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 20, 2014
“Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king”

It’s an old adage that small crimes get punished, but large crimes often go unpunished (or are even rewarded). Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) wrote in the play The Emperor Jones (1920):

“For de little stealin’ dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stelin’ dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.”

Bob Dylan, in the song “Sweetheart Like You” on the album Infidels (1983), wrote something similar:

“Steal a little and they throw you in jail. Steal a lot and they make you King.”


Google Books
The Emperor Jones: Diff’rent ; The Straw
By Eugene O’Neill
New York, NY: Boni and Liveright
1921
Pg. 154:
JONES—Ain’t I de Emperor? De laws don’t go for him. [Judicially.] You heah what I tells you, Smithers. Dere’s little stealin’ like you does, and dere’s big stealin’ like I does. For de little stealin’ (Pg. 155—ed.) dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stelin’ dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.

Google Books
The Path to the Nest of Spiders
By Italo Calvino
New York, NY: Ecco Press
1976
Pg. 36:
Ordinary crimes don’t get one anywhere; steal a little and one goes to prison, steal a lot and one has villas and palaces.

SongLyrics.com
Sweetheart Like You
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Infidels (1983)
(...)
They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king

Google Books
Bob Dylan:
The Man, the Music, the Message

By Don Williams
Old Tappan, NJ: F.H. Revell Co.
1985
Pg. 117:
Finally, Dylan warns that the rulers of this world are thieves.

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you King.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, January 20, 2014 • Permalink