Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Today, Yoda — "The Quote Sleuth" — Cries All The Way To This Blog

In this essay, Yoda tells you more than you ever wanted to know about a catch-phrase. What a collection of characters have uttered today's phrase at one time or another. If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of trivial linguistics, so be it.

[x CHE/Lingua Franca Blog]
Crying All the Way To The Bank
By Ben Yagoda

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I was reading Emily Nussbaum’s glowing New Yorker review of HBO’s Liberace biopic, "Behind the Candelabra," when I was caught short by this parenthetical sentence: “(When [Liberace] won a lawsuit against a British paper for a review that implied he was gay, he adopted a catchphrase: ‘I cried all the way to the bank.’)"

I was familiar with the lawsuit, which the sequined pianist Liberace filed against the Daily Mirror in 1956 after one of its correspondents wrote, ”They all say that this deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love has had the biggest reception and impact on London since Charlie Chaplin arrived at the same station, Waterloo, on September 12, 1921.” Apparently the trial hinged on the question of whether the writer knew that the word “fruit” was American derogatory slang for homosexual. It was decided that he did, or at least enough for the pianist to be awarded £8,000 in damages.

I had always been under the impression that Liberace originated the crying-all-the-way-to-the-bank bit in response to the verdict. But “adopted a catchphrase” sounded like wording that had been agreed on after extensive negotiations between Nussbaum and The New Yorker‘s fabled fact-checking department, and suggested there was more to the story. My go-to source, The Yale Book of Quotations, edited by Fred R. Shapiro, gives two relevant Liberace quotes, both from 1954—two years before the Daily Mirror suit. He was quoted in TV Guide as saying, ”Thank you for your very amusing review. After reading it, in fact, my brother George and I laughed all the way to the bank.” And a Collier’s piece had, “He begins to belabor the critics announcing that he doesn’t mind what they say but that poor George ‘cried all the way to the bank.’”

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition for to laugh [or cry] all the way to the bank is: “to relish... the fact that one is making money, esp. undeservedly or at the expense of others.” Its first citation is a 1956 Liberace quote, from none other than the Daily Mirror, but having nothing to do with the trial. Once again, it’s about bad reviews: ”The take was terrific but the critics killed me. My brother George cried all the way to the bank.”

Note: In the first quote, George (and why is it always George?) is laughing on his way to the bank, and in the second and third he is crying. Clearly, crying is an improvement. Of course you would laugh on the way to the bank—you’ve got piles of money to deposit and you’re happy, duh. Crying adds the ironic turnabout that makes the quote a classic. And sure enough, Liberace stuck with this version for the rest of his days. By the time he published his autobiography, in 1973, it was associated with him sufficiently to require defensive justification: “When the reviews are bad I tell my staff that they can join me as I cry all the way to the bank. All this crying ‘all the way to the bank’ is not intended to give the idea that I’m just in this business to make a living.”

All that leaves open the question of whether Liberace actually used the phrase in response to the Daily Mirror suit. New Yorker fact-checkers are apparently satisfied that he did, but I am dubious. Such a quote is not reported in trial coverage in either The Times of London or The New York Times. The only book I’ve found that states Liberace used it is Verbivore’s Feast, Second Course (2006), by “Chrysti the Wordsmith.” But the Wordsmith gives no source or citation, and I am unconvinced.

It turns out, by the way, that Liberace did not originate the notion of emoting en route to banks. Shapiro unearthed a quote from a 1946 Walter Winchell column, and I suspect this is what led to Nussbaum’s hedgy wording. Winchell wrote: “Eddie Walker is perhaps the wealthiest fight manager in the game. … The other night when his man Belloise lost, Eddie had the miseries. …. He felt so terrible, he cried all the way to the bank.”

As a quote sleuth, I am no Shapiro, but I did some more searching, and found in Brigham Young University’s Corpus of Historical American English something that I humbly offer to both him and the OED for use in their next editions. It comes from a 1908 novel called Peter: A Novel of Which He Is Not the Hero, by Francis Hopkinson Smith, and it goes like this:

“Went into Mukton with every dollar he had—so kind of Mr. Breen to let him in—yes, put him down for 2,000 shares more. Then Breen & Co. began to hoist her up—five points—ten points —twenty points. At the end of the week they had, without knowing it, bought every share of Mason’s stock.” Here Garry roared, as did the others within hearing. “And they’ve got it yet. Next day the bottom dropped out. Some of them heard Mason laugh all the way to the bank.”

And as Robert Blake used to say as "Baretta," you can take that to the bank. Ω

[Ben Yagoda (B.A. Yale, M.A. University of Pennsylvania) is the author of Memoir: A History (2009), About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (2000), and Will Rogers: A Biography (1993) and the coeditor of The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism (1997). He has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to more than fifty national publications, including Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times Book Review. Yagoda has been a Lingua Franca blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education since August 2011.) He is a professor of journalism and literary non-fiction in the Department of English at the University of Delaware.]

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