Many of the most famous quotes in history turn out to be misattributions. For example, there’s no evidence that either Mark Twain or Winston Churchill said “€œGolf is a good walk spoiled.”€

Kissinger is a witty man. The one time I had a chance to ask him a question he immediately had the Rice U. gymnasium roaring with laughter about the dubiousness of Eurocommunism.

But this doesn”€™t sound like something he”€™d say, unless he’s repeating a jibe he heard a comedian spout on the radio not long after he arrived in the U.S. in 1933. The saying has the flavor of the mid-century, when male artists repeatedly complained of oppression by women.

In contrast, Kissinger’s jokes are typically tactical in nature, intended to defuse a tense situation by making fun of his own ego or joshing the other side. When Kissinger allows himself to philosophize on broader matters, such as his obsession with the now politically incorrect questions of long-term national character, his tone is appropriately serious and Teutonic Herr Professorish. In contrast, this gag seems American and homey.

So I asked Garson O”€™Toole of if Kissinger really originated this witticism.

The first version O”€™Toole could find was anonymous column filler in a 1944 Lubbock, TX newspaper. He next discovered it popping up in Covina, CA the next year. By 1953, publisher Bennett Cerf was attributing it to New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber, whose favorite theme was the war between men and women. Soon Ann Landers was circulating it.

The linkage to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger appears to have been the responsibility of President Gerald Ford and his favorite speechwriter, professional gagman Robert Orben (who is still alive at 87). When then-National Security Adviser Kissinger suddenly surfaced in the media in 1971 due to the electrifying news of his secret mission to Red China, he quickly developed a reputation as the Nixon Administration’s sex symbol, most famously escorting starlet Jill St. John.

The new president inherited Kissinger from the resigning Nixon and thus didn”€™t have much say in whether or not to keep this symbol of foreign policy continuity. By contrast, Ford really liked Orben, a onetime stand-up comedian whose stage fright drove him into writing for other comics. He became the most prodigious joke writer of the 1950s. Orben’s jokes were so omnipresent that Lenny Bruce once advertised his show as “No Joe Miller, no corn, no Orben.” He went on to write for Dick Gregory for a half-dozen years. Congressman Ford hired Orben as a speechwriter in 1968, and in 1976 he made him director of the White House speechwriting department.

Ford enjoyed exploiting the fact that he didn”€™t look quick-witted, specializing in deadpan one-liners like, “€œIf Lincoln were alive today, he”€™d be spinning in his grave.”€

As my commenter Bill pointed out to me last year, a 1975 People article attributes Ford’s line to Orben’s speechwriting skills:

A great philosopher once said”€”I think it was Henry Kissinger”€”nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.


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