Maurice Chevalier? Harry Oliver? Louis Calhern? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following piece of humorous proverbial wisdom has been attributed to the film star Maurice Chevalier. Here are three versions:
(1) Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.
(2) Growing old isn’t so terrible — when you consider the alternative.
(3) Old age is better than the alternative.
Is this ascription accurate? When did this remark originate?
Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Maurice Chevalier did deliver this comical line by 1959; however, the quip was already in circulation. The earliest citation located by QI was published in 1952 in a Long Beach, California newspaper. The columnist did not provide an ascription and stated that the phrase was already in use: 1
The situation reminds me of that famous quotation: “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”
In March 1953 a newspaper in Ottawa, Kansas printed an instance of the remark without ascription as a short filler item: 2
Growing old doesn’t seem quite so bad when you stop to consider the alternative.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1952 August 2, Long Beach Press-Telegram, In the Spotlight: Arati Saha Also Can Claim Olympic Mark by Fred Delano, Quote Page B-2, Column 1, Long Beach, California. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1953 March 20, The Ottawa Campus, (Freestanding comical remark), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Ottawa, Kansas. (NewspaperArchive) ↩