It Is the Best Play I Ever Slept Through

Oscar Wilde? Myron W. Reed? Will Rogers? Charlie Carter?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several weeks ago I saw an article with the following humorous title:

Why Arianna’s Talk Was the Best I’ve Ever Slept Through

The piece was actually a very positive assessment and summary of a talk delivered by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. 1 I was reminded of a one-line critique of a drama attributed to Oscar Wilde:

It is the best play I ever slept through.

Is this really one of Wilde’s witticisms?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest ascription to Wilde located by QI was published in 1911. The prominent actor and producer Seymour Hicks knew Wilde and socialized with him. The memoir he published reported several remarks credited to Wilde. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 2

Innumerable are the witticisms laid at his door. What could be more delightful than his remark to the gushing female admirer who, shaking him warmly by the hand, said: “Oh, but Mr. Wilde, you don’t remember me. My name is Smith.” “Oh yes,” said Wilde, “I remember your name perfectly—but I can’t think of your face.”

It was Wilde who, on being asked on returning from a fashionable premiere how he liked the piece, replied: “My dear friend, it is the best play I ever slept through.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is the Best Play I Ever Slept Through

Notes:

  1. Website: Huffington Post, Article title: Why Arianna’s Talk Was The Best I’ve Ever Slept Through, Article author: Dharmesh Shah, Author description: Co-founder and CTO of HubSpot, Date on website: August 27, 2013, Website section: The Third Metric. (Accessed huffingtonpost.com on October 15, 2013) link
  2. 1911, Seymour Hicks: Twenty-Four Years of an Actor’s Life by Seymour Hicks, Quote Page 132, John Lane Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link

When the End of the World Comes, I Want To Be in Cincinnati. It Is Always Ten Years Behind the Times

Mark Twain? Heinrich Heine? Otto von Bismarck? George Bernard Shaw? James Boswell? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: As a one-time resident of Cincinnati I knew that Mark Twain once worked in the city, and I always enjoyed the comment he reportedly made about it:

When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.

But this quip is also attributed to the popular humorist Will Rogers. Can you determine who created this joke?

Quote Investigator: The early evidence located by QI points to a different part of the globe. In 1886 The Atlantic Monthly printed an article about King Ludwig II of Bavaria that contained a version of the jape; however, the length of the time lag and the location were distinct [BVAM]:

It is a common saying in Germany that Bavaria will be the best place to emigrate to at the approaching end of the world, since that event, like everything else, will be sure to come off there fifty years later than in any other country. The Bavarians will be behind the times even as to the point when time shall be no more, and will enter as laggards upon the eternal life.

This citation suggests that a version of this gag expressed in the German language probably predates 1886.  Over a period of many decades multiple variants appeared. The remark was modified to target other locales, e.g., Dresden, Netherlands, Mecklenburg, Cincinnati and Ireland. The humor was credited to a variety of people including: Heinrich Heine, Otto von Bismarck, Mark Twain, and George Bernard Shaw.

The earliest Cincinnati-based citation found by QI was dated 1978, and the words were attributed to Mark Twain. Details are given further below. Note that Twain died in 1910, so this is a very late piece of evidence.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When the End of the World Comes, I Want To Be in Cincinnati. It Is Always Ten Years Behind the Times

Epitaph: At Last She Sleeps Alone

Robert Benchley? Irvin Cobb? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A variety of quips have been credited to the great wit and stylish film actor Robert Benchley, but I don’t see his name very often on this website. Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes contains a story that illustrates his sharp humor. Benchley was attending a Hollywood bash and sitting next to a beautiful actress who married often and engaged in love affairs even more frequently. A popular party game called for each guest to write his or her own epitaph [BRB]:

She complained that she could not think what to write about herself. The humorist suggested: “At last she sleeps alone.”

Would you please explore this tale to see if Benchley concocted this zinger?

Quote Investigator: In addition to Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes this popular witticism appears as a punch line in the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations [ORB] and the Yale Book of Quotations [YRB].  All three references credit Benchley and the earliest citation of 1943 is given by the YBQ.

QI has found an instance of this yarn with Benchley composing the jocular epitaph that was published at the slightly earlier date of 1942. But another famed humorist was a participant in a very similar story, and he produced the same punch line several years before this date. Since the joke is somewhat risqué and also a bit unkind QI was surprised to find it ascribed to the folksy entertainer Will Rogers in 1935.

Yet the quip without the supplementary anecdote may have been in circulation for an even longer period. One well-known historian states that the joke was told by the columnist Irvin Cobb about a high-profile socialite named Sally Ward who died in 1896. Here are selected instances in chronological order.

Continue reading Epitaph: At Last She Sleeps Alone