You Cannot Persuade Her with Gun or Lariat, To Come Across for the Proletariat

Dorothy Parker? W. Somerset Maugham? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker was at a party where guests were challenging one another to complete poems based on a few starting lines, or so the story goes. Parker was given the following two lines:

Higgledy Piggledy, my white hen;
She lays eggs for gentlemen.

After a moment to gather her thoughts she finished the verse with the following lines:

You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat
To come across for the proletariat.

I thought Parker’s lines were hilarious when I was told this story. But I have never been able to find any details about this anecdote. When and where did this party take place? Who challenged Parker? Could you explore this tale and quotation?

Quote Investigator: The lines of poetry that you give are accurate, but the surrounding anecdote is not quite correct. The story first appeared, QI believes, in the introduction written by W. Somerset Maugham to the 1944 edition of “The Viking Portable Library: Dorothy Parker” [SMDP]. Maugham described attending a Hollywood dinner party at the invitation of Miss Fanny Brice. Other guests included the writers Aldous Huxley and Dorothy Parker. During the course of the party Maugham and Parker were seated together, and after some discussion on miscellaneous topics Maugham ventured a request:

“Why don’t you write a poem for me?”
“I will if you like,” she replied. “Give me a pencil and a piece of paper.”

Maugham did not have either, so he requested both from their waiter who was “gone a long time” on the errand. At last he returned with paper and a blunt pencil:

Dorothy Parker took it and wrote:

Higgledy Piggledy, my white hen;
She lays eggs for gentlemen.

“Yes, I’ve always liked those lines,” I said.
She gave a thin, cool smile and without an instant’s hesitation, added:

You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat
To come across for the proletariat.

With this brilliant rhyme she gathered Higgledy Piggledy into the august company of Jove’s Eagle, Sindbad the Sailor’s Roc, the Capitoline Geese, Boccaccio’s Falcon, Shelley’s Skylark, and Poe’s Raven.

In Maugham’s anecdote Parker was not challenged with a pair of lines and told to create a quatrain; instead, she supplied the entire set of lines.

Here are a small number of additional citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Cannot Persuade Her with Gun or Lariat, To Come Across for the Proletariat

Gift Book: A Book Which You Wouldn’t Take on Any Other Terms

Dorothy Parker? Walter Winchell? Fictional? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I gave a close friend a book as a gift, and on the accompanying card I included a quotation that Dorothy Parker once used in a book review:

This must be a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.

After reading about so many false attributions on this website I decided to check this quote. Initially, I was happy to discover that several texts agreed that Dorothy Parker employed the quip while reviewing a work by Lucius Beebe called “Shoot If You Must”. But mystification followed because the book does not exist. There are two books titled “Shoot If You Must”: one written by Richard Powell and another written by C. D’W. Gibson. Lucius Beebe never wrote a book with that title.

A precise citation for Dorothy Parker’s book review was not given in any of the places I looked. There is an online database for The New Yorker magazine, and I searched it because that is where Parker published many of her book reviews; however, I could not find the saying. Is this another fake Dorothy Parker witticism?

Quote Investigator: Your quest for accuracy is admirable and QI sympathizes because he encountered similar difficulties while exploring the history of this saying. Lucius Beebe did write a book that was reviewed by Dorothy Parker. But the title used wordplay, and it was called: “Snoot If You Must” and not “Shoot If You Must”. In the December 11, 1943 issue of the “Saturday Review of Literature” Parker ended her review with this comment [SRB]:

I see that Mr. Beebe’s “Snoot If You Must” (it is surely some dark, dark masochism that makes me say that title again) is widely advertised for the Christmas trade. It must be what I believe is known as a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Gift Book: A Book Which You Wouldn’t Take on Any Other Terms

“I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently, your mother could.”

