“Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

John Barrymore? Walter Sichel? William Powell Frith? Anonymous Scene-Shifter? Johnston Forbes-Robertson? Arthur Machen? Cedric Hardwicke? Errol Flynn?

Dear Quote Investigator: The theater world has long been known for complex tempestuous relationships between cast members on and off the stage. One comical tale concerns the ambiguous relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia presented in William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy.

An inquisitive theatergoer asked a well-known stage manager, “Did Hamlet have an affair with Ophelia?” The manager quickly responded, “In my company, always”.

Would you please explore the history of this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 “The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections” by Walter Sichel appeared. The author relayed a story he heard from the painter William Powell Frith who died in 1909. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At one time he delighted to go behind the scenes of the theatre and chat with the scene-shifters. One of them appeared very intelligent, and Mr. Frith asked him if he had ever himself been a player. He had, in the provinces. Had he ever acted Shakespeare? Of course he had, he had played in ‘Amlick, he had, indeed, acted the chief part.

“Very interesting,” said Mr. Frith, “please tell me what is your conception of Hamlet’s relation to Ophelia. Did he, so to speak, love her not wisely but too well?“I don’t know, sir, if ‘Amlick did, but I did,” was the unblushing answer.

The key line was delivered by an anonymous thespian who also worked as a member of a stage crew. This family of anecdotes is highly variable in expression; thus, the origin is difficult to trace.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

Notes:

  1. 1923, The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections by Walter Sichel, Chapter 8: Editorship—and After, Quote Page 238, Hutchinson and Company, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View)

The True Friend Walks In When Others Walk Out

Walter Winchell? Robert Hill? C. R. Durrant? William T. Ellis? Milton Berle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you encounter difficulties some nominal friends will walk away from you, but your genuine friends will offer help and support. Here are two versions of an apposite adage:

(1) The true friend walks in when others walk out.
(2) A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

This saying has been ascribed to the influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Would you please explore the origin of this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: A precursor appeared in 1916 within a periodical based in Atlanta, Georgia called “The Presbyterian of the South”. Friendship was discussed in a piece about the biblical patriarch Enoch with the byline R. H. The initials probably referred to co-editor Reverend Robert Hill of Dallas Texas. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He is truly a friend who comes when all else goes, who walks with you when all others are walking from you.

The statement above used the phrases “comes” and “walks with you” instead of “walks in”. Thus, the syntactic match was inexact, but the semantic match was close.

In 1924 “The Border Cities Star” of Ontario, Canada published an article about a meeting of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Reverend C. R. Durrant, past grand chaplain of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, delivered a speech containing an instance of the saying: 2

“That is why friendship is the basis of Oddfellowship,” he said, “and the reason why it is so strongly emphasized by the Order. To have friends, one must, above all, be friendly himself. The friend walks in when others walk out. He is like a sunbeam, binds like a chain and guides like a vision.”

QI believes that this saying evolved over time and should be labelled anonymous. Walter Winchell printed the saying in his column repeatedly starting in 1933. Hence, he helped to popularize the adage, but he did not coin it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The True Friend Walks In When Others Walk Out

Notes:

  1. 1916 January 19, The Presbyterian of the South, Enoch: For the New Year–A Meditation by R. H., Start Page 2, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Atlanta, Georgia. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1924 April 28, The Border Cities Star (The Windsor Star), 600 at Lodge Celebration: 105th Anniversary of Oddfellows Observed, Quote Page 5, Column 8, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Performance

James R. Quirk? Douglas Fairbanks? Walter Winchell? Louella Parsons? Barbara Stanwyck? Jack Osterman? Al Jolson? Walter Huston? Will Rogers? Hedda Hopper? Marie Dressler? Arthur Ashe? Laurence Olivier? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popularity and power of an entertainer, top athlete, or financial whiz can ascend vertiginously, but it can also decline precipitously. A harshly pragmatic family of adages describes the fickleness of admirers. Here is sampling of statements from a variety of domains:

  • A star is only as good as her last picture.
  • A rock group is only as good as their latest album.
  • A columnist is only as good his last column.
  • A coach is only as good as the most recent season.

Often the expression employs the pronoun “you”:

  • You’re only as good as your last performance.
  • You are only as good as your last time at bat.
  • You’re only as good as the last song you wrote.
  • You’re only as good as your last press release

Would you please explore the history of this collection of sayings?

