Tony Curtis? Fictional?
Dear Quote Investigator: Tony Curtis was a wonderful actor, and I was saddened when he passed away in 2010. For years I have wondered about a quotation that he supposedly said. The story goes that he was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe and he said:
Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.
This is bizarre. I don’t believe it. Why would he say it? Could you help with this question?
Quote Investigator: There is considerable evidence that Curtis did utter these words and in his later life he did acknowledge that the words were his. The rationale behind the quotation is more complicated and Curtis gave more than one explanation.
In 1959 Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe worked together in the very popular classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” directed by Billy Wilder. Monroe was a glamorous icon in 1959, and the film contained a kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe. Curtis says he was asked repeatedly what it was like to kiss the leading screen siren of the age, and finally in exasperation he replied sarcastically that it was like kissing Hitler. He simply wanted to end the questioning with a joke. He really thought she was a great kisser, and people misunderstood the quote. That is one explanation he has given.
Another explanation is given in press accounts from the 1960s that state Curtis was very angry with Monroe because of her actions during filming which reportedly were irresponsible and self-centered. She refused to follow schedules and required a large number of retakes because she would not say her lines properly. These difficulties precipitated his comment about kissing Monroe. Curtis was simply expressing his extreme irritation.
Continue reading Kissing Marilyn Monroe is Like Kissing Hitler
Groucho Marx? Walter Winchell? George S. Kaufman? George Jean Nathan?
Dear Quote Investigator: When a friend asked me my opinion of a terrible play that I saw recently I answered:
I did not like it, but perhaps this judgment is unfair. I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.
Eventually she coaxed me into admitting that this joke is from Groucho Marx. However, my memory is imperfect so I decided to check with a Google search, and I found that a playwright named George S. Kaufman is also listed as the originator. Could you determine if this is a real Groucho quote or a fake one? Also, can you ascertain which show was being ridiculed?
Quote Investigator: Evidence indicates that Groucho did utter a version of this quote in 1931 to Walter Winchell who promptly reported it in his widely-read and highly-influential newspaper column. The confusion about the attribution arises because Groucho gave credit to the playwright and humorist George S. Kaufman for the quip when he told it to Winchell. In fact, the initial newspaper report in 1931 mentions only Kaufman’s name.
The target of the jest was a show called “Vanities” by the major Broadway producer Earl Carroll, and he was not happy to hear the mocking comment. His anger was primarily directed at Winchell, but there were repercussions over a period of years including: strained relationships, publicly traded insults, and a theater attendance ban.
Continue reading Theatrical Review: I Saw It Under Adverse Conditions. The Curtain Was Up
Mark Twain? Grant Allen?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am still in school and that is probably why the following quote attributed to Mark Twain appeals to me so much:
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Your blog posts about Twain quotations reveal that the information on the internet about what he said or did not say is sometimes unreliable. I hope this motto is genuine. Can you figure out who said it?
Quote Investigator: The earliest known attribution of a version of this quote to Twain occurred in 1907 [OMT]. However, QI believes that credit for this saying should go to the controversial novelist and essayist Grant Allen who published a variant in 1894. Indeed, Grant Allen was so enamored with the maxim that schooling interfered with education that he presented it in an essay and then restated it within at least three of his novels. The four works were published in: 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1899.
Continue reading Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education
Evan Esar? Jan Harold Brunvand? Bennett Cerf?
Dear Quote Investigator: I was speaking with a friend about all the misinformation and misattributions in the world of quotations, and he said that he was familiar with this phenomenon of unreliability because he enjoys reading about urban-legends. He also gave his own quotation on this theme which he thinks might be from the urban-legend specialist Jan Harold Brunvand. The quote is a facetious definition:
Anecdote: A revealing account of an incident that never occurred in the life of some celebrity.
We both would like you to investigate this funny saying.
Quote Investigator: QI will be happy to try and trace this humorous description for you. Jan Harold Brunvand did include a variant of this quote in an article he wrote in 1991, but he did not take credit for it. The words are sometimes attributed to the humorist and quotation collector Evan Esar.
QI could weave an entertaining story about the precise circumstances that caused Esar to create this jest. But he won’t because the tale would just be another imagined anecdote of the type mentioned above since Esar did not craft the quotation nor did he claim to have done so. The earliest instance of this remark that QI has found is dated 1912, and the words have no attribution. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.
Continue reading Definition: Anecdote – A Revealing Account of an Incident That Never Occurred in the Life of Some Famous Person
Wilson Mizner? Steven Wright? Wallace Notestein? Ralph Foss? Joseph Cummings Chase? Asa George Baker? Leslie Henson? Tom Lehrer? Bob Oliver? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Some of the websites I come across seem to produce their content by using cut and paste. They do not even bother to collect information from multiple sources. I am reminded of a very funny one-liner:
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.
In recent times these words have been credited to the brilliantly out-of-kilter comedian Steven Wright, but I have also seen the quip attributed to the playwright and confidence man Wilson Mizner. Could you investigate this saying?
Quote Investigator: An enjoyable precursor of the expression was printed in 1820. In the following humorous statement from Reverend Charles Caleb Colton the era of the material being appropriated was considered decisive. Thanks to a commenter named Jutta for pointing out this citation:
If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will cried up as erudition.
The earliest strong match identified by QI appeared in November 1929 within a newsletter of the U.S. Forestry Service in California. Wallace Notestein, a Professor of English History at Yale University, received credit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
WHAT IS RESEARCH?
To Prof. Notestein of the Yale faculty is attributed the following definition for research: “If you copy from one book, that’s plagiarism; if you copy from many books, that’s research.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research
Dorothy Parker? Punch Humor Magazine? Sally’s Sallies Comic Strip? Ann Landers?
Dear Quote Investigator: Previously you discussed a quote of Dorothy Parker’s which was self-critical, but she also directed her barbs at others. Here is an example [LWO]:
When a garrulous old battle-ax was praised as “outspoken,” Mrs. Parker raised an eyebrow to take dead aim: “Outspoken? By whom?”
I would like to know if Parker really said this, and if she did who was the “battle-ax”? Could you trace this quotation?
Quote Investigator: Yes, QI will attempt to locate examples of this quip, but the targets of witty remarks sometimes remain anonymous in newspaper accounts.
QI has found citations for this word-play joke that show it is more than one-hundred years old. Thus, it predates the seminal Algonquin Round table period. The quip is first attributed to Dorothy Parker on or before 1944. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.
Continue reading “Our host certainly is outspoken.” “Outspoken by whom?”
Mark Twain? James Montgomery Flagg? William Dean Howells?
Dear Quote Investigator: When I discovered your blog I knew just the right word to describe it: Quotesmanship. That word was used in the New York Times in 1980 to describe the desire to determine and use correct attributions for quotations [NYQM]. The author of the Quotesmanship article was proud of his ability to properly give credit for quotations, but there was one saying attributed to Mark Twain that confounded him:
And nowhere to be found (by me, at least) is the dandy one that goes: “I would rather go to bed with Lillian Russell stark naked than with Ulysses S. Grant in full military regalia.”
I doubt you will be able to find these words in the corpus of Mark Twain either, but maybe you will be able to trace it to someone else. Could you give it a try?
Quote Investigator: This quote is rather risqué for the time period of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, QI will attempt to discover something for you.
Lillian Russell was one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century. But the evidence located by QI indicates that the saying initially referred to another glamorous lady of the stage named Adelina Patti. She was an operatic superstar in the 19th century and Twain reportedly attended at least one of her performances.
Remarkably, the private notebooks of Mark Twain contain a passage about Patti written between 1889 and 1890 that is a variant of the quotation under investigation. In addition, an autobiography by the prominent illustrator James Montgomery Flagg who knew Twain personally includes an anecdote in which Twain is overheard telling the quip to a companion while attending an opera performance by the selfsame Adelina Patti.
Continue reading I Would Rather Go To Bed With That Woman Stark Naked Than With Ulysses S. Grant in Full Military Regalia
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