Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:

Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.

This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.

“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.

The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

You May Tell the Butcher’s Wife that Lady Peel Has Finished

Beatrice Lillie? Apocryphal?

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Dear Quote Investigator: The story of a snobbish person experiencing a comeuppance has been the template of many entertaining and satisfying anecdotes. Are you familiar with the tale of the actress Beatrice Lillie and the imperious wife of a wealthy Chicago meat-packer? Was this incident genuine or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: Beatrice Lillie was a popular performer on stage and screen in Britain and United States. She married Sir Robert Peel in 1920, and thus on appropriate formal occasions the name Lady Peel was applicable.

The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in 1931. Lillie and two members of her theatrical group visited a Chicago dress shop for a fitting according to Winchell. The “wife of a stock yard prince” became unhappy when she entered the fitting room. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Oh,” she oh’d haughtily. “I did not know show girls were here for a fitting or I would certainly have made my appointment for some other time.”

La Lil’e burned up, but went in for her fitting. As she ankled out of the shop, she meowed within the haughty one’s hearing: “Tell the butcher’s wife that Lady Peel has been fitted and she may go in now.”

Several different versions of this story began to circulate during the following decades. The last name of the meat-packer’s wife was not specified by Winchell, but other anecdotes mentioned both Armour and Swift. Beatrice Lillie recounted the tale in her 1972 autobiography “Every Other Inch a Lady”, and the details for this important instance are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You May Tell the Butcher’s Wife that Lady Peel Has Finished

Notes:

  1. 1931 December 18, The Scranton Republican, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)