If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck I Wouldn’t Have Any Luck At All

Albert King? Booker T. Jones? William Bell? Dick Gregory? E. K. Means? Sidney Sutherland? Sidney Skolsky? Bill Brisson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular blues song from the 1960s contains the following memorable lament:

If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.

How old is this mordant quip? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest match located by QI occurred in a short story titled “At the End of the Rope” by E. K. Means (Eldred Kurtz Means) published in “Munsey’s Magazine” of New York in 1927. The tale was part of a series set in the fictional small town of Tickfall. The following passage employed nonstandard spelling. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It wus a bad time for me when I come to Tickfall. I’m shore had bad luck; but ef dar warn’t no bad luck, I wouldn’t hab no luck at all.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck I Wouldn’t Have Any Luck At All


  1. 1927 January, Munsey’s Magazine, Volume 89, Number 4, At the End of the Rope by E. K. Means, Short Story Series: Tickfall, Start Page 645, Quote Page 649, The Frank A. Munsey Company, New York. (Unz)

No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet

Who Made the Criticism?: Dorothy Parker? Blanca Holmes? Vincent Sheean? Sidney Skolsky? Anonymous?

Who Was Being Criticized?: Alan Campbell? Lloyd George? Orson Welles?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person who is tough and adaptable is able to absorb setbacks in life and continue onward. This capability is represented metaphorically by a tumbler who lands upright. I have heard the following joke based on this framework:

Resilient people will always land on their feet.
Opportunists will always land on someone else’s feet.

Apparently, the well-known wit Dorothy Parker delivered a similar line. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker and her second husband Alan Campbell obtained a divorce in 1947. The 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats included testimony from one of Parker’s friends about a quip she made shortly after the marriage dissolved. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I went to call on her the day the divorce from Alan became final,” Vincent Sheean said. “She was living alone in the Algonquin. The hotel had sent dinner up to her room, filet mignon, and she was sitting up in bed, the dinner uneaten, with no intention of eating, streaming tears.

“Thinking to make her feel better, I said I felt sorry for Alan.

“‘Oh, don’t worry about Alan,’ she said. ‘Alan will always land on somebody’s feet.'”

This remark fits into a family of jokes that has a long history which QI will explore below.

Continue reading No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet


  1. 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 4, Section 1, Quote Page 249, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

“She Is Always Kind to Her Inferiors” “But Where Does She Find Them?”

Dorothy Parker? Mark Twain? Samuel Johnson? Sidney Skolsky? Margaret Case Harriman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating wit Dorothy Parker once listened to an enumeration of the many positive attributes of a person she disliked. Below is the final statement of praise together with Parker’s acerbic response:

“She is always kind to her inferiors.”
“And where does she find them?”

The humor hinges on the possible non-existence of the inferiors. Is this tale accurate? Who was the person being discussed?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI was printed in the Hollywood gossip column of Sidney Skolsky in 1937. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

At lunch the other day, a group were discussing a prominent actress and a person said: “She’s only kind to her inferiors.” Whereupon Dorothy Parker remarked: “Where does she find them?”

In January 1941 “The New Yorker” magazine printed an article by Margaret Case Harriman that profiled the fashionable author and playwright Clare Boothe Luce, and it included an oft-repeated version of the tale in which Clare Boothe Luce was the target of the barb from Parker.

Interestingly, the playwright was not known for her evanescent pursuit of acting. Her initial fame was primarily based on the Broadway hit she wrote titled “The Women” which debuted in December 1936, and QI believes that the columnist Sidney Skolsky would not have referred to Clare Boothe Luce as a “prominent actress” in June 1937.

There was another woman named Claire Luce who was a well-known actress in the time period. Conceivably, the names were confused. It was also possible that the entire story was simply concocted by someone to provide entertainment. Precursor tales and jibes have been circulating since the 1700s. Mark Twain employed a fun variant.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “She Is Always Kind to Her Inferiors” “But Where Does She Find Them?”


  1. 1937 June 23, Milwaukee Sentinel, Section: Peach, Page 3, Column 6, Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Quote Page 14, Column 6, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)

I’ve Had a Perfectly Wonderful Evening, But This Wasn’t It

Groucho Marx? A. E. Thomas? Beatrice Faber? Sidney Skolsky? Hugh Herbert? Walter Catlett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When Groucho Marx was leaving a boring party he supposedly said:

I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

Did Groucho really insult a host or hostess in this way, or did he use this line in a comedy routine? Incidentally, I saw this quote when I was reading about the fun word “paraprosdokian” which refers to a figure of speech that contains a surprising or unexpected ending.

Quote Investigator: In a newspaper piece he wrote in 1962 Groucho denied that he ever used this quip to actually insult someone in real life. The details are given further below. Indeed, the earliest examples known to QI were not spoken by Groucho.

In the 1930s the stories told in movies were sometimes serialized in newspapers. In June 1935 an Iowa paper serialized the movie “No More Ladies”. The movie was based on a stage play by A. E. Thomas, and the adaption was performed by Beatrice Faber. The quip appeared in chapter one of the serialization. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

She dropped a kiss on Fanny’s forehead. “Good night sweet. If you see Sherry tell him I had a lovely evening but this wasn’t it.”

Many thanks to Andrew Steinberg who located the above citation.

In October 1936 the Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky credited the joke to a popular comedian named Hugh Herbert who had appeared in many movies. Today, Herbert is not well-known, but Groucho’s fame is uneclipsed: 2

Hugh Herbert leaving a party, said to the hostess: “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”

In November 1936 a column about Sacramento, California asserted that the line was used by an unnamed young man: 3

When goodnights were being said, the girl remarked politely to a well-known out-of-town boy, “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” The boy replied just as politely, “Yes, I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.” (Now, I ask you was that nice?)

In 1940 Cosmopolitan magazine published “I Cover Hollywood” by Sidney Skolsky. The columnist printed the quip again, but this time he assigned the phrase to another actor. The context was a discussion of a big party scene in the motion picture “Public Deb No. 1” which was directed by Gregory Ratoff: 4

Director Ratoff was thinking of using the best line ever pulled at a Hollywood party as a tag for his party sequence. It actually occurred, however, when Walter Catlett, on leaving a swanky party, said to the hostess, “I had a lovely evening, but this wasn’t it.”

In 1941 the Reader’s Digest attached the words to Groucho Marx. A footnote indicated that the performer Eddie Cantor supplied the quotation and ascription: 5

“I’ve had a wonderful evening,” said Groucho Marx to his hostess as he was leaving a dull Hollywood party, “but this wasn’t it!”*
* Contributed by Eddie Cantor

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I’ve Had a Perfectly Wonderful Evening, But This Wasn’t It


  1. 1935 June 20, The Bedford Times-Press, No More Ladies From the stage play by A. E. Thomas, Adapted by Beatrice Faber from the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Picture, Chapter One: A Date with Sherry, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Bedford, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1936 October 14, Augusta Chronicle, Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Page 4, Column 4, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1936 November 13, The California Eagle, Sacramento, Quote Page 13, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Old Fulton)
  4. 1940 September, Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan, I Cover Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Start Page 55, Quote Page 119, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1941 March, Reader’s Digest, Volume 38, Party Chatter, Page 116, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)