Alexander Woollcott? Karl Harriman? Marie Belloc-Lowndes? Nancy Vincent McClelland? Kenneth Herford?
Dear Quote Investigator: I recently watched an excellent British film from the 1950s called “So Long at the Fair” and was fascinated by the plot [SLW] [SLI]. When I searched the net I discovered that I was not the only person intrigued by the story. It is a famous contemporary legend under the name “The Vanishing Lady” and “The Vanishing Hotel Room”. The central plot existed several decades before the film was made, and the tale is so compelling that it has been retold many times.
The great Snopes website that specializes in urban legends has a page dedicated to the yarn [VLSN]. Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel The End of Her Honeymoon contains the tale. Ernest Hemingway told a version in his 1926 work The Torrent of Spring. The anthology series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” televised the story in 1955. In 2002 the plot was recounted as a “true story” on the TV program Beyond Belief
I was hoping that you would be able to follow the evidence uncovered by Alexander Woollcott the famed writer for The New Yorker magazine. He composed his own account of the legend for the “Shouts and Murmurs” section of the periodical in the 1920s, and he then attempted to track down the origin. He found a very important clue that he described in his book While Rome Burns [WRB]:
… the entire story had been dashed off by Karl Harriman one hot summer night in 1889 to fill a vacant column in the next morning’s issue of the Detroit Free Press.
Unfortunately, no one has ever found this article in the Detroit Free Press. Does this article really exist? I know that you usually investigate quotations and not legends, but maybe the research techniques that you use could be employed to help solve this mystery.
Quote Investigator: The trail of clues offered by Woollcott is somewhat cold since his book was published in 1934. Yet, QI is captivated by this question and will try to discover something for you. But perhaps this task is too large for QI alone.
The brilliant urban-legend researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake and QI worked together on this difficult investigation. She is an expert in this area and had already made progress on this puzzle when QI joined her.
The earliest instance of the legend located by Taylor-Blake and QI was not written by Karl Harriman.
Continue reading Legend: The Vanishing Lady and the Vanishing Hotel Room
Oscar Levant? Ed Gardner? Henry Morgan?
Dear Quote Investigator: Every time I hear Hollywood referred to as Tinseltown it reminds me of the following quote:
Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you find the real tinsel underneath.
I have read this phrase in several places but was unsure who first created it. The internet quotation databases I consulted all point to the pianist, actor, and wit Oscar Levant as the originator, but I decided to do a deeper search emulating the QI-style! Now, I think the joke was created by Henry Morgan who was a radio comedian in the 1940s. What do you think? Will you investigate this clever remark?
Quote Investigator: Congratulations on your diligence in discovering the name Henry Morgan as a possible originator. There are citations in 1949 and the 1950s that credit Henry Morgan with a version of the joke. So, he may be the inventor; however, the earliest cite QI has discovered attributes the witticism to another individual, namely Ed Gardner who was a radio show writer and actor in the 1940s. The joke is ascribed to Gardner by the famous Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1947 [EGLA].
Continue reading Beneath the Phony Tinsel of Hollywood You’ll Find the Real Tinsel
Benjamin Disraeli? Washington Irving?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I was reading the top-selling book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” and encountered this sentence:
Nero did not read novels—”Novels are fun to write, not read,” he claimed.
I was certain that I had read something similar before. After thinking a few minutes I recalled the following quotation:
When I want to read a novel, I write one.
This does differ from the words in the Black Swan, but the association in my mind was strong. When I searched for this phrase online I found the saying attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, but I have not seen any solid citations. Could you investigate this?
Quote Investigator: The earliest version of this humorous and imperious statement that QI has located uses the word “book” instead of “novel” and is indeed attributed to Benjamin Disraeli in 1868:
When I want to read a book, I write one.
Another entertaining and more modest viewpoint concerning reading and writing books is expressed by the prominent American author Washington Irving in 1824. At the beginning of “Tales of a Traveller” Irving writes a section “To the Reader” using his Geoffrey Crayon persona:
I tried to read, but my mind would not fix itself; I turned over volume after volume, but threw them by with distaste: “Well, then,” said I at length in despair, “if I cannot read a book, I will write one.” Never was there a more lucky idea; it at once gave me occupation and amusement.
