I’m not sure why I take such delight in put-down lines, but I somehow find them a guilty pleasure, especially when deserved. I was thinking yesterday of the wonderful, long-running feud between Claire Booth Luce and Dorothy Parker. No one did put-downs better than Dorothy, and I sometimes felt a bit sorry for poor Claire. I’m sure you’re familiar with most of them, but I hope you’ll agree they deserve repeating.
Arriving at the same function at the same time, Claire and Dorothy met at the door. Claire stopped short at the door and with a regal gesture, indicated Dorothy should enter first. “Age before Beauty,” Claire said. “And pearls before swine,” Dorothy replied sweetly, as she swept past Claire and through the door.
Defending Claire, an acquaintance observed to Dorothy: “But you must admit, Dorothy, that Claire is always very kind to her inferiors.” To which Dorothy replied: “Wherever does she find them?”
I’m not certain this one is attributable to Dorothy or not, but it sounds like her. “You know,” a friend remarked, “sometimes Claire is her own worst enemy.” To which Dorothy said: “Not as long as I’m alive.”
There are some memorable movie put-downs as well. Groucho Marx often used the regal Margaret Dumont as a foil. I can’t recall the movie, but at one point Margaret says, in a huff: “I’ve never been so insulted in my entire life!” And Groucho replies: “Oh, you must have been!”
And I know I have referenced this classic from the movie The Man Who Came to Dinner in which Monty Wooley’s character is greeted with the line: “At the risk of being swept away in mountainous waves of self pity, how are you?”
And the classic exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill when Shaw sent Churchill two tickets to the opening of his new play with the note: “Do bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill returned the tickets with a note: “Sorry I can’t make the opening, but would like to exchange these for the second night’s performance, if there is one.”
I was in a bar with friends in L.A. when someone came up to one of our group with pick-up definitely in mind, and said: “I think I went to school with your sister,” and my friend replied, innocently: “But I don’t have an older sister.”
Along the same lines (as it were) the classic response to the old saw: “Where have you been all my life?” The response: “Well, for most of it I wasn’t born yet.”
The young preacher approached after his first sermon by a little old lady who asks: “Has anyone ever told you you were absolutely wonderful?” Flattered, the minister replies; “Why, no.” And she responds: “Then wherever did you get the idea?”
Ah, there are a ton of ‘em.
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