Every Society Honors Its Live Conformists, and Its Dead Troublemakers

Mignon McLaughlin? Marshall McLuhan? Wayne Dyer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: History books laud unconventional thinkers and eccentric characters who faced hardships during their lifetimes. An adage expressing this notion has been credited to magazine editor Mignon McLaughlin and media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Here are two versions:

  • The world values live conformists and dead rebels.
  • Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in “The Neurotic’s Notebook” by Mignon McLaughlin in 1963. The compendium contained quips, adages, and observations such as the following three. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The works of Herman Wouk seem written by two different men: one who creates a set of characters, and another who turns on them.

Every society honors its live conformists, and its dead troublemakers.

An artist usually has no friends except other artists, and usually they do not like his work.

McLaughlin worked as a writer and editor at magazines such as “The Atlantic Monthly”, “Glamour”, and “Vogue” for decades from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The attribution to Marshall McLuhan is spurious. It may have originated when someone confused the names McLaughlin and McLuhan. Alternatively, the mistake may have been catalyzed by textual proximity. Further details accompany the 2004 citation given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Society Honors Its Live Conformists, and Its Dead Troublemakers


  1. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 7: Politics, Arts, Professions, Quote Page 72, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)

Life Is Not a Rehearsal

Drake? Lawrence T. Holman? Chet Huntley? Katharine Ross? Rose Tremain? Wayne Dyer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: William Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage”, and the metaphor of life as a theatrical performance has a very long history. The quotation that interests me fits in this metaphorical framework, but I think it was coined recently:

Life is not a dress rehearsal.
This is your life, not a dress rehearsal.
Life is not a rehearsal.
And life ain’t a rehearsal the camera’s always rollin’.

Can you tell me who originated this saying?

Quote Investigator: This is a modern proverb that may not be traceable to an individual. The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1953 in the Covina Argus-Citizen newspaper of Covina California. Pastor Lawrence T. Holman of the Church of the Nazarene used the expression as the title of an evening sermon: 1

7:30 p.m. — EVANGELISTIC SERVICE. Special songs by “Jad” Scroggins. Sermon by the pastor: “LIFE IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL!”

In 1972 an advertisement for a real estate development in Big Sky, Montana used a version of the adage. The resort area was conceived by Chet Huntley who was a prominent television journalist and anchorman. The ad was aimed at executives looking for homesites offering recreational activities such as skiing, fishing, golf, tennis, and riding. 2

You’re too busy running to catch planes, running to catch cabs and trying to stop running long enough to catch lunch.

Well, it’s time you realized this isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is your life.

It’s time you were introduced to Chet Huntley’s Big Sky: Over 10,000 acres of the most beautiful country in this world.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is Not a Rehearsal


  1. 1953 May 7, Covina Argus-Citizen, Section II, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Your Church Invites You, (Schedule of Church of the Nazarene, Location: First and College, Pastor: Lawrence T. Holman), Covina, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1972 November 9, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for: Chet Huntley’s Big Sky in Big Sky, Montana.) Quote Page 6-G, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)