Steele MacKaye? Dion Boucicault? W. S. Gilbert? Sanford B. Hooker? David Belasco? Daniel Frohman? William M. Tanner? Walter Winchell? James Thurber? Michael Crichton?
Dear Quote Investigator: A magnificent work of art emerges in its final form like Venus from a scallop shell; no modifications are required according to one unrealistic approach to creativity. Numerous writers and composers strongly disagree and emphasize the need for painstaking refinement. A family of sayings highlights this process:
- Great novels are not written, they are rewritten.
- A stage play is not written but rewritten.
- Good stories are not written but are re-written.
- The secret of good writing is rewriting.
Would you please examine the provenance of this family?
Quote Investigator: In July 1889 the popular U.S. playwright and actor Steele MacKaye published in several newspapers a piece titled “How Plays Are Written: They Are the Product of Study and Patient Toil”. The first line presented his thesis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
Plays are not written—they are rewritten.
In this lies the advantage of the creative, as distinct from the critical, literature of the stage.
By 1894 the saying had been reassigned to the Irish actor and playwright Dion Boucicault, and by 1903 W. S. Gilbert had been assigned a variant referring to comic operas. Yet, the earliest evidence currently points to Steele MacKaye as crafter of the statement.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Plays Are Not Written—They Are Rewritten
George Bernard Shaw? Otto Penzler? James Thurber? Harold Ross? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly, George Bernard Shaw once presented an idiosyncratic list of the three most famous individuals: Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini. Did Shaw really put forward this triptych?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the 1976 biography “Houdini: His Life and Art” by James Randi and Bert Randolph Sugar. The pertinent passage occurred in the foreword written by Sugar alone:
At a time when national heroes have passed from the American landscape, it is difficult to fathom Houdini’s full impact. People who couldn’t care less about magic know his name. George Bernard Shaw once said that as one of the three most famous people in the history of the world, real or imagined, Houdini took his place beside Jesus Christ and Sherlock Holmes.
QI does not know were Sugar obtained support for his claim about Shaw, and 1976 is more than 25 years after the death of the famous intellectual; hence, this evidence is weak.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Three Most Famous Names in History Are Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini
Henry Kissinger? M. Z. Remsburg? James Thurber? Ann Landers? Robert Orben? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke about the uneasy relationship between the sexes that has been told for decades:
Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
In the 1970s this statement was attributed to the U.S. foreign policy specialist Henry Kissinger, but I suspect that the quip existed before the 1970s. Would you explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: A version of this jest was circulating by the 1940s. In February 1944 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed the following as a short filler item. No specific attribution or acknowledgement was given:
“One war that will never be won by either side is the continual war between the sexes,” declares a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy on the part of both sides.
Only part of the text was placed between quotation marks because there were two participants in the joke. The quoted words of the columnist were followed by the humorous reaction of a second unidentified person. The common modern versions of the joke simplify the presentation so that there is only one speaker.
In August 1945 a newspaper in Covina, California printed an instance of the quip and named an editor as the source, but QI suspects that the editor was simply relaying a pre-existing joke. The semantically redundant phrase “on the part of both sides” in the 1944 version has been omitted from most later instances:
According to word from editor M. Z. Remsburg of the Vista Press, the reason the war between the sexes will never be ended is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Nobody Will Ever Win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s Too Much Fraternizing with the Enemy