Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

Elvis Presley? Dwight D. Eisenhower? The White Rabbit? Clint Eastwood? Martin Gabel? Adlai Stevenson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some humorous quotations are created by cleverly transforming prosaic expressions. Most people are familiar with the exhortation:

Don’t just stand there, do something.

However, occasionally inaction is preferable, and the following rearranged sentence has been employed:

Don’t just do something, stand there.

I have seen these words attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clint Eastwood, and Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit. Any idea who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in the popular syndicated gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1945. The phrase was used by an actor and producer named Martin Gabel: 1

At the first rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “The Assassin,” Producer Martin Gabel noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

This quip has been used by many people over the years including politician Adlai Stevenson and Hollywood star Clint Eastwood.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There


  1. 1945 August 31, Amarillo Daily News, The Lyon’s Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Amarillo, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

Death Was a Good Career Move

Speaker: Gore Vidal? Peter Bogdanovich? Sue Mengers? Jason Epstein? Anonymous?

Subject: Truman Capote? Elvis Presley? Michael Jackson? Gore Vidal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Pop star Michael Jackson died in 2009 when he was only fifty years old. One memorably caustic remark I heard at that time was:

His death was a good career move.

Apparently, the author Gore Vidal said this many years earlier about another individual. Did Vidal originate this mocking comment, and who was he talking about?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence QI has located for this type of remark was printed in Esquire magazine in 1978 in an article by the film director Peter Bogdanovich. The barb was aimed at Elvis Presley after his death in 1977, but the identity of the person using the quip was not given. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A Hollywood cynic was heard to call Presley’s death a smart career move

The word choice in 1978 was slightly different with “smart career move” employed instead of the common modern phrase “good career move”.

In May 1981 Time magazine mentioned the remark within a thumbnail review of the movie “This Is Elvis”: 2

Today Elvis remains a thriving industry, like Disney; this film is both a comment on that industry and (through the authorization of Presley’s mentor, Colonel Tom Parker) a part of it. The remark of the Hollywood cynic, upon hearing of Elvis’ death — “Good career move” — was prophecy after all.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Death Was a Good Career Move


  1. 1978 March 1, Esquire, Volume 89, The Murder of Sal Mineo by Peter Bogdanovich, Start Page 116, Quote Page 118, Column 3, Esquire, Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1981 May 25, Time, “Cinema: Rushes: May 25, 1981”, This Is Elvis, Time, Inc. New York. (Online Time archive

Rock n Roll: The Most Brutal, Ugly, Degenerate, Vicious Form of Expression

Frank Sinatra? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I greatly enjoy the singing of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, so I was surprised to hear that Sinatra once attacked the type of music that Elvis popularized. Supposedly Sinatra said:

Rock n Roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.

Is this quotation accurate? When was this said?

Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that Sinatra made a remark very similar to this. The wording of the modern version has been altered somewhat. QI has located an Associated Press article from October 1957 that reprinted an excerpt from a magazine called “Western World” published in Paris. Sinatra denounced rock music and musicians using hyperbolic language [FSWW]:

The famed crooner, writing in the magazine Western World published here, praised the influence of American jazz and popular music as a way of winning friends and influencing people throughout the world.

“My only deep sorrow,” he said, “is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.

“This rancid smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. But, in spite of it, the contribution of American music to the world could be said to have one of the healthiest effects of all our contributions.”

Elvis Presley’s debut album was released in 1956, and by 1957 he was a star and a cultural sensation.

This article continues with Elvis Presley’s response to Sinatra.

Continue reading Rock n Roll: The Most Brutal, Ugly, Degenerate, Vicious Form of Expression