Groucho Marx? Marshall Reid? Fanny Brice? Frank Case? Jane Ace? Goodman Ace? Rudy Vallée? Verree Teasdale? Robert Bloch? John Lennon? Ann Landers? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following humorous pun about comeuppance for poor behavior has been attributed to the famous comedian Groucho Marx. The slang term “heel” refers to a contemptible person:
Time wounds all heels.
The statement is a scrambled version of the following comforting aphorism about the mitigation of injuries:
Time heals all wounds.
The pun has also been attributed to hotelier Frank Case and radio performer Jane Ace. Would you please explore this saying?
Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx did deliver this comical line during the film “Go West” in 1940, but the expression was already in circulation. In addition, there is good evidence that Frank Case, Jane Ace and several other individuals employed the joke. Detailed citations are given further below.
The earliest citation located by QI appeared in a syndicated news column in December 1934. The remark was ascribed to someone named Marshall Reid. An explanatory anecdote was given to introduce the punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
In a Chicago cafe the other night, an elderly man passed a table.
“There goes George,” observed an onlooker. “When he was young, he was a handsome guy. Left a wife and two kids to starve, and ran off with another woman. And now look at him. Old, broke and very sad.”
“That’s the way-it-goes,” nodded Marshall Reid. “Time wounds all heels.”
Frank Case was a prominent hotelier who owned and operated the Algonquin Hotel in New York where the celebrated Algonquin Round Table convened. He appeared multiple times on a popular radio program hosted by the entertainer Rudy Vallée. During a broadcast in 1937 Vallée asked Case about “skippers”, hotel guests who attempt to leave without paying their bills. Case’s response included the quip: 2
We don’t have much trouble with skippers. If a man can’t pay his bill he usually tells me; pays me later. Of course, they’re a few heels who get away with things, but eventually as time goes by they all get caught. What I always say is “Time wounds all heels”.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1934 December 21, Lowell Sun, All In A Day by Mark Hellinger (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Lowell, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- Website: Old Time Radio Downloads, Audio title: Rudy Vallee Royal Gelatin Hour Guest Tallulah Bankhead, Audio description: Frank Case was also a guest, Air Date on website: June 17, 1937, Audio quotation location: 38 mins, 58 secs of 57 mins 44 secs) Website description: Audio files of old radio show broadcasts. (Accessed oldtimeradiodownloads.com on May 26, 2017) link ↩