When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

George Orwell? Coco Chanel? Mae West? Ingrid Bergman? Albert Camus? Abraham Lincoln? Edwin M. Stanton? Lucius E. Chittenden? Albert Schweitzer? Maurice Chevalier? William H. Seward? Edward Lee Hawk? William Shakspeare? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person’s true character can be deduced by the careful study of the face according to believers in physiognomy. This notion dates back to the ancient Greeks, but nowadays it is often considered pseudoscientific. Believers contend that the human visage changes over time, and authentic character eventually emerges. Here are three pertinent remarks:

  • At forty you have the face you deserve.
  • A man of 50 years is responsible for his looks
  • After thirty you have the face you have made yourself.

This family of statements includes elaborate multipart assertions. Here are two examples:

  • At 20 you have the face God gave you, at 40 you have the face that life has molded, and at 60 you have the face you deserve.
  • Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.

Remarks of this type have been credited to U.S. statesman Abraham Lincoln, fashion maven Coco Chanel, political writer George Orwell, French existentialist Albert Camus, movie star Ingrid Bergman, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration” by Lucius E. Chittenden who served as U.S. Register of the Treasury during Lincoln’s presidency. Chittenden told an anecdote about Edwin M. Stanton who served as Secretary of War for Lincoln. Stanton would sometimes judge a person harshly based on facial features. In the following dialog Stanton was conversing with an unnamed military officer about an underling in the War Department. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Did you ever in all your life see the head of a human being which so closely resembled that of a cod fish?”

He is not responsible for his head or his face. But why do you say he is a fraud? The newspapers call him a reformer, and give him credit for great efficiency.”

“I deny your conclusions,” he replied. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face! Yes, I know he is courting the newspapers: that proves him a humbug and presumptively a fraud.”

A few months later the official in question was found guilty by a court-martial of peculation and fraud in the management of his bureau and dishonorably expelled from the service.

Chittenden’s book of recollections was published in 1891. However, the episode above reportedly occurred many years earlier during Lincoln’s presidency which ended with his death in 1865. The accuracy of the quotation attributed to Stanton was dependent on the veracity of Chittenden who may have heard the tale second-hand.

This family of sayings has remained popular for many decades. Coco Chanel employed a multipart version in 1938. George Orwell penned an instance in one of his notebooks in 1949. Albert Camus published a version in 1956. Ingrid Bergman referred to the saying in 1957. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

Notes:

  1. 1891 Copyright, Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration by L. E. Chittenden; Lincoln’s Register of The Treasury (Lucius Eugene Chittenden), Chapter 24, Quote Page 184, Harper & Brothers, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

George M. Cohan? P. T. Barnum? Mae West? Elinor Glyn? Babe Ruth? Damon Runyon? James J. Johnston? Charley Murphy? Max Schmeling? Walter Winchell? Oscar Wilde? Samuel Johnson? Ed Sullivan?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person once planned to write an article or book containing derogatory material about a celebrity. The unruffled response of the celebrity to this prospect was surprising. Here are three versions:

  1. I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.
  2. I don’t care how much you pan me, but please spell the name correctly.
  3. Boost me or knock me; it doesn’t mean a thing. Just make sure you spell my name right.

This notion has been credited to Broadway musical icon George M. Cohan, showman P. T. Barnum, actress Mae West, baseball slugger Babe Ruth, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in several U.S. newspapers in 1888. The line was delivered by P. T. Barnum who was a founder of Barnum & Bailey Circus. He also operated a museum filled with curiosities and hoaxes. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

P. T. Barnum was once interviewed by a woman who told him that she was writing a book, and that it would contain something disagreeable about him. “No matter, madam,” was his reply, “say anything you like about me, but spell my name right — P. T. B-a-r-n-u-m, P. T. Barnum — and I’ll be pleased anyway.” The blackmailer retired in confusion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

Notes:

  1. 1888 August 8, The Evening News, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Keep a Diary, and Perhaps Someday It Will Keep You

Mae West? Margot Asquith? Lillie Langtry? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The movie star, screenwriter, and sex symbol Mae West once spoke a humorous line about keeping a diary, but I do not recall the precise phrasing. She said a diary might provide the diarist with financial support in the future. Are you familiar with this quip, and do you know when she said it?

