You Must Learn from the Mistakes of Others. You Will Never Live Long Enough to Make Them All Yourself

Hyman Rickover? Martin Vanbee? Eleanor Roosevelt? Harry Myers? Laurence J. Peter? Sam Levenson? Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.? Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: These two simple adages have a long history:

  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others.

Some wit crafted a hilarious addendum for the second adage:

  • You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

This construction has been attributed to U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Rickover did employ this joke during a speech in 1983, but it was circulating decades earlier.

The first close match located by QI appeared in the 1932 book “Human Engineering” by Harry Myers and Mason M. Roberts. The words were credited to an unnamed person. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Doctor, years ago I had a foreman who taught me a great deal. He was quite a philosopher. One day he said, “William, you must learn from the mistakes of others—you will never live long enough to make them all yourself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Must Learn from the Mistakes of Others. You Will Never Live Long Enough to Make Them All Yourself

Notes:

  1. 1932, Human Engineering by Harry Myers and Mason M. Roberts, Quote Page 213, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Based on snippet match in Google Books; the citation is not yet verified; text visible in snippet; contemporaneous book review in “Tampa Bay Times” mentions the saying)

There Will Be Prayers in Our Schools as Long as There Are Final Exams

Ronald Reagan? Ashley Cooper? Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr.? David Condon? The Farmer’s Daughter? Norine Carman? Sam Levenson? Charles Rose? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The topic of prayers in schools in the U.S. has been controversial for many years. Humorists have reacted with quips such as:

  • As long as algebra is taught in school, there will be prayer in school.
  • As long as there are final exams, there will be prayers in our schools.

Apparently, U.S. President Ronald Reagan employed this joke. Would you please explore this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 and 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court delivered landmark decisions concerning school prayer. The judges restricted compulsory prayers in school.

Versions of the jest under analysis began to circulate after these key events; however, the quip can be expressed in many ways which makes it difficult to trace. The earliest instance known to QI appeared in a column by Ashley Cooper in the “The News and Courier” of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1964. The scribe referred to himself comically as “Lord Ashley”. Ashley Cooper was a pseudonym for the bestselling author Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Supreme Court may try to ban prayers in school, but there’s no way to ban the silent ones. Lord Ashley predicts that as long as there are final examinations in school, there will be prayers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Will Be Prayers in Our Schools as Long as There Are Final Exams

Notes:

  1. 1964 May 6, The News and Courier, Doing the Charleston by Ashley Cooper, Quote Page 8A, Column 4, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

Insanity Is Hereditary. You Can Get It from Your Children

Sam Levenson? Oscar Levant? W. C. Fields? Helen Gorn Sutin? Dave Berg? Ann Landers? Erma Bombeck? Grace Kelly?

heredity08Dear Quote Investigator: Many parents concur with a very funny quip that reverses the traditional notion of inheritance:

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.

This joke has been attributed to the newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck, the television host Sam Levenson, and the comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please resolve this ambiguity?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published on April 6, 1961 in an Oklahoma newspaper within a column containing a miscellaneous set of short comical items. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children.
—Sam Levenson

During the same time period, the syndicated columnist Walter Winchell printed the jest with an identical attribution: 2

Sam Levenson’s merciless truth: “Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children!”

During the following years: Oscar Levant employed the joke; Ann Landers and Erma Bombeck placed it in their respective newspaper columns; and Grace Kelly used a variant quip. Nevertheless, QI believes that Sam Levenson should receive credit for this witticism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Insanity Is Hereditary. You Can Get It from Your Children

Notes:

  1. 1961 April 6, The Ada Weekly News, Strayed From the Heard by Connie Nelson, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Ada, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1961 April 7, San Diego Union, Walter Winchell’s America, Quote Page A16, Column 5, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)

For Attractive Lips, Speak Words of Kindness

Audrey Hepburn? Sam Levenson? Anonymous?

lips08Dear Quote Investigator: Audrey Hepburn was a magnificent movie star, and she was also a well-known worker for humanitarian causes. On various websites I have seen a collection of sayings called “Time Tested Beauty Tips” that have been attributed to her. The first tip says:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

I have never seen a proper reference to an interview or a book showing that Hepburn created these tips. Could you examine the provenance of this set of statements?

Quote Investigator: The best evidence suggests that Audrey Hepburn read these words to family members, but she did not claim credit for them.

A version of the “Time Tested Beauty Tips” was printed in a 2005 memoir written by Sean Hepburn Ferrer about his mother Audrey Hepburn. A very similar version was printed in a 1996 biography titled “Audrey Hepburn” by Barry Paris. Both of these works stated that the tips were originally created by Sam Levenson who was a prominent television personality, humorist, and bestselling author.

In fact, there were two distinct passages from the 1973 book “In One Era and Out the Other” by Levenson that were combined to yield the modern set of tips. When Levenson’s daughter Emily started to date he discussed with her different concepts of beauty: 1

I even suggested several time-tested inexpensive beauty hints:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you will never walk alone.

When his first grandchild, Georgia, was born Levenson composed a short letter addressed to her: 2

We leave you a tradition with a future. The tender loving care of human beings will never become obsolete. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed, and redeemed, and redeemed . . . Never throw out anybody.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others. …

Your good old days are still ahead of you. May you have many of them.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading For Attractive Lips, Speak Words of Kindness

Notes:

  1. 1973 Copyright, In One Era and Out the Other by Sam Levenson, Quote Page 177, Pocket Books: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (First Simon and Schuster edition published in 1973; Pocket Books edition published in November 1974) (Verified with scans of Pocket Books edition)
  2. 1973 Copyright, In One Era and Out the Other by Sam Levenson, Quote Page 190, Pocket Books: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (First Simon and Schuster edition published in 1973; Pocket Books edition published in November 1974) (Verified with scans of Pocket Books edition)