Quote Investigator: A close precursor appeared in “Photoplay Magazine” in 1924. The journal’s editor, James R. Quirk, conducted a survey of business people who operated movie theaters to identify the stars who achieved the best box-office results. Quirk recognized that the rankings would fluctuate over time. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Were a vote taken six months from now the vote might be entirely different. Generally speaking a star is as good as his last few pictures.

The statement above did not use the word “only” and referred to a “few pictures” instead of the “last picture”. Excerpts from Quirk’s article were reprinted in other periodicals. For example, in July 1924 “The Indianapolis Sunday Star” reprinted the star ranking data and the commentary which included the text above. 2

A couple years later in July 1926 “Photoplay Magazine” printed an instance that clearly fit into the family of sayings. The prominent actor, screenwriter, and producer Douglas Fairbanks received credit for the adage: 3

No mere actor-idol can last beyond a short allotted time. Fairbanks, Lloyd, Chaplin are not mere actors. They are artists—producers. We go to see them because their names assure great entertainment.

“A man’s only as good as his last picture,” says Doug, and I heartily concur. An actor who endures as an idol must have not only character but creative force—and the chance to exercise it.

QI conjectures that the saying evolved over time. James R. Quirk crafted a version that was further refined by Douglas Fairbanks into a pithy memorable remark. On the other hand, the members of this family are highly variable and searching for them is difficult. Therefore, future researchers may discover earlier instances necessitating amendments to this conjecture.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You’re Only As Good As Your Last Performance

Notes:

  1. 1924 May, Photoplay Magazine: The National Guide to Motion Pictures, Volume 25, Number 6, The Greatest Box Office Attractions By Vote of Moving Picture Exhibitors by James R. Quirk, Start Page 44, Quote Page 109, Photoplay Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Internet Archive) link
  2. 1924 July 6, The Indianapolis Sunday Star, Mary Pickford Leads Stars in Drawing Power, Section 7, Start Page 1, Quote Page 3, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1926 July, Photoplay Magazine, Volume 30, Number 2, Close-Ups and Long-Shots: Satire Humor and Some Sense by Herbert Howe, Start Page 44, Quote Page 45, Photoplay Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Internet Archive) link

The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

H. L. Mencken? Woody Allen? Walter Winchell? Alfred Lunt? Sarah Bernhardt? E. V. Durling? Jim Bishop? Colonel Stoopnagle? Frederick Chase Taylor? Leo Rosten? Humphrey Bogart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following declaration of high praise has been applied to love making:

The most fun you can have without laughing.

Influential commentator H. L. Mencken and popular comedian Woody Allen have both received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken did place a version of this saying into his massive 1942 compendium of quotations, but he did not take credit; instead, he asserted that the author was unidentified. More than three decades later Woody Allen employed an instance in his 1977 Oscar-winning movie “Annie Hall”.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in January 1938. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The latest definition of necking: How you can have the most fun without laughing.

QI hypothesizes that a comparable statement referring to sex was circulating at the time. Winchell or his informant bowdlerized the remark to yield the version about “necking”. Taboos of the period restricted depictions of carnality in newspapers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

Notes:

  1. 1938 January 25, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, On Broadway Walter Winchell, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Scratch an Actor and You’ll Find an Actress

Dorothy Parker? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker was well known for her sometimes controversial witticisms. Apparently, one of her remarks was based on clichés about the vanity, mannerisms, and/or sexuality of actors. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in 1940: 1

Don’t use “Scratch an actor and you’ll find an actress!” It’s an oldie of Dorothy Parker’s.

Winchell stated that the remark was already old, and it probably would have been difficult to publish in a newspaper in the 1920s when Parker was delivering lines at the Algonquin Roundtable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Scratch an Actor and You’ll Find an Actress

Notes:

  1. 1940 September 6, Bradford Evening Star and Daily Record, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Bradford, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Clare Boothe Luce? Oscar Wilde? Walter Map? Marie Belloc Lowndes? James Agate? Leo Pavia? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: For centuries moral philosophers have propounded a conventional viewpoint about the rewards and punishments delivered by a deity. Here is an example from the “Summa Theologica” by Saint Thomas Aquinas who lived during the 13th century: 1

For as punishment is to the evil act, so is reward to a good act. Now no evil deed is unpunished, by God the just judge. Therefore no good deed is unrewarded, and so every good deed merits some good.

A comically acerbic statement transforms this perspective. Here are two versions:

  • Every good deed brings its own punishment.
  • No good deed goes unpunished.

