Tag Archives: Groucho Marx

I Spent a Good Part of Last Evening Laughing at a Very Bad Play

Walter Kerr? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Comedies rarely win prestigious awards. Critics are unaccountably hostile to works that make them guffaw. Groucho Marx once described a critic who laughed heartily and repeatedly during the performance of a play, yet crafted and published an excoriating newspaper review the next day using the barbed phrases “tasteless and tatterdemalion” and “very bad play”. Do you know the critic’s name?

Quote Investigator: Walter Kerr was an influential theater critic for the “New York Herald Tribune” in the 1950s and 1960s. After that newspaper closed he continued his efforts at “The New York Times”. In 1958 Kerr evaluated a comedy from Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore: 1

This is not so much a review as a confession. I spent a good part of an evening laughing at a very bad play—”Make A Million.”

. . . tawdry, tasteless, and tatterdemalion as the evening is, “Make A Million” is—as often as not—stubbornly funny.

. . . “Make A Million” isn’t respectable by any standards I can think of; but it does have an unexpected, and just about inexplicable funnybone.

Below are two additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1958 October 30, The Cincinnati Enquirer, This Is No Review; It’s a Confession by Walter Kerr, Quote Page 9B, Column 1 to 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

I Have Just One Day, Today, and I’m Going To Be Happy In It

Groucho Marx? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly, Groucho Marx once described his philosophy of life. He stated that each day he had the power to choose to be happy or unhappy, and he would select happiness. Are you familiar with his statement on this topic? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was 86 when he died in 1977. In 1972 Rufus W. Gosnell who was a columnist in an Aiken, South Carolina newspaper ascribed the following to Groucho. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each morning when I open my eyes, I say to myself; “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” That’s a system that has worked for Groucho Marx for a long time; try it.

This statement apparently was assembled from fragments employed by others as suggested by the citations listed in chronological order below. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1972 August 30, Aiken Standard, Here’s Rufus by Rufus W. Gosnell, Quote Page 1-B, Column 5, Aiken, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

He Got His Good Looks from His Mother. She’s a Plastic Surgeon

Groucho Marx? Frank Parker? Marty Allen? Steve Rossi? Dorothy Shay? Ed Reed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian Groucho Marx apparently crafted a witty twist on beauty and inheritance. Here are two versions:

  • He got his good looks from his mother. She’s a plastic surgeon.
  • She got her good looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx who died in 1977 received credit for this joke by 1968, but it has a very long evolutionary history. A precursor in 1898 implied aesthetic enhancement via makeup instead of plastic surgery: 1

Ella—Where does Belle get her good looks from—her father or her mother?
Stella—From her father; he keeps a drug store.—New York Journal.

The above item from “The Times-Visitor” of Raleigh, North Carolina appeared in multiple newspapers with occasional small modifications. For example, “The McPherson Daily Republican” of McPherson, Kansas referred to “Bella” instead of “Belle” and acknowledged “Stray Stories” instead of “New York Journal”. 2

In 1904 a newspaper in Winston-Salem, North Carolina printed a variant that referred to an uncle: 3

Gossip No. 1.—Did Miss Hanson get her good looks from her father or her mother?
Gossip No. 2.—From her uncle; he keeps a drug store.—Princeton Tiger.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1898 August 5, The Times-Visitor (The Raleigh Times), (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1898 August 19, The McPherson Daily Republican, Artificial Beauty (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, McPherson, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1904 November 3, The Western Sentinel, (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 5, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

Obscene and Not Heard

Groucho Marx? Ethel Barrymore? Maurice Barrymore? Paul M. Potter? Gertrude Battles Lane? John Lennon? Joe E. Lewis? Robert Heinlein? Marilyn Manson? Augustus John? Oscar Wilde?

barrymore12Dear Quote Investigator: There is well-known and often repeated admonition directed at young people who are making too much noise:

Children should be seen and not heard.

Wordplay has produced multiple quips which transform the phrase “seen and not heard” into other similar sounding statements:

Back in our day sex was obscene and not heard.
The writing was obscene but not absurd.
Graffiti should be obscene and not heard.
Women should be obscene but not heard.

