Quote: little bridegroom on a wedding cake (Nancy Hale 1943) (applied to Dewey - Ruth Hanna McCormick 1944 June 29)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 18 21:34:40 UTC 2010

Presidential aspirant Thomas Dewey was described as the "little man on
a wedding cake" and the "bridegroom on the wedding cake" during the
1944 election. Several commentators at the time and afterward stated
that this form of ridicule greatly damaged Dewey's campaign against
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of
Theodore Roosevelt, is sometimes credited with coining this famous
political phrase, but on several occasions she denied originating the

The mystery of the origin of the expression was investigated by
William Safire, Ralph Keyes, and others. In addition to Longworth
several alternative names have been put forth as crafters of the
saying: Ethel Barrymore, Harold Ickes, Walter Winchell, and Grace
Hodgson Flandrau.

The Yale Book of Quotations has a 1951 citation for Longworth in the
Washington Post and also notes that Winchell claims credit for
originating the put down. Here are selected citations in chronological
order. The first two involve people who are not on the list above.

In 1943 a version of the phrase was used to characterize a fictional
character who was also described as dapper. Hence the author did not
intend to evoke the negative connotations that were ultimately
connected with the saying when applied to Dewey. The novel, The
Prodigal Women, was a top-seller by a prominent author whose stories
had already been featured multiple times in the New Yorker magazine
and other periodicals.

Cite: 1943 [Copyright 1942], The Prodigal Women by Nancy Hale, Page
406, Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Google Books snippet;
Verified on paper in Sun Dial Press edition 1943, Scribner's edition
is 1942)

An undersized brown hand was laid on the edge of the backgammon table,
and they both looked up, startled. A small man stood smiling down. He
was dapper, like a little bridegroom on a wedding cake. He wore
glasses attached to a black ribbon that hung slantwise across his
starched white shirt.


In June of 1944 the expression was used to describe Dewey, but the
woman employing the phrase was attempting to be complimentary. The
journalist reporting the comment introduces a satirical edge with his

Cite: 1944 June 29, The (Baltimore) Sun, Dewey Hailed Upon Arrival by
Paul W. Ward, Page 4, Baltimore Maryland. (ProQuest)

Among the party dignitaries gathered to greet him at the airport was
Arizona's national committeewoman, Mrs. Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms,
who enthusiastically called Dewey "the little bridegroom on every
wedding cake." He wore, however, none of the formal toggery associated
with such sugary figurines. His garb instead was a neat gray business
suit, white shirt and dark red tie.

In July of 1944 Time magazine reported on the saying and noted that
Alice Roosevelt Longworth was helping to popularize it during the
Republican convention. The periodical implied that Longworth did not
coin the phrase, but she was disseminating it. The quoted sentence
strongly emphasizes negative connotations.

Cite: 1944 July 10, Time magazine, "U.S. At War: The Man They Loved",
Time, Inc., New York. (Time online archive; Accessed 2010 December 18)

Alice Longworth, the knife-tongued wit of the Old Guard gave currency
to the mot of the Convention: "How can you vote for a man who looks
like the bridegroom on a wedding cake?"


A variant of the phrase is used in October of 1944 in a Chicago paper.

Cite: 1944 October 21, The Chicago Defender, Beware the Bogeyman, Page
12, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
Confidentially we expected better of the Dewey gang. We had
anticipated a more intelligent, more astute election campaign by the
gentleman from New York who looks so much like a wedding cake groom.

Evidence that the saying was being used by members of general public
is provided by a letter in the Washington Post dated October 1944 that
contains another variant of the phrase. The writer believed that the
policies of Dewey would not support his desire to go into business.

Cite: 1944 October 25, Washington Post, Letters to the Editor, Pro
Roosevelt: Letter from R. F. Allen, Page 6, Washington, D.C.

In other words, I would not feel free to go ahead, with the top man on
the wedding cake in the White House.

Another "Letter to the Editor" in October of 1944 was written to the
Dallas Morning News in response to the newspaper's endorsement of
Thomas Dewey. The writer used the common modern formulation of the
saying as part of the salutation.

Cite: 1944 October 28, Dallas Morning News, Reader's Comment on Dewey
Editorial, Resentful Yank, Page 3, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)

Gentlemen (and that's promoting one who seems to think "the little man
on the wedding cake" would be able to fill the shoes he tried so hard
to fill when he became Governor of New York)

In a column dated June 6, 1946 the popular gossip columnist Hedda
Hopper writing in the Los Angeles Times credited Alice Longworth with
the saying about Dewey, but in a later column dated November 6, 1947
she changed the attribution to Ethel Barrymore.

Cite: 1947 November 6, Chicago Daily Tribune, Looking at Hollywood by
Hedda Hopper, Page 35, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

While Alice got credit for the crack about Thomas Dewey looking like
the little man on the wedding cake, it was actually Ethel Barrymore
who said it. But Alice gave it national circulation.

