Category Archives: H. Jackson Brown

As You Climb the Ladder of Success, Be Sure It’s Leaning Against the Right Building

Stephen R. Covey? Thomas Merton? Allen Raine? Anne Adaliza Evans? Mae Maloo? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The metaphorical notion of climbing a ladder of success was in use by writers in the nineteenth century. Here is an intriguing cautionary twist about faulty objectives:

When you get to the top of the ladder you may find it is propped against the wrong wall.

This thought has been credited to the educator and best-selling author Stephen R. Covey and to the theologian and activist Thomas Merton. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this expression has been difficult because of its variability. The earliest evidence found by QI appeared in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” of New York in 1915. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall.”—Allen Raine.

This quotation did not explicitly mention a “ladder of success”, but the allusion was clear. “Allen Raine” was the pseudonym of a popular Welsh novelist named Anne Adaliza Evans, but QI is not certain whether the newspaper intended to attribute the quote to her or to some other Allen Raine.

The citation above reveals that neither Thomas Merton who was born in 1915 nor Stephen R. Covey who was born in 1932 originated this extended metaphor. In fact, QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the notion to Merton. On the other hand, Covey did employ it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1915 December 30, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Section: Picture and Sporting, (Filler item in a box), Quote Page 4, Column 6, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Why Not Go Out On a Limb? Isn’t That Where the Fruit Is?

Mark Twain? Will Rogers? Frank Scully? Arthur F. Lenehan? H. Jackson Brown? Mother of H. Jackson Brown? Shirley MacLaine?

apple09Dear Quote Investigator: To succeed one must be willing to take risks and to enter the precarious realm of punishments and accolades. Here are four versions of an expression that appears in many self-help books:

1) Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.
2) Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?
3) Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.
4) Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

This notion has confusingly been attributed to two famous humorists: Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence supporting the linkage to either Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

The earliest instance located by QI was printed in the show business periodical “Variety” in September 1950. The journalist Frank Scully coined the memorable phrase and included it in his column “Scully’s Scrapbook”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

To people who urge you not to go out on a limb I have a new twist. I gave it to Ken Murray and before he can use it I’m giving it to my public. It’s this: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

Within a week the powerful and widely-syndicated commentator Walter Winchell reprinted the saying in a section of his column called “Quotation Marksmanship”, and Winchell credited Scully: 2 3

Frank Scully: Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1950 September 20, Variety, Scully’s Scrapbook by Frank Scully, (Dateline: Dare’s Wharf, California, September 15), Quote Page 61, Column 4, Published by Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1950 September 25, The High Point Enterprise, In New York: Winchell, Winchell, Plus Winchellisms by Walter Winchell (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 7, High Point, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1950 September 25, Lincoln Evening Journal, Walter Winchell Your New York Correspondent (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 5, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

A Rainy Day, Lost Luggage, and Tangled Christmas Tree Lights

Maya Angelou? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? A 52-Year-Old Person?

lights12Dear Quote Investigator: Each of us must occasionally experience irritating situations. Maturity and self-control help to keep a person steady. A quotation touching on this theme has been attributed to the prominent poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Here are two versions:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights

I have been unable to determine where or when Angelou said this. Are these really her words?

Quote Investigator: Probably not.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1991 compilation by the best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. titled “Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff”. The book printed a set of comical and astute sayings from individuals who were identified only by age. Here is a sampling of four remarks from Brown’s book. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. —Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. —Age 53

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. —Age 64

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be a pain. —Age 82

The phrase “rainy holiday” was used instead of “rainy day”. A holidaymaker hoping for sun would certainly be aggravated with downpours.

By 2003 all four of these statements from different people had implausibly been reassigned to Maya Angelou.

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  1. 1991, Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff, Written and compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.,”luggage” Quote Page 85,”parents” Quote Page 31, “mitt” Quote Page 47,”pains” Quote Page 25, Published by Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Items have been selected and ordered to match the sequence in the March 2003 Maya Angelou citation) (Verified with scans)

Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Mark Twain? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Apocryphal?

hjacksongalactic05Dear Quote Investigator: The Virgin Galactic company of Richard Branson plans to offer suborbital spaceflights for tourists. The organization put together a beautiful brochure containing the following quotation credited to Mark Twain: 1

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Can you tell me where this was written by Mark Twain? I have not been able to locate this astute piece of advice in his novels or essays.

Quote Investigator: QI will be unable to tell you where to find this passage in the works of Twain because he never wrote it. Yet, the words are regularly credited to him. For example, the April 20, 1998 issue of The New Yorker magazine printed a vibrant full page advertisement depicting an ocean scene that prominently featured a version of this saying with the label “attributed to Mark Twain”. 2

The website edited by Barbara Schmidt is a key resource for checking quotations attributed to Twain, and Schmidt states that “the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic”. 3

The earliest appearance that QI has located is relatively recent, 1990. The bestselling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. published the work containing the quotation, but he did not take credit for it. The book “P.S. I Love You” contained a collection of wise aphorisms from Brown’s mother, Sarah Frances Brown. Each page contained one thought, and the advice under investigation was printed on page 13. Each remark was prefaced with “P.S.” and ended with “I love you, Mom”. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Spoiler Warning: This post contains a spoiler for a version of the popular game Minecraft.

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  1. Virgin Galactic website at, Link on homepage for Downloadable Brochure describing suborbital space flights. Quotation ascribed to Mark Twain is on the first page. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  2. 1998 April 20, New Yorker magazine, Page 25, Advertisement with title “Warming Trends in the Caribbean”, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  3. website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled Discovery. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  4. 1990, “P.S. I Love You” by H Jackson Brown, Page 13, Rutledge Hill Press, a Thomas Nelson Company, Nashville, Tennessee. (Many thanks to the librarian at the Columbia County Public Library in Lake City, Florida for verifying the quotation on paper; Cross-checked using Amazon Look Inside)