No Explanation Is Needed for a Believer; No Explanation Suffices for an Unbeliever

Franz Werfel? John LaFarge? George Seaton? Irving Wallace? Charles Brent? James G. Stahlman? Dwain Hobbs? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Events deemed miraculous have always been controversial. Believers readily accept a supernatural explanation, but skeptics are unwilling to endorse this viewpoint. Religious pilgrimage sites such as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France boast many seemingly miraculous cures, but detractors resist unconventional explications. A two part statement depicts these clashing perspectives. Here are four versions:

No explanation is needed for a believer;
no explanation suffices for an unbeliever.

To a non-believer, no explanation is possible.
For a believer, no explanation is necessary.

To those who believe no explanation is necessary;
to those who do not believe no explanation will satisfy.

For those who believe in God no explanation is necessary.
For those who do not believe in God no explanation is possible.

A message of this type appears at the beginning of the popular award-winning 1943 film “The Song of Bernadette”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” of Missouri in December 1882. This concise instance occurred within an editorial discussing the credibility of the biblical tale of the prophet Jonah who was engulfed by a giant aquatic creature and survived. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The story of Jonah and the Whale is of course one of the first biblical difficulties which skeptics and unbelievers take hold of, and the temptation to gain this easy vantage-ground has been strengthened by the attempt on the part of Bishop Ryan to reconcile the miracle with natural law and by the assumption that the great sea monster which swallowed the prophet was a special creation or an animal otherwise unknown to science.

There is no necessity of resorting to such explanations. No single miracle can be explained, and there is no use in trying. No explanation is needed for a believer; no explanation suffices for an unbeliever. There are people who honestly refuse to believe in any miracle, either of Christ or of the prophets before Him or of the saints since His day.

No author was specified for the passage above; hence, it should be considered anonymous. Attempting to trace this saying has been very difficult because it can be expressed in many ways.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Explanation Is Needed for a Believer; No Explanation Suffices for an Unbeliever


  1. 1882 December 22, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jonah and the Whale, Quote Page 4, Column 2, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)

Any Idiot Can Face a Crisis; It’s This Day-To-Day Living That Wears You Out

Anton Chekhov? Clifford Odets? Bing Crosby? George Seaton? Jean Webster? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Anton Chekhov, the brilliant Russian writer of stories and plays, reportedly said the following:

Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.

I have been unable to locate a source for this statement. I even asked my Slavicist friend to look for it in the original Russian works, and she was unable to find it. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this quotation and ascription are incorrect. The statement entered circulation because of a sequence of at least two errors.

The first appearance of a partial match for the quotation was a line spoken by Bing Crosby during the 1954 film “The Country Girl”. Crosby played a character named Frank Elgin who was an alcoholic attempting to return to show business. A self-destructive episode of drinking in Boston nearly derailed the comeback attempt, and near the end of the film the character discussed his probability of achieving success. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I faced a crisis up there in Boston, and I got away with it. Just about anybody can face a crisis. It’s that everyday living that’s rough.
I’m not sure I can lick it, but I think I got a chance.

“The Country Girl” movie was based on a play written by Clifford Odets which was adapted to film by George Seaton. Thus, the line above was connected to Odets, and this was a key step in the multistep process of misattribution as shown by the next citation.

In 1971 a textbook titled “The Tradition of the Theatre” which was edited by the educators Peter Bauland and William Ingram was published. This volume was an anthology of plays, and it included a translation of Anton Chekhov’s famous drama “The Cherry Orchard”. The textbook authors wrote an introduction to the play, and the quotation under investigation was printed in this preparative text. The words were ascribed to the American dramatist Clifford Odets and not to Anton Chekhov: 2

A character in a Hollywood film of the 1950’s casually drops this line: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.” The screenplay was by Clifford Odets, America’s chief inheritor of the dramatic tradition of Anton Chekhov, and in that one line, he epitomized the lesson of his master.

QI conjectures that the quotation above was constructed from a flawed memory of the line in “The Country Girl” film. The textbook referred to a screenplay by Odets, but as noted previously the screenplay was by Seaton, and the play by Odets. QI has examined the edition of the play published in 1951, and the film line was absent. In addition, the modern quotation was absent; hence, QI would credit Seaton with the line. 3

Another error contributed to the creation of the misquotation. A confused or inattentive reader assigned the quotation above to Chekhov instead of Odets. This combination of faults produced the expression and ascription presented by the questioner.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Any Idiot Can Face a Crisis; It’s This Day-To-Day Living That Wears You Out


  1. 1954 Copyright (Released 1955), The Country Girl, Movie from Paramount Pictures, Based on a play by Clifford Odets, Written for the screen by George Seaton, Character Frank Elgin played by Bing Crosby, Time Location: 1 hour 37 mins of 1 hour 44 mins total. (Verified with Amazon Video Streaming)
  2. 1971 (Copyright), The Tradition of the Theatre, Edited by Peter Bauland and William Ingram, (Introduction to “The Cherry Orchard”), Start Page 405, Quote Page 405, Allyn and Bacon, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1951, The Country Girl: A Play in Three Acts, Clifford Odets, Viking Press, New York. (Verified on paper)

Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard

Peter O’Toole? Edmund Kean? Edmund Gwenn? Donald Crisp? George Seaton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of my friends is an aspiring comedian, and he enjoys telling an anecdote about a gifted character actor who delivered a famously incisive line about playing comic roles while lying on his deathbed. A visitor approached the actor who was ill in a hospital and said sympathetically, “This must be very difficult for you”. The actor lifted his head, smiled weakly, and disagreed saying “No. No. It is not too bad”. He then spoke the classic apothegm:

Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.

Is there any truth to this story? Could you investigate this quotation? My friend says the tale is about Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in the 1947 version of the movie Miracle on 34th Street.

Quote Investigator: There is another popular variant of this show business adage that is similarly terse: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” This tale is prevalent in Hollywood and has been told by prominent actors such as Academy Award winners Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon.

Edmund Kean was a celebrated Shakespearean actor, who lived from 1787 to 1833, and who is sometimes credited with this maxim. However, QI has not located any solid support for this attribution. Other renowned figures such as Groucho Marx and Stan Laurel [QVEG] are sometimes mentioned, but the evidence is non-existent.

There is evidence that Edmund Gwenn is responsible for this adage though the phraseology given in the earliest citation is different. Gwenn was a very successful actor who began with roles on the stage, appearing in West End and Broadway productions; later he appeared in Hollywood films. He died in 1959, and the first published description of his deathbed saying that QI has located is in a 1966 self-help guide by Neil and Margaret Rau that is aimed at actors.

A movie director and friend named George Seaton regularly visited the bedridden Edmund Gwenn at the Motion Picture Country House.  The nickname Seaton used for Gwenn was Teddy. On Seaton’s final visit the following dialog reportedly ensued [NREG]:

“All this must be terribly difficult for you, Teddy.”
“Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy.”

The anecdote recounted by the Raus states that Gwenn expired immediately afterwards, hence these were his last words.

Continue reading Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard