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 July 27, 2015
“Write two letters” (blaming predecessor joke)

According to an old joke, Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) gave to Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)—or a corporate CEO gives to a successor—two letters to open in case of emergency and extreme emergency. The first letter is opened and reads, “blame it all on me.” However, things get worse and the second letter is opened. It reads, “write two letters.”

The joke is almost surely not a true story of the Soviet Union, but the joke does date to at least 1960, when it appeared in the syndicated “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column by newspaper columnist Drew Pearson (1897-1969).


Google News Archive
21 May 1960, Tuscaloosa (AL) News, “Washington Merry-Go-Round: Khrushchev Now Is Acting Like Stalin” by Drew Pearson, pg. 4, col. 3:
BERLIN—In this city on the front line of the revived cold war, the story is told of Stalin’s will and its advice to Premier Krushchev.

When Stalin died, so the story goes, he left two letters for Khrushchev, the first marked “To Be Opened In Case of Emergency,” and the second marked “To Be Opened In Case Of Extreme Emergency.”

At the 20th Communist Party Congress, Khrushchev faced an emergency which he considered important enough to open the first Stalin letter. It read: “Blame me --Stalin.”

(This was the congress at which Khrushchev delivered the long tirade excoriating Stalin for his policy of terrorism.)

During the Hungarian crisis, Khrushchev faced extreme emergency and opened the second letter. It read: “Act like me—Stalin.”

Google Books
The Many Faces of Communism
By Harry Schwartz
New York, NY: Berkley Pub. Corp.,
1962
Pg. 242:
The story is told, behind the Iron Curtain, that Stalin left two letters for his successor, one to be opened in time of emergency, the other in time of extreme emergency. In February, 1956, the story goes, Nikita Khrushchev opened the first letter, read: “Blame it all on me” — and then delivered his famous speech denouncing Stalin as a tyrant and a criminal. When Hungary rose against communism that fall, Khrushchev opened the second letter. He read: “Do as I did”—and ordered the Red Army to move in and crush the Freedom Fighters of Budapest.

Having blamed Stalin and having done as Stalin did, the Russian Premier and party boss has proceeded with an extraordinary performance that can be described only as pure Khrushchev. His latest dazzle, of course, was the action he took, quick as a sputnik, to twist the Mideast crisis to his propaganda advantage and sound the call to the summit.

Obviously, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev is a formidable opponent.

Google Books
IPA (Institute of Public Affairs) Review
Volumes 27-32
1973
Pg. 88:
I am reminded of the alternative through the remarks Stalin made on his death bed to Kruschev. “You will have some difficulties during your reign as the leader of the U.S.S.R. Therefore with my past experience I plan to leave you a legacy. The legacy is two letters. In each is advice that will help you when you get into difficulties in your job. Open letter A. the first time and letter B. the second. These are my legacies to you and I am sure you will find them helpful”. Kruschev thanked Stalin, then turned off the oxygen and Stalin died. Sometime later after Kruschev had been leading the Soviet, he began to lose support and was not progressing as he had hoped. So he went to the vault and got out Stalin’s letter, opened it and read the contents which said “Blame me.” Very sound advice, Kruschev thought. He implemented the idea and blamed Stalin for everything. It worked very well for several years. Then he began to slip again, his support waned, agricultural programs failed and the five year plan wouldn’t balance. He went to the vault again and opened Stalin’s second letter. The note said “Write two letters”.

IMDb.com (The Internet Movie Database)
Traffic (2000)
Quotes

General Ralph Landry: You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said - “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said - “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said - “Sit down, and write two letters”.
Robert Wakefield: [laughs] Yep.

Snopes.com
GenYus234
23 January 2013, 06:19 PM
I seriously doubt that Khruschev would be speaking or writing letters to his successor in English.
I’ve heard this as a joke from an outgoing president of a company to his successor (back when the president of a corporation was actually in charge).

snopes
23 January 2013, 07:06 PM
Since the “they” who ousted Khruschev were led by the guy who took his place (Leonid Brezhnev), I doubt Khruschev would have given friendly advice to and left helpful letters for his successor, or suggested that the next leader blame everything on him.

Google Groups: alt.quotations
...Let it all drop.
SteveMR200
12/2/14
The Blame Game
(...)
On October 14, 1964, after being deposed by his rivals at a Central Committee meeting, primarily for being an “international embarrassment,” Nikita Khrushchev, who until only moments earlier was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, sat down in his office and wrote two letters.

Later, his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, upon taking office found the two letters and a note Khrushchev had attached:

“To my successor: When you find yourself in a hopeless situation which you cannot escape, open the first letter, and it will save you. Later, when you again find yourself in a hopeless situation from which you cannot escape, open the second letter.”

And soon enough, Brezhnev found himself in a situation which he couldn’t get himself out of, and in desperation he tore open the first letter.  It said simply, “Blame it all on me.”

This Brezhnev did, blaming Khrushchev for the latest problems, and it worked like a miracle, saving him and extending his career.  However, in due time Brezhnev found himself in another disaster from which he could not extricate himself.

Without despairing he eagerly searched his office and found the second letter, which he tore open desperate for its words of salvation.  It read thus:

“Sit down, and write two letters.”

-- Jerrold L. Schecter
_Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes_ [1990]

Fox Sports—Just a Bit Outside blog
July 28, 2015
ASSESSING THE MESS IN SAN DIEGO
Sam Miller @baseballpro
There’€™s that old joke about the outgoing Russian premier, or sometimes about the outgoing CEO, or sometimes about the outgoing U.S. President, or ... or, if you want, the outgoing baseball GM, who leaves his successor two letters. The first, to be opened the first time everything goes wrong, says “€œBlame everything on me."€ The second, to be opened the second time everything goes wrong, says “€œSit down and write two letters.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Monday, July 27, 2015 • Permalink