Groucho Marx? A. E. Thomas? Beatrice Faber? Sidney Skolsky? Hugh Herbert? Walter Catlett? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When Groucho Marx was leaving a boring party he supposedly said:
I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
Did Groucho really insult a host or hostess in this way, or did he use this line in a comedy routine? Incidentally, I saw this quote when I was reading about the fun word “paraprosdokian” which refers to a figure of speech that contains a surprising or unexpected ending.
Quote Investigator: In a newspaper piece he wrote in 1962 Groucho denied that he ever used this quip to actually insult someone in real life. The details are given further below. Indeed, the earliest examples known to QI were not spoken by Groucho.
In the 1930s the stories told in movies were sometimes serialized in newspapers. In June 1935 an Iowa paper serialized the movie “No More Ladies”. The movie was based on a stage play by A. E. Thomas, and the adaption was performed by Beatrice Faber. The quip appeared in chapter one of the serialization. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
She dropped a kiss on Fanny’s forehead. “Good night sweet. If you see Sherry tell him I had a lovely evening but this wasn’t it.”
Many thanks to Andrew Steinberg who located the above citation.
In October 1936 the Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky credited the joke to a popular comedian named Hugh Herbert who had appeared in many movies. Today, Herbert is not well-known, but Groucho’s fame is uneclipsed: 2
Hugh Herbert leaving a party, said to the hostess: “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”
In November 1936 a column about Sacramento, California asserted that the line was used by an unnamed young man: 3
When goodnights were being said, the girl remarked politely to a well-known out-of-town boy, “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” The boy replied just as politely, “Yes, I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.” (Now, I ask you was that nice?)
In 1940 Cosmopolitan magazine published “I Cover Hollywood” by Sidney Skolsky. The columnist printed the quip again, but this time he assigned the phrase to another actor. The context was a discussion of a big party scene in the motion picture “Public Deb No. 1” which was directed by Gregory Ratoff: 4
Director Ratoff was thinking of using the best line ever pulled at a Hollywood party as a tag for his party sequence. It actually occurred, however, when Walter Catlett, on leaving a swanky party, said to the hostess, “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”
In 1941 the Reader’s Digest attached the words to Groucho Marx. A footnote indicated that the performer Eddie Cantor supplied the quotation and ascription: 5
“I’ve had a wonderful evening,” said Groucho Marx to his hostess as he was leaving a dull Hollywood party, “but this wasn’t it!”*
* Contributed by Eddie Cantor
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1935 June 20, The Bedford Times-Press, No More Ladies From the stage play by A. E. Thomas, Adapted by Beatrice Faber from the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Picture, Chapter One: A Date with Sherry, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Bedford, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1936 October 14, Augusta Chronicle, Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Page 4, Column 4, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1936 November 13, The California Eagle, Sacramento, Quote Page 13, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1940 September, Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan, I Cover Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Start Page 55, Quote Page 119, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1941 March, Reader’s Digest, Volume 38, Party Chatter, Page 116, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm) ↩