In 1951 Walter Winchell writing in his newspaper column claimed credit
for crafting the derisive saying. William Safire also reported on
Winchell's claim in a 1979 article that is discussed further below.

Cite: 1951 May 22, Washington Post, Walter Winchell: In New York, Page
B13, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

In Saturday's Daily News, Columnist Ruth Montgomery again credits Mrs.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth with the famed crack describing Presidential
Candidate Governor Dewey as "the little man on the wedding cake" . . .
We are tired of seeing that one credited to Alice and the other
characters in her Wonderland. It originated here.

In 1955 an article by columnist Leonard Lyons contained a quote from
Longworth in which she denied coining the saying and attributed the
words to Ethel Barrymore.

Cite: 1955 March 5, Long Beach Independent, "The Lyons Den: First
Lady" by Leonard Lyons, Page 8, Long Beach, California.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth was credited with the crack about Dewey, in
the '44 campaign: "He looks like the bridegroom on the wedding cake."
"Ethel Barrymore said it first," Mrs. Longworth concedes, "and I,
fortunately, have been getting the credit"

In 1960, Longworth at age 76 was interviewed by the newspaper
columnist Inez Robb. She again denied creating the wedding cake
wisecrack about Dewey and instead attributed it to Ethel Barrymore.

Cite: 1960 July 27, Cedar Rapids Gazette, "Conventions Great Fun For
Alice" by Inez Robb, Page 4A, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

I asked her if she had any sharp bon mots up her sleeves, comparable
to the famous comparison of Thomas E. Dewey, when a presidential
candidate, to the man on the wedding cake.

"You know, I never said that," Mrs. Longworth said, with an impish
smile. "It was really Ethel Barrymore who said that. But somehow I got
the credit. About a year after it had been in circulation, I saw Ethel
and she asked me what I was doing with her story!

"It really was Ethel's bon mot and not mine, but no matter how much I
disclaim it, I still get the credit."

In 1978 William Safire reviewed a book called "The Dictionary of
Biographical Quotation", and as part of his analysis he examined
quotations attributed to Alice Longworth. Safire contacted Longworth
who was 94 years old at the time. This time Longworth credited her
friend Grace Hodgson Flandrau with the wedding cake jab. The Safire
article also contains more specific information about Winchell's

Cite: 1978 December 24, New York Times, "Review: The Dictionary of
Biographical Quotation" by William Safire, Page BR1, New York.

Mrs. Longworth's other devastating put-down of the hapless Dewey was
that he resembled "the little man on the wedding cake." That's in the
DBQ, with a secondary source, but Mrs. L. often has pointed out that
she was only popularizing a remark made by her friend, one Mrs.
Flandrau. A dispute rages over this coinage, and the DBQ should have
pointed out the body of opinion that holds the coiner was Ethel
Barrymore; Walter Winchell claimed coinage as well, when writing under
a "name-de-ploom," as he called it, in the anti-Dewey newspaper PM.

The first edition of Safire's dictionary of political speech in 1968
suggested that the wedding cake phrase may have been due to Harold
Ickes. Walter Winchell responded by presenting more details about his
claim, and Safire reprinted this information in a new edition of his
dictionary. Here is an excerpt from the 2008 edition with Winchell's

>From page 250 of a new book about the new language of politics: "'Man
on the wedding cake' (a characterization of Republican candidate
Thomas E. Dewey in 1944) was often credited to Walter Winchell, but
Harold Ickes, FDR's Secretary of the Interior, was possibly the

But Mr. Ickes wasn't. Alice Longworth and many others were credited
with its coinage. "Dewey, the Little Man On The Wedding Cake" was
auth'd by "Paul Revere, II" in "P.M.," a New York pro-Democrat
newspaper.... Mr. Paul Revere, II was not the name-de-ploom of Harold
Ickes, but of WW, then under contract to the New York Mirror, which
was pro-Dewey. (Catch on?)

I have not found this column, but I do not think that the databases I
have searched contain "P.M.". Safire's dictionary also reports a claim
by Leonard Lyons.

New York Post columnist Leonard Lyons, who delighted in disputing
Winchell, wrote that "WW" was misinformed. "The fact is Ethel
Barrymore created the line. I printed the story November 3, 1944,
quoting Mrs. Longworth: 'Ethel Barrymore said that, and she's mad as
hell because I've been getting credit for it.'"

I have not found this 1944 column, but I did find Lyons' 1955 column
where he makes the same assertion. Also, Hedda Hopper flipped her
attribution from Longworth to Barrymore in 1947.

In conclusion, the earliest cite I have located with the phrase under
investigation is in a popular novel of 1943 by Nancy Hale. She applied
the words to a fictional character and not to Thomas Dewey. In
addition, the description was not derogatory in this early instance of
the saying.

Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms used the phrase in a description of Dewey
in June of 1944. Her intention was to compliment the candidate, and
this is the first instance I have located where the words are applied
to Dewey.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth popularized the saying, but she gave credit
to Ethel Barrymore in interviews from the 1950s onward..


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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