Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:
Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.
This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.
“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.
The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