Jimmy Durante? Wilson Mizner? Walter Winchell? George Raft?
Dear Quote Investigator: Sometimes clichés become clichés because they express important truths. I think this is an example:
Be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down
Can you determine who first came up with this insightful saying? Was it “The Schnozzola” Jimmy Durante?
Quote Investigator: There are three main candidates for authorship of this phrase: playwright Wilson Mizner, gossip columnist Walter Winchell, and comedian Jimmy Durante. New evidence uncovered by top researcher Barry Popik in December 2014 points to Mizner as the originator.
Currently, the earliest known citation appeared in a San Francisco, California newspaper on July 5, 1932. The saying was ascribed to “Miznor” which was a misspelling of “Mizner”. Boldface has been added to excerpts:
Wilson Miznor, globe-trotter, ex-Alaska mining chappie, scenario writer, playwright and sage of Hollywood, gave the following advice to a young and coming motion picture star:
“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.“
Walter Winchell employed the adage during a radio program on July 7, 1932, and he has often been credited with the remark; however, shortly after the broadcast he ascribed the saying to Mizner in his newspaper column. Jimmy Durante spoke a version while performing in a 1933 movie. But the saying was already in circulation. Further details are given below.
Continue reading Be Nice to People on Your Way Up. You’ll Meet Them On Your Way Down
Gore Vidal? Lewis H. Lapham? Fictional? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When I watch reality television shows today I can only conclude that some people will do anything to be on television. This fits the advice the famous author Gore Vidal apparently gave:
Never turn down an opportunity to have sex or to be on television
Clearly this is a guiding principle to a large cohort, but I think it is an eccentric recommendation. Could you determine if Vidal did say this? I do recall seeing him on television multiple times, so maybe he was following his own counsel.
Quote Investigator: Evidence indicates that Vidal did say a version of this quotation in the 1970s. He was interviewed on the Charlie Rose television show in 2009 and was asked about this saying. He replied that the adage was his, and he originally said it to Diane Sawyer the network correspondent who is now a prominent anchor.
QI has not yet located a transcript of the colloquy between Vidal and Sawyer. The earliest instance of the quote QI has found appears in the magazine Harper’s in a column written by the editor Lewis H. Lapham in October of 1978 where the words are credited to Gore Vidal.
Continue reading Never Miss a Chance to Have Sex or Appear On Television
Mark Twain? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am interested in a fantastic quotation that I always thought was from the pen of Mark Twain:
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Recently I saw a documentary by Ken Burns about Twain, and I checked out the companion biography from the library. The quote above is listed in a section called “What Twain Didn’t Say”. Also, I visited the Snopes website and found an article by Barbara Mikkelson that says the quote is apocryphal. I guess Mark Twain did not say it. But can you find out who did say it and when it first appeared?
Quote Investigator: Mark Twain died in 1910. The first appearance of a version of this saying that QI has located is dated 1915, and the words are attributed to Twain. There are a series of citations from 1915 to the present day that each credit Twain, but the wording used in these quotations varies considerably. For example, the starting age of the son is sometimes given as fourteen and sometimes seventeen. The final age of the son is twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-five and twenty-seven. An intermediate age of eighteen, twenty, or twenty-three is listed in some versions.
Mark Twain’s father died when he was eleven years old. Thus, if Twain did say or write these words he did so while inhabiting a novelistic persona. The saying does not apply to his veridical life. But, it might apply to a character that he created, or one he was projecting during a speech.
QI has not yet found any direct evidence that connects Twain to the quote. Further, the first known attribution to Twain occurs five years after his death. So the evidence is weak. On the other hand, no one else is credibly credited with the saying. At this time QI has not located any significant attributions to other figures.
Continue reading When I Was a Boy of Fourteen, My Father Was So Ignorant
Tony Curtis? Fictional?
Dear Quote Investigator: Tony Curtis was a wonderful actor, and I was saddened when he passed away in 2010. For years I have wondered about a quotation that he supposedly said. The story goes that he was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe and he said:
Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.
