Clive Barnes? Richard Bentley? Charles Hayward? John Francis Hope? A. Walkely? Wolcott Gibbs? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: One-line theatrical reviews are simultaneously hilarious and unfairly dismissive. A grumpy critic who saw the Broadway show “Smile, Smile, Smile” responded with “I Didn’t, I Didn’t, I Didn’t”. Another disgruntled critic saw “A Terrible Night” and declared “Quite so”. Would you please explore this topic of short pungent reviews.
Quote Investigator: Here is a collection of show names followed by terse reviews. Each date corresponds to the year the citation mentioning the review appeared. Some shows and reviews are apocryphal:
1917: A Terrible Night. Quite so. 1920: Pure As Snow. It is not as pure as snow. 1921: An Awful Night. Quite so. 1921: What a Night! Exactly. 1933: A Moral Crime. It was! 1959: Dreadful Night. Precisely! 1959: Oh, Yes! Oh, No! 1965: Wham! Ouch! 1973: Smile, Smile, Smile. I Didn’t, I Didn’t, I Didn’t. 1979: The Cupboard. Bare.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. The discussion begins with compact reviews of a poem and a book.
Wolcott Gibbs? Alexander Woollcott? Else Rempel? Thomas Vinciguerra? Guinness Book of World Records? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I love stories about funny theatrical reviews. A prominent critic once attended a performance of a show called “Wham!” and published the amusingly concise evaluation “Ouch!”
This pithy critique has been attributed to Wolcott Gibbs and Alexander Woollcott who both wrote for “The New Yorker” magazine. Yet, I suspect that this anecdote is fictitious. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The Internet Broadway Database (IBDB) provides no matches for “Wham!” which reduces the credibility of the tale. Alexander Woollcott died in 1943, and Wolcott Gibbs died in 1958.
The earliest match found by QI appeared in “The Edmonton Journal” of Alberta, Canada in 1965 within a column titled “Else Rempel’s Edmonton Notebook” which printed the following short item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1965 January 14, The Edmonton Journal, Else Rempel’s Edmonton Notebook: For What It’s Worth, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
For What It’s Worth
The shortest criticism in theatrical history was made by drama critic Wolcott Gibbs when he reviewed a farce called Wham! Gibbs’ only comment was “Ouch!”
This anecdote was doubted by journalist Thomas Vinciguerra who was knowledgeable on this topic. He compiled and published the collection “Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker”. Vinciguerra said the following about Gibbs during an interview in 2011:Website: The New Yorker, Interview title: Q. & A. Thomas Vinciguerra on Wolcott Gibbs, Interviewer name: Jon Michaud, Date on website: October 10, 2011, Website description: Essays, commentary, … Continue reading
I first heard of him at age twelve, when I came across him in “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The editors said that the world’s shortest piece of criticism had been “attributed” to him. Supposedly, in reviewing a farce called “Wham!” Gibbs wrote the single-word response “Ouch!” I thought the comment was hilarious, and that Gibbs’s name sounded owlish and prickly—both of which, I later discovered, he was. It didn’t even matter that the review turned out to be apocryphal.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Website: The New Yorker, Interview title: Q. & A. Thomas Vinciguerra on Wolcott Gibbs, Interviewer name: Jon Michaud, Date on website: October 10, 2011, Website description: Essays, commentary, fiction, and cartoons. (Accessed newyorker.com on February 4, 2022) link