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.

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

Groucho Marx? 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: The earliest attribution to Groucho that QI has located occurred in 1974 at a museum exhibit celebrating words and reading. But the provenance of the quip can be traced further back to the 1950s. Top-notch researcher, John Baker, located the earliest known instance of this joke in an issue of Boys’ Life magazine dated 1954. In this initial appearance the quip is credited to Jim Brewer and not to Groucho Marx.

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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.

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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?

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