January 23, 2020

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

You may or may not be a fan of the ‘80s TV series The A-Team, but you probably know the famous catchphrase from the show:

       “I love it when a plan comes together.”

It was used frequently throughout the show’s five-season run from 1983 to 1986 by the team’s cigar-chomping leader, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, played by actor George Peppard.

Peppard first uttered the line in the 2-hour pilot episode “Mexican Slayride,” which originally aired on January 23, 1983 as an NBC “Sunday Night Movie.”

The first regular one-hour episode of The A-Team aired the following week, on January 30, 1983, following the Superbowl.

After that, the show moved to a Tuesday 8pm time slot.

Other members of Hannibal’s team of good-guy mercenaries included: Templeton “Face” Peck, played by Dirk Benedict throughout the regular series but by Tim Dunigan in the pilot; “Howling Mad” Murdock, played by Dwight Schultz; and, Boscoe “B.A.” (for “Bad Attitude”) Baracus, memorably played by Mr. T.

Naturally, Peppard’s catchphrase in the A-Team TV series was resurrected and used several times in the A-Team movie released in 2010, which starred Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith.

Some people assume that the A-Team series is also the origin of another well-known catchphrase — Mr. T’s famous line “I pity the fool.” 

In fact, that line was first used by Mr. T in the 1982 movie Rocky III, in which he played Rocky’s boxing opponent “Clubber” Lang.

According to the A-Team experts (i.e., hardcore fans who have watched and rewatched the entire series) Mr. T never said “I pity the fool” in any of the 98 episodes of the show.

I’m willing to take their word for it.

I did enjoy watching The A-Team back in the 1980s and I still watch reruns of the show occasionally on one of the retro TV channels.

But I’m not quite up for watching all 98 episodes and paying close attention to every line. So, for now, I’m accepting the conclusion of the A-Team experts on the the question of whether Mr. T ever said “I pity the fool” in the series.

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January 20, 2020

The MLK speech that almost wasn’t the “I Have a Dream” Speech – and the one that might have been…


The observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on the third Monday of January each year, always makes me think of his most quoted words: “I have a dream…”

After doing some research on the story behind those famous words, I find them even more memorable.

August 28th is generally cited as the anniversary of King’s use of “I have a dream…” because he spoke them in the moving, high-profile address he gave at the historic “March on Washington” on August 28, 1963.  

What he said that day is rightly considered to be one of the greatest speeches in history.

It is generally referred to as the “I Have a Dream” Speech, due to King’s repeated use of the phrase during the last third of his remarks. 

But if King had stuck to the written version of the speech he’d prepared it would be known by a different name.

The typed copy that his aides gave to the press that morning and that King carried to the podium was titled “Normalcy – Never Again.”

The words “I have a dream” were not in it.

In fact, King had consciously decided not to include that phrase because he’d used it before in several other speeches.

He and his aides thought it might seem stale.

He had used the phrase recently in another high-profile speech at a major civil rights rally in Detroit on June 23, 1963.

In that speech he repeated “I have a dream” numerous times in a series of sentences that are very similar to those he later used in the most famous part of his August 28 speech in Washington.

As noted by many newspaper and magazine articles and the book, The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream, by Gary Younge, King was inspired to add “I have a dream” to his Washington speech by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

Jackson had sung two rousing gospel songs shortly before King started speaking and was standing behind him.

During the first eleven minutes of his speech, King basically delivered his prepared remarks.

To people who had heard him speak at other events, and to King himself, it seemed like a good speech, but not quite a great one.

Then, as recounted in Younge’s book, something remarkable happened:

King was winding up what would have been a well-received but, by his standards, fairly unremarkable oration. “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana,” he said. Then, behind him, Mahalia Jackson cried out: “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”…Jackson had seen him deliver the dream refrain in Detroit in June and clearly it had moved her.

“Go back to the slums and ghettoes of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed,” King said [continuing his prepared remarks]. Jackson shouted again: “Tell ‘em about the dream.” 

