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

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

Notes:

  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

They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you experience a wild and tumultuous love affair then you will probably become bored with an episode of staid affection. The famous wit Dorothy Parker wrote a poem on this topic containing the following elegant line:

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Sometimes reference works present this quotation with the word “know” instead of “knew”. Would you please tell me which word is correct? Also, what is the name of this poem?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Dorothy Parker published the poetry collection “Sunset Gun”. The following four lines are from her fourteen line poem titled “Fair Weather”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have a need of wilder, cruder waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

So let a love beat over me again,
Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

Notes:

  1. 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun: Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Fair Weather, Quote Page 50, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

Everything I’ve Ever Said Will Be Credited To Dorothy Parker

George S. Kaufman? Scott Meredith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Bright remarks are often misattributed to famously witty individuals such as Dorothy Parker. An exasperated fellow humorist once said:

Everything I’ve ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.

Would you please help me to locate a citation and tell me who said this?

Quote investigator: The earliest close match known to QI occurred in a 1974 biography titled “George S. Kaufman and His Friends” by Scott Meredith. The author stated that Kaufman and Dorothy Parker moved in the same social circles, and they wrote a screenplay together for a short film called “Business Is Business”. Yet, they were not really good friends. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

There was a certain amount of rivalry between them: Kaufman once said gloomily, “Everything I’ve ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.”

The above citation appeared more than a decade after Kaufman’s death in 1961. So the evidence it provides is not strong.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everything I’ve Ever Said Will Be Credited To Dorothy Parker

Notes:

  1. 1974, George S. Kaufman and His Friends by Scott Meredith, Chapter 9: The Parting, Quote Page 139, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

Rhyme Does Not Pay

Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde? Mike Porter? Arch Ward? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Composing poetry is rarely a lucrative occupation. A traditional moralistic adage has been transformed into a comical warning for versifiers:

  • Crime does not pay.
  • Rhyme does not pay.

This word play has been credited to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker who published multiple collections of poetry. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in 1934 within a column by Martin A. Gosch in the “Evening Courier” of Camden, New Jersey. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

… a prize gag from colleague Mike Porter: Edith Murray, the CBS songbird, started out in life as a poet, but found that Rhyme does not pay!!

Dorothy Parker received credit for the quip by June 1938 as shown further below, but it was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Rhyme Does Not Pay

Notes:

  1. 1934 January 16, Evening Courier, By Gosh! by Martin A. Gosch (Courier-Post Radio Editor), Quote Page 16, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

I Never Seek To Take the Credit; We All Assume That Oscar Said It

Dorothy Parker? Louella Parsons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 19th-century Irish playwright Oscar Wilde is a superstar in the realm of quotations, and many scintillating expressions have been incorrectly attributed to him. A humorous verse about this phenomenon was composed by another wit, Dorothy Parker. The verse ends with this line:

We all assume that Oscar said it.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1927 Dorothy Parker published in “Life” magazine a set of eleven comical short verses about prominent literary figures under the title “A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature”. The following four lines were about Oscar Wilde. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Below are additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Seek To Take the Credit; We All Assume That Oscar Said It

Notes:

  1. 1927 June 2, Life, A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Oscar Wilde, Start Page 13, Quote Page 13, Office of Life Magazine, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet

Who Made the Criticism?: Dorothy Parker? Blanca Holmes? Vincent Sheean? Sidney Skolsky? Anonymous?

Who Was Being Criticized?: Alan Campbell? Lloyd George? Orson Welles?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person who is tough and adaptable is able to absorb setbacks in life and continue onward. This capability is represented metaphorically by a tumbler who lands upright. I have heard the following joke based on this framework:

Resilient people will always land on their feet.
Opportunists will always land on someone else’s feet.

Apparently, the well-known wit Dorothy Parker delivered a similar line. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker and her second husband Alan Campbell obtained a divorce in 1947. The 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats included testimony from one of Parker’s friends about a quip she made shortly after the marriage dissolved. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I went to call on her the day the divorce from Alan became final,” Vincent Sheean said. “She was living alone in the Algonquin. The hotel had sent dinner up to her room, filet mignon, and she was sitting up in bed, the dinner uneaten, with no intention of eating, streaming tears.

“Thinking to make her feel better, I said I felt sorry for Alan.

“‘Oh, don’t worry about Alan,’ she said. ‘Alan will always land on somebody’s feet.'”

This remark fits into a family of jokes that has a long history which QI will explore below.