This is bizarre. I don’t believe it. Why would he say it? Could you help with this question?
Quote Investigator: There is considerable evidence that Curtis did utter these words and in his later life he did acknowledge that the words were his. The rationale behind the quotation is more complicated and Curtis gave more than one explanation.
In 1959 Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe worked together in the very popular classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” directed by Billy Wilder. Monroe was a glamorous icon in 1959, and the film contained a kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe. Curtis says he was asked repeatedly what it was like to kiss the leading screen siren of the age, and finally in exasperation he replied sarcastically that it was like kissing Hitler. He simply wanted to end the questioning with a joke. He really thought she was a great kisser, and people misunderstood the quote. That is one explanation he has given.
Another explanation is given in press accounts from the 1960s that state Curtis was very angry with Monroe because of her actions during filming which reportedly were irresponsible and self-centered. She refused to follow schedules and required a large number of retakes because she would not say her lines properly. These difficulties precipitated his comment about kissing Monroe. Curtis was simply expressing his extreme irritation.
Continue reading Kissing Marilyn Monroe is Like Kissing Hitler
Groucho Marx? Walter Winchell? George S. Kaufman? George Jean Nathan?
Dear Quote Investigator: When a friend asked me my opinion of a terrible play that I saw recently I answered:
I did not like it, but perhaps this judgment is unfair. I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.
Eventually she coaxed me into admitting that this joke is from Groucho Marx. However, my memory is imperfect so I decided to check with a Google search, and I found that a playwright named George S. Kaufman is also listed as the originator. Could you determine if this is a real Groucho quote or a fake one? Also, can you ascertain which show was being ridiculed?
Quote Investigator: Evidence indicates that Groucho did utter a version of this quote in 1931 to Walter Winchell who promptly reported it in his widely-read and highly-influential newspaper column. The confusion about the attribution arises because Groucho gave credit to the playwright and humorist George S. Kaufman for the quip when he told it to Winchell. In fact, the initial newspaper report in 1931 mentions only Kaufman’s name.
The target of the jest was a show called “Vanities” by the major Broadway producer Earl Carroll, and he was not happy to hear the mocking comment. His anger was primarily directed at Winchell, but there were repercussions over a period of years including: strained relationships, publicly traded insults, and a theater attendance ban.
Continue reading Theatrical Review: I Saw It Under Adverse Conditions. The Curtain Was Up
Mark Twain? Grant Allen?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am still in school and that is probably why the following quote attributed to Mark Twain appeals to me so much:
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Your blog posts about Twain quotations reveal that the information on the internet about what he said or did not say is sometimes unreliable. I hope this motto is genuine. Can you figure out who said it?
Quote Investigator: The earliest known attribution of a version of this quote to Twain occurred in 1907 [OMT]. However, QI believes that credit for this saying should go to the controversial novelist and essayist Grant Allen who published a variant in 1894. Indeed, Grant Allen was so enamored with the maxim that schooling interfered with education that he presented it in an essay and then restated it within at least three of his novels. The four works were published in: 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1899.
Continue reading Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education
Evan Esar? Jan Harold Brunvand? Bennett Cerf?
Dear Quote Investigator: I was speaking with a friend about all the misinformation and misattributions in the world of quotations, and he said that he was familiar with this phenomenon of unreliability because he enjoys reading about urban-legends. He also gave his own quotation on this theme which he thinks might be from the urban-legend specialist Jan Harold Brunvand. The quote is a facetious definition:
Anecdote: A revealing account of an incident that never occurred in the life of some celebrity.
We both would like you to investigate this funny saying.
Quote Investigator: QI will be happy to try and trace this humorous description for you. Jan Harold Brunvand did include a variant of this quote in an article he wrote in 1991, but he did not take credit for it. The words are sometimes attributed to the humorist and quotation collector Evan Esar.