Quote Investigator: Mae West wrote the screenplay of the 1937 movie “Every Day’s a Holiday”. She also played the role of Peaches O’Day and delivered this line: 1 2

I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.

However, Mae West probably did not originate this comical remark because it was in circulation fifteen years before the movie was released. In 1922 an instance of the joke was attributed to the well-known socialite and notable diarist Margot Asquith. Also, in 1925 the line was ascribed to the stage actress and member of high society Lillie Langtry. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Keep a Diary, and Perhaps Someday It Will Keep You

Notes:

  1. 1967, The Wit and Wisdom of Mae West, Edited by Joseph Weintraub, Page title: Every Day’s a Holiday, Quote Page 47, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Diaries, Quote Page 118, Column 2, Cassell, London, Also: Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Mae West? Aristophanes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Screenwriter and sex symbol Mae West is usually credited with the following ribald line:

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

But I have seen many variations of this comical remark:

  1. Is that your pipe in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
  2. Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  3. Are you packin’ a rod or are you just glad to see me?
  4. Is that your sword or are you just glad to see me?

Can you determine which joke is the original and when it was spoken or written?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was in a 1958 book about a New York theatre producer titled “The Nine Lives of Michael Todd” by Art Cohn. In 1944 the play “Catherine Was Great” which was produced by Todd and starred Mae West opened on Broadway. Cohn stated that West improvised the humorous line of dialog when she was interacting with her fellow star Gene Barry: 1

Barry, playing Lieutenant Bunin, was unaccustomed to carrying a sword, and in the second act, during an embrace, his scabbard came between him and his Empress.

A covert smile stole over Mae’s face. “Lieutenant,” she ad-libbed with a Westian leer, “is that your sword or are you just glad to see me?”

There is some confusion about whether a version of this quip was used by Mae West in a movie during the 1930s or 1940s. Top quotation expert Fred R. Shapiro writing in The Yale Book of Quotations states that the line was not used by West in her early films: 2

Often ascribed to West’s film She Done Him Wrong, but the line does not appear in that or any of her other pre-1967 movies.

West claimed in remarks published in the 1980s that she employed the saying in the 1930s while speaking with a policeman. In addition, West did utter the saying in the 1978 film Sextette which was based on a play she wrote. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Notes:

  1. 1958, The Nine Lives of Michael Todd by Art Cohn, Quote Page 193, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Mae West, Page 809, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

I Used To Be Snow White, But I Drifted

Mae West? A College Student? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The actress, screenwriter, and sex symbol Mae West was well-known for delivering double entendres. Here are two examples of clever lines with multiple meanings:

I was once pure as snow, but then I drifted.
I used to be Snow White but I drifted.

Did Mae West coin either of these quips?

Quote Investigator: A version of the first joke was in circulation on college campuses by the 1920s. In 1921 the student publication “The Virginia Reel” from the University of Virginia printed the following: 1

“She was as pure and as white as snow.”
“Yes, but she drifted.” — Yale Record.

The earliest evidence known to QI of a match for the second joke appeared in 1938 in the syndicated Hollywood gossip column of Ed Sullivan who credited the words to West: 2

Mae West tells vaudeville audiences: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

Note that West referenced the fairy tale character Snow White, but the earlier joke simply referred to white snow. Hence, West added another comical layer of symbolism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Used To Be Snow White, But I Drifted

Notes:

  1. 1921 April 18, The Virginia Reel, (Freestanding quotation), Quote Page 30, Published by the students of the University of Virginia. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1938 May 4, Augusta Chronicle, Hollywood by Ed Sullivan, Page 4, Column 5, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)