December 31, 2013

What were the “top quotes” of 2013?

I recently looked through a couple dozen lists of “top” and “best” quotes of 2013 and came to a disappointing conclusion.

In terms of truly memorable quotations that generated new idiomatic expressions and catchphrases or that will show up in future books of quotations, the year 2013 was pretty much a bust.

Browse through some of the lists of the supposed top or best quotes of 2013 at this link yourself and you’ll understand why I say that.

For example, as far as I can tell from the lists of the “top” or “best” political quotes of the year, no politician said anything in 2013 that will be cited by large numbers of history or quotation books years from now.

And, what line from a movie released in 2013 do you remember and hear people using regularly, the way people remember and make quips with lines like “May the Force be with you” or “I’ll be back” or “You can’t handle the truth”? If there were any, they’re not in the lists of the top or best movie lines of 2013 that I’ve seen.

Similarly, can you think of a catchphrase from a TV show that debuted in 2013 that has embedded itself in our language? Anything that will become as familiar as lines like “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” or “To boldly go where no man has gone before” or “Well isn’t that special?” I’m guessing not.

So, what are the top quotes of 2013?

The most widely-published annual list of “top quotes” is the one released by Yale University librarian Fred Shapiro, editor of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations. It gets reprinted by thousands of newspapers and websites.

Shapiro has been issuing his list of the top quotes of the year since 2007. As he explained in a video on the Yale News website, his choices aren’t simply based on whether a quote has become “famous.” He says he also picks quotes that he views as historically important or revealing of the spirit of the times.

Even given those broader parameters, I think he had a lot better options to pick from in previous years.

You can read Shapiro’s complete 2013 list

at this link.

His number one quote of the year is a comment President Barack Obama made about the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) at a news conference on November 14, 2013:

“With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it: the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

With respect to Fred, that may be a historic admission but it’s not a very memorable quotation.

It’s a comment on a famous promise Obama repeated in various ways in 2009 and 2010, usually summarized as “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

The most cited version is probably the one in his speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009, in which he used the word period at the end for emphasis:

“If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.”

That statement wasn’t given much notice in 2009 but, ironically, it did become a famous quote in 2013.

When Obamacare began to be implemented this past year, opponents of the plan discovered that some Americans would not actually be able to keep their existing health care plans if those plans didn’t meet certain minimum quality criteria in the law’s fine print.

So, during 2013, Republican politicians and pundits gleefully (and endlessly) reminded everyone that Obama had previously said if you like your health care plan, you could keep it. actually dubbed it “The Lie of the Year” for 2013 — even though Obama didn’t say it in 2013.

Indeed, there is only one quotation on Fred Shapiro’s list of the top quotes of 2013 that I think will likely be considered a “famous quote” in the future. It’s actually famous already, in the sense of being familiar to most reasonably aware people and frequently cited, mocked and satirized.

But it was also uttered prior to 2013.

It’s the oft-parodied remark made by Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, at a press conference on December 21, 2012:

     “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Shapiro included it on this year’s list because it was uttered after he issued his 2012 list in mid-December of last year.

So, I’m guessing that in his list of the top quotes of 2014, Fred may include a few that were uttered shortly after he issued his 2013 list.

One is now paraphrased as “Santa is white.”

That’s the shortened version of some immediately controversial and widely-covered remarks made by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on December 11, 2013.

Responding to an article she’d read which said the constant depiction of Santa Claus as a white man makes some black children feel uncomfortable and excluded, Kelly opined:

     “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is...Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact – as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that.”

Kelly later said her remarks were intended to be humorous, but nobody really believed it. And, mentions of “Santa is white” quickly became — and will likely remain — a popular target of scorn and satire by Liberals and comedians in the future.

There were some other politically-incorrect statements by another TV celebrity that came to light after Shapiro’s issued his list of top quotes for this year.

Yep, I’m referring to the remarks that Phil Robertson, star of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show, made about homosexuals and African Americans in an interview in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine, which actually hit newsstands and made news in December of 2013.

