A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

Charlie Chaplin? Steve Martin? Groucho Marx? Nicolas Chamfort?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following guideline for living makes sense to me, so I try to find humor in something every day:

A day without laughter is a day wasted

When I read this maxim originally it was credited to Charlie Chaplin, but I once heard it attributed to Groucho Marx. Do you know who said it and on what occasion?

Quote Investigator: This principle is sometimes credited to popular comedic entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, but the idea was expressed more than two centuries ago. The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was famous for his witticisms and epigrams. In 1795 the periodical Mercure Français reprinted the following saying from one of his manuscripts [MFNC]:

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.

The earliest instance of this aphorism in the English language located by QI is dated 1803 in a periodical titled “Flowers of Literature” in a section titled “Laughing” [FLFB]:

I admire the man who exclaimed, “I have lost a day!” because he had neglected to do any good in the course of it; but another has observed that “the most lost of all days, is that in which we have not laughed*;” and, I must confess, that I feel myself greatly of his opinion.

The asterisk footnote pointed to the bottom of the page where the French phrase listed above was presented. The text did not identify Chamfort as the author of the saying, but it did give his precise French wording as the source of the English epigram.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

I Don’t Want to Belong to Any Club That Will Accept Me as a Member

Friars Club? Delaney Club? Beverly Hills Tennis Club? Hillcrest Country Club?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful story about Groucho Marx and an elite private club. I have heard so many variants of this tale that I was hoping you would investigate. In one version Groucho resigns from a club, and in another version he refuses to join a club. He sends a telegram or a letter saying something like the following:

  • I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
  • I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.
  • I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
  • I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

The club is called: The Friars Club of Beverly Hills, The Delaney Club, The Lambs Club, The Beverly Hills Tennis Club, or The Hillcrest Country Club. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Evidence shows that Groucho Marx crafted a magnificently humorous line that has become a comedy classic. However, the same evidence does not reveal the exact wording of his comical gem or the precise circumstances of its employment. Yet, there is some agreement; for example, sources concur that Groucho was resigning from a club, and he was not refusing to join one.

On October 20, 1949 the Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson published the tale. This is the earliest instance located by QI:[1] 1949 October 20, Dunkirk Evening Observer, In Hollywood by Erskine Johnson, Page 22, Column 5, Dunkirk, New York. (NewspaperArchive)

Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

On October 13, 1951 the only son of Groucho, Arthur Marx, published a version of the anecdote in Collier’s Magazine. This is the earliest variant by a close family member with intimate knowledge of Groucho. Over the years Arthur Marx recounted different narratives of this episode, and some will be presented further below. In 1951 he said that Groucho joined the Friars Club at the insistence of friends, but he did not participate. So Groucho sent a letter of resignation:[2] 1951 October 13, Collier’s magazine, Groucho Is My Pop by Arthur Marx, Page 14, Column 2, P.F. Collier, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

In the next mail, he received a letter from the club’s president, wanting to know why he had resigned. My father promptly wrote back, “Because I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member!”

In 1959 Groucho himself told about resigning a club in his memoir “Groucho and Me”, but he presented a fictionalized version of the story in which the club was referred to as the Delaney Club:[3] 1995 [reprint of 1959 edition], Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, Chapter 24, Page 321, Da Capo Press Inc., New York. (Verified with Amazon Look Inside)

The following morning I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.

In 1988 Groucho’s son wrote another description of the resignation in his book “My Life with Groucho: A Son’s Eye View”. In this version Groucho resigned from the Hillcrest Country Club and not the Friars Club or the Delaney Club.[4] 1992 [reprint of 1988 edition], My Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx, Pages 187-188, Robson Books Ltd., London. (Verified with hardcopy)

Dear Board,

I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Sincerely yours,
Groucho Marx.

These four variants of the tale are the most salient in QI’s opinion, but several more are available. No one seems to know the exact wording of the resignation message which is endlessly mutable.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Want to Belong to Any Club That Will Accept Me as a Member

References

References
1 1949 October 20, Dunkirk Evening Observer, In Hollywood by Erskine Johnson, Page 22, Column 5, Dunkirk, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
2 1951 October 13, Collier’s magazine, Groucho Is My Pop by Arthur Marx, Page 14, Column 2, P.F. Collier, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
3 1995 [reprint of 1959 edition], Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx, Chapter 24, Page 321, Da Capo Press Inc., New York. (Verified with Amazon Look Inside)
4 1992 [reprint of 1988 edition], My Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx, Pages 187-188, Robson Books Ltd., London. (Verified with hardcopy)

Theatrical Review: I Saw It Under Adverse Conditions. The Curtain Was Up

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

Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man’s Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read

Groucho Marx? Ted Atkinson? Jimmy Husson? Jim Brewer ? Mary Stuart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: You have researched some quotes credited to Groucho Marx, so I am hoping that you will be able to look into a saying that interests me. I work in a library and have long enjoyed the following quip:

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

I have seen it on websites associated with libraries where the saying is credited to Groucho. Is this attribution accurate?

Quote Investigator: This joke evolved during several years beginning in 1947. Groucho only received credit by 1973; hence, it is unlikely that he originated this quip.

In May 1947 the “Nashville Banner” of Tennessee printed a column containing a variant of the jest based on a horse instead of a dog. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1947 May 31, Nashville Banner, Sideline Sidelights by Fred Russell, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

Probably because he is well-read and articulate, Jockey Ted Atkinson has been credited with the following “observation”: “Outside a horse, a book is man’s best friend—inside it’s too dark to read.”

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man’s Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read

References

References
1 1947 May 31, Nashville Banner, Sideline Sidelights by Fred Russell, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

These Are My Principles. If You Don’t Like Them I Have Others

Groucho Marx? American Legislator? Anonymous?

Dear Quotation Investigator: My favorite quip attributed to Groucho Marx is perfect for describing some politicians:

These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.

Was Groucho impersonating a politician when he said this?

Quote Investigator: It is not clear whether Groucho did employ this joke.  But your belief that it is associated with politicians does have strong evidentiary support. In fact, the joke has a long history, and a version was being told before Groucho was born. The connection with politicians goes back more then one hundred years.

Continue reading These Are My Principles. If You Don’t Like Them I Have Others

Time Flies Like an Arrow; Fruit Flies Like a Banana

Groucho Marx? Anthony Oettinger?

Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quote attributed to Groucho Marx is the absurdist, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” But I have read enough of this blog to know that sometimes quotes are wrongly credited. Can you tell me about this quote?

Quote Investigator: Yes, but the news is not good for your favorite Groucho quote. The Yale Book of Quotations is a wonderful reference that I recommend to all readers of this blog. Editor Fred R. Shapiro has researched this quote and says “There is no reason to believe that Groucho actually said this. It appeared in the Usenet news group net.jokes, 9 July 1982.”

So where did this quote come from?

Continue reading Time Flies Like an Arrow; Fruit Flies Like a Banana