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