Dorothy Parker? An old farmer? A young newspaper editor? Bennett Cerf?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently when a friend delivered a clever retort I told her it was worthy of Dorothy Parker, but she did not recognize the name. I love Parker’s witticisms and am sad that her fame is going into eclipse.  The prominent publisher and joke collector Bennett Cerf told an anecdote about Parker on a cruise ship that I relayed to my friend [BCDP]:

A drunk on the boat developed an unrequited passion for her; Dorothy referred to him as a “rhinestone in the rough.” On one occasion he assured her, “I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently,” said Miss Parker, “your mother did not have the same difficulty.”

My skeptical friend wondered if these quips were created by Dorothy Parker. I assumed that they were. Could you look into these jests?

Quote Investigator: The cleverness of Parker was attested to by many admirers, and she may have delivered the lines in Cerf’s anecdote. But the two jokes have a long history, and she did not craft either of them.

The famous short story writer O. Henry used the phrase “rhinestone-in-the-rough” which is a comical twist on the phrase “diamond in the rough” in a tale in “McClure’s magazine” in 1904. Since Parker was only born in 1893 she was too young to be the originator of the expression. A version of the joke about bearing fools was told decades earlier in the periodical “Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion” in 1858.

Continue reading “I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently, your mother could.”

She Speaks Eighteen Languages, and Can’t Say “No” in Any of Them

Who Said the Quote? Dorothy Parker? Richard Henry Little? Alexander Woollcott?

Who was the Polyglot? Winifred Stackville Stoner? Merle Oberon?

Dear Quote Investigator: My question differs from most. Here is a quotation of admiration with a stinger that I would like you to investigate:

That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say “No” in any of them.

Dorothy Parker receives credit for this quip in multiple reference books. What interests me is the identity of the polyglot woman. Can you figure out who Parker was talking about?

Quote Investigator: Like many of the sayings assigned to Parker that have persisted in the cultural milieu this phrase is risqué. The earliest attribution of the quote to Parker located by QI occurs in 1933.

But QI has also found an earlier citation for a close variant of this joke in 1931 that is not credited to Parker. The witticism was written by a Chicago Tribune columnist, Richard Henry Little, who was writing about a former child prodigy named Winifred Stackville Stoner, Jr. The text of the article reveals a different interpretation to the notion of saying “No”. Little’s gag is not focused on promiscuity; instead, it refers to multiple marriages [RLWS]:

… it was proudly proclaimed that Winifred could speak twelve languages. But apparently Winifred never learned to say “No” in any of them and hiked up to the altar as fast as anybody suggested the idea.

It is possible that Little heard a joke from Parker and then modified it to create a less provocative version that applied to Winifred Stackville Stoner. Alternatively, Little’s jest may have been modified to create a ribald version that fit the wisecracking persona of Parker.

Continue reading She Speaks Eighteen Languages, and Can’t Say “No” in Any of Them

“Our host certainly is outspoken.” “Outspoken by whom?”

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?”

I was the Toast of Two Continents: Greenland and Australia

Dorothy Parker? Robert Benchley? Frank Sullivan?

Dear Quote Investigator: The writer Dorothy Parker was famous for her clever and barbed witticisms. Her remarks were often aimed at others, but sometimes she laughed at herself with a self-deprecating comment. I particularly enjoy the statement she made when asked about her fame:

Yes, I once was the toast of two continents: Greenland and Australia.

I laughed when I heard this, but then I began to wonder. Greenland is not really a continent, and Parker must have known this fact. Maybe this picayune detail is irrelevant, but maybe it shows that this quote is a fake. Perhaps Dorothy Parker never said it. Would you please investigate this quote?

Quote Investigator: Yes, QI will examine this saying for you. It is true that Greenland is not a continent, but it is the largest island that is not a continent, and QI still thinks that the joke is funny. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Parker originally told a different version of this joke. Specifically, Parker is quoted in 1956 stating that she was the toast of two continents. But the two continents that she names differ from the two geographical regions mentioned in the quotation above.

Continue reading I was the Toast of Two Continents: Greenland and Australia