August 15, 2017

“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.”

According to legend he was saying the word father with a Bronx accent that reflected where he grew up.

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 less snarky 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.

Other 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.

In fact, Curtis didn’t say that line in any of his movies.

But the Son of Ali Baba 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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July 23, 2017

“Why are you not here?” – Thoreau’s famous (apocryphal) question to Emerson...

Emerson & Thoreau in jail (quotes)
Fake quotes are sometimes harder to identify and debunk than “fake news,” especially when they are cited by hundreds of books and thousands of websites.

A good example is the question Henry David Thoreau supposedly asked his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson in July 1846 when Thoreau was jailed overnight in Concord, Massachusetts for refusing to pay the local “poll tax,” as a protest against slavery and/or the Mexican-American War.

According to the oft-told story, Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked why he was there.

Thoreau purportedly responded: “Why are you not here?”

This legendary jailhouse meeting and Thoreau’s legendary zinger are exactly that – legend, not fact. But the facts about Thoreau’s night in jail are not easy to pin down.

Some sources give the date of Thoreau’s incarceration as July 23, 1846. Others say July 24, 1846.

Possibly both dates apply, since he was arrested during the day, stayed in jail one night, and was released the following morning after someone anonymously paid the tax for him.

Some versions of the story say Thoreau refused to pay the tax to protest the Mexican-American War, which had begun a few months earlier. Others say he was protesting slavery.

Again, my guess is that it could have been both.

The war started in part because Americans in the then Mexican-owned region of Texas opposed Mexico’s law prohibiting slavery. They wanted Texas to be annexed by the U.S. as slave-holding territory and eventually a slave state. 

So, there was a link between the two issues.

On January 26, 1848, Thoreau mentioned his night in jail in an address to a group of local intellectuals called the Concord Lyceum.

The speech, originally titled “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government,” was first published with a few tweaks in 1849 under the title “Resistance to Civil Government.”

It later came to be known and reprinted after Thoreau’s death as “Civil Disobedience.”

In that influential work (which includes the famous quotation “That government is best which governs least”), Thoreau’s explanation for his refusal to pay the poll tax seems to refer to slavery, war and general principle:

       “It is for no particular item in the tax bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man, or a musket to shoot one with—the dollar is innocent—but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion…”

He added an oddly hypocritical ending to that high-minded declaration: “...though I will still make use and get what advantages of her [i.e., the State] I can, as is usual in such cases.”

In a mention of his night in jail in the book Walden, published in 1854, Thoreau wrote:

       “I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate-house.”

Thoreau’s non-payment of the poll tax as a political statement seems to have been inspired by his friend, writer, educator and abolitionist Bronson Alcott.

In 1843, Alcott refused to pay the poll tax, as a symbolic protest against slavery. As a sort of symbolic punishment, the local sheriff put Alcott in jail for a couple of hours until someone (possibly his wife) paid the tax for him.

After hearing of Alcott’s protest, Thoreau began refusing to pay the poll tax.

Three years later, Concord Constable Sam Staples stopped Thoreau on the street on either July 23 or July 24, 1846 and urged him to pay up.

According to an article in the August 1975 issue of the venerable history magazine American Heritage, Staples even offered to loan Thoreau the money.    

Thoreau wasn’t wealthy, but the bill didn’t amount to much. The annual poll tax, which was supposed to be paid by male citizens between the ages of 21 and 70, was $1.50, or about $40 in today’s dollars.    

Thoreau told Staples he was still refusing to pay. It’s not clear whether the reason he gave at the time was to protest slavery or the Mexican-American War or both.

The Night Thoreau Spent in JailEither way, it was simply a symbolic gesture. The poll tax supported city services, not the state or federal government, and it had no real financial connection to slavery or the Mexican-American War.

Thoreau’s willingness to go to jail for his political views is generally portrayed as an inspiring and brave act. Undeniably, it has inspired many people, including Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

However, researchers who have looked into the poll tax law have said that, while it could be enforced by seizing property in lieu of payment, it’s questionable whether non-payment would have been — or legally could have been — punished with a lengthy jail sentence.

At any rate, it is true that Thoreau spent one night in jail for his principled act of tax evasion.

