Sidney Morgenbesser’s classic put down having been quoted, I will reproduce here two great stories from the Sidney legend which I tell in my autobiography, one of which, the second one, is not widely known.
Some months after the Spring of '68, Sidney was called for jury duty, and as luck would have it, he was tapped for a case involving alleged police brutality. During the voir dire, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to try the case asked Sidney whether he had ever been treated brutally or unfairly by the police. Sidney thought for a moment and said, "Brutally, yes. Unfairly, no." The ADA asked him to explain, and Sidney told the story of the attack by the TPF. "And you didn't think they were acting unfairly?" "No," Sidney said, "they were hitting everybody." Sidney was a genuinely great man.
While I am telling Sidney stories, let me tell one more that may not have made its way into the blogosphere. A few words of explanation are required. One of Columbia's best known professors at that time was the literary scholar Lionel Trilling. Trilling was a New York Jewish boy who, before spending his entire career at Columbia, actually went to the high school [De Witt Clinton] at which my father taught for a while. Despite his origins, he affected a cultivated WASP manner that, I imagine, he thought would be appropriate in an Oxford Senior Common Room. Trilling was one of a number of Columbia professors who chose to focus their energies in the College rather than the Graduate School. [That was an old rivalry for which I do not have time or space in these memoirs.] One day, Sidney went to a cocktail party, at which he spotted Trilling holding forth in his best Oxonian style. Sidney walked up and said, in a loud voice, "Ah, Lionel. Incognito ergo sum, eh?"
Now, this was pretty clearly a prepared bon mot. Sidney, like Samuel Johnson, was not above lying in bed at night crafting a witticism that he would carry about with him until an occasion arose for delivering it. As an author who does most of his writing in his head, I do not deprecate the practice. Indeed, my favorite Oscar Wilde line is one that he never actually published, and that has come down to us only because someone present on the occasion had the good sense to record it. I am referring, of course, to Wilde's immortal judgment on Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop -- "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."