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 January 18, 2009
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor; rich is better”

"I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” This insightful bit of personal financial wisdom has been credited to entertainer Sophie Tucker, comedian Joe E. Lewis, comedienne Fanny Brice, actresss Mae West and many others.

Beatrice Kaufman, the wife of playwright George S. Kaufman, definitely said it, recorded in print by New York entertainment columnist Leonard Lyons in the May 12, 1937 Washington (DC) Post. Beatrice Kaufman was a writer and editor and, along with her husband, was a member of the Algonquin round table. Quotations sleuth Ralph Keyes (see below) considers the quip to be “an old entertainer’s saw,” but no other print citations have been identified that date before the 1950s. There is no reason to discount Beatrice Kaufman’s probable coinage.


The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
2006
Pg. 415:
Beatrice Kaufman
U.S. writer, fl. 1937
“I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better!”
Quoted in Wash. Post, 12 May 1937. This quotation is invariably attributed to Sophie Tucker, but the usage by Kaufman occurs years before any evidence linking it to Tucker.

Google Books
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When

By Ralph Keyes
Edition: illustrated
New York, NY: Macmillan
2006
Pg. 179:
“I’ve been RICH and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”
In 1937, a newspaper columnist portrayed the wife of playwright George S. Kaufman urging a theatrical figure to accept one of many movie opportunities he was being offered. “Dpn’t overlook the money part of it,” Bea Kaufman reportedly said. “I’ve been poor an I’ve been rich. Rich is better!” Sometimes misattributed to Mae West, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Joey Adams, Joe Louis (Comedian Joe E. Lewis, not the boxer Joe Louis?—ed.), Frank Sinatra, Irving Wallace, John Connally, or Pearl Bailey, this thought is most often credited to singer Sophie Tucker. Nonetheless, there is no reliable record of her ever having said it. A retired editor named Henry McNulty once scoured his newspaper’s coverage of the hometown celebrity from the beginning of her career in 1922 until she died in 1966. He found no reference to this comment. Nor could McNulty find it in obituaries about Tucker written elsewhere, or in her autobiography. Some think the thought originated with comedian Joe E. Lewis, or comedienne Fanny Brice. Since Tucker and Lewis sometimes performed together, they had many an opportunity to borrow each other’s material. Tucker and Brice were contemporaries and friends. Most likely this was a show business commonplace free for the taking.
Verdict: An old entertainer’s saw.

New York (NY) Times
BEATRICE KAUFMAN, STORY EDITOR, DIES;
Wife of Noted Playwright Did Much Literary Work Herself—Wrote for Magazines
October 7, 1945, Sunday
Page 44, 304 words
Mrs. Beatrice Bakrow Kaufman, writer and editor, wife of George S. Kaufman, the playwright, died last night at her home, 410 Park Avenue, after a brief illness, in her fifty-first year.

12 May 1937, Washington (DC) Post, “The Post’s New Yorker” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 12”
At the Tavern Mrs. George S. Kaufman urges a noted theatrical figure to accept the movie offers being tendered him. “Listen, and take my advice,” she urges. “Don’t overlook the money part of it.  I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better!”

Time magazine
“There’s Nothing Immoral ...”
Monday, Nov. 16, 1953
(...)
There’s nothing immoral about getting into the big money. Sophie Tucker said: ‘I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. And believe me, rich is best.’ “

Google Books
The Joker is Wild:
The Story of Joe E. Lewis

By Art Cohn
New York, NY: Random House
1955
Pg. 347: 
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.”

Google Books
Dear Abby
By Abigail Van Buren
Published by Prentice-Hall
1958
Pg. 109:
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor,” says comedian Joe E. Lewis, “and rich is better.” He wasn’t kidding.

26 April 1964, Hartford (CT) Courant: “War on Poverty” by Harry Golden, pg. 10A:
A dozen people have claimed the remark but it was Fanny Brice who said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor; rich is better.”

25 September 1966, New York (NY) Times, “The Mask Was the Man” by Richard Lingeman, book review, pg. 362:
Well, like the man said: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and believe me, rich is more expensive.”

14 October 1982, Washington (DC) Post, “Running in the Money,” pg. A18:
“I’VE BEEN RICH and I’ve been poor,” Mae West is supposed to have said, “and rich is best.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • (0) Comments • Sunday, January 18, 2009 • Permalink