Instances of these statements have been attributed to Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Ethel Barrymore, Robert Heinlein, and Oscar Wilde. Attitudes have changed over the years and some statements in this family grate on many modern ears. Would you please examine this family of adages?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an anecdote published in a New York newspaper in 1892. The quip was spoken by Maurice Barrymore who was the patriarch of the famous theater family that included his children John, Lionel, and Ethel. A large show had recently closed, and Barrymore discussed the production with a fellow actor. He defended the risqué performances of the lead actress while mentioning the poor acoustics of the capacious venue. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Here is the latest scintillation of Barrymore’s wit. Barrymore and Wilton Lackaye were discussing Mrs. Bernard-Beere’s unfortunate engagement at the Manhattan Opera-House. Lackaye having said something about the English actress’s failure, Barrymore replied: “My dear boy, you must remember that the size of the theatre was entirely against her; it is so large that it entirely destroyed the delicacy of her art. The stage of that theatre is intended only for broad effects.”

“Well,” said Lackaye, “judging from what I have heard, the broad effects in some of her plays were marked, especially certain scenes in ‘Ariane.'”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” declared Barrymore. “On that big stage anybody can be obscene and not heard.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1892 December 12, The Evening World, Stage News and Notes, Quote Page 5, Column 3, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Cloquet Hated Reality But Realized It Was Still the Only Place to Get a Good Steak

Woody Allen? Groucho Marx? Cloquet? Apocryphal?

meal08Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian and movie director Woody Allen sometimes constructs ontological jokes. For example, the following is attributed to Allen:

I hate reality, but it is still the only place where I can get a decent steak.

Oddly, the following very similar quip has been credited to Groucho Marx:

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.

Did Allen engage in plagiarism? Would you please explore this question?

Quote Investigator: The first line above was similar to a line spoken by Woody Allen during an interview published in 1993. QI has found no substantive evidence that the second line was employed by Groucho. The initial citation located by QI for the second jest appeared in 2003, and yet Groucho died a quarter century before that date.

The earliest variant in this family known to QI was contained in a short story written by Allen called “The Condemned” that was published in “The New Yorker” magazine in 1977. The tale hinged on the parodic existential dilemmas of a would-be assassin named Cloquet. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

He’s dreaming, Cloquet thought, as he stood over him, revolver in hand. He’s dreaming, and I exist in reality. Cloquet hated reality but realized it was still the only place to get a good steak. He had never taken a human life before. True, he had once shot a mad dog, but only after it had been certified as mad by a team of psychiatrists.

Thus, Allen was willing to recycle the joke in 1993, but QI does not believe that he lifted it from Groucho.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1977 November 21, The New Yorker, The Condemned by Woody Allen, Start Page 57, Quote Page 57, Published by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc., New York. (Accessed Online Archive of Page Scans at archives.newyorker.com on October 15, 2015) link

Book Blurb: I Was Convulsed with Laughter

Groucho Marx? S. J. Perelman? Apocryphal?

grouchodawn08Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was once asked to write a blurb for a book written by a friend. The result was this hilarious evaluation:

From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.

Was this really written by Marx? What was the name of the book under review?

Quote Investigator: In October 1929 “The Greeley Daily Tribune” of Greeley, Colorado printed an article about books that had been recently received by the local library. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” by S. J. Perelman is humor personified. Groucho Marx says of it, “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

In November 1929 the powerful syndicated columnist Walter Winchell also mentioned humorist Perelman’s newly published book. The following version of the comment ascribed to Marx was slightly different: the phrase “picked up your book” was replaced by “picked it up”: 2

S. J. Perelman, one of the more comical comedians on Judge, has written a book christened, “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge,” the words and pictures being by the master himself.

