We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

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.

Continue reading We Have Passed a Lot of Water Since Then

Notes:

  1. 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)
  2. 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)