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 May 25, 2011
“Even when you make out a tax return on the level you don’t know if you are a crook or a martyr”

"Even when you make one (Income tax return—ed.) out on the level, you don’t know, when it’s through, if you are a Crook or a Martyr,” wrote American humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) in the New York (NY) Times on April 8, 1923. Rogers’ quotation has been frequently cited in quotations books, and in books and articles about the income tax.

The entire passage has become famous. Rogers wrote before it:

“The Income Tax has made more Liars out of the American People than Golf has.”

Rogers wrote after it:

“Of course, people are getting smarter nowadays: