We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Samuel Goldwyn? Solomon S. Levadi? Ezra Goodman? Norton Mockridge? Michael Curtiz? Mickey Rooney? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When reminiscing about events from the nostalgia-tinged past the following figurative phrase is popular:

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

The famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn reportedly employed an unintentionally comical variant:

We have passed a lot of water since then.

Passing water is a euphemism for urination. The numerous speech errors assigned to Goldwyn are called Goldwynisms. Is this one authentic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this word-play located by QI appeared in a 1942 private letter from U.S. soldier Solomon S. Levadi who was sent to Australia during WWII. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dear Isaac: A lot of water has passed since I wrote you last from Fort Sill, and so have I since passed a lot of water. I’m in Australia now—where North is South and South is North; where the trees shed their bark instead of their leaves . . .

In the passage above the humor was deliberate, but the following citation described an inadvertent quip. In 1961 the publicist and journalist Ezra Goodman published a critical book about the entertainment business titled “The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood”. Goodman asserted that he heard the remark directly from Goldwyn: 2

Goldwyn claims that the Goldwynisms are the inventions of columnists, and says, “Some of them were very good and I wish I could take credit for them.” And still I have personally heard him utter some rather choice ones. Speaking of the old days, he once said, “We have passed a lot of water since then.”

The evidence linking the saying to Goldwyn is mixed. He died in 1974; hence, he was alive when Goodman’s book appeared. Yet, Goldwyn asserted that he “never said it” according to Peter Bart who was the long-time editor in chief of “Variety”. In addition, the remark has been ascribed to the prominent Hollywood director Michael Curtiz. Detailed citations are given below in chronological order.

Continue reading We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Notes:

  1. 1945, Jewish Youth at War: Letters from American Soldiers, Edited by Isaac E. Rontch, Letter title: “Thresholds”, Location: Somewhere in Australia, Letter author: Captain Solomon S. Levadi, Letter date: September 16, 1942, Quote Page 122, Marstin Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1961, The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood by Ezra Goodman, Chapter 5: The Great Brain Robbery, Quote Page 178, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

The Next Time I Send a Damn Fool for Something, I Go Myself

Samuel Goldwyn? Michael Curtiz? Sheilah Graham? Jones? Scones? Louis Cukela? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an unintentionally hilarious remark credited to the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He sent an assistant on an important errand and was angry when the task was badly botched. In exasperation Goldwyn created this classic rebuke:

The next time I send a damn fool for something, I go myself.

However, I am now told that Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian-American film director, actually spoke this line to a prop man who retrieved the wrong prop three times in a row. Can you resolve this uncertainty?

Quote Investigator: The earliest example of this basic story located by QI does not involve Samuel Goldwyn or Michael Curtiz. In 1889 the following funny tale was told about a person named “Jones”, but this incident was not portrayed as an actual event. Instead, “Jones” was used as a generic name in a fictional gag [JBHM]:

Jones, having sent a stupid servant to do an errand, was greatly annoyed on finding that he had done exactly the opposite of what he had been ordered.

“Why, you haven’t common-sense,” he remonstrated.

“But, sir”—

“Shut up! I should have remembered that you were an idiot. When I’m tempted to send a fool on an errand again I’ll not ask you—I’ll go myself.”

The passage above was printed in the Boston Herald newspaper of Massachusetts; however, an acknowledgment indicated that the words were reprinted from “Judge” an influential humor magazine. Indeed, the joke was published a couple years later in 1891 in the companion magazine “Judge’s Library: A Monthly Magazine of Fun” [JLMJ]. Versions of the tale were also featured in several other newspapers and magazines in succeeding years.

Sometimes a pre-existing comical anecdote is spuriously assigned to a series of famous personalities over a period of decades. When this occurs the attributions are inaccurate and the events are fictitious. These entertaining apocryphal tales can be used to fill column inches in newspapers and pages in books. Yet, in this case, intriguingly, there is eyewitness evidence that a variant of the gag was embodied in an actual occurrence on a film set.

The first connection found by QI between Michael Curtiz and the saying was dated 1936. The syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham visited the movie location for “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and observed the behavior of the director Curtiz.

During the filming of one scene an actor playing an English cavalryman shouted “Yippee”, and the incongruous scene required a reshoot. During the second take a horse became recalcitrant and spoiled the action [SGMC]:

It is now 10 minutes to six, and the light is going fast. The third “take” is ruined by a too-eager extra who charges ahead of the order. “Next time I send a fool into the charge, I’ll go myself,” wails the foreign Mr. Curtiz, whose American becomes confused in moments of stress.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Next Time I Send a Damn Fool for Something, I Go Myself