Tag Archives: Ray Bradbury

If Matches Had Been Invented After Lighters They’d Be the Sensation of the Twentieth Century

George S. Kaufman? Ray Bradbury? Charles Norris? Bennett Cerf? Malcolm Bradbury?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cigarette lighter is an impressive invention, but in some ways it is inferior to a simple match that is ignited by friction. A lighter requires fuel and a spark source; it can malfunction in myriad ways. The following point has been attributed to the prominent playwright George S. Kaufman and to the famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury:

If matches had been invented after the cigarette lighter, they would have been hailed as a huge advance.

A new gadget may supersede an old one despite serious drawbacks. Would you please trace the above expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a long-running column called “Trade Winds” in “The Saturday Review”. The columnist, publisher, and anecdote collector Bennett Cerf relayed the following in 1944. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In Dunhill’s, Charles Norris upset clerks by remarking, “If matches had been invented after your confounded lighters, can you imagine the excitement they would have caused?”

Dunhill sold expensive high-quality lighters. The name Charles Norris was ambiguous. It might have referred to the popular novelist Charles Gilman Norris.

Interestingly, the invention chronologies of the lighter and the match are complex because both devices required modifications and refinements to achieve practicality. Their developments overlapped.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1944 July 1, The Saturday Review, Trade Winds by Bennett Cerf, Section: The Literary Scene, Start Page 16, Quote Page 16, Column 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

We Are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe

Ray Bradbury? Apocryphal?
ray10Dear Quote Investigator: On Facebook I saw the following quotation displayed on a star-filled picture:

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe

The words were attributed to the prominent science fiction author Ray Bradbury, but I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In January 1975 “The Oregonian” newspaper of Portland, Oregon published a column that reviewed television and radio programs. The public television station KOAP-TV had recently broadcast a program called “Assignment America” hosted by the well-known poet Maya Angelou with Ray Bradbury as guest. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Bradbury told her, “We are on the moon today because of one man and only one man and that’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. His John Carter, ‘Warlord of Mars,’ romanced a whole generation of boys into going out and building the equipment to go to the moon.” Bradbury was fittingly interviewed in Hollywood’s Magic Castle. “We’re an impossibility in an impossible universe,” he said. “There’s really no split between science and religion. When facts stop, faith has to take over.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1975 January 31, Oregonian, Behind the mike: Rousing beginning made by ‘Archer’ by Francis Murphy (The Oregonian staff), Quote Page B7, Column 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)

Storytelling: Just Give Them Two and Two and Let Them Add It Up

Billy Wilder? Ernst Lubitsch? Ted Elliott? Terry Rossio? Ray Bradbury? Vince Gilligan? Andrew Stanton?

twoplus13Dear Quote Investigator: On the commentary track of a video I once heard a screenwriter discuss the requirement to engage the audience’s cognitive powers while spinning a tale:

Give the audience two plus two, and let them come up with four.

A famous Hollywood figure was credited, but I do not recall the name. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Filmmaker Billy Wilder directed classic comedies such as “Some Like It Hot” and influential film noirs such as “Double Indemnity”. In 1976 and 1986 he presented seminars at the American Film Institute, and segments from his talks were later published as a chapter in the book “Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute”. Wilder cautioned against over-explaining or providing too much exposition to viewers. He credited another well-known director Ernst Lubitsch with an illustrative arithmetic metaphor. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Make it clear to them, but don’t spell it out like the audience are just a bunch of idiots. Just aim it slightly above their station and they’re going to get it. This is what I learned from Ernst Lubitsch. He had a real touch, a gift of involving the audience into writing the script with him as it was unfolding on the screen.

In other words, he was not the kind of a director who kind of hammered it down and said, “Now listen to me, you idiots. There now, put down the popcorn bag, I’m going to tell you something. Two and two is four.” He said, “No, just give them two and two and let them add it up. They’re going to do it for you. And they’re going to have fun with it. They’re going to play the game with you.”

QI has not yet found a citation in which these words were spoken by Ernst Lubitsch. Perhaps this guidance was communicated to Wilder during a private conversation with Lubitsch. In any case, Wilder can be credited with popularizing the figurative language which employed simple addition.

