Nothing But Good Should Be Said of the Dead — He’s Dead. Good

Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley? Bette Davis? Joan Crawford? Craig Russell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Two stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age were combative rivals. When one died the other said something like the following:

I was taught that you shouldn’t speak of the dead unless you have something good to say. Therefore, I will only say this, ‘She’s dead at last, good!’

This quip has been attributed to Bette Davis who supposedly was commenting on the demise of Joan Crawford. Yet, the joke may have been in circulation earlier. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in June 1971. The comedian Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley received credit for a version of the joke in the “Philadelphia Daily News” of Pennsylvania. A columnist stated that Mabley was in town to tape a syndicated television talk show. She aimed the barb at her former husband: 1

Miss Mabley thinks people should marry only for love. She says her father forced her to marry an older man when she was only a child. “It was a miserable marriage,” she said. “But he’s dead, thank goodness. I was always taught never to say anything about the dead unless it’s good. He’s dead. Good!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing But Good Should Be Said of the Dead — He’s Dead. Good

Notes:

  1. 1971 June 17, Philadelphia Daily News, Cherry Hill scene of ‘Tony rewards’ by Charles Petzold, Quote Page 29, Column 5, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Bette Davis? Ruth S. Hain? Malcolm Forbes? John S. Whelan? Paul Newman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One grows in wisdom as the decades accumulate, but the challenges to health and intellect also increase. Here are four versions of a spirited adage:

  • Old age is no place for sissies.
  • Getting old is not for sissies.
  • Aging is not for wimps.
  • Gettin’ old ain’t for wimps.

In this context, the words sissy and wimp refer to a weak or cowardly person. This adage has been credited to Academy Award winning actress Bette Davis. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine of April 1968 within a section called “Life in These United States” which printed vignettes contributed by readers. A piece from Ruth S. Hain of Castro Valley, California described a group of elderly friends who gathered together and shared tales of arthritic joints and hardening arteries. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

. . . one old gentleman detailed his stomach distress—all with considerable general comment. “Well, it just proves one thing, Hilda,” one woman finally said to her neighbor. “Old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

The guidelines published in “Reader’s Digest” state that vignettes submitted to the periodical “must be true, unpublished stories from your own experience”. 2 QI conjectures that the punchline was crafted by the anonymous discussion participant above and popularized by Hain although it remains possible that Hain was recycling a pre-existing quip.

There is good evidence that Bette Davis owned a pillow with the slogan: Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies. Yet, the supporting citations appeared years after the saying was already in circulation. See further below for details.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Notes:

  1. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Life in These United States, Start Page 81, Quote Page 82, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  2. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Have You An Amusing Anecdote—An Unusual Story?, Quote Page 12, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)

To Fulfill a Dream, To Be Allowed to Sweat over Lovely Labor, To Be Given the Chance To Create, Is the Meat and Potatoes of Life. The Money Is the Gravy

Bette Davis? Richard Branson? Apocryphal?

voyager08Dear Quote Investigator: In 2014 Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, wrote an essay discussing some of his favorite quotations. One motivational remark about creating and fulfilling a dream was attributed to the Hollywood star Bette Davis. 1 Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please tell me where it is was published?

Quote Investigator: Some fortunate individuals in our society acquire great wealth during youth or middle age. A sybaritic life of indolence and decadence must be a temptation for a large number of pecunious people. Yet, many continue to work hard for decades.

The acclaimed actress Bette Davis was highly-paid during her long career. The following illuminating passage about her desires appeared in her 1962 autobiography titled “The Lonely Life”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

To survive and to prosper doing what one wants is the dreamiest of lives. To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lovely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To Fulfill a Dream, To Be Allowed to Sweat over Lovely Labor, To Be Given the Chance To Create, Is the Meat and Potatoes of Life. The Money Is the Gravy

Notes:

  1. Website: Virgin Group, Article title: My three favourite quotes on imagination, Article author: Richard Branson, Date on website: October 13, 2014, Website description: Information about the Virgin Group and postings by the founder Richard Branson, (Accessed virgin.com on February 11, 2015) link
  2. 1962, The Lonely Life: An Autobiography by Bette Davis, Chapter 13, Quote Page 190, Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)

She’s the Original Good Time That’s Been Had By All

Bette Davis? Leonora Corbett? Kenneth Tynan? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the following catty quotation that was said by one Hollywood actor or actress about another performer who had allegedly slept her way to success:

She’s the original good time that’s been had by all.

Can you tell me who said this and who was the target of the gibe?

Quote Investigator: This wordplay joke is based on a comical modification of a traditional expression of enthusiasm: A good time was had by all. The jest is often attributed to the famous film star Bette Davis and sometimes to the influential English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.

But neither is credited in the earliest instance of this quip located by QI which was published in a 1946 book by the prominent gossip columnist Earl Wilson. The actress who delivered the barb appeared in multiple films in the 1930s and 1940s but is not well known today. The target of her ire was unidentified [EWLC]:

The tallish, beautiful actress, Leonora Corbett, can also claw with her painted lips. Seeing a reputedly loose woman waggling past, Miss Corbett remarked, “There goes the original good time that’s been had by all.” Of an actress whose ability was said by everybody to be less than negative, Miss Corbett said, “She has more talent to the square head than anybody I know.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading She’s the Original Good Time That’s Been Had By All