Nothing Succeeds Like Undress

Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde? Alexandre Dumas? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While streaming an elaborately expensive television series I encountered a gratuitous scene with scanty clothing. I was reminded of this witticism: Nothing succeeds like undress.

This quip has been attributed to Dorothy Parker. Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in January 1906 in a New Castle, Pennsylvania newspaper within a column featuring miscellaneous comical remarks. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1906 January 1, New Castle Herald, Scissorings, Quote Page 6, Column 5, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Motto for Ladies at the Opera—Nothing succeeds like undress.—Town Topics.

Thus, the creator was anonymous. Dorothy Parker used this quip in 1918 after it was already in circulation. Here is an overview with dates of the pertinent family of sayings:

1827: Rien ne réussit comme un succès.(Jacques-François Ancelot)

1847 Nov: Nothing succeeds like success. (English translation of Alexandre Dumas)

1893: Nothing succeeds like excess. (Oscar Wilde)

1904 Mar: Nothing recedes like success. (Anonymous)

1904 Nov: Nothing recedes like ex-success. (Duncan M. Smith)

1906 Jan: Nothing succeeds like undress. (Anonymous)

1918 Apr: Nothing succeeds like undress. (Dorothy Parker)

A separate Quote Investigator article centered on the saying “Nothing succeeds like success” is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Succeeds Like Undress

References

References
1 1906 January 1, New Castle Herald, Scissorings, Quote Page 6, Column 5, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

I Require Only Three Things of a Man. He Must Be Handsome, Ruthless, and Stupid

Dorothy Parker? John Keats? Richard L. Jenkins? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A prominent witty woman once described three qualities she desired in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid. This viewpoint has been ascribed to poet and critic Dorothy Parker. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker died in 1967. The earliest match for this expression known to QI appeared in the 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 2, Section 4, Quote Page 105, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

She decided to give life another chance. “Into love and out again/Thus I went and thus I go,” she said, and so it was with her. She would give love another chance, too, but this time on her own terms.

“I require only three things of a man,” she said. “He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”

The first quotation above concerning love is from the eight-line poem “Theory” which appeared in Parker’s 1928 collection “Sunset Gun”.[2] 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun, Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Theory, Quote Page 64, (Published in 1928 by Horace Liveright), The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

The second quotation about Parker’s three requirements has not been antedated, and John Keats did not provide a citation. Nevertheless, researchers find the attribution credible.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Require Only Three Things of a Man. He Must Be Handsome, Ruthless, and Stupid

References

References
1 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 2, Section 4, Quote Page 105, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
2 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun, Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Theory, Quote Page 64, (Published in 1928 by Horace Liveright), The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

She is Happy, For She Knows That Her Dust Is Very Pretty

Dorothy Parker? Franklin Pierce Adams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker constructed several epitaphs. I am interested in the following:

She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.

This topic is confusing because I’ve also seen a different version of these lines:

She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very charming.

Did Parker craft either of these? Does either appear on her headstone?

Quote Investigator: QI has examined several other epitaphs that have been attributed to Dorothy Parker. Here is a link to a webpage with pointers to the separate analyses.

Dorothy Parker died in 1967. Her last will and testament did not specify where she wished her remains to rest. Her parents and grandparents were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. In 2021 living family members in conjunction with fans and supporters agreed to place Parker’s ashes in Woodlawn Cemetery and to install a headstone. The marker was inscribed with her name, her birth year, her death year, and an epigraph.[1] 2021 August 26, The New York Times (Online), 54 Years Late, Dorothy Parker Finally Gets a Tombstone by Robert Simonson, No Page Number Specified, New York. (ProQuest)

The four line verse on the monument was selected by Parker’s relatives and supporters. The words originally appeared as the final stanza of Parker’s poem “Epitaph for a Darling Lady” which was published in her 1926 collection “Enough Rope”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[2] 1926 Copyright, Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Epitaph for a Darling Lady, Quote Page 27, Horace Liveright, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Epitaph for a Darling Lady

All her hours were yellow sands,
Blown in foolish whorls and tassels
Slipping warmly through her hands;
Patted into little castles.