Of course, this is a distinct motto; QI includes it as an engaging counterpoint. Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading When I Want to Read a Book, I Write One
Groucho Marx? Jim Brewer ? Mary Stuart? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: You have researched some quotes credited to Groucho Marx, so I am hoping that you will be able to look into a saying that interests me. I work in a library and have long enjoyed the following quip:
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
I have seen it on websites associated with libraries where the saying is credited to Groucho. Is this attribution accurate?
Quote Investigator: The earliest attribution to Groucho that QI has located occurred in 1974 at a museum exhibit celebrating words and reading. But the provenance of the quip can be traced further back to the 1950s. Top-notch researcher, John Baker, located the earliest known instance of this joke in an issue of Boys’ Life magazine dated 1954. In this initial appearance the quip is credited to Jim Brewer and not to Groucho Marx.
Continue reading Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man’s Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read
Christopher Columbus? Larry Ferguson? John McTiernan?
Dear Quote Investigator: One of the best action-adventure films of the 1990s in my opinion is “The Hunt for Red October” which largely takes place on three submarines. The movie ends with a poignant quotation due to Christopher Columbus that is delivered by screen virtuoso Sean Connery. Captain Marko Ramius played by Connery is about to start a life in a new country and he says:
And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home: Christopher Columbus.
This quote is listed in several online databases. However, I have looked through many of the original Columbus documents online in English and in Spanish and I cannot find this saying. Could you investigate whether Columbus really said or wrote these words? Also, what was the larger context for this saying?
Quote Investigator: Thanks for this interesting question. QI investigates quotations in the English language but will attempt to trace this saying for you.
“The Hunt for Red October” is a popular movie, and the quotation at the end appears in some non-fiction texts, e.g., a book in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series where it is attributed to Christopher Columbus. T-shirts and mugs with the saying emblazoned and credited to Columbus can also be purchased. Yet, the questioner’s inability to find the quote in original manuscripts is understandable.
The movie is a product of the Hollywood studio system. The submarine warfare shown in the film was created using elaborate special effects. It turns out that this quotation also is a special effect crafted by a screenwriter in Hollywood. The words were never uttered or written by Christopher Columbus.
Continue reading And the Sea Will Grant Each Man New Hope, As Sleep Brings Dreams of Home
Ira Hayes? James Bradley? John Bradley? Rene Gagnon? Fictionalized?
Dear Quote Investigator: One of the men who appeared in the famous flag-raising photograph taken on Iwo Jima during WWII was invited to the White House when he returned to the United States. The following 2005 news article describes a heart-rending comment that was supposedly said by that soldier, Ira Hayes [LBH]:
When Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, called Hayes a hero, the Marine said, “How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived, when only 27 men in my company of 250 managed to escape death or injury?”
I find it hard to believe that a quotation like this would be reported in the 1940s. Perhaps a newspaper during the Vietnam War or the Korean War would publish a quote like this, but times were different during World War 2. When Hayes visited the White House the Allies were still at war with Japan and an invasion of Japan with horrible attrition was thought to be imminent.
A very similar quote did appear in the bestselling book “Flags of Our Fathers” of 2000 that was later made into a movie, but the book does not claim that the words were said at the White House. Perhaps Ira Hayes said it many years after the war or maybe it is a summary of thoughts he expressed to friends. Could you determine if this quotation is accurate?
Quote Investigator: This is a fascinating question that QI will be happy to explore for you. Remarkably, the Boston Daily Globe of May 14, 1945 contains an article in which Ira Hayes is quoted saying words nearly identical to the ones given above [BDG]. The event described in the article is not a visit to the White House. Instead, it is a rally in Boston at which three of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers appeared. (Thanks to top researcher Joel S. Berson for verifying this citation on microfilm.)
Continue reading How Could I Feel Like a Hero When Only Five Men in My Platoon of 45 Survived?