As you’ve probably heard (unless you’ve been living off the grid somewhere), Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality. He also suggested that homosexuals won’t get into heaven.

Specifically, when asked what he thought was sinful, Robertson is quoted as responding:

     “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson also managed to offend African Americans in his GQ interview, saying:

     “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

The Duck Dynasty patriarch’s comments generated a ton of press and controversy.

I don’t know if they’ll show up in future editions of Bartlett’s or the Yale Book of Quotations. But given the attention they generated, I will be surprised if Fred Shapiro doesn’t mention them in his next annual list of top quotes.

Happy New Year from This Day in Quotes!

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December 26, 2013

How the 1965 Watts riots led to a new holiday – and added a new word to our language…

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that entered the American lexicon in 1966.

It’s the name of the African-American holiday celebration that starts on December 26 and lasts for seven days.

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and Chairman of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach.

After the terrible 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga wanted to find a new way of bringing African-Americans together as families and as a community.

His research on traditional African “first fruit” harvest ceremonies gave him the idea for Kwanzaa. And, on December 26, 1966, he organized and launched the first Kwanzaa celebration.

Karenga took the name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”

He then mixed together and adapted several African traditions to devise the week-long Kwanzaa celebration — becoming one of the few people in history to establish a whole new holiday tradition.
Today, Kwanzaa is observed by millions of people of African descent in America, Canada and other countries.

Since Kwanzaa is a cultural, rather than a religious holiday tradition, many of them celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

On each night of Kwanzaa week, families join together to light one of the seven candles on a special candleholder (called the Kinara), and discuss one of Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) that Dr. Karenga designated as important to honoring their shared African heritage and strengthening family and community bonds.

In English, those seven principles are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, economic cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith.

I’ve heard some people scoff at Kwanzaa.

And, I know that – like many other leaders at the forefront of black activism during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s – Dr. Karenga has a controversial past (see the Wikipedia entry about him).

But it’s hard to dispute the fact that the principles he designated for African-Americans to focus on during Kwanzaa are worthy values for any family or cultural group to think about and celebrate.

Happy Kwanzaa!

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December 25, 2013

The American Christmas classic by a Russian-born Jewish songwriter that ended the Vietnam War…

I like odd facts and there are a number of them about the song “White Christmas.”

First off, this American Christmas classic was written by the Russian-born Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin (who also wrote the classic American anthem “God Bless America”).

Berlin’s original name was Israel Baline. His family emigrated to America in 1893 to escape violent pogroms against Jews and settled in New York City.

By the age of 20, the young immigrant was on his way to becoming one of the greatest songwriters in modern history, under his Americanized name. 

Berlin wrote “White Christmas” sometime in the late 1930s.

Bing Crosby introduced it publicly on his NBC radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1941.

But the song first gained true national fame the following year, when it was sung by Crosby in the film Holiday Inn, a musical full of Irving Berlin songs that was released in the US on August 4, 1942.

In the fall of 1942, Decca issued the first recording of Crosby singing “White Christmas.”

It became a huge hit and a sentimental favorite of American troops and their families during World War II.

The recording of the song we’re most familiar with today, however, is not the 1942 version.

By 1947, the Decca master of Crosby’s 1942 recording had been used to make so many records that it was literally worn out.

So, on March 19, 1947 Crosby recorded the song for Decca again, with John Scott Trotter and his orchestra.

That version of “White Christmas” went on to become the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales of more than 50 million copies.

In total, over 100 million copies of 78rpm records, 45rpm singles and albums with Bing’s various renditions of the song have been sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

In 1975, “White Christmas” also had a bizarre role at the end of the Vietnam War.

By April of that year, the United States had pulled most of its troops out of Vietnam and the North Vietnamese were closing in on Saigon.

As part of secret preparations for the evacuation of all remaining American personnel, the American embassy distributed a 15-page booklet to US civilians who were still in the city. It included a map showing where evacuation helicopters would be landing.

