George Bernard Shaw? Blanche Patch? Archibald Henderson? Bennett Cerf? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: A visitor to the home of a famous wit expected to find vases filled with beautiful cut flowers, but there were none. The wit explained the absence by making a comically grotesque comparison between cut flowers and decapitated people. Would you please help me to identify the humorist and find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1899 within the London journal “The Garden” which published a short item crediting Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw with the joke. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1899 May 20, The Garden: Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in All Its Branches, Volume 55, Number 1435, The New Style, Quote Page 358, Column 1, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link
Mr. G. Bernard Shaw on flowers is—well, he is Mr. G. Bernard Shaw, just as he is on the drama and things generally. As thus: “A well-balanced mind has no favourites. People who have a favourite flower generally cut off its head and stick it into a button-hole or a vase. I wonder they do not do the same to their favourite children. It is a crime to pluck a flower. I dislike formal gardens. At any given moment two thirds of its blossoms are dead.
The journal did not specify the source of this tale. Shaw received credit for variations of this quip in later years.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Cedric Hardwicke? Blanche Patch? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: According to a Hollywood legend, a famous intellectual or statesman once praised a prominent actor with a left-handed compliment. Here are two versions:
You are my fifth favorite actor. The first four are the Marx Brothers.
You are my fourth favorite actor. The first three are the Marx Brothers.
The famous person was supposedly George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill. The actor was the English star of the stage and screen Cedric Hardwicke. Would you please explore this entertaining tale?
Quote Investigator: Five Marx brothers were involved in the entertainment business; they employed the following stage names: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, and Gummo. The first four appeared in several movies together, but only the first three achieved stardom.
The earliest strong match for the anecdote located by QI appeared in the Hollywood gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1946. The quotation emerged via a dialog. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1946 March 14, The Dayton Daily News, The Lyons Den: Pauley Turns Ickes Photo To the Wall by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
Sir Cedric Hardwicke, now, co-starring with Katharine Cornell in “Antigone,” starred in some of Shaw’s plays in London. Shaw once told him: “Cedric, you are my fourth favorite actor.” Hardwicke asked: “G. B. S., who are the other three?” And Shaw replied: “The Marx Bros.”
This version referred to three Marx Brothers instead of four. Lyons indicated that he heard the anecdote from Hardwicke, and QI conjectures that Hardwicke constructed this humorous story by altering a comment made by Shaw. This conjecture is based on the 1951 citation given immediately below and the April 17, 1959 citation given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.