Who was speaking: Walter F. Kerr? Michael Foot? Erskine Johnson? Charlton Heston? David Brin?
Dear Quote Investigator: The complaint that someone is exhibiting “delusions of grandeur” has become a cliché. However, a clever modification of the phrase was memorably employed by a theater critic who was unhappy with an ostentatious performance:
The actor was suffering from delusions of adequacy.
Would you please reveal the name of the critic and the performer?
Quote Investigator: In 1951 the Pulitzer-winning drama critic Walter F. Kerr writing in the “New York Herald Tribune” reviewed a play on Broadway called “Buy Me Blue Ribbons”. Kerr noted that the main actor in the production had recently been dismissed from another key position, and the thespian’s reaction was eccentric: 1
Jay Robinson producer and virtually star of “Buy Me Blue Ribbons,” is a young man of twenty-one who was last season dispossessed of a leading role in a play which he had himself financed. Mr. Robinson is apparently not bitter about this. He has had Sumner Locke Elliott write a play for him a comedy about a young man who is similarly thrown out of his own production, and he is offering it, for his mortification and for ours, at the Empire Theatre.
Kerr’s critical judgement was harsh, and he employed the phrase under investigation to lambaste Robinson. Boldface has been added to excerpts:
Mr. Robinson is not up to the course he has set for himself. In the play, the character concludes by giving up his dreams of overnight stardom and deciding to learn his trade from the bottom up. All Mr. Robinson can honestly do now is to take his own advice. At the moment, he is suffering from delusions of adequacy.
The passage above contained the earliest instance located by QI; hence, Kerr was probably responsible for its coinage.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1951 October 18, New York Herald Tribune, The Theaters: Won’t Win Any Ribbons by Walter F. Kerr, Note: “Walter F. Kerr, drama critic of “The Commonweal,” will be the guest critic of the Herald Tribune during the fall season”, (Review of the play “Buy Me Blue Ribbons”), Quote Page 20, New York, New York. (ProQuest) ↩