He was released the next day after someone (probably his aunt Maria Thoreau) paid the tax for him.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say Constable Sam Staples kicked him out of jail.

Thoreau argued that since he didn’t personally pay the tax, he had a “right” to remain in locked up. Staples disagreed and made him leave.

According to legend, while Thoreau was in the Concord jail, his friend, fellow writer and social commentator Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to visit him and said “Henry, why are you here?” or “Henry, I am sorry to find you here.”

The most famous version of Thoreau’s response is “Why are you not here?” (with emphasis on not.)

Thoreau’s line is also given as “Why are you not here also?” or “Waldo, why are you NOT here?” or “What are you doing OUT of jail?”

The story of this exchange appears to have been made up after Thoreau died in 1862.

As noted by Yale Law School librarian and scholar Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations, there is no evidence that Emerson visited Thoreau in jail. And, Emerson is unlikely to have asked the question he supposedly asked since he’d have known why Thoreau was in jail.

Moreover, although Thoreau and Emerson recorded in detail the things they did and said, in their essays, journals, letters and books — and Thoreau wrote about his night in jail in Walden and “Civil Disobedience” — neither wrote anything about such a visit.

Shapiro and language maven Barry Popik have traced the first known version of the legend to an article published in the Christian Examiner in July 1865, three years after Thoreau’s death.

Popik’s post about the mythical exchange on his website documents several other versions of the story in newspaper and magazine articles published after that in the 1800s.

Since then, versions of the story have been included in many biographies of Thoreau and history books, typically cited as if Emerson’s visit and Henry’s zinger of a reply to Waldo were historical facts.

In 1969, during the Vietnam War, the legend was further enshrined in popular culture by the widely-produced anti-war play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, written by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence.

In the play, Emerson says “Henry! Henry! What are you doing in jail?”

Thoreau responds, “Waldo! What are you doing out of jail?”    

After 1846, the real life Thoreau continued to refuse to pay his poll tax. In the 1849 printing of “Civil Disobedience” he said proudly: “I have paid no poll tax for six years.”

Apparently, Constable Staples gave Thoreau a pass after his one famed night in jail, or maybe Aunt Maria kept paying the tax for him, since he didn’t end up in jail for non-payment after that.

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Related reading…

July 12, 2017

“There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”


It is often claimed that the familiar expression of compassion “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is based on a quote by the 16th Century English Protestant clergyman John Bradford.

According to tradition, Bradford was a prisoner in the Tower of London when he said it.

He had previously been a prominent supporter of the religious reforms imposed by King Edward VI, which essentially banned Catholicism in England and established the Protestant Church of England as the country’s official religion.

Part of this “reformation” involved jailing or executing Catholic clergymen who weren’t willing to go along with the change.

After Edward died in 1553, Mary I (a.k.a. “Bloody Mary” Tudor) took the throne in England and forcefully reimposed Catholicism.

That involved jailing or executing Protestant clergymen who weren’t willing to go along with the change.

One of them was John Bradford, who refused to acknowledge the authority of the Pope and was convicted of “trying to stir up a mob.”

Queen Mary had Bradford locked up in the Tower of London with other notable Protestant leaders, such as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

One day while there, legend has it, Bradford looked down and saw a criminal being led to execution. (In some versions of the story, it’s a group of criminals.)

Simultaneously feeling compassion for the criminal and relief that he was better off, Bradford allegedly uttered the famous quotation “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

This quote has long been cited as the origin of the proverbial saying “There but for the grace of God go I.”

This was memorably modernized as “There but for fortune go you or I” by Sixties folksinger Phil Ochs, in his much-covered song “There But for Fortune.”           

It should be noted that modern quote and phrase sleuths have been unable to find any documentation that Bradford actually said anything like the quote he’s alleged to have said.

The traditional story of Bradford’s famous quotation appears to come from biographies written about him in the 1800s, centuries after he was dead.

There’s no record of such a quote in historical records from Bradford’s own time and no such words in his writings.

Nonetheless, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford” is included as an attributed quote in many books of quotations. (It’s sometimes given as “But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford”.)

The association this questionable quote has with the date July 1 is ironic.

