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 September 07, 2013
“The inmates are running the asylum”

The saying “the inmates are running the asylum” means chaos, just like having the animals run the zoo. The saying is used in government, the military, education, sports, entertainment and business.

The earliest citations of the idiom appear to come from Hollywood. “Filmtown has been described as a place where the inmates run the asylum” was cited in print in 1960. “We’ve let the inmates run the asylum and they’ve practically destroyed it (Hollywood’s star system—ed.)” was cited in 1962.


24 June 1960, Ames (IA) Daily Tribune, pg. 5, col. 4:
Red Skelton Purchases
Charlie Chaplin Studio

By VERNON SCOTT
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) Filmtown has been described as a place where the inmates run the asylum.

One inmate, Red Skelton, will soon be running his own little asylum—the first comedian since Charlie Chaplin to boast his own movie factory.

Google News Archive
13 June 1962, Sumter (SC) Daily Item, pg. 3-A, col. 6:
Studio’s One Who Gave
IN Something’s Got To Give

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—Hollywood star system came in for sharp criticism today following 20th Century Fox’s decision to give up on “Something’s Got to Give.”
(...)
But the boss of another studio commented, “The star system has got way out of hand. We’ve let the inmates run the asylum and they’ve practically destroyed it.”

20 December 1966, Boston (MA) Herald, “Speaking Frankly: Nothing Ever Changes, Kids” by Mary McGrath, pg. 38, col. 3:
Letting the kids write their own codes of behavior is a little like letting the inmates run the asylum.

11 June 1967, Boston (MA) Sunday Herald, “Lowell Teacher Strike Spotlights Changed Bargaining Concepts” by Jim Droney, sec. 1, pg. 9, col. 1:
“They want to run the schools, that’s what it boils down to,” an exasperated school committee member said recently.

“Would you let the inmates run the asylum or the animals run the zoo? Well, we’re not about to, either,” he said.

Google News Archive
16 August 1973, Beaver County (PA) Times, “The King of Baseball Was Called ‘Sultan’” by Jim Bishop, pg. B-1, col. 3:
Today we coax the pitcher to throw the ball. He tosses to a shiny helmet containing a dense growth of hair. The plays, the strategy remain the same, but the inmates run the asylum

Google News Archive
9 December 1978, Gettysburg (PA) Times, pg. 9, col. 1:
Baseball: Where Inmates Are Running the Asylum
By RALPH BERNSTEIN
AP Sports Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Major League baseball has finally reached the stage where the inmates are threatening to take over the asylum.

OCLC WorldCat record
Letting the Inmates Run the Asylum
Author: Mark Byrd
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Edition/Format: Article : EN
Publication: Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 3, no. 3 (1983): 3-11
Database: ArticleFirst

OCLC WorldCat record
The inmates are running the asylum
Author: Alan Cooper
Publisher: Indianapolis, IN : Sams, ©1999.
Edition/Format: Book : English
Database: WorldCat
Summary: “Imagine, at a terrifyingly aggressive rate, everything you regularly use is being equipped with computer technology. Think about your telephones, cameras, cars--everything--being automated, programmed, and formatted by people who in their rush to accept the many benefits of the silicon chip, have abdicated their responsibility to make these products easy to use.” “It’s not a stretch; it’s a reality. Our lives are becoming evermore centered around the whims, quips, decisions, and disasters of the high-tech industry. And these software, hardware, and technology developers don’t think like us. Despite appearances, business executives are simply not the ones in control of the high-tech world--it is the engineers who are running the show. We have let the inmates run the asylum.” “It is abundantly clear to most of us that common folk don’t know the difference between a token ring and a mood ring. We need these creators of “faster, stronger, better” innovations to be sure that the creations actually improve our work and lives--not simply drive us crazy. We need the technology to work in the same way average people think. We need a revolution to restore our sanity.” “And Alan Cooper is leading the cavalry. Book jacket."--BOOK JACKET

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Saturday, September 07, 2013 • Permalink