King knew what she meant.

He stopped giving his written speech, set the written text aside on the podium, and began talking extemporaneously. Or, more accurately, almost extemporaneously.

When you compare the text of the last part of King’s August 28 speech with the text of his June 23 speech, you can see that some of the most famous parts of what came to be called the “I Have a Dream” Speech were based on lines from the earlier address.

Of course, this does nothing to diminish the amazing eloquence and impact of what King said on the 28th.

But it is interesting to compare some of the parallel language in the two speeches side by side.

If King had not recycled parts of the Detroit speech at the March on Washington, his speech on August 28 might now be called his “Normalcy – Never Again” Speech. And, his Detroit speech might be called his “I Have a Dream” Speech.

Here are some of the parallel lines from both speeches…

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s
speech in Washington, D.C.
August 28, 1963
(Click here to read the entire speech)

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s
speech in Detroit
June 23, 1963
(Click here to read the entire speech)

I say to you today…I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

And so this afternoon, I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal”…I have a dream this afternoon.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi…will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children…will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream this afternoon that one day, one day little white children and little Negro children will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted…and every hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

And when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

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November 27, 2019

“I’m mad as hell” — the misquote of a movie line that is itself a misquote!

During almost every recent election season, political commentators seem to talk about “angry voters” of one kind or another.

These disgruntled voters are usually said to be angry about certain current events or something politicians did or didn’t do.

During the last presidential election, I even saw one story that claimed “angry voters are now angry at the angry voters.”

In many stories about angry voters — and in online posts made by angry voters — a common quote used is: “I'm mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

When a source is given for that quote, it’s usually cited as a line actor Peter Finch says in the movie Network, which premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976.

Finch does say something very close to that in the movie.

But the commonly-heard “I’m mad as hell” version is not the actual movie quote.

Network was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet.

In addition to Peter Finch, the superb cast includes Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty.

What Finch actually says in the movie, as network news anchorman Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,” is:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

He says the line several times in Network, using the words “I’m as mad as” and “take this” — NOT “I’m mad as” and “take it.”

You can confirm what Finch says by watching the movie or by viewing the scene in which he first unleashes his frequently misquoted line on YouTube.

There’s also an excellent in-depth summary of Network on the AMC website. (It uses the word “gonna” in place of “going to,” though to my ears and in the script, Finch clearly says “going to”).

If you didn’t know Network was released in 1976, you might think the glorious rant Finch gives in it is a commentary on more recent times.

He starts out by saying: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.”

After warming up a bit more by citing a list of bad things, he delivers his call to action:

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Ironically, in Chayefsky’s original script, Howard Beale is supposed to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

But when the scene the line is first used in was filmed, Peter Finch spontaneously said, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” 

Director Lumet decided to keep the line as Finch spoke it, thus creating a movie quote that’s often misquoted, but which is itself a misquote of what was written in the script.

If you’re interested in misquotes, you can read about some others I’ve discussed in past posts by clicking this link, or by buying books like Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier and Nice Guys Finish Seventh, Garson O'Toole's Hemingway Didn't Say That, Elizabeth Knowles’ What They Didn't Say, or They Never Said It by Paul F. Boller and John George.

In the meantime, if you’re as mad as hell about the what’s happening in your community, your state, or in the US, get out and vote, damnit!

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November 16, 2019

Two famous quotes launched by Captain John Paul Jones…

The quotation most people associate with American Navy Captain John Paul Jones is “I have not yet begun to fight.” 

According to legend, Jones said that defiant line during a naval battle with the British on September 23, 1779 when a British officer asked if he was ready to surrender.

Some historians and quote mavens like Ralph Keyes have questioned whether Jones uttered those exact words.

The claim that he did was made a half a century after that battle and other accounts give different responses by Jones.

However, he did say something like it, and the backstory on the legendary version of his answer involves other famous words Jones definitely did say — in writing.

In the fall of 1778, during the height of the American Revolution, Jones was in France trying to get a new warship to use in the fight against the British.