The usual explanation of the quote’s meaning is that Bradford was expressing sympathy for the soon-to-be-executed criminal (or criminals) and suggesting that, except for God’s mercy, he might be sharing the same fate.

As it turned out, Bradford’s final fate actually was the same. Maybe worse, depending on how the criminal(s) got snuffed.

On July 1, 1555, Queen Mary had Bradford burned at the stake.

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July 09, 2017

“You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)
July 9th is the anniversary of one of the most famous political speeches in history, the “Cross of Gold Speech” by William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925).

Bryan, one of America’s most charismatic and gifted orators, made the speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 9, 1896. (For some reason, many books and websites, including normally credible sources like Britannica.com, give the date as July 8, 1896. I triple-checked it. The correct date is July 9.)

Bryan’s address that day is called the “Cross of Gold Speech” because of his fiery, oft-cited closing lines:

       “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

The speech contains another line about the importance of agriculture to society that also appears in many books of quotations:

       “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”

The meaning of Bryan’s words about farms is easy to grasp: their existence and an adequate food supply is crucial to civilization.

The meaning and context of the “cross of gold” quote is more complicated.

So were the political views of William Jennings Bryan.

He was something like a cross between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Like them, he was a populist politician.

He was a member of the Democratic Party and served as a Democratic Congressman for Nebraska from 1891 to 1895. But his primary allegiance was to his own moral principles and beliefs and his own hard core supporters, the majority of whom were low-income farmers and working people in rural areas of the country.

Bryan was known (and portrayed himself) as a strong advocate for the “common man” against wealthy businessmen and corporations. But Black Americans and immigrants were not among the common people Bryan cared about.

During the 2016 presidential campaign in an interesting article titled “Is Bernie Sanders Our William Jennings Bryan?” historian Michael Kazin noted: “Bryan and nearly all other Democrats in his day were unabashed defenders of Jim Crow. Their populism halted abruptly and cruelly at the color line. Neither did the eloquent Bryan, widely known as the Great Commoner, say much to defend the millions of common Jewish and Catholic immigrants who suffered from discrimination at the hands of his fellow native-born white Protestants.”

On the other hand, Bryan was an early supporter of the Women’s Suffrage movement and helped push for passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right vote.

But that partly reflected the fact that, like Bryan, most white Suffragettes supported state Prohibition laws and the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of liquor.

He was also a fundamentalist Christian who became one of the most high-profile critics of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Most notably, Bryan defended the state of Tennessee’s ban on teaching evolution in schools in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.”

Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech focused on the debate over “bimetallism,” one of the biggest, most controversial monetary policy issues in the late 1800s. It’s an arcane, now outdated issue that’s a bit hard to grasp and summarize. Here’s my layman’s attempt…

Cross of goldcartoon by Grant Hamilton, JUDGE magazine, 1896From the end of the Revolutionary War until 1873, money in the United States was “backed” by deposits of both silver and gold and the U.S. government minted both gold and silver coins. This “bimetallic standard” required the government to buy significant quantities of both metals.

During the mid-1800s, as more and more silver was mined in the U.S., that artificially propped up silver prices and benefitted owners of silver mines, which were primarily located in Western states.

It also caused creeping inflation in the costs of certain basic goods, such as agricultural products. That benefitted Midwestern and Western farmers but tended to increase living costs for most other working people. In addition, monetary inflation hurt banks and other lenders, by eroding the value of their loans.

In 1873, Congress passed a law ending bimetallism and moving the U.S. to the “gold standard” used in the United Kingdom and a number of other countries.

Midwestern and Western states opposed the change and pushed for a return to bimetallism, especially after the U.S. was hit by a severe economic depression in 1893.

William Jennings Bryan became a prominent leader of their “Free Silver” movement, which wanted the government to go back to bimetallism and mint an unlimited amount of silver-backed money on demand.

In his convention speech on July 9, 1896, Bryan framed the issue as a battle between “prosperous” people in big cities and “the struggling masses.” It was sort of a rural-based “trickle up” theory.

       “The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it,” he said. “You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”

Bryan also took a shot at the idea that the U.S. should care about other countries’ monetary policy, much like some modern politicians attack free trade, globalism and the Paris climate change agreement.