A page inserted into the booklet said:

“Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read out on American Forces Radio. The code is: THE TEMPERATURE IN SAIGON IS 112 DEGREES AND RISING. THIS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE PLAYING OF ‘I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS.’”

The final panicky evacuation of Saigon is now inglorious history — and the fact that “White Christmas” played a role in it is one more odd thing about the song.

OK, now please sing along with Bing, without panicking:

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the tree-tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow...”

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November 20, 2013

Before Marilyn Monroe, “the seven year itch” was an annoying skin condition…

On November 20, 1952, the play The Seven Year Itch by George Axelrod debuted on Broadway at the Fulton Theatre.

It starred Tom Ewell, as a married man attracted to a gorgeous young neighbor, played by Vanessa Brown.

Ewell was also in the famous 1955 movie version of The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder.

But, in the film, the object of his desire was Marilyn Monroe.

It was one of Monroe’s most memorable roles. And, the scene in which her white dress blows up around her shapely legs when she stands on a subway grate has became an iconic cultural image.

The play and the movie were both big hits.

Together, they popularized the term “seven year itch” in its marital and sexual sense: a shorthand way of suggesting that even previously-faithful married people (especially husbands) tend to get an urge, or “itch,” to have an extramarital affair after years of marriage.

Playwright and screenwriter Axelrod is generally given credit for creating this current meaning. But he didn’t coin the phrase itself.

Before Axelrod’s play, the term “seven year itch” was a common slang name applied to any of several contagious diseases that caused itchy or otherwise annoying skin conditions, ranging from scabies to certain STDs.

This older use of the term goes back to the early-1800s and was still in common use during the first half of the 20th century.

Thanks to modern antibiotics, the diseases it applied to and the use of term in connection with skin conditions had become less common by the mid-1950s.

Then, thanks to Axelrod’s play and the particularly huge success of the 1955 movie version with Marilyn Monroe, “seven year itch” was given a whole new life — and a significantly different meaning.

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October 23, 2013

“Serutan spelled backwards spells Nature’s.”

On October 23, 1934 the company Healthaids, Inc. filed a trademark application for an advertising slogan it was using to promote its laxative product, Serutan.

Early cans of Serutan (and later bottles) featured the words “Read It Backwards” under the product’s name.

The trademarked ad slogan, which quickly became famous, made the point more directly:

      “Serutan spelled backwards spells Nature’s.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, Serutan was a sponsor of several popular radio shows, including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and news shows featuring the “muckraking” journalist Drew Pearson.

Serutan also sponsored a number of early television shows in the 1950s, like Ernie Kovacs morning show Three To Get Ready. (In 1951, when Serutan ads took over a full five minutes of Three To Get Ready, Kovacs sarcastically mocked this extra-long commercial break by calling himself “Ernie Scavok” for weeks.)

Since Serutan’s “vegetable hydrogel” product was heavily targeted to older people concerned about “regularity,” it was a particularly good fit for The Lawrence Welk Show.

In fact, from the 1950s and into the 1970s, Serutan was a major sponsor of Welk’s show, along with other senior-oriented products like the vitamin supplement Geritol.

Bandleader and host Lawrence Welk would often introduce a Serutan commercial and then turn it over to an announcer.

For example, in a typical Serutan commercial break from 1964, Welk introduced the ad by saying: “Here’s Bob Warren to help folks over 35 solve a common problem.”

The ad that followed showed some happy “folks over 35,” then a woman who looked distressed, with the caption “After 35" at the bottom of the screen.

Announcer Bob Warren helpfully explained:

“You know the years over 35 could be the best of your life. But as you get older, you may feel grouchy and out of sorts, because of irregularity. After 35, your system slows down. What you may need today is the all-vegetable laxative aid Serutan, which is specially made for folks over 35. That’s because Serutan provides the peristaltic stimulation for more normal regularity. This is different from pills, salts or oils. Serutan acts like the naturally laxative hydrogel in fruits and vegetables to help keep you regular. So, if after 35, if you feel grouchy and out of sorts, take Serutan daily to help stimulate your slowed-down system to more normal regularity. Remember, when you read Serutan backwards, it spells nature’s.”

