ATTRIBUTION TO W. C. FIELDS
The phrase any man who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad, and its numerous variants, have been wrongly attributed to the U.S. actor W. C. Fields (William Claude Dukenfield – 1880-1946).
For example, the book critic Clip Boutell wrote the following in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) of Sunday 10th March 1946—Crown was the publisher of Death Stops the Show:
Lloyd S. “Tiger” Thompson has been carrying on a detailed correspondence with Edmund Fuller of Crown over revisions in his manuscript of “Death Stops the Show,” which will be published in May. Ed Fuller has some doubts about several scenes in which a dog appeared. Thompson concluded his defense of the point as follows: “As W. C. Fields once said, ‘A man who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad.’”
Another example: The Austrian-born U.S. journalist William S. Schlamm (Wilhelm Siegmund Schlamm – 1904-1978) went so far as to write the following in National Review (New York)—as quoted in The Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia) of Friday 11th April 1969:
I shall never forget the moment when W. C. Fields said: “No man who hates babies and dogs can be all bad.”
In any case, although it was not W. C. Fields who first used the phrase, his purported hatred of children/babies and dogs came to characterise him—as illustrated by the following from the column Behind the Scenes Hollywood, by Frederick C. Othman, published in The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) of Sunday 1st November 1942:
W. C. Fields. Is the beloved citizen who hates babies and dogs indiscriminately getting lazy? He hasn’t made a movie in a long time, and that isn’t right.
ATTRIBUTION TO LEO ROSTEN
It is often said that the phrase was first used of W. C. Fields by the Polish-born U.S. author and social scientist Leo Calvin Rosten (1908-1997).
In The Power of Positive Nonsense (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977), Leo Rosten recounted the circumstances in which he used the phrase: in 1939, he was attending a banquet in honour of W. C. Fields at the Masquers Club, a private social club for actors in Los Angeles, California; when the master of ceremonies called on him to say a few words, Leo Rosten developed acute stage fright:
—as quoted in Uncle John’s Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader (San Diego, California: Portable Press/The Bathroom Readers’ Institute, 1999):
I prayed for a trapdoor to open beneath me, or for lightning to strike me dead. Neither happened. Instead, I heard George Burns’s 1 hoarse sotto voice: “Say somethin’!” with unmistakable disgust. I gulped—then someone who was hiding in my throat uttered these words: “The only thing I can say about Mr. W. C. Fields, whom I have admired since the day he advanced upon Baby LeRoy 2 with an icepick, is this: Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.”
The appearance of Mae West 3 in a G-string would not have produced a more explosive cachinnation. The laughter was so uproarious, the ovation so deafening, the belly-heavings and table-slapping and shoulder-punchings so vigorous, that I cleverly collapsed onto my chair.
1 George Burns (Nathan Birnbaum – 1896-1996) was a U.S. actor and singer.
2 Baby LeRoy (Ronald LeRoy Overacker – 1932-2001) was a child actor who appeared in films in the 1930s.
3 Mae West (1892-1980) was a U.S. actress and playwright.
AN EARLIER USE OF THE PHRASE
However, according to Cedric Worth in Dog Food for Thought, published in Harper’s Magazine (New York) of November 1937, the U.S. journalist Byron Darnton (1897-1942) had already used the phrase:
—as quoted by Fred R. Shapiro in The Yale Book of Quotations (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006):
One afternoon a dog monopolized a small cocktail party on a penthouse roof. A dozen adults, instead of shifting pleasantly from business to evening gear, heard the symptoms of and remedies for mange recited and watched a small animal chase a ball round the floor. Several of us left at the same time. There was silence in the elevator for a few floors and then Mr. Byron Darnton relieved himself of a deathless truth. “No man who hates dogs and children,” he said, “can be all bad.”
EARLY VARIANTS OF THE PHRASE
A variant of the phrase occurs in the account of the above-mentioned banquet at the Masquers Club, by Frederick C. Othman, United-Press Hollywood Correspondent, published in several U.S. newspapers on Friday 17th February 1939—for example in The Cushing Daily Citizen (Cushing, Oklahoma):
Hollywood, Feb. 17—(UP)—W. C. Fields entered his 40th year as a thespian today—with the well-meant insults of experts, from Groucho Marx 4 to Charlie McCarthy 5, spurring him on to do a little insulting himself.
The red-nosed comedian […] was guest last night at a special meeting of the Masquers club to honor him and, as William Collier, Sr., 6 pointed out, to keep him in his place, for 40 years more.
[…] Collier started the proceedings by calling him a man with a jugular vein of humor and the owner of the finest traveling barroom on wheels. Then the speakers continued, like this:
Dr. Leo C. Rosten, Carnegie Foundation scientist studying the movies: “Any man who hates babies and dogs can’t be all bad.”
4 Groucho Marx (Julius Henry Marx – 1890-1977) was a U.S. actor.
5 Charlie McCarthy was the dummy of the U.S. ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (Edgar Berggren – 1903-1978).
6 William Collier, Sr., (William Morenus – 1864-1944) was a U.S. actor and film director.
In the review of The Strangest Places (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939), by Leonard Q. Ross 7, John D. Weaver used another variant of the phrase—review published in The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) of Saturday 9th September 1939:
A few months ago he [= Leo Rosten] attended the dinner given for W. C. Fields and remarked of the guest of honor, “Any man who hates children and dogs can’t be altogether bad!”
7 Leo Rosten used the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross, in particular for his comic novels featuring the immigrant night-school student Hyman Kaplan.
John D. Weaver used yet another variant of the phrase in Great School of Movie Comedians Recalled by Turpin and Chase, published in The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) of Friday 12th July 1940:
Leo C. Rosten, the creator of the Hyman Kaplan stories, once was called on at a testimonial dinner to offer his tribute to the Master [= W. C. Fields]. He gave the perfect toast to a great artist who is carrying forward a great tradition of humor:
“No man who hates children and dogs can be altogether bad.”
Both a variant and a misattribution occur in the following from the column Our City, by F. G. Runyon, published in The Pasadena Independent (Pasadena, California) of Sunday 7th August 1949—Runyon was writing about his eight-year-old nephew:
He is the type that inspired the late W. C. Fields to remark, “Yes, I like children—if they are well done!” and Dorothy Parker 8 to observe, “No one who hates dogs and children can be all bad.”
8 Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild – 1893-1967) was a U.S. poet, short-story writer, critic and satirist.