In recent years, successful storytellers such as Vince Gilligan, writer/director of “Breaking Bad”, and Andrew Stanton, writer/director of “Finding Nemo”, have discussed the “two plus two” adage for weaving compelling tales.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2006, Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute, Edited by George Stevens Jr., Chapter: Billy Wilder, Start Page 302, Quote Page 320, (The Wilder chapter is dated December 13, 1978; however, a footnote supplies additional dates: “This transcript contains segments from seminars Wilder gave at the American Film Institute on January 7, 1976 (with his writing partner I. A. L. Diamond) and on March 3, 1986)”, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper)

Jump Off the Cliff and Build Your Wings on the Way Down

Ray Bradbury? Franco Mancassola? Kurt Vonnegut? Annie Dillard? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

wingsbradbury03Dear Quote Investigator: The influential publisher Tim O’Reilly recently tweeted a great quotation about entrepreneurship that was used in a commencement address given by DJ Patil, a Data Scientist at a venture capital company. Here is an excerpt from the speech given at the University of Maryland: 1 2

As my good friend Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn, says: Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.

Some of the Twitter responses pointed to a saying from the science fiction master Ray Bradbury about building wings after jumping off a cliff. Could you determine what Bradbury actually said?

Quote Investigator: Bradbury used this vivid metaphor to illustrate boldness and audacity several times. In November 1979 he reviewed a book about the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and he gave very high praise to the book and the museum: 3

It looks like a dream book. Then you suddenly remember it’s all real. Then the long march from the rim of the cave to the edge of the cliff where we flung ourselves off and built our wings on the way down quickens to focus. It’s all here, in a building, in a book.

In October 1986 Bradbury spoke at a one-day symposium on ‘Future Style’ held on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, and his words were reported in the Los Angeles Times: 4

In his keynote address, author Ray Bradbury declared that if enough people followed their hearts, they could realize their optimistic vision of humanity’s future. Bradbury exhorted his enthusiastic listeners to “jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”

Ascriptions to other authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard only appeared years later and were not well substantiated. Indeed, Dillard contacted QI directly to state that she never wrote the quotation, and she never spoke it. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2012 June 13, Greylock Partners website, Failure is our ONLY option, [Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at greylockvc.com on June 17, 2012) link
  2. 2012 June 6, Wired UK website, Ideas Bank: Failure is our only option, Guest Author: DJ Patil, [Excerpts from Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at wired.co.uk on June 17, 2012) link
  3. 1979 November 18, Los Angeles Times, Section: The Book Review, Hymn to humanity from the cathedral of high technology by Ray Bradbury, (Review of “National Air and Space Museum”, text by C.D.B. Bryan), Page K1, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  4. 1986 October 21, Los Angeles Times, ‘Future Style’ Slickly Peers Wrong Way by Charles Solomon, Page OC_E2, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)

I Do Not Want to Predict the Future. I Want to Prevent It

Frank Herbert? Ray Bradbury? Theodore Sturgeon? Fred Pohl?

Dear Quote Investigator: I once read an interview with a science fiction writer in which he was asked about predicting the future. The interviewer was disappointed that some of the technological developments heralded in science fiction never seemed to actually happen. The response from the author was unexpected and haunting:

I don’t try to predict the future. I try to prevent it.

I think this answer confused the interviewer, but I understood it. The dystopian stories like Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Sheep Look Up, and The Machine Stops are not attempting to predict the future. They are trying to prevent the futures that they describe. The identity of the interviewee is fuzzy in my mind and so is the exact wording. Could you look into this quote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest expression found by QI appears in 1977 from the typewriter of the SF great Theodore Sturgeon who credits the remark to another SF luminary Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles. In 1978 the idea is attributed to another famed SF writer, Frank Herbert, the author of Dune.

These initial citations indicate that the original statement occurred still earlier and QI is unable to determine if Bradbury or Herbert first voiced the motto. The statement has several variations. Sometimes the goal of preventing the future is considered to be the task of science fiction as a genre, and sometimes the goal is the task of an individual author.

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