These words are often attributed to playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce and to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Clare Boothe Luce did receive credit for the saying by 1949, but the attribution was weak because the phrase had been circulating for multiple years before that date. Also, the saying was implausibly assigned in 1972 to Oscar Wilde who had died in 1900. Details are given further below.

Courtier Walter Map wrote “De Nugis Curialium” (“Courtiers’ Trifles”) in the 12th century. The Medieval Latin text was translated into English and published by an Oxford University scholar in 1923. Map described the actions of Eudo who was a rapacious adherent of an inverted morality. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

He put the worst of men to command the bad, he gave additional authority and power to those who were wickedest in their attacks on the innocent, and promoted over all others those to whom pity was unknown. He spared none of his band who inclined to spare any, left no good deed unpunished, no bad one unrewarded; and when he could find no rival and no rebel on earth, like Capaneus, he challenged opposition from heaven. He spoiled churchyards, violated churches, and desisted not either for fear of the living or respect for the dead…

The passage above contained a match for the saying under examination, but it was not really in proverbial form. It was a remark about one person or about a class of wicked people instead of a general adage.

In August 1927 the prominent author Marie Belloc Lowndes published a short story in “The Windsor Magazine” titled “A Breaker of Hearts” which included an interesting precursor statement. Lowndes referred to “kindness” which is one type of “good deed”: 3

“Are you doing a wise thing, Laura? It’s dangerous work, you know, bringing about a marriage between middle-aged people. The couple don’t always thank you afterwards.”

“Kindness,” said the Duchess thoughtfully, “often brings its own punishment. But I don’t think it will in this case!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Notes:

  1. 1917, The “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Third Part, Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Fourth Number (QQ LXXXIV-Suppl. XXXIII), Chapter XIV: Of the Quality of Satisfaction, Quote Page 222,R. & T. Washbourne, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1983, De Nugis Curialium: Courtiers’ Trifles, Author: Walter Map, Edited and Translated by M. R. James, Revised by C. N. L. Brooke and R. A. B. Mynors, Section: Distinctio iv: The Fourth Distinction, Start Page 278, Quote Page 331, (Translation based on 1923 edition by E. Sidney Hartland with notes by Sir John Lloyd; 1983 edition brought together English text and Medieval Latin text), Published: Clarendon Press, Oxford, England. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1927 August, The Windsor Magazine, A Breaker of Hearts by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, Start Page 297, Quote Page 308 and 309, Ward, Lock & Company, London. (Verified with scans at archive.org)

Plays Are Not Written—They Are Rewritten

Steele MacKaye? Dion Boucicault? W. S. Gilbert? Sanford B. Hooker? David Belasco? Daniel Frohman? William M. Tanner? Walter Winchell? James Thurber? Michael Crichton?

Dear Quote Investigator: A magnificent work of art emerges in its final form like Venus from a scallop shell; no modifications are required according to one unrealistic approach to creativity. Numerous writers and composers strongly disagree and emphasize the need for painstaking refinement. A family of sayings highlights this process:

  • Great novels are not written, they are rewritten.
  • A stage play is not written but rewritten.
  • Good stories are not written but are re-written.
  • The secret of good writing is rewriting.

Would you please examine the provenance of this family?

Quote Investigator: In July 1889 the popular U.S. playwright and actor Steele MacKaye published in several newspapers a piece titled “How Plays Are Written: They Are the Product of Study and Patient Toil”. The first line presented his thesis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Plays are not written—they are rewritten.
In this lies the advantage of the creative, as distinct from the critical, literature of the stage.

By 1894 the saying had been reassigned to the Irish actor and playwright Dion Boucicault, and by 1903 W. S. Gilbert had been assigned a variant referring to comic operas. Yet, the earliest evidence currently points to Steele MacKaye as crafter of the statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Plays Are Not Written—They Are Rewritten

Notes:

  1. 1889 July 28, Democrat and Chronicle, How Plays Are Written: They Are the Product of Study and Patient Toil: So Says Steele MacKaye (Written for the Democrat and Chronicle), Quote Page 9, Column 4, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

It’s Nice To Be Important, But More Important To Be Nice

Roger Federer? John Templeton? Walter Winchell? Kay Dangerfield? James H. Lane? Tony Curtis? Bob Olin? Sidney Blackmer? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Antimetabole is a clever literary technique in which a phrase is repeated, but key words are reversed. For example:

It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

This line has been attributed to the tennis superstar Roger Federer and the renowned investor and philanthropist John Templeton. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI conjectures that this statement evolved from an adage composed by the powerful widely-syndicated columnist Walter Winchell. Yet, many years before Winchell’s brainstorm an interesting precursor appeared in the “Trenton Times” of Trenton, New Jersey in 1905. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“If it is important to be nice, it is nearly as important to look nice. You may be full of kindness and desire to make others happy, but if you cannot cross a room without knocking down a chair or two, or answer a question without turning crimson and glaring at the floor, people will never really believe in your good intentions.”

