Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Marie Corelli? Jane Burr? Rose Guggenheim Winslow? Nancy Hale? Ruth Hanna McCormick? Walter Winchell? Ethel Barrymore? Grace Hodgson Flandrau?
Dear Quote Investigator: A U.S. politician running for president was once described as a “little man on a wedding cake” and a “bridegroom on the wedding cake”. This ridicule harmed his campaign, and he lost the race. The remark has been attributed Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, although on several occasions she denied authorship. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Alice Roosevelt Longworth did use this expression when describing presidential aspirant Thomas Dewey in July 1944, but she was not the first. The phrase “little bridegroom on every wedding cake” was intended as a compliment when it was applied to Dewey in June 1944. This vivid saying can be traced backwards at least a few more decades. It has been used with both positive and negative connotations.
In 1904 the novel “God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story” by Marie Corelli employed a wedding-cake-topper simile positively to portray a new wife: 1
“But ’ere was we all a-thinkin’ she’d be a ’igh an’ mighty fashion-plate, and she ain’t nothin’ of the sort, onny jest like a little sugar figure on a weddin’-cake wot looks sweet at ye and smiles pleasant…”
In 1908 a serialized work in a Washington D.C. newspaper titled “Letters From a New Congressman’s Wife” described a party during which a connubial couple waited stiffly for the arrival of a dignitary. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2
Of course, it was rather strained while the Secretary and his plump little wife stood up like the bride and groom figures on a wedding cake, waiting for the great guest of honor to arrive . . .
In 1921 Jane Burr published the novel “The Passionate Spectator”. According to the “Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames” Jane Burr was a pseudonym for Rose Guggenheim Winslow. 3 The book wielded the phrase to disparage a fictional character: 4
Dr. Leighton was little and homely, with a voice like a ’cello. In his prim black clothes he reminded me of a candy groom on a wedding cake.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1904, God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story By Marie Corelli, Chapter 10, Quote Page 172, Methuen & Company, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1908 February 16, The Sunday Star (Evening Star), Section: Sunday Magazine, Letters From a New Congressman’s Wife (Continuation title: Congressman’s Wife), Start Page 9, Quote Page 18, Column 3, Washington, District of Columbia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1972, Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames, Compiled by Harold S. Sharp, Volume 1: A to J, Quote Page 524, The Scarecrow Press Inc., Metuchen, New Jersey. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1921, The Passionate Spectator by Jane Burr, Chapter 11, Quote Page 89, Thomas Seltzer, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