Samuel Goldwyn? Solomon S. Levadi? Ezra Goodman? Norton Mockridge? Michael Curtiz? Mickey Rooney? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: When reminiscing about events from the nostalgia-tinged past the following figurative phrase is popular:
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.
The famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn reportedly employed an unintentionally comical variant:
We have passed a lot of water since then.
Passing water is a euphemism for urination. The numerous speech errors assigned to Goldwyn are called Goldwynisms. Is this one authentic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this word-play located by QI appeared in a 1942 private letter from U.S. soldier Solomon S. Levadi who was sent to Australia during WWII. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Dear Isaac: A lot of water has passed since I wrote you last from Fort Sill, and so have I since passed a lot of water. I’m in Australia now—where North is South and South is North; where the trees shed their bark instead of their leaves . . .
In the passage above the humor was deliberate, but the following citation described an inadvertent quip. In 1961 the publicist and journalist Ezra Goodman published a critical book about the entertainment business titled “The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood”. Goodman asserted that he heard the remark directly from Goldwyn: 2
Goldwyn claims that the Goldwynisms are the inventions of columnists, and says, “Some of them were very good and I wish I could take credit for them.” And still I have personally heard him utter some rather choice ones. Speaking of the old days, he once said, “We have passed a lot of water since then.”
The evidence linking the saying to Goldwyn is mixed. He died in 1974; hence, he was alive when Goodman’s book appeared. Yet, Goldwyn asserted that he “never said it” according to Peter Bart who was the long-time editor in chief of “Variety”. In addition, the remark has been ascribed to the prominent Hollywood director Michael Curtiz. Detailed citations are given below in chronological order.
- 1945, Jewish Youth at War: Letters from American Soldiers, Edited by Isaac E. Rontch, Letter title: “Thresholds”, Location: Somewhere in Australia, Letter author: Captain Solomon S. Levadi, Letter date: September 16, 1942, Quote Page 122, Marstin Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1961, The Fifty-Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood by Ezra Goodman, Chapter 5: The Great Brain Robbery, Quote Page 178, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