A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 04, 2011
“Don’t just do something, stand there”

"Don’t stand there—do something!” has been cited in print since at least 1904. In the Disney film Alice in Wonderland (1951), the White Rabbit said, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

“Don’t just do something—stand there!” was said by a drama director to an actress, according to accounts in 1945, 1954 and 1957. Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson accused the Republicans of this policy in 1956. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan also allegedly used the “Don’t stand there—do something!” saying.

[This line was also researched by the Quote Investigator and others on the American Dialect Society listserv.]


Google Books
The New Boy; a farcical play in three acts
By Arthur Law
New York, NY: Samuel French
1904
Pg. 63:
MRS. R. (wildly) Archibald! Oh, Archibald! It mustn’t be — Don’t stand there! Do something — stop them — Horace — Felix — quick — quick — save him — Oh, good heavens — save him!!!

16 November 1924, Oregonian (Portland, OR), “The Married Life of Helen and Warren” by Mabel Herbert Urner, sec. 4, pg. 12, col. 5:
“Well, don’t stand there. Do something!”

Google Books
The Sweetest Girl in Town: a musical comedy in two acts
By Charles George
New York, NY: Samuel French
1935
Pg. 79:
MRS. HART (Shakes LYON by the arm) Well, don’t stand there — do something — say something.

27 August 1945, Boston (MA) Herald, “The Lyons Den” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 14, col. 4:
At the rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “THe Assassin,” producer Martin Gabel noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

The Internet Movie Database
Memorable quotes for
Alice in Wonderland (1951)

White Rabbit: Why, Mary Ann! What are you doing out here?
Alice: Mary Ann?
White Rabbit: Don’t just do something, stand there… Uh… no no! Go go! Go get my gloves! I’m late!
Alice: But late for what? That’s just what I…
White Rabbit: My gloves!
[Blows trumpet]
White Rabbit: At once, do you hear!
Alice: Goodness. I suppose I’ll be taking orders from Dinah next.

25 October 1954, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, pg. 7, col. 3:
A TV director had to deal with one of those young actresses of the new school the other day. She was fluttering her hands, mussing her hair, and in general trying to e as much like Geraldine Page as possible. The director finally shouted, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

24 June 1956, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, “Screwball Signs” by Charles D. Rice, Magazine, pg. 15, col. 2:
DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING --STAND THERE

24 July 1956, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Memo From a Woman of Letters” by Claire MacMurray, pg. 19, col. 4:
Said the wisecracker to the girl in the office who is most soothing on the eyes, “Don’t just do something—stand there.”

Google Books
A Handbook for the Amateur Theatre
By Peter Cotes
London: Oldbourne Press
1957
Pg. 22:
Some accuse them of acting too exclusively with their nerves, like the restless actress at whom a director hissed: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

Google Books
What’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy?
By Cyrus Leo Sulzberger
New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
1959
Pg. 45: 
Such is the implication of a pleasant legend: Eisenhower summons Dulles to him, saying: “Foster, don’t just do something — stand there.”

Google Books
Presidential Greatness;
The image and the man from George Washington to the present

By Thomas Andrew Bailey
New York, NY: Appleton-Century
1966
Pg. 175:
President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was inclined to be so overactive that critics reversed the adage to read, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

OCLC WorldCat record
That girl. Don’t just do something, stand there!
Author: Marlo Thomas
Publisher: [1966-09-08]
Edition/Format:  Film : Film Visual material : English

Google Books
The Modern Handbook of Humor
By Ralph Louis Woods
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
1967
Pg. 135:
In the 1956 presidential campaign Stevenson said: “I have finally figured out what the Republican orators mean by what they call ‘moderate progressivism.’ All they mean is: ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there.’”
(Another source states that this speech was given at Hartford, Connecticut, on February 25, 1956—ed.)

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t just do something, sit there : new maxims to refresh and enrich your life
Author: Richard M Eyre
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, ©1995.
Edition/Format:  Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t just do something, stand there! : ten principles for leading meetings that matter
Author: Marvin Ross Weisbord; Sandra Janoff
Publisher: San Francisco : Berrett-Koehler Publishers, ©2007.
Edition/Format:  eBook : Document : English : 1st ed
Summary: Weisbord and Janoff offer ten principles that will allow readers to get more done in meetings by doing less. Based on over 30 years of experience and extensive research, they show exactly how to establish a meeting structure that will create conditions for success, efficiency, and productivity.

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! : A Guide to Non-directive Coaching and Mentoring.
Author: Bob Thomson
Publisher: Oxford : Chandos Publishing, 2009.
Edition/Format:  Book : English
Summary: Offers managers, consultants and human resource (HR) professionals a guide to coaching or mentoring people using a predominantly non-directive approach. This book explores how a coach or mentor can help others to think through their situation and find their own way forward, one which reflects the reality and constraints of their situation.

New York (NY) Post
Down a rabbit hole with Ben
By John Crudele
Last Updated: 2:46 AM, October 2, 2011
Posted: 10:01 PM, October 1, 2011
Dear John: In a setting that I forget, President Reagan barked at his Cabinet: “Don’t just do something—stand there!” Jibes well with your remark in a recent column that the Federal Reserve was “standing around trying to think of something to do.” S.R.

Dear S.R. In the movie “Alice in Wonderland,” the White Rabbit says to Alice: “Don’t just do something, stand there. Uh . . . no, no! Go get my gloves. I’m late!”

I just wanted to set the record straight, since “Alice In Wonderland” was produced in 1951. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Tuesday, October 04, 2011 • Permalink