Kidding the living tripe out of all such collections
January 29, 2008 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What was the joke that Ring Lardner contributed to 'Favorite Jokes of Famous People' that was too exquisite for Dorothy Parker to reproduce?

In one of her 'Constant Reader' columns, Dorothy Parker writes:

Out of Favorite Jokes of Famous People comes one ray of light, one breath of strange, new fragrance, one cool and silver star. That is the selection given by Mr. Ring Lardner. It is too frail, too exquisite to reproduce here, though I can scarcely tear myself away from quoting it.

I've been able to find Ellis Parker Butler's joke, seemingly from the same book, but sadly I have no idea who Mr Butler was (and if you've followed the link you'll see that his joke hasn't dated that well.) Can you help me with Ring Lardner's joke? And is it as funny as Mrs Parker suggests?
posted by calico to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know the joke, but the book Favorite Jokes of Famous People, by Booth Tarkington, was published in 1930. I'm sure your local library could get it by interlibrary loan if it doesn't already have it.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:45 PM on January 29, 2008

D*mn Google Books. In fact the compiler was Frank Ernest Nicholson, not Tarkington, and the original year of publication was 1928. (Information from OCLC's WorldCat database.)
posted by brianogilvie at 6:48 PM on January 29, 2008

I don't know the joke either but I bet Scott Topping will be able to help you.
posted by tellurian at 7:11 PM on January 29, 2008

While we're here, Ellis Parker Butler was a one-hit wonder who wrote the comic short story Pigs is Pigs, which he sold to the Railway Appliance Company for use in advertising promos. They gave away a squillion copies, he reprinted it as a book, and became the best-selling humorist of the 1910's because of the one lousy story.
posted by ormondsacker at 10:42 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

WorldCat said that there are only copies in the US. Here are the states where there are copies:
New York
District of Columbia
North Carolina
South Carolina
posted by Kattullus at 11:17 PM on January 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! If I never find the joke I'll still have learnt about WorldCat and Ellis Parker Butler so I'll still be up.

Inspired by WorldCat, I had another idea. I searched for the book on Librarything, and found that one person on the site has the book in their catalog. I've dropped him a message, and if he comes back I'll let you all know
posted by calico at 12:35 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: And I've mailed Scott Topping for good measure. If there's any update when I get back from work, I'll let you know.
posted by calico at 12:56 AM on January 30, 2008

Checking LibraryThing was brilliant. Do let us know what you find; I'm a big Lardner fan, and I'm curious!
posted by languagehat at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Sometimes there's no substitute for a good librarian. :-)

I emailed the San Francisco Public Library (which has the very book sitting on their shelves) and A.V. Grimes, librarian, replied:

Lardner is quoted as telling Nicholson that his favorite joke is "purely an English story.”

"About the suburbs of London I noticed a remarkable number of tailless cats—Manx cats, they are, from the Manx Island, where cats are born minus tails.

"One day while waiting at a station for the five-fifteen train to London, a cat having no tail scampered across the platform of the station.

"Turning to the station agent, I asked:


"'No,' replied the agent, 'five-fifteen.'

* * *

"At least," said Mr. Lardner, "I can claim two distinctions for this story. It is an English joke, yet in no instance is the teller required to use the words 'Bally!' 'Bloody!' or 'By Jove!'"

Favorite Jokes of Famous People, With an Introduction to Each Celebrity
Collected by Frank Ernest Nicholson
(New York: E. P. Dutton, 1928, p. 55)
Courtesy The Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor
San Francisco Public Library
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:29 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

"'No,' replied the agent, 'five-fifteen.'

I don't get it.
posted by tellurian at 8:27 PM on January 31, 2008

Oh! Now I do.
posted by tellurian at 8:35 PM on January 31, 2008

I still don't.
posted by milestogo at 6:50 AM on February 11, 2008

I just saw a cat with no tail run across the platform. Is it one of those bally Manx cats?
'No,' replied the agent, 'five-fifteen.'
No by jove, it is not a Manx cat. It is a normal cat that lost its tail when it was run over by the bloody five-fifteen train.
posted by tellurian at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2008

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