       “Our ancestors, when but three million, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation upon earth,” he opined. “Shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy million, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends...instead of having a gold standard because England has, we shall restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States have.”

Here’s the full final paragraph of his speech, showing the context of his famous “cross of gold” line:

       “If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

Bryan had used versions of the crown of thorns/cross of gold lines in previous speeches. But no speech he’d ever made generated so much attention or had such an effect.

At the end of his address, the convention delegates cheered and applauded Bryan wildly and carried him on their shoulders.

Reports of his speech and its reception were published in newspapers throughout the country. It made him a national celebrity and earned him the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in the 1896 election.

His campaign slogan was “No Crown of Thorns, No Cross of Gold.”

Republicans and Republican-leaning editors viewed Bryan as a dangerous demagogue, whose “free silver” proposal would make America’s economic problems even worse.

The majority of “the struggling masses” were also leery of Bryan’s call for a return to bimetallism. That November, Bryan was soundly defeated by Republican candidate William McKinley.

Nevertheless, he remained a Democratic superstar. He received the party’s nomination for president again in 1900 – and lost again to McKinley.

Bryan ran for president a third time in 1908, but lost in a landslide to Republican nominee William Howard Taft.

However, in the realm of famous quotations, Bryan ultimately beat both of them. Neither McKinley nor Taft ever said anything cited by thousands of books and websites like Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” quotes are.

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June 14, 2017

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”


Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige (1906-1982) is considered one of the greatest pitchers in history — despite the fact that he only played for teams in the major leagues for about five years. 

Paige actually had a very long career in baseball that started in 1926.

But from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s he was limited to playing for teams in “The Negro League,” due to the strict racial segregation that continued to be imposed in America during the first half of the 20th century.

In 1947, Paige’s former Negro League teammate Jackie Robinson finally broke baseball’s color barrier.

The following year, at age 42, Paige was recruited as a pitcher by the Cleveland Indians.

That simultaneously made him both the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the oldest major league “rookie” ever.

In 1951, Paige moved to Missouri to play for the St. Louis Browns. (I once owned a Topps baseball card showing him in his Browns uniform, with his name misspelled as “Satchell.” Looking at the prices that card fetches now on eBay, I wish I still had it.)

In 1953, a magazine story about Paige included what became a famous quote that’s included in many books about quotations and baseball:

      “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” [Sometimes given as “…may be gaining...”]

This the best known of the six rules attributed to Paige in that article, which was written by sports journalist Richard Donovan and published in the June 13, 1953 issue of Collier’s.

The six rules, (variously known as Satchel Paige’s “Six Rules for a Long Life” and “Rules for Staying Young”) were featured in a sidebar of the article and recorded as follows:

      “1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
       2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
       3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
       4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
       5. Avoid running at all times.
       6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

The Collier’s article made Paige’s rules famous.

Paige enhanced awareness of them by reciting the rules to fans and reporters throughout the rest of his life. He even had them printed on the back of his business cards.

However, over the years, questions arose about whether Satchel’s rules had actually been created by him or by Richard Donovan.

The truth seems to be somewhere in between.

In Paige’s 1962 memoir, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, he said he did have a system of personal rules that helped him be one of the best — and eventually oldest — pitchers in baseball.

“Some sports guy on the East Coast heard me talking about them once and then he went and turned them into a bunch of rules for me to stay young,” Paige recalled.

Regarding the most-quoted rule about not looking back, Paige said: “That last one that fellow wrote was my real rule. When you look back, you know how long you’ve been going and that just might stop you from going any farther...So I didn’t.”

In the excellent biography SATCHEL: The Life and Times of an American Legend, author Larry Tye concludes that the rules were based on things Paige said to Donovan during hours of interviews, but the exact wording was probably Donovan’s.

Paige retired from major league baseball not long after Collier’s published his “six rules” in 1953. But he remained a popular celebrity until his death from a heart attack in 1982.

His heart problem may have had something to do with the fact that — by his own admission — Satchel regularly violated Rule #1.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook group.

Further reading and viewing about Satchel Paige and the Negro Leagues


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