By the time The Lawrence Welk Show went off the air in 1982, Serutan was being pushed off store shelves by newer laxatives.

Today, it’s no longer sold. But the slogan “Serutan spelled backwards spells Nature’s” was firmly embedded in our language and is still being quoted and spoofed.

Many people who never saw a bottle of Serutan — and even those who have no idea what Serutan is — are familiar with the slogan or at least with the “X spelled backwards spells Y” catchphrase formula, which is often used for humorous effect.

If you’re a National Lampoon fan (like me), you might recall that the Lampoon’s great spoof Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings used the name Serutan for the character who was Bored’s version of the evil wizard Saruman in Tolkien’s Trilogy.

Not long ago, I saw a YouTube video of some giggling teenage girls gleefully spoofing the old Serutan slogan.

Well, yuck it up while you can, girls. Someday you’ll be old yourselves and downing your daily laxatives. It won’t be Serutan. But it might well be a product made with the same key ingredient that was in Serutan — psyllium.

Psyllium is in a number of modern “fiber supplements,” such as Metamucil.

I suppose Metamucil may be as good or better than Serutan at helping “folks over 35 solve a common problem.” But it doesn’t have the same potential for a good slogan when spelled backwards.

For more Serutan trivia see...

• The Healthaids, Inc. entry in the book Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting by Jim Cox

“Serutan Yob,” the spoof song “For Backward Boys And Girls Under 40” by Red Ingle & The Unnatural Seven

• The “Laxative ‘In’ Product For Over 35 Crowd” page, on the great Old-Time Radio website

• The discussion of the pursuit of "regularity" in the book Inner Hygiene: Constipation and the Pursuit of Health in Modern Society by James C. Whorton

• The 1945 Health Instruction Yearbook entry noting that the Federal Trade Commission had issued a cease-and-desit order against Healthaids, Inc. to stop “any advertisement which represents directly or indirectly that Serutan is a cure or remedy for constipation.”

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October 14, 2013

First they came for the Communists – or was it the Industrialists?

On October 14, 1968, Congressman Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin made some remarks on the floor of Congress that included what became a very famous quotation – or, more accurately, a very famous misquotation.

The “quote” Reuss read was recorded in the Congressional Record as follows:

“When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church – and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

Reuss credited these words to Howard J. Samuels, a New York businessman who was the Administrator of the Small Business Administration and, according to Reuss, “a leader of the Nation’s Jewish community."

It was soon pointed out that the quote was not created by Samuels, but was actually a version of words spoken by the German theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller (1892-1984).

Today, many books and thousands of websites attribute the lines in the Congressional Record to Niemöller .

Pastor Niemöller was one of the brave German church leaders who spoke out publicly against the Nazis’ persecution of Jews and other minority groups while Adolf Hitler was in power. He was arrested and put in a Nazi concentration camp for his views, but survived.

In 1946, after World War II ended, he began talking in his sermons and speeches about the collective guilt Germans shared for going along with Hitler’s atrocities.

A paraphrase of Niemöller’s remarks on this topic was cited in the 1955 book by Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45.

Mayer wrote that a German friend of his told him:

“Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

Eventually, someone (possibly Howard Samuels) turned this book’s account of what Niemöller said into the “quote” Rep. Reuss read into the Congressional Record on October 13, 1968.

Then some other unknown person turned that famous misquote into a popular poem which was and still is commonly attributed to Pastor Niemöller.

Many different versions of this poem have been published in books and on the Internet, naming various groups in varying order.

One of the most common versions starts with “the Jews” and goes like this:

  “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
   Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
   Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
   Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Other common versions start with “Communists” or “Socialists.”

The bottom line is this: Pastor Niemöller did say some things in his sermons that are similar to the lines given in the Congressional Record, in Mayer’s 1955 book and the poetic variations.

