Posts Tagged ‘Quotations’



[Picture of Oscar Levant at Piano - An American in Paris]I have been a fan of Oscar since the late 1960s, and I find it sad and strange that he’s not better remembered.

He did the music for zillions of films, wrote tonnes of hit records, was a pal of Jolson and Gershwin and a star pupil of Shoenberg.

So many of my favourite “celebrities” (for want of a better term), are famed for quick wittedness on radio and TV — especially game shows and talk shows.

That is probably what made Levant so famous in his day.

Recent events with Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross made me recall Levant’s remarks about Marilyn Monroe that got his show taken off air — it was about her famous conversion to Judaism.  Levant wise-cracked, ‘Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her!’.

He later said that he ‘hadn’t meant it “that way”‘! Sublime. His show eventually got axed for being too controversial.  This guy was cutting edge… back in the 50s and 60s.

[Picture of Groucho Marx Al Jolson and Oscar Levant 1948]

He is incredibly well-quoted in tear-off calendars, here’s a wee selection of ones you might have heard and admired:

  • I have one thing to say about psychoanalysis: fuck Dr Freud.
  • Everyone in Hollywood is gay, except Gabby Hayes — and that’s because he is a transvestite.
  • Strip away the false tinsel from Hollywood, and you find the real tinsel inside.
  • So little time and so little to do…
  • What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.
  • I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.
  • I used to call Audrey Hepburn a walking X-ray.
  • Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.
  • I’m going to memorize your name and throw my head away.
  • I envy people who drink — at least they know what to blame everything on.
  • A pun is the lowest form of humour — when you don’t think of it first.
  • Every time I look at you I get a fierce desire to be lonesome.
  • I have given up reading books; I find it takes my mind off myself.
  • Schizophrenia beats dining alone.
  • There are two sides to every question: my side and the wrong side.
  • Underneath this flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.
    and my favourite:
  • A politician is a man who will double cross that bridge when he comes to it.




I love those calendars that have daily quotes from Oscar Levant, Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

I have always admired the Winston Churchill ones, so I thought I would collect here my favourite ones.

Starting with the obvious:

  • It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.

I like that he advocates an approach — to work, to life.

  • Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

Winston recommends a positive outlook.

  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

He recognises that failure can chip away enthusiasm or positive energy.

  • If you’re going through hell, keep going.

— that’s just brilliantly put; who wants to dwell in a bad place? He suggests not-giving-up as the key:

  • Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.

Tied in with this is the idea of change — a lot of people are afraid of change, and experience fear of the unknown.

  • To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Then there is the past.  People worry about their personal past.  Churchill sends a dagger through all that nonsense:

  • You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

Adding the absolutely wonderful:

  • For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.

— that is so true, and for everyone; we each of us have our own truth, we each of us write our own history — it’s perfectly natural and normal.

However, he warns about blaming your present situation too much on what has been done and dusted:

  • If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.

This is a cautionary word from a man who really respected history:

  • Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.

This ties in nicely with:

  • We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.

That was always one that I remembered, although I like to chat, I keep it at that level.  Anything deeper or more personal has to be carefully let out, word by word.

Another rich quote that I have found significant is:

  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

I have found the truth in:

  • We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.

A quote that also applies to music and other shaped things. The next one uses “fanatic”, but I have substituted “bore” quite successfully:

  • A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

Also useful for me at work is the following (often misquoted and misused) advice:

  • Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.

— That is something I see too much of, a basic mistake.

Now, I am not a democrat, and so I liked his:

  • The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

I do not like tax, and can hardly get my head around the modern idea of a fair tax!

  • There is no such thing as a good tax.

I also hate restrictions, regulations, too much government, Nanny State, Big brother and so forth, so I liked:

  • If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

I am not very socialist either, and agree with Mr Churchill that,

  • Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.


  • The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

I have also enjoyed that he couldn’t understand the Russians, and understood the Americans too well:

  • Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
  • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.

Churchill had a way of looking at things from a different angle:

  • A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.

He was famous for that twisted wit, for example:

  • He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
  • Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
    Churchill: “If I were your husband I would take it.”
  • A sheep in sheep’s clothing. (On Clement Atlee)
  • A modest man, who has much to be modest about. (On Clement Atlee)

Each one is a wee gem. I hope you have enjoyed these quotes as much as I have done over the years!