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Famous Actors’ Lines: Did They Say What You Think They Said?

A lot of famous movie lines have gotten garbled as time has gone by. Do you remember some of the most famous?

Bogart, Cagney, Sherlock Holmes and George Washington: Just some of the famous people who didn’t say what you think they said

Humphrey Bogart – the name suggests an image of a smoky bar filled with characters of all types.  A man tickles the piano keys and an agitated Bogart demands, “Play it again, Sam.”   But wait, stop the music – did you know that Bogart never uttered those words in the movie? 

Just like many popular sayings uttered by movie stars and other notables – from James Cagney to Neil Armstrong – the words we think they said are different from what they actually said.


Take Bogart’s memorable performance in 1943’s Casablanca.  While most people will swear he said, “play it again, Sam,” and the phrase has been used countless times since, in fact it is Ingrid Bergman who says to pianist Dooley Wilson “play it, Sam.  Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”


And what about James Cagney’s oft repeated line, “you dirty rat” allegedly used in one of his gangster movies?  According to Cagney he never said that line in any of his movies


Sports are full of misquotes or quotes that have morphed over time.  Leo Durocher, famed manger in the 1940s and 50s, is often reported to have coined the term, “nice guys finish last.”  But, that isn’t what he said.  His actual 1948 comment about the New York Giants was “Take a look at them. All nice guys.  They’ll finish last.  Nice guys.  Finish Last.”  Time tends to shorten things and that’s what happened with Durocher’s comment.


The great comedian W.C. Fields is the victim of a quote that is attributed to him – “anybody who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad” – that is not only wrong but also wasn’t said by Fields.  Humorist Leo Rosten used a similar phrase (“anybody who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad”) to introduce Fields at an event.


Another famous humorist, Will Rogers, is well remembered for saying “I never met a man I didn’t like.”  Except that’s not what he said.  He actually said “I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime, but I never met one I didn’t like.”


Even the father of our country, George Washington, gets caught up in the “he didn’t say it” phenomenon.  His famous “I cannot tell a lie” comment when his father supposedly confronted him for cutting down a cherry tree, is actually something a Washington biographer, Mason Locke, put together when he wrote of Washington in 1799.


Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes’ everlasting line “elementary, my dear Watson” won’t be found in any of Doyles’ stories.  The line was actually coined by actor Basil Rathbone, who played the sleuth on screen.

History is full of quotes and comments of famous people, who, it turns out, didn’t utter them or said something quite different.  But, as one actor said in the 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” with John Wayne and James Stewart, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

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