But there is no written record of him saying anything exactly like any of those “quotes.”

Interestingly, the version read by Congressman Reuss omitted Communists and Socialists. In 1968, the Cold War was still ongoing and no savvy American politician could publicly sympathize with “Reds.” So, Ruess inserted “industrialists” in their place.

Niemöller himself did not mention industrialists in his sermons about people the Nazis persecuted, since they were not one of the groups the Nazis targeted. But he did mention Communists and Socialists, since they were in fact persecuted by the Nazis.

Indeed, when his “quote” became famous and Niemöller was asked about it, he said he preferred the versions that included Communists and Socialists.

The most definitive research I’ve seen about all this was done by Harold Marcuse, a professor of German history at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Marcuse posted a summary of his research online and it’s well worth reading if you’re a fan of this famous saying.

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October 13, 2013

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

In 1950, Bette Davis was a highly-regarded actress. But she was starting to be viewed as an “aging” actress and her career seemed to be fading.

That year, the multitalented writer, producer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz gave Bette a plum role in a film that helped revive her popularity with critics and audiences.

Ironically, Bette’s character in this movie, Margo Channing, is a highly-regarded but aging actress whose career is fading.

The film is All About Eve, an Academy Award-winning drama that premiered in New York City on October 13, 1950.

Mankiewicz himself wrote the screenplay. He based it on a short story by Mary Orr about a scheming young actress named Eve, who cozies up to an older actress, then tries to steal her roles and her husband.

Most true fans of classic movies knew the famous line that Davis, as Margo, delivers in the film.

It comes during a scene in which Margo throws a birthday party for her director and companion, Bill Sampson, played by Gary Merrill (who became Bette’s real life husband that same year).

When she notices him being a bit too attentive to the aspiring young actress Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter), Margo becomes jealous, starts downing drinks and acting snappish.

Her friend Karen (Celeste Holm) notices and says to her: “We’ve seen you like this before. Is it over, or is it just beginning?"

Margo quaffs another drink, walks over to a staircase, looks down with a devilish smile and responds with the now legendary movie quote:

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Of course, since the year was 1950, she was alluding to buckling up during a bumpy flight on an airplane. Cars didn’t have seatbelts back then.

All About Eve was a major hit that rejuvenated Bette’s career, earned her an Oscar nomination and a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.

It’s also notable for a brief appearance by a young Marilyn Monroe during the party scene. It was one of her early roles and she didn’t get much screen time, but her beauty and sexy charisma are apparent.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 13: 

“You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh...” - The famous song “As Time Goes By,” written by American songwriter Herman Hupfeld, was made famous by the movie Casablanca (1943). But it was originally written for the Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome, which opened at the Shubert Theater in New York City on October 13, 1931.

“Fail-Safe.” - The title of a book by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler that debuted in serialized form in the October 13, 1962 issue of The Saturday Evening Post magazine. It was soon published as a book that became a bestseller, burning the scary Cold War term “fail-safe” into America’s consciousness and language.

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October 05, 2013

Dan Quayle is no Jack Kennedy – and Lloyd Bentsen is no Michael Sheehan…

It’s not often that debates between candidates for Vice President of the United States generate a famous quotation – or even much attention.

But there are some notable exceptions.

One is the October 13, 1992 vice-presidential debate, in which Independent Ross Perot’s V.P. pick, James Stockdale, said “Who am I? Why am I here?” (It had the unfortunate effect of making him seem a bit, er, lost.)

A more famous quote from a vice-presidential debate occurred four years earlier on October 5, 1988.

In that one, Republican V.P. candidate Senator Dan Quayle debated Senator Lloyd Bentsen, candidate for the Democratic Party. (The presidential candidates were Republican George Herbert Walker Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis.)

Tom Brokaw was among the journalists asking the candidates questions that night. At one point, Brokaw raised an issue that had previously been raised by various political pundits (and Democrats) in the weeks leading up to the debate: the question of whether Quayle, who was only 41 years old, had the experience needed to serve as President of the United States in the event it became necessary.