. . . Groucho Marx, of the Three Marx Brothers, has indorsed Mr. Perelman’s book in this manner: “From the moment I picked it up until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

The Google Books database contained a digital copy of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge”; however, access was restricted and only snippets were visible. Luckily, one snippet revealed the remark from Groucho Marx. QI contacted a librarian who accessed the volume and determined that parts of the dust jacket had been extracted and pasted into the book. The following message was printed on the jacket: 3

grouchonote07Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1929 October 7, The Greeley Daily Tribune (and The Greeley Republican), New Books Received by Greeley Library, Page 10, Column 3, Greeley, Colorado. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1929 November 20, The Scranton Republican, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 4 and 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. Database: Google Books, Book Title: Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, Book Author: Sidney Joseph Perelman, Year: 1929, Page Number: i (dustjacket), Access Restriction: Only snippets are visible, Database description: Electronic page scans of millions of books from major research libraries. (Accessed books.google.com on January 27, 2015) link

Give the People What They Want and They’ll Come

Humorist: Red Skelton? George Jessel? Goodman Ace? Groucho Marx? Bert Lahr? James Bacon?

jessel07Funeral: Harry Cohn? Louis B. Mayer?

Dear Quote Investigator: A show business platitude states that success at the box office is achievable by simply giving the people what they want.

A harsh comical anecdote about a funeral reinterpreted this saying. The memorial service of a powerful and disliked movie mogul was surprisingly well attended. One ambivalent mourner asked another to explain the existence of the large crowd of attendees. The acerbic response was:

Give the public what they want, and they’ll come to see it.

Would you please explore this tale? What was the name of the movie potentate who had died? Who was telling the joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in 1941. A columnist relayed a quip made by the popular actor and comedian George Jessel: 1

And there was George Jessel’s box-office-ish remark about a funeral which was drawing enormous crowds of people into a church door as he passed—”Well, there you are, you see,” said Jessel. “Give ’em what they want.”

The text above was located by top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake. Jessel was presenting a joke, and he was not actually attending a funeral. The adage was recognizable to readers even when it was truncated. The memorialized individual was nameless in the quip.

In later years this comical remark was linked to other wits such as Red Skelton, Goodman Ace, and Groucho Marx. In addition, the barb was precisely aimed at the prominent movie producers Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1942 March 8, Washington Post, Strictly Screwball by Katharine Brush, Quote Page L1, Column 3 and 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

Time Wounds All Heels

Groucho Marx? Marshall Reid? Fanny Brice? Frank Case? Jane Ace? Goodman Ace? Rudy Vallée? Verree Teasdale? Robert Bloch? Ann Landers? Anonymous?

foot08Dear Quote Investigator: The following humorous pun about comeuppance for poor behavior has been attributed to the famous comedian Groucho Marx. The slang term “heel” refers to a contemptible person:

Time wounds all heels.

The statement is a scrambled version of the following comforting aphorism about the mitigation of injuries:

Time heals all wounds.

The pun has also been attributed to hotelier Frank Case and radio performer Jane Ace. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx did deliver this comical line during the film “Go West” in 1940, but the expression was already in circulation. In addition, there is good evidence that Frank Case, Jane Ace and several other individuals employed the joke. Detailed citations are given further below.

The earliest citation located by QI appeared in a syndicated news column in December 1934. The remark was ascribed to someone named Marshall Reid. An explanatory anecdote was given to introduce the punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In a Chicago cafe the other night, an elderly man passed a table.

“There goes George,” observed an onlooker. “When he was young, he was a handsome guy. Left a wife and two kids to starve, and ran off with another woman. And now look at him. Old, broke and very sad.”

“That’s the way-it-goes,” nodded Marshall Reid. “Time wounds all heels.”

Frank Case was a prominent hotelier who owned and operated the Algonquin Hotel in New York where the celebrated Algonquin Round Table convened. He appeared multiple times on a popular radio program hosted by the entertainer Rudy Vallée. During a broadcast in 1937 Vallée asked Case about “skippers”, hotel guests who attempt to leave without paying their bills. Case’s response included the quip: 2

We don’t have much trouble with skippers. If a man can’t pay his bill he usually tells me; pays me later. Of course, they’re a few heels who get away with things, but eventually as time goes by they all get caught. What I always say is “Time wounds all heels”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1934 December 21, Lowell Sun, All In A Day by Mark Hellinger (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Lowell, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. Website: Old Time Radio Downloads, Audio title: Rudy Vallee Royal Gelatin Hour Guest Tallulah Bankhead, Audio description: Frank Case was also a guest, Air Date on website: June 17, 1937, Audio quotation location: 38 mins, 58 secs of 57 mins 44 secs) Website description: Audio files of old radio show broadcasts. (Accessed oldtimeradiodownloads.com on May 26, 2017) link