James Michener? Zen Buddhist saying? L.P. Jacks?
Dear Quote Investigator: I have been deeply moved by an inspirational passage that I thought was written by a Zen Buddhist master:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.
However, when I recently searched the internet to locate the name of the Zen master I was shocked to find that the words were attributed to the late author James Michener whose fame was based on writing fat tomes that became bestsellers.
Michener did win a Pulitzer Prize and I do not wish to disparage his work but when I think of a spiritual guide I envision someone different. Could you look into this quote and determine who really created it?
Quote Investigator: There is no compelling evidence that this quote was crafted by Michener. Nor is there evidence of a Zen Buddhist origin. The spiritual tradition of the creator of the passage is Unitarian. Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, an educator and Unitarian minister who is pictured in the center image above, crafted the quotation and used it in a book he authored in the 1930s. His name is often abbreviated as L. P. Jacks.
Continue reading A Master in the Art of Living Makes Little Distinction Between His Work and His Play
Dorothy Parker? Robert Benchley? Frank Sullivan?
Dear Quote Investigator: The writer Dorothy Parker was famous for her clever and barbed witticisms. Her remarks were often aimed at others, but sometimes she laughed at herself with a self-deprecating comment. I particularly enjoy the statement she made when asked about her fame:
Yes, I once was the toast of two continents: Greenland and Australia.
I laughed when I heard this, but then I began to wonder. Greenland is not really a continent, and Parker must have known this fact. Maybe this picayune detail is irrelevant, but maybe it shows that this quote is a fake. Perhaps Dorothy Parker never said it. Would you please investigate this quote?
Quote Investigator: Yes, QI will examine this saying for you. It is true that Greenland is not a continent, but it is the largest island that is not a continent, and QI still thinks that the joke is funny. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Parker originally told a different version of this joke. Specifically, Parker is quoted in 1956 stating that she was the toast of two continents. But the two continents that she names differ from the two geographical regions mentioned in the quotation above.
Continue reading I was the Toast of Two Continents: Greenland and Australia
Gary Player? Arnold Palmer? Jerry Barber? Jack Youngblood? Lee Trevino? Ethel Merman? L. Frank Baum?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am a fan of the golfing legend Gary Player, and the Wikipedia article about him says he: “Coined one of the most quoted aphorisms of post-War sport”:
The harder you practice, the luckier you get.
Is that true? Which golfer said it first? Was it Arnold Palmer?
Quote Investigator: Gary Player is a very fine golfer, but he is not responsible for this well-known maxim. The best evidence that he did not coin the adage is in a book written by Player himself in 1962 where he credits the aphorism to fellow golfer Jerry Barber. Before discussing that book QI will review support for Player and some other claimants to the phrase. The earliest instance of the expression found by QI that uses the word “practice” is not from a golfer. It appears in a memoir published in 1961 by a soldier of fortune during the Cuban revolution.
The saying is a popular motto and different versions can be grouped together in a family that stretches back to before 1900. Here are some examples:
The harder I practice, the luckier I get
The more I practice, the luckier I get.
The more they put out, the more luck they have.
The harder he works, the luckier he gets.
The more you know, the more luck you have.
Continue reading The Harder I Practice, the Luckier I Get
Enrico Fermi? Bernt Øksendal? Earl C. Kelley?
Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation should resonate with anyone who has tried to master a difficult subject:
We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.
I first saw it several years ago, but I cannot remember where. So I searched for it on the internet and discovered a reference to a math textbook: Stochastic Differential Equations. The information provided about the provenance of the quote is very limited [SDE]:
Posted outside the mathematics reading room, Tromsø University
Could you find out where this quotation came from?
Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this humorous quote located by QI is in a book for teachers about workshops and the educational process. The 1951 volume is titled “The Workshop Way of Learning”, and it discusses a long-running series of workshops. The passage in the book has been streamlined over the years to yield the modern version. (Thanks to top-notch urban-legend researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake for verifying the citation on paper.)
Continue reading Confused on a Higher Level and About More Important Things