August 15, 2014

“Yonder lies the castle of my fodder.” The famous movie “quote” that Tony Curtis didn’t say…


When actor Tony Curtis died at age 85, in September 2010, many obituaries and tributes mentioned what is widely believed to be one of his most famous movie lines.

In those articles, and in many books of quotations, the line is usually given as either “Yonder lies the castle of my fodder” or “Yonder lies the castle of my faddah.”

Sometimes you’ll find it written as “Yonder lies the castle of my fodda” or “Yonder lies the castle of my fadda.” Sometimes yonder is spelled yonda or yondah. It is also quoted in the more linguistically and politically correct, accent-free variation “Yonder lies the castle of my father.”

Some websites and books claim Curtis said the line in his 1951 film The Prince Who Was a Thief.

Some claim it’s from his 1954 movie The Black Shield of Falworth.

Both of those attributions are wrong. (I have watched those movies. Several times. I can personally confirm the line is not in them.)

Most sources say Curtis uttered the line in yet another of his early adventure flicks, Son of Ali Baba, which was released on August 15, 1952.

That attribution comes closest to being the right one — up to a point.

Curtis does say something that includes the words yonder and father in Son of Ali Baba. But he doesn’t say “Yonder lies the castle of my father.” And, he doesn’t say father with a heavy New York accent that makes it sound like fodder or faddah.

I’ve watched Son of Ali Baba. Several times. (Yes, I love cheesy vintage adventure movies and Tony Curtis.)

If you watch Son of Ali Baba yourself (or just zoom ahead to about 30 minutes in), you can hear the actual words that Curtis speaks to his co-star Piper Laurie. 

What he says is: “This is my father’s palace. And yonder lies the Valley of the Sun.”

The story of how those lines morphed into the much-mocked misquote “Yonder lies the castle of my fodder” was recalled by Curtis in his autobiography American Prince: A Memoir (2008).

Ironically, in that, even Tony misremembered the original lines.

Curtis wrote:

     Son of Ali Baba was the movie where I gave a line that people unjustly made fun of for years afterward. There’s a scene where I’m on horseback and Piper is sitting next to me, and I say to her, “Yonder in the valley of the sun is my father’s castle.” After the film came out, Debbie Reynolds, who would later marry Eddie Fisher, went on television and said, “Did you see the new guy in the movies? They call him Tony Curtis, but that’s not his real name. In his new movie he’s got a hilarious line where he says, ‘Yonder lies the castle of my fodda.’”
     You could chalk her ridicule up to my New York accent, but when she mentioned the issue of my real name on television, I began to wonder if there was something anti-Semitic going on there. I’m probably just hypersensitive on that topic. But either way, she got the line wrong! Unfortunately, her version stuck with the public, and for a while it became popular for people to quote the incorrect line in a ridiculous New York accent.
     Years later, Hugh Hefner came up to me at a party and said, “Yonder lies the castle of my fodda.”
     I looked at him coolly. “Hef. I never said that.”
     “Then don’t tell anybody,” he said. “It makes a great movie story.”

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August 13, 2014

“No man is a hero to his valet” – the backstory on a famous proverb and misquote...


Charlotte Aïssé (1693-1733) was quite a celebrity in France in the early 18th Century — part heroine, part sex symbol, part intellectual.

As a child, her father’s palace was raided by the Turks. They took her captive but soon sold her to Count Charles de Ferriol, the French ambassador at Constantinople.

She was raised by Ferriol's sister-in-law in Paris and became a beauty who attracted the attention of several prominent French aristocrats.

After her death, her fame grew. Three French plays were written about her. The letters she wrote to a friend were edited by Voltaire and published in book form in 1787 (Lettres de Mademoiselle Aïssé a Madame Calandrini).

In one of those letters, dated August 13, 1728, Aïssé mentioned a quip she’d heard.

It was a comment by another prominent French lady, Anne-Marie Bigot de Cornuel (1605-1694), who was once the mistress of King Louis XIV.

A simplified English translation of part of what Madame Cornuel said became cited as a famous quotation:

      “No man is a hero to his valet.”

Many books of quotations attribute this quote to Cornuel by way of Aïssé’s letter. However, it seems to be a case of something gained in translation.

In the original French, what Aïssé actually wrote in her letter was:

“Je vous renvoie à ce que disoit madame Cornuel, qu’il n’y avoit point de héros pour les valets de chambre, et point de pères de l’Église parmi ses contemporains.”

A literal English translation of is something like:

“I refer to what Madame Cornuel said, that there were no heroes to valets, nor to the Fathers of the Church among their contemporaries.”

Somewhere along the line, in English translations, the valet part of Aïssé’s comment morphed into “No man is a hero to his valet.”

That may be because it already existed as a proverbial saying.

Indeed, “No man is a hero to his valet” is listed in many sources simply as an old French or English proverb

The meaning of the proverb is that a servant (such as a valet) does not usually have the same grand, positive view that other people may have of the servant’s master or employer.

My own conclusion is that “No man is a hero to his valet” is proverbial, with no clear origin, and that what Madame Cornuel said was an allusion to the proverb — which was then misquoted in translation to fit the English version of the saying.

Je suis désolé, Madame Cornuel. I’m sorry. But you don’t get credit for coining it — and may not even deserve credit for saying it.

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August 03, 2014

“I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.”


On August 3, 1966, the legendary, boundary-stretching, drug-addicted American comedian Lenny Bruce was found dead in the bathroom of his home in Hollywood, California.

A syringe and other drug paraphernalia were on the floor next to him. The cause of death was ruled to be an accidental overdose of morphine.

