Mark Twain? Tennessee Williams? Edward Gannon? Hugh A. Mulligan? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Travelers in the U.S. sometimes complain of cookie-cutter monotony. The following quip has been attributed to the prominent playwright Tennessee Williams, and the luminary Mark Twain:
America has only three great cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.
I find this comment entertaining although I personally like Cleveland. Would you please explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain employed this joke; it is not recorded in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”. 1 Also, it is not listed on Barbara Schmidt’s valuable TwainQuotes.com website. The comedian Russell Brand did improbably attach a version to Twain in his 2014 book “Revolution”. 2
The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1975 issue of a periodical called “Best Sellers” which was composed of book reviews. A reviewer named Edward Gannon printed an instance and attributed the words to an unnamed Frenchman. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3
I once heard a Frenchman say, “There are only three cities in the United States: New York, San Francisco and Washington. All the rest are Cleveland.” (I suggested he add Boston and Atlanta.)
The small collection of cities deemed worthy by quipsters has varied; the group has included: New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Washington, Boston, Atlanta, and Santa Fe. Tennessee Williams died in 1983, and one year afterwards the joke was attributed to him. A detailed citation is given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2014, Revolution by Russell Brand, Chapter 9: It’s Big But It’s Not Easy, Unnumbered Page, Ballantine Books: Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 1975 September, Best Sellers, Volume 35, Number 6, (Review by Edward Gannon of the book “Washington Now” by Arthur H. Kiplinger and Knight A. Kiplinger), Quote Page 176, Column 1, University of Scranton Library and Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation, Washington, D.C. (Verified with microfilm) ↩