The statement above contained two very similar repeated phrases, but the key words were not reordered; hence, antimetabole was not employed. In addition, the overall meaning differed substantially from the expression under examination.

In April 1937 Walter Winchell concluded his column with a remark he had sent via telegram. Winchell used the slang word “swell” which corresponded to “nice” in that time period: 2

In reply to the wire of Jeff L. Kammen, of Chicago: The last line was: “Your New York Correspondent, who wishes to remind celebrities that it is swell to be important—but more important to be swell!”

QI hypothesizes that someone during the following decade exchanged “swell” and “nice” to produce the popular modern saying from Winchell’s adage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading It’s Nice To Be Important, But More Important To Be Nice

Notes:

  1. 1905 February 21, Trenton Times, For the Window Garden, Quote Page 6, Column 2 and 3, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1937 April 13, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Walter Winchell On Broadway (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 2, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

We Are Taught To Fly in the Air Like Birds, and To Swim in the Water Like the Fishes; But How To Live on the Earth We Don’t Know

George Bernard Shaw? Martin Luther King? Maxim Gorky? Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan? C. E. M. Joad? Walter Winchell? Jack Paar? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator: Technological progress today is shockingly vertiginous, but advancements toward human reconciliation and harmony are glacially slow. A saying from the previous century treats this topic with poignancy:

Now that we have learned to fly the air like birds, swim under water like fish, we lack one thing—to learn to live on earth as human beings.

This saying has been attributed to the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw and the civil rights champion Martin Luther King. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that George Bernard Shaw wrote or spoke this statement. Martin Luther King did employ this saying in his Nobel Prize speech, but it was already in circulation. The earliest citation known to QI attributed the saying to the prominent Russian author Maxim Gorky who credited an anonymous peasant. Here is the key passage from the 1925 book “Social Classes in Post-War Europe” by Lothrop Stoddard. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Not long ago Maxim Gorky stated that the Russian peasant profoundly hates the town and all its inhabitants. According to the Russian muzhik, the city is the source of all evil. Modern “progress” does not appeal to him, the intellectuals and their inventions being regarded with deep suspicion. Gorky relates how, after addressing a peasant audience on the subject of science and the marvels of technical inventions, he was criticized by a peasant spokesman in the following manner: “Yes, yes, we are taught to fly in the air like birds, and to swim in the water like the fishes; but how to live on the earth we don’t know.” In Gorky’s opinion Russia’s future lies in peasant hands.

This evidence was indirect because it was not written by Gorky, and QI has not yet located this statement in his oeuvre. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Are Taught To Fly in the Air Like Birds, and To Swim in the Water Like the Fishes; But How To Live on the Earth We Don’t Know

Notes:

  1. 1925, Social Classes in Post-War Europe by Lothrop Stoddard, Quote Page 26, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia library system)

Using Money You Haven’t Earned To Buy Things You Don’t Need To Impress People You Don’t Like

Will Smith? Walter Winchell? Robert Quillen? Edgar Allan Moss? Tony Wons? Ken Murray? Emile Gauvreau? Walter Slezak? Will Rogers? Chuck Palahniuk? Tyler Durden?

Dear Quote Investigator: Have you ever purchased an item and wondered the next day what motivated your inexplicable action? Here are two versions of an entertaining saying about consumerism:

1) Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.

2) We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.

Statements like this have been credited to the famous comedian Will Rogers, the powerful columnist Walter Winchell, the Hollywood star Will Smith, and the movie “Fight Club”. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a June 1928 column by the syndicated humorist Robert Quillen in which he labelled the expression “Americanism”: 1

Americanism: Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Using Money You Haven’t Earned To Buy Things You Don’t Need To Impress People You Don’t Like

Notes:

  1. 1928 June 4, The Detroit Free Press, Paragraphs by Robert Quillen, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)