Quote Page 28, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Joe E. Lewis explains Jimmy Durante’s schnozzola: “When Jimmy was born, his parents kept the stork and let the baby fly away.”

In the 1950’s comedian Cliff Arquette portrayed an amiable codger named Charley Weaver on television. In 1959 he published a collection of humorous missives titled “Charley Weaver’s Letters from Mamma”, and he included an instance of the joke:[ref] 1959 Copyright, Charley Weaver’s Letters from Mamma by Cliff Arquette, Quote Page 49, The John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

The minute he saw the baby he said, “Wally, you should have sent him back and kept the stork.”

In conclusion, a version of the joke was circulating by 1902. Mae West popularized the jest by delivering it as a one-liner in her 1934 film “Belle of the Nineties”. She was the primary writer of the film, and she may have crafted the compact instance.

(Great thanks to Craig Good whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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