Bruce was just 40 years old.

It was the sad fulfillment of a famous quote about the peril and pleasure of drug addiction that is widely credited to Bruce:

       “I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.”

Many books of quotations simply cite the quote as “attributed.”

Those that give a specific source for the attribution cite the 1970 book Play Power: Exploring the International Underground by Richard Neville.

Neville is himself a legendary 1960s counterculture celebrity.

He initially gained notoriety in Australia as editor of the underground magazine OZ.

In Play Power, Neville used the Bruce quotation at the end of a point he made about the unintended consequences of public hysteria over marijuana.

“When one discovers that cannabis is harmless, exposing society’s lie, heroin by analogy may seem tempting,” Neville wrote. “Moral: Tell the truth about pot and there will be fewer junkies.”

Neville then inserted Bruce’s “kissing God” quote, without giving any source information other than Bruce’s name.

It’s possible that Neville heard Bruce say the line in a conversation.

He mentioned in an interview in DUKE magazine that he’d met Bruce briefly in 1962, when the comedian came to Australia for an ill-fated tour that was shut down after one performance for “obscenity.”

I emailed Neville and asked him if Bruce used the “kissing God” quote when they met.

He emailed back saying he didn’t remember hearing it from Bruce himself.

“I can’t recall the first time I heard it,” Neville told me, “though I do remember the saying being quoted in the London OZ office in the late Sixties.”

I’ve been unable to find the “kissing God” quote in anything written by Lenny Bruce.

Nor could I find any evidence that he said it in any of his stand-up comedy routines.

However, a version of the quip is mentioned in the 1974 biography Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!, written by Albert Harry Goldman and Lawrence Schiller.

According to an anecdote recorded in that book, Bruce once told his friend, writer Terry Southern:

“You start off with one or two pills, then it’s three or four and pretty soon to get that flash, you gotta have a whole handful. An’ shit! Who wants to shoot without the flash? You understand? It’s like kissing God!”

On today’s date in 1966, Lenny Bruce “kissed God” for last time.

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July 31, 2014

“The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” (“Endlösung der Judenfrage”)


“The Final Solution” is one of the most chilling phrases associated with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

It’s a euphemism for genocide, immortalized by a memo sent on July 31, 1941 by Hermann Göring, head of the Gestapo, to Nazi SS General Reinhard Heydrich.

The memo was drafted for Göring by Adolf Eichmann, head of the Nazi “Department for Jewish Affairs.”

The Nazis had previously considered several plans for getting rid of Europe’s Jewish population, such as mass sterilization and deportation to the island of Madagascar (the so-called “Madagascar Plan.”)

Ultimately, those previous options were deemed impractical. Hitler wanted another option.

The memo Göring signed on July 31st ordered Heydrich to devise and implement a new plan for dealing with “the Jewish problem.”

Several versions of that phrase were used in the memo. But one in particular became infamous: “Endlösung der Judenfrage” — the “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.” (This is also often translated as “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” since the German word frage can mean either “question” or “problem.”)

Göring’s memo to Heydrich said:

    “In completion of the task which was entrusted to you in the Edict dated January 24, 1939, of solving the Jewish Problem by means of emigration or evacuation in the most convenient way possible, given the present conditions, I herewith charge you with making all necessary preparations with regard to organizational, practical and financial aspects for a total solution of the Jewish Problem [Gesamtlösung der Judenfrage] in the German sphere of influence in Europe…

     I further charge you with submitting to me promptly an overall plan of the preliminary organizational, practical and financial measures for the execution of the intended final solution of the Jewish Problem [Endlösung der Judenfrage].”

On January 20, 1942, Heydrich met with top officials from various ministries of Hitler’s Third Reich government at the Wannsee Conference. There, the hideous intent of Göring memo was fully set in motion.

Over the next few years, the Nazis killed millions of Jewish men, women and children at mass extermination camps such Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Fortunately, the defeat of the Nazis and the death of Hitler in 1945 brought an end to implementation of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.”

But by the end of World War II, a total of approximately six million Jews had been killed — two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before the war began.

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July 25, 2014

“Paris is worth a mass.” (“Paris vaut une messe.”)


From 1562 to 1598, a series of bloody wars was waged in France between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots, collectively called “The French Wars of Religion.”

This particular series of European religious conflicts ended with the Edict of Nantes, which was essentially a truce providing some basic religious freedoms to both Catholics and Protestants.

The Edict of Nantes was issued in 1598 by King Henry IV and it’s one of the reasons why he became popularly known as “le bon roi Henri” — “the good king Henry.”

Nine years earlier, Henry had became the legal heir to the throne, after King Henry III was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic monk.

Henry IV was a Huguenot, like his predecessor, when he inherited the crown.

And, although most of the country accepted him as King, many Catholics refused to recognize his authority — especially in the vitally important, Catholic-controlled city of Paris.

Henry decided to try to break the political and religious logjam and reunite the country by converting to Catholicism.

He did so in a very public ceremony at the basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris on Sunday morning, July 25, 1593.

That day, according to legend, he told a friend “Paris vaut une messe.” (“Paris is worth a mass.”)

This famous quote (sometimes given as “Paris veult une messe”) was not actually recorded at the time. It was attributed to Henry IV years later and is probably apocryphal.

However, Henry clearly did embrace the basic idea. He felt it was worth converting if it meant he could gain control of Paris and unite the country under his rule.

Henry’s conversion and his Edict of Nantes did unite the country and bring an end to the French Wars of Religion — but not to religious fanaticism.

In 1610, good King Henry IV was assassinated in Paris by the Catholic zealot François Ravaillac.

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