Shiny day on shiny day
Tumble in a rainbow clutter,
As she flipped them all away.
Sent them spinning down the gutter.

Leave for her a red young rose.
Go your way, and save your pity;
She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading She is Happy, For She Knows That Her Dust Is Very Pretty

References

References
1 2021 August 26, The New York Times (Online), 54 Years Late, Dorothy Parker Finally Gets a Tombstone by Robert Simonson, No Page Number Specified, New York. (ProQuest)
2 1926 Copyright, Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Epitaph for a Darling Lady, Quote Page 27, Horace Liveright, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Love Is a Thing That Can Never Go Wrong; And I Am Marie of Romania

Dorothy Parker? Franklin Pierce Adams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker once penned an entertaining poem which rhymed “Romania” and “extemporanea”. Would you please help me to find a citation for this poem?

Quote Investigator: In 1926 Dorothy Parker published the poetry collection “Enough Rope”. The rhyme was contained in a four-line verse titled “Comment”. Parker spelled “Romania” as “Roumania”:[1] 1926 Copyright, Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Comment, Quote Page 55, Horace Liveright, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Love Is a Thing That Can Never Go Wrong; And I Am Marie of Romania

References

References
1 1926 Copyright, Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Comment, Quote Page 55, Horace Liveright, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Sliding Down a Barrister

Dorothy Parker? Mae West? Alexander Woollcott? A. E. Mortimer? Mark Barron? Meyer Levin? Billy Boner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. poet and wit Dorothy Parker has received credit for scandalous wordplay based on the following phrases:

Sliding down a banister
Sliding down a barrister

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared within a January 1933 column published in the “Daily News” of New York City which paid teachers for comical items inadvertently penned by students:[1] 1933 January 18, Daily News, $2 for Classroom Boners, Quote Page 26, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The News will pay $2 for every Classroom Boner published.
A Boner is a humorous expression found in examination papers, etc., by school teachers. Boners must be original. And they must be funny.

A correspondent from Long Island supplied the following item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

Billy has a bad habit of sliding down the barristers.
Mrs. A. E. MORTIMER.
88-24 189th St., Hollis, L. I.

In June 1933 gossip columnist Mark Barron attributed an instance to Dorothy Parker:[2] 1933 June 12, The Wilkes-Barre Record, A New Yorker At Large by Mark Barron, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

This time she doesn’t plan to drop in on London. “The last time I was in England,” she quipped, “I spent the whole time sliding down barristers.”

In 1934 critic and radio broadcaster Alexander Woollcott published the book “While Rome Burns” which included a chapter about Dorothy Parker containing a different instance of the joke:[3] 1934, While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter: Some Neighbors: IV: Our Mrs. Parker, Quote Page 149, Viking Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Then I remember her comment on one friend who had lamed herself while in London. It was Mrs. Parker who voiced the suspicion that this poor lady had injured herself while sliding down a barrister.

The above three citations are closely grouped in time; hence, the precise chronology of the wordplay is difficult to discern. Woollcott’s book chapter appeared in preliminary form in an article titled “Our Mrs. Parker” published in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine in August 1933, but Woollcott did not include the quip in the article.[4]1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, (The target … Continue reading

Here are three hypotheses. One: The wordplay began as a humorous error made by a student which was relayed to the “Daily News”. Dorothy Parker heard the remark, and she employed it. Her prominence caused the quip to be reassigned to her.

Two: The wordplay appeared in the “Daily News”. Dorothy Parker never used the remark, but a columnist or agent decided to reassign it to her because she was a well-known wit. Different versions were assigned to Parker.

