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, wife of the founder of Timemagazine, 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 replied, “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, youmust have been!”
One of my favorites comes 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?”