“If I Were Your Wife I’d Put Poison in Your Tea!” “If I Were Your Husband I’d Drink It”

Winston Churchill? Nancy Astor? Marshall Pinckney Wilder? Patrick O’Dowd? David Lloyd George? George Bernard Shaw? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

astor09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote in which an exasperated individual fantasizes aloud about giving poison to another person. The sharp rejoinder is surprising and hilarious. Usually the two named participants are Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill. Are you familiar with this story? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI of a strongly matching jest was published in November 1899. The excerpt below from an Oswego, New York newspaper acknowledged a source called the “Listener”. Neither participant was identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The “Listener” reports the following from the subway: On one of the recent warm days a sour-visaged, fussy lady got on one of the smoking seats on an open car in the subway.

Next her sat a man who was smoking a cigar. More than that, the lady, sniffing, easily made out that the man had been eating onions. Still more than that, she had the strongest kind of suspicion that he had been drinking beer. The lady fussed and wriggled, and grew angrier, and looked at the man scornfully. Presently she could endure it no longer. She looked squarely at him and said:

“If you were my husband, sir, I’d give you a dose of poison!”

The man looked at her. “If I were your husband,” said he, “I’d take it!”

The popular story above was reprinted with minor alterations in multiple newspapers in the following days, months, and years. An early instance in the “New York Tribune” acknowledged “The Boston Transcript”. 2 3 Top researcher Barry Popik identified this primordial version of the repartee and located other valuable citations. 4

This joke has been evolving for more than one hundred years. In March 1900 the humorist Marshall Pinckney Wilder asserted authorship of the gag. By April 1900 a version with a comical Irishman was circulating. In 1902 a theatrical production switched the roles of the husband and wife.

In 1949 an instance with Winston Churchill delivering the punchline to an unnamed woman was printed in “The New York Times”. The story with Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill was recounted in a 1952 book called “The Glitter and the Gold”. It is conceivable that Churchill employed this line, but he would have been knowingly or unknowingly re-enacting a joke that had been circulating for many years.

In 1962 the legendary comedian Groucho Marx presented the gag, but he credited the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw with the punchline. The details for all these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1899 November 18, Oswego Daily Times, Right and Left, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Oswego, New York. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1899 November 19, Colorado Springs Gazette, Tales of the Town, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1899 November 19, New York Tribune, Section: Illustrated Supplement, Well Agreed, (Acknowledgement to The Boston Transcript), Quote Page 19, Column 3, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  4. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “‘If you were my husband, I’d poison your coffee’ (Nancy Astor to Churchill?)”, Date on website: February 09, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik com on August 26, 2014)

Speak When You’re Angry and You’ll Make the Best Speech You’ll Ever Regret

Ambrose Bierce? Henry Ward Beecher? Laurence J. Peter? Groucho Marx? Harry H. Jones? Anonymous?

bierce06Dear Quote Investigator: The rant of an enraged person often contains statements that necessitate contrite apologies later. Here is an adage reflecting this insight:

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

These words have been attributed to the preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the humorist Ambrose Bierce, and the quotation compiler Laurence J. Peter. Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI points to a famous comedian who is rarely mentioned in conjunction with this saying. In June 1954 a column titled “Inside TV” by Eve Starr was published in a North Carolina newspaper, and Starr reported on two jokes told by Groucho Marx during his show. Boldface has been added: 1

Groucho quips: “It takes a heap of spending to make a house a home.” His best advice to contestants is: “If you speak when angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Ambrose Bierce did write a parody fable that was tangentially related to this theme, and a detailed citation for this short tale is given below. However, QI has found no substantive evidence that Bierce wrote or spoke this quotation. Oddly, a major reference work stated that the expression appeared in Bierce’s “The Cynic’s Word Book” of 1906 which is better known under its later title “The Devil’s Dictionary”. However, QI has examined multiple editions of this book and the quotation was absent.

The misattribution to Henry Ward Beecher was based on an incorrect reading of an entry in a 1977 quotation collection created by Laurence J. Peter. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1954 November 3, Greensboro Record, Inside TV by Eve Starr, Quote Page B3, Column 4, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)