We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Samuel Goldwyn? Solomon S. Levadi? Ezra Goodman? Norton Mockridge? Michael Curtiz? Mickey Rooney? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When reminiscing about events from the nostalgia-tinged past the following figurative phrase is popular:

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

The famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn reportedly employed an unintentionally comical variant:

We have passed a lot of water since then.

Passing water is a euphemism for urination. The numerous speech errors assigned to Goldwyn are called Goldwynisms. Is this one authentic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this word-play located by QI appeared in a 1942 private letter from U.S. soldier Solomon S. Levadi who was sent to Australia during WWII. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dear Isaac: A lot of water has passed since I wrote you last from Fort Sill, and so have I since passed a lot of water. I’m in Australia now—where North is South and South is North; where the trees shed their bark instead of their leaves . . .

In the passage above the humor was deliberate, but the following citation described an inadvertent quip. In 1961 the publicist and journalist Ezra Goodman published a critical book about the entertainment business titled “The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood”. Goodman asserted that he heard the remark directly from Goldwyn: 2

Goldwyn claims that the Goldwynisms are the inventions of columnists, and says, “Some of them were very good and I wish I could take credit for them.” And still I have personally heard him utter some rather choice ones. Speaking of the old days, he once said, “We have passed a lot of water since then.”

The evidence linking the saying to Goldwyn is mixed. He died in 1974; hence, he was alive when Goodman’s book appeared. Yet, Goldwyn asserted that he “never said it” according to Peter Bart who was the long-time editor in chief of “Variety”. In addition, the remark has been ascribed to the prominent Hollywood director Michael Curtiz. Detailed citations are given below in chronological order.

Continue reading We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Notes:

  1. 1945, Jewish Youth at War: Letters from American Soldiers, Edited by Isaac E. Rontch, Letter title: “Thresholds”, Location: Somewhere in Australia, Letter author: Captain Solomon S. Levadi, Letter date: September 16, 1942, Quote Page 122, Marstin Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1961, The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood by Ezra Goodman, Chapter 5: The Great Brain Robbery, Quote Page 178, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

“Will You Write an Autobiography?” “Not Until Long After I’m Dead”

Samuel Goldwyn? Ezra Goodman? Robert Gessner?

Dear Quote Investigator: The supply of comical lines credited to the Hollywood chief Samuel Goldwyn seems endless. Here is one that I love:

I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.

But I have become rather skeptical of these jokes because no one seems to hear these risible phrases and malapropisms from the mouth of Goldwyn himself. Is there an example of a reporter or someone hearing one of these statements spoken directly by Goldwyn?

Quote Investigator: Yes. In fact, the questioner has found a good example. This Goldwynism was evidently heard by two different people: Ezra Goodman, a reporter for Time magazine, and Robert Gessner, a professor of film. But the two listeners each heard a different version of the phrase at a different time.

In May 1955 Time magazine published a story discussing the continuing Hollywood success of Goldwyn at the age of 73. He was still active assembling the major production “Guys and Dolls”, but he had no plans to reveal his extensive confidential knowledge of filmdom in a book [SGTM]:

A foxy lone wolf—no partners, no board of directors, no bank financing—Goldwyn probably knows as much about Hollywood and its half century of history as any man alive. But another Goldwynism covers the situation. “I’m never going to write my autobiography,” he says, “as long as I live.”

In August 1955 Time printed a “Publisher’s Letter” outlining the recent activities of the magazine’s Hollywood journalist, Ezra Goodman. He visited Michael’s Cheesecake Stand in the Los Angeles and saw Marilyn Monroe crowned “Miss Cheesecake”. He also spoke to Samuel Goldwyn and was responsible for recording the May 1955 observation given above though the precise phrasing below is slightly different [EGTM]:

And he is willing to testify personally to one epic Goldwynism: “I will never write my autobiography as long as I live.”

In 1960 the New York Times reviewed a biography of Louis B. Mayer who was one of the rival moguls during Goldwyn’s heyday. The reviewer, Robert Gessner, was described as a “Professor of Motion Pictures at New York University and president of The Society of Cinematologists”. Gessner claimed that he directly heard a version of this classic Goldwynism [SGRG]:

Sam Goldwyn once inadvertently explained the difficulty in writing an honest screen biography. In response to this reviewer’s urging that he compose his own, a look of horror came over Mr. Goldwyn’s face and he smacked his palms upon his chest. “I write my autobiography?  Oh, no—I can’t do that! Not until long after I’m dead.”

QI believes that this variant from Gessner is more humorous than the statement reported by Goodman because of its heightened absurdity. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Will You Write an Autobiography?” “Not Until Long After I’m Dead”