QI could weave an entertaining story about the precise circumstances that caused Esar to create this jest. But he won’t because the tale would just be another imagined anecdote of the type mentioned above since Esar did not craft the quotation nor did he claim to have done so. The earliest instance of this remark that QI has found is dated 1912, and the words have no attribution. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.
Continue reading Definition: Anecdote – A Revealing Account of an Incident That Never Occurred in the Life of Some Famous Person
Wilson Mizner? Steven Wright? Wallace Notestein? Ralph Foss? Joseph Cummings Chase? Asa George Baker? Leslie Henson? Tom Lehrer? Bob Oliver? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Some of the websites I come across seem to produce their content by using cut and paste. They do not even bother to collect information from multiple sources. I am reminded of a very funny one-liner:
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.
In recent times these words have been credited to the brilliantly out-of-kilter comedian Steven Wright, but I have also seen the quip attributed to the playwright and confidence man Wilson Mizner. Could you investigate this saying?
Quote Investigator: An enjoyable precursor of the expression was printed in 1820. In the following humorous statement from Reverend Charles Caleb Colton the era of the material being appropriated was considered decisive. Thanks to a commenter named Jutta for pointing out this citation:
If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will cried up as erudition.
The earliest strong match identified by QI appeared in November 1929 within a newsletter of the U.S. Forestry Service in California. Wallace Notestein, a Professor of English History at Yale University, received credit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
WHAT IS RESEARCH?
To Prof. Notestein of the Yale faculty is attributed the following definition for research: “If you copy from one book, that’s plagiarism; if you copy from many books, that’s research.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research
Dorothy Parker? Punch Humor Magazine? Sally’s Sallies Comic Strip? Ann Landers?
Dear Quote Investigator: Previously you discussed a quote of Dorothy Parker’s which was self-critical, but she also directed her barbs at others. Here is an example [LWO]:
When a garrulous old battle-ax was praised as “outspoken,” Mrs. Parker raised an eyebrow to take dead aim: “Outspoken? By whom?”
I would like to know if Parker really said this, and if she did who was the “battle-ax”? Could you trace this quotation?
Quote Investigator: Yes, QI will attempt to locate examples of this quip, but the targets of witty remarks sometimes remain anonymous in newspaper accounts.
QI has found citations for this word-play joke that show it is more than one-hundred years old. Thus, it predates the seminal Algonquin Round table period. The quip is first attributed to Dorothy Parker on or before 1944. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.
Continue reading “Our host certainly is outspoken.” “Outspoken by whom?”
Mark Twain? James Montgomery Flagg? William Dean Howells?
Dear Quote Investigator: When I discovered your blog I knew just the right word to describe it: Quotesmanship. That word was used in the New York Times in 1980 to describe the desire to determine and use correct attributions for quotations [NYQM]. The author of the Quotesmanship article was proud of his ability to properly give credit for quotations, but there was one saying attributed to Mark Twain that confounded him:
And nowhere to be found (by me, at least) is the dandy one that goes: “I would rather go to bed with Lillian Russell stark naked than with Ulysses S. Grant in full military regalia.”
I doubt you will be able to find these words in the corpus of Mark Twain either, but maybe you will be able to trace it to someone else. Could you give it a try?
Quote Investigator: This quote is rather risqué for the time period of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, QI will attempt to discover something for you.
Lillian Russell was one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century. But the evidence located by QI indicates that the saying initially referred to another glamorous lady of the stage named Adelina Patti. She was an operatic superstar in the 19th century and Twain reportedly attended at least one of her performances.
Remarkably, the private notebooks of Mark Twain contain a passage about Patti written between 1889 and 1890 that is a variant of the quotation under investigation. In addition, an autobiography by the prominent illustrator James Montgomery Flagg who knew Twain personally includes an anecdote in which Twain is overheard telling the quip to a companion while attending an opera performance by the selfsame Adelina Patti.
Continue reading I Would Rather Go To Bed With That Woman Stark Naked Than With Ulysses S. Grant in Full Military Regalia