The French government offered him a heavy ship named the Neptune they had captured, but Jones deemed it to be too slow.

So, he wrote a letter to French aristocrat Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont.

De Chaumont was an influential member of the court of King Louis XVI who had been instrumental in arranging various types of French support for the rebellious Americans.

In a letter dated November 16, 1778, Jones told the French nobleman: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way.”

It had long been common to talk about getting someone or something “out of harm’s way,” meaning to remove them from some kind of danger.

But John Paul Jones is generally credited with the first recorded use of the phrase “in harm’s way.”

By the early 1800s, it became a common figure of speech, meaning “in the path of danger.”

It’s most often used to refer to men and women in the military, who are sent “in harm’s way” during wartime.

Not long after Jones wrote his letter to Monsieur Chaumont, the French government gave him a frigate named the Bonhomme Richard.

On September 23, 1779, Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard fought their famous battle off the coast of England against the British war ship Serapis.

At one point, the Bonhomme Richard seemed to be sinking. The commander of the Serapis, Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, asked Jones if he would strike his flag and surrender.

That’s when Jones gave his possibly apocryphal reply: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

After lashing the Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis and fighting ferociously, the Americans won the battle and the crew of the Serapis surrendered to them.

In 1962, James Bassett’s bestselling World War II novel, Harm's Way, helped make the term taken from Jones’s letter more widely known than ever.

In 1965, the novel was adapted into the epic movie In Harm's Way, further enhancing the use and recognition of the phrase.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie. If you haven’t, you should.

It was produced and directed by Otto Preminger and stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss and Dana Andrews.

In Harm’s Way is justifiably considered one of the greatest war movies ever made. And, as you now know, its title comes from the most famous words John Paul Jones definitely said.

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October 20, 2019

Spiro Agnew vs. the “effete intellectuals” and “nattering nabobs”…

Nowadays, Conservative provocateurs like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter get lots of media attention for coming up with snarky, quotable insults aimed at Liberals.

But the way was paved for them decades ago by Republican politician Spiro Agnew (1918-1996), the former Governor of Maryland who became Vice President of the United States under President Richard M. Nixon in 1969.

Agnew unleashed one of his most famous zingers on October 19, 1969.

He was speaking that day at a Republican fund-raising dinner in New Orleans.

Four days earlier, opponents of the Vietnam War had organized a major anti-war demonstration, the October 15th Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Hundreds of thousands of people participated in moratorium events in the United States and Europe.

Agnew was a staunch defender of the Vietnam War, so naturally he had to take a swipe at the protesters.

He characterized them as people who “overwhelm themselves with drugs and artificial stimulants.”

He went on (and on and on) to say:

“Education is being redefined at the demand of the uneducated to suit the ideas of the uneducated. The student now goes to college to proclaim rather than to learn. The lessons of the past are ignored and obliterated in a contemporary antagonism known as ‘The Generation Gap.’ A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” 

Other Conservatives and the press especially loved that last sentence. And, soon, the pithy core of it was compressed into the phrases still used today: “effete intellectual snobs” and the shorter version “effete intellectuals.”

Spiro uttered a number of other catchy, insulting names for Liberals during his four years as Vice President.

Two others that are still cited are “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” 

Most of Agnew’s catchy phrases as Vice President were written for him by Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire, who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times. (I was a big fan of Safire’s “On Language” column in the NYT and highly recommend his many excellent books about the origins of famous quotations and phrases.)

Agnew’s verbal attacks on Liberals made him a darling of Republicans until 1973, when his past caught with him.

That year, he was charged with taking bribes and evading taxes during his tenure as Governor of Maryland.

He resigned as Vice President on October 10, 1973, as part of a plea deal to avoid jail time.

It was quite a scandal at the time. But, hey – at least Spiro Agnew wasn’t taking any of them there psycho-delic drugs or acting like a damn effete intellectual.

However, I do think he may have qualified as a nattering nabob.

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