In his reply to Brokaw, Quayle made the mistake of saying: “I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.”

Bentsen pounced on this quickly, responding with what is considered to be one of the best zingers ever used in a political debate:

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

Democrats and the media loved it. And, ever since then, the linguistic formula “You’re no [fill in the name]” has been part of our cultural lexicon, usually as a line used for humorous effect.

Of course, despite all the attention the line received, Bush and Quayle handily defeated Dukakis and Bentsen in the November 1988 election.

And, although the quip made Bentsen seem like a debating genius, he didn’t exactly come up with it out of the blue.
Before the debate, Bentsen had received extensive training from the legendary professional speakers trainer and debate coach Michael Sheehan.

Sheehan has coached more US Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, Mayors and Congressmen than anyone in the country. He’s a master at creating quotable quips for them to use.

Sheehan knew that Quayle had often compared himself to President Kennedy when reporters asked him about his youth and qualifications. He was also aware that Bentsen had known Kennedy personally.

During their practice for the vice-presidential debate, Sheehan had Bentsen prepare and hone responses to a number of things Quayle was likely to say during the debate. One was how to respond if Quayle compared himself to Kennedy.

In a story published in Vanity Fair magazine in 2011, Democratic political consultant Mike Curry, who was involved in the 1988 campaign, gave Bentsen all the credit for his famous debate zinger.

But some people who know Michael Sheehan think he may have crafted the final version of the quip Bentsen used in the debate.

I happen know Michael Sheehan myself. I worked with him on some political campaigns I’ve been involved in.

I once asked him whether he created Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” lines. He avoided giving me a direct answer.

Nonetheless, here’s my opinion: Lloyd Bentsen is no Michael Sheehan.

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September 05, 2013

Kerouac’s “mad ones” continue to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles…”

On September 5, 1957, the first edition of Jack Kerouac’s seminal book On the Road was published by Viking Press.

This semi-autobiographical novel, written in a loose, stream-of-consciousness (and sometimes probably semi-conscious) manner, had a profound and lasting effect on American literature and culture.

It’s not one of those books that generated a lot of famous, pithy quotes.

But there is a line in On the Road that’s included
in many books of quotations and cited by thousands of websites.

It’s a long, lyrical run-on sentence that epitomizes the “Beat” style of writing Kerouac helped create.

And, in a way, it epitomizes Kerouac’s rejection of mid-Twentieth Century, middle-class mores in favor of a wilder, non-conformist approach to life:  

       “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‛Awww!’”

On the Road cemented Kerouac’s status as one of the literary gods of the “Beat Generation”

In fact, he coined that term, according to his friend and fellow Beat writer John Clellon Holmes and Kerouac himself.

Holmes popularized the term “Beat Generation” in magazine articles and books he wrote in the 1950s. But he credited it to Kerouac.

Kerouac later confirmed that it was his creation. In an interview published in the June 1959 issue of Playboy magazine, he recalled:

       “Holmes and I were sitting around trying to think up the meaning of the Lost Generation’s subsequent existentialism. And I said, ‘You know, this is really a beat generation,’ and he leapt up and said, ‘That’s it, that’s right!’”

On September 5, 1957, the day On the Road was officially released,
a review of the novel appeared in the New York Times. It was written by critic Gilbert Millstein, who’d received an advance copy.

He predicted:

      “Just as, more than any other novel of the Twenties,
The Sun Also Rises came to be regarded as the testament of the Lost Generation, so it seems certain that On The Road will come to be known as that of the Beat Generation.”

Millstein turned out to be right.

On the Road has achieved immense and long-lasting fame. Dozens of editions have been published over the decades, in dozens of different languages.

Millions of people have read about and been inspired by Kerouac’s depiction of the “mad ones” who “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.”

Unfortunately, Kerouac burned himself out early, in an ending that was not fabulous.

After years of heavy alcoholism, he died at the age of 47 in 1969, from internal hemorrhaging caused by cirrhosis of the liver.

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