Three: Parker crafted the wordplay before 1933. Perhaps she used it during the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s. Because the quip was somewhat risqué it did not immediately appear in newspapers or magazines although it did circulate. Finally, in 1933 it emerged with an attribution to an anonymous student and to Parker.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sliding Down a Barrister

References

References
1 1933 January 18, Daily News, $2 for Classroom Boners, Quote Page 26, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)
2 1933 June 12, The Wilkes-Barre Record, A New Yorker At Large by Mark Barron, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
3 1934, While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter: Some Neighbors: IV: Our Mrs. Parker, Quote Page 149, Viking Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
4 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, (The target quotation was absent), International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; great thanks to the Florida librarians)

It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

John Buchan? Elizabeth Murray? Graham Greene? Dorothy Parker? Thomas Carter? H. L. Mencken? Sime Silverman? Karl Braun? Gene Byrnes? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When you face a series of obstacles and successfully persevere you might employ the following saying. Here are three versions:

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a joyful life if you don’t weaken.

Over time the meaning has shifted, and it has become ironic. The Scottish novelist and politician John Buchan often receives credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: John Buchan did use the expression in a 1919 novel. Details are given further below. But Buchan was not the originator.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1908 within an article published in “The Evening Telegram” of Salt Lake City, Utah. Police picked up a man who was acting like a hobo in Provo, Utah. He revealed to the officers that he was a wealthy individual named Thomas Carter, and he told them to contact his banker in Salt Lake City to verify his identity. In the following passage the word “jungle” is slang for a hobo encampment. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

“You see,” he said, “this jungle life is a grand one if you don’t weaken. Talk about experience, why when I get back to the folks I will have had enough experience to fill a molasses barrel. When I get home I will sure have a bigger heart for these fellows you officers term tramps.”

A journalist heard this odd tale and asked Carter about his motivation:

“Well, I’ll tell you I am just paying an election bet. I bet that “Uncle Joe” Cannon would not be re-elected to the house and now I must make good as a hobo for sixty days or forfeit $5000. It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.”

QI tentatively credits Thomas Carter with the saying although there is a substantial probability that the phrase was already in circulation, and future researchers may learn more.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

References

References
1 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

I Drink To Keep Body and Soul Apart

Oscar Wilde? Seamus Heaney? Dorothy Parker? Israel Zangwill? Jen Kirkman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The body and the soul separate at the time of death according to many religious systems. Hence, the idiom “keep body and soul together” refers to maintaining life, i.e., earning enough money to maintain health and activity. The famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde has received credit for a reversal of the idiom. Here are two versions:

(1) I drink to keep body and soul apart.
(2) I drink to separate my body from my soul.

I am skeptical because I have not seen a good citation. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Oscar Wilde. It is not listed in the compendium “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms”.[1]2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (There is no quotation using “body and … Continue reading Also, it does not appear in researcher Ralph Keyes’s collection “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”.[2]1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink / drank” in this book), HarperCollins Publishers, New … Continue reading

Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Boston Globe” in 1981. The newspaper published a profile of Irish poet and translator Seamus Heaney who later received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney told the “Globe” journalist that Wilde crafted the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[3]1981 February 26, The Boston Globe, Poet Seamus Heaney: This most rooted of men, bard of the Irish soul by Shaun O’Connell (Special to The Globe), Quote Page 53, Column 3, Boston, … Continue reading

He is particularly at ease in his own kitchen, brewing a fresh pot of tea, slicing bread for a guest, talking. He is not, I rush to add, exactly uncomfortable hunched over a pint in a pub, talking.

“Do know that Oscar Wilde said he drank to keep body and soul apart? That’s good, isn’t it?”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Drink To Keep Body and Soul Apart

References

References
1 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink” or “drank” in this book), McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)
2 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink / drank” in this book), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
3 1981 February 26, The Boston Globe, Poet Seamus Heaney: This most rooted of men, bard of the Irish soul by Shaun O’Connell (Special to The Globe), Quote Page 53, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

Salary Is No Object; I Want Only Enough To Keep Body and Soul Apart

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Israel Zangwill? Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The body and the soul separate at the time of death according to many religious systems. Hence, the idiom “keep body and soul together” refers to maintaining life, i.e., earning enough money to maintain health and activity. A quipster once reversed this formula and said something like:

I only want enough money to keep body and soul apart.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 poet, critic, and wit Dorothy Parker published a book review in “The New Yorker” magazine which included a comical plea for employment. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1928 February 4, The New Yorker, Reading and Writing: A Good Novel, and a Great Story by Constant Reader (Dorothy Parker), Start Page 74, Quote Page 77, Column 1, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New … Continue reading

And now that this review is over, do you mind if I talk business for a moment? If you yourself haven’t any spare jobs for a retired book-reviewer, maybe some friend of yours might have something. Maybe you wouldn’t mind asking around. Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.

Dorothy Parker deserves credit for the remark immediately above. Yet, this type of joke has a longer history, and an 1891 citation for author Israel Zangwill appears further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Salary Is No Object; I Want Only Enough To Keep Body and Soul Apart

References

References
1 1928 February 4, The New Yorker, Reading and Writing: A Good Novel, and a Great Story by Constant Reader (Dorothy Parker), Start Page 74, Quote Page 77, Column 1, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)

You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin

Babe Paley? Wallis Simpson? Suzy Knickerbocker? Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas Sr.? Gregg Moran? Truman Capote? Dorothy Parker? Joan Rivers? Zenith Carburetor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving wealth and a svelte body have become idealized goals in some cultural milieus. Here are three versions of a pertinent maxim:

  • You can never be too rich or too thin.
  • You can’t be too thin or too rich.
  • A woman can never be too thin or too rich.

As knowledge of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia has grown this saying has become more sinister to some. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the July 1963 issue of the U.S. fashion magazine “Harper’s Bazaar” within an article titled “High Living on Low Calories”. The attribution was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts:[1] 1963 July, Harper’s Bazaar, Volume 96, Issue 3020, High Living on Low Calories, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Hearst Corporation, New York. (ProQuest)

Ponder, now, our week’s worth of diet menus, based on the latter part of that wise old adage, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” High living on low calories, indeed!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin

References

References
1 1963 July, Harper’s Bazaar, Volume 96, Issue 3020, High Living on Low Calories, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Hearst Corporation, New York. (ProQuest)

Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

Dorothy Parker? Jean Kerr? Charles Whitehead? Simon Suggs Jr.? Sam Stackpole? Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? Herbert Spencer? Mort Walker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty is only skin-deep according to an adage that can be traced back to the 1600s. This assertion has inspired a wide variety of twisted reactions and elaborations. Here are three closely related instances:

  • Beauty’s only skin-deep, but ugliness goes to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep and ugly goes clear to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep but ugly goes clean through.

This insight has often been attributed to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1824 “American Farmer” of Baltimore. Maryland published a piece by “A Backwoodsman” about a fictional court case. An instance of the adage appeared together with the phrases “trite saying” and “I have heard it said” signaling familiarity and anonymity. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1824 January 23, American Farmer, Volume 5, Number 44, To the Editor of the American Farmer from A Backwoodsman, Pleas Before the Hon. Chief Justice Rational, In the Vale of Kentucky, Start Page 349, … Continue reading

It is a trite saying that beauty is but skin deep, yet I have heard it said that ugly goes to the bone, and I am sure there is nothing in this doctrine so beautiful as to prevent its penetrating even to the marrow.

Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and the earliest linkage, known to QI, between Parker and the saying occurred in 1977. This evidence was not substantive, and QI believes that the attribution to Parker is currently unsupported.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

References

References
1 1824 January 23, American Farmer, Volume 5, Number 44, To the Editor of the American Farmer from A Backwoodsman, Pleas Before the Hon. Chief Justice Rational, In the Vale of Kentucky, Start Page 349, Quote Page 350, Column 1, Printed by J. Robinson, Baltimore. Maryland. (Google Books Full View) link