Continue reading No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet

Notes:

  1. 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 4, Section 1, Quote Page 249, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

I Say Hardly Any of Those Clever Things That Are Attributed To Me

Dorothy Parker? Yogi Berra? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Numerous sharp remarks have been credited incorrectly to the well-known wit Dorothy Parker. She was well aware of these misattributions, and she once commented that many of those clever remarks were not hers. Would you please help me to find a citation for her general disclaimer?

Quote Investigator: In 1941 journalist Hubbard Keavy spoke to Dorothy Parker and asked about the proliferation of epigrams and witticisms ascribed to her. She replied with humor. The ellipsis was in the original text. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Quips? Oh. Ridiculous, isn’t it? To have such a reputation, I mean.

“I am not witty and I am not funny. But I do have a reputation as a smarty pants…I say hardly any of those clever things that are attributed to me. I wouldn’t have time to earn a living if I said all those things.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Say Hardly Any of Those Clever Things That Are Attributed To Me

Notes:

  1. 1941 December 7, Akron Beacon Journal, Dorothy Parker Quips Funny…But She Didn’t Say Them by Hubbard Keavy (Beacon Journal Special Writer), Quote Page 9A, Column 1, Akron, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The idiom “to crawl out of the woodwork” refers to an unpleasant person or thing that quickly emerges from hiding or obscurity. The companion idiom “to crawl back into the woodwork” refers to the person or thing disappearing.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary has citations beginning in 1964, but I think the famous wit Dorothy Parker helped to popularize the latter expression starting in the 1930s. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1933 the influential critic Alexander Woollcott published a profile of Dorothy Parker titled “Our Mrs. Parker” in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. He described a “dreadful week-end” visiting the country home of a host named Nellie. The group included bohemians who would “bathe infrequently, if ever”. Dorothy Parker was a fellow guest, and Woollcott asked for her opinion of the unwelcome companions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I could not help wondering how Nellie managed to round them up, and where they might be found at other times. Mrs. Parker looked at them pensively. “I think,” she whispered, “that they crawl back into the woodwork.”

Parker’s witticism was widely distributed, and QI conjectures that the modern idioms emerged, in part, because of her remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 90, Column 1, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; Thanks to local and remote librarians)

I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A patient in a modern hospital room can push a button to call for the help of a nurse; however, on occasion, the response time is long because nurses have many medical tasks to perform. The famous wit Dorothy Parker created a joke on this topic. She claimed that pushing the button enabled her to experience an extended interval of privacy. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1933 article by prominent critic Alexander Woollcott in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. Woollcott described visiting Dorothy Parker who was being treated in a hospital. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tiptoeing now down the hospital corridor, I found her hard at work. Because of posterity and her creditors, I was loath to intrude, but she, being entranced at any interruption, greeted me from her cot of pain, waved me to a chair, offered me a cigaret and rang a bell. I wondered if this could possibly be for drinks. “No,” she said sadly, “It is supposed to fetch the night nurse, so I ring it whenever I want an hour of uninterrupted privacy.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, Quote Page 88, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; thanks to local and remote librarians)

Oh—You’re the Man Who Can’t Spell

Dorothy Parker? Tallulah Bankhead? Edith Gwynn? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1948 war novel “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer employed the euphemism “fug” (“fugged”, “fugging”) instead of the four-letter word for intercourse. According to a popular literary legend, a witty woman who was introduced to Mailer shortly after the release of the book said:

Oh! You’re the man who can’t spell.

This line has been ascribed to the actress Tallulah Bankhead and the writer Dorothy Parker. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared as a short item in the Hollywood gossip column of Edith Gwynn in April 1950. “Tallulah” was misspelled as “Talullah” in the newspaper text. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When Talullah Bankhead was introduced to Norman Mailer, who authored “The Naked And The Dead,” she exploded, “Oh—you’re the man who can’t spell!”

This citation provides substantive evidence that the episode did occur; however, it is not definitive. Publicity agents have been known to feed fictitious stories to columnists to help their clients maintain high public profiles. Hence, it is possible that the incident did not occur.

Norman Mailer’s comments on the topic have varied. On one occasion he said it was an invented incident. On another occasion he told the prankster satirist Paul Krassner that he had uttered a harsh rejoinder.

The ascription to Dorothy Parker was probably the result of a faulty memory. Additional selected citations are given below.

Continue reading Oh—You’re the Man Who Can’t Spell

Notes:

  1. 1950 April 26, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Edith Gwynn’s Hollywood by Edith Gwynn, Quote Page 24, Column 3, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)