Wit and Wisdom

Believe it or not, there was a time before “awesome” was the only acceptable response in the English language; a time when conversation was an art form and wit was its paint brush.  People talked to each other in those days; they didn’t just have face time.  I don’t harken back to the good old days; today (right now) is way more awesome than they ever were (despite the claims of most people over 35.)  However, sometimes, I miss the quips and jabs of a good conversation. Here are some dead people (except Yogi) who used words like magical tools that could turn a phrase — and sometimes even bend it.

Wilson Mizner (1876 – 1933)
These days, very few people have heard of Wilson Mizner, mainly because many of his business practices were either disreputable or illegal.  Mizner tried his hand at nearly everything to make money — including writing, gambling, speculating on Florida real estate, and marrying one of the richest women in America.  It’s strange that Mizner’s underside look at life both gave him his scathing wit and keeps him largely ignored.

Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up.
Don’t talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.
If you steal from one person, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.
Life’s a tough proposition, and the 1st hundred years are the hardest.
A critic is a person who surprises the artist by informing him what he meant.
A fellow who is always declaring he’s no fool usually has his suspicions.
The gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.
He’d steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke.

W.C. Fields (1879 – 1946)
On screen, William Claude Dukenfield portrayed a somewhat obnoxious drunk whose mean-spirited attitude generally got him into trouble.  In real life, he was exactly the same.  It’s been said that the only difference between W.C. Fields on screen and off was that off camera he drank less.  Yet he was very popular, both with his fans and his friends, because he was funny and had an acid wit that he plied, not like a rapier but a broadsword.

Start every day with a smile and get it over with.
A blonde drove me to drink, and my one regret is that I never thanked her.
If a thing’s worth having, it’s worth cheating for.
If, at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.  Then quit.  There’s no use being a damn fool about it.
Mae West is a plumber’s idea of Cleopatra.
Anyone who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.

Samuel Goldwyn (1882 – 1974)
In the Golden Age of Hollywood’s powerful studio moguls, Samuel Goldwyn was one of the most powerful.  He ruled MGM with an iron hand and produced such film classics as Wuthering Heights and Guys and Dolls.  Today, however, Goldwyn is most remembered for his ability to recognize what ordinary people wanted to see at the movies — that and his absolute butchery of the English language that resulted in such famous “Goldwynisms” as these:

Anyone who goes to see a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
Include me out.
A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
All this criticism – it’s like ducks off my back.
Directors are always biting the hand that lays the golden egg.
So, how did you love the picture?
I am willing to admit I’m not always right, but I’m never wrong.
I don’t want yes-men.  I want you to disagree with me–even if it costs you your job.
The most important thing in acting is sincerity.  Once you’ve learned to fake that, you’re in.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
In Britain, where eccentricity is considered normal, Oscar Wilde was considered eccentric.  His outrageous dress and behavior made him one of the most flamboyant figures of the Victorian Era, and his success as an author made him a public one, as well.  Unfortunately, a conviction on morals charges cut his career short.  Although much of his writing is ignored today, his gigantic, entertaining wit has made him immortal.

I am not young enough to know everything.
Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes.
Men always want to be a woman’s first love; women like to be a man’s last romance.
A cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
Ambition is the last refuge of a failure.
Duty is what one expects from others.
I must decline your invitation owing to a subsequent engagement.

Mae West (1892 – 1980)
It has been said that Mae West out-Gaga-ed Lady Gaga fifty years before that child was even born.  In the days of movie censorship, West’s on-screen persona of a sexually avaricious female, bubbling over with double entendres, frequently got her into trouble.  She was sexy when it was still against the law and was once arrested for it.  Even though West was the original “blonde,” off screen she was intelligent and witty and wrote much of her own material.  Here are some of her wittier moments, both on and off screen.

He who hesitates is a damned fool.
It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.
To err is human — but it feels divine.
Whenever I’m caught between two evils, I take the one I’ve never tried before.
He’s the kind of man who picks his friends — to pieces.
Are you happy to see me or is that a gun in your pocket?
It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.
It’s not the men in my life but the life in my men that counts.

Yogi Berra (1925 – )
Lawrence (Yogi) Berra was part of the mighty New York Yankees team that dominated baseball in the early 50s.  He was named Most Valuable Player in the American League 3 times.  He hit 358 home runs (long before steroids) and anchored the Yankees behind the plate.  Yet Yogi Berra will be remembered for something more than his athletic accomplishments — his amazing use of the English language.  Yogi Berri could certainly turn a phrase.

It’s not over ’til it’s over.
If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop them.
I want to thank all the people who made this night necessary.
Better make it four pieces.  I don’t think I can eat eight. (on being asked how he wanted his pizza cut)
No wonder nobody comes here — it’s too crowded
You can observe a lot just by watching.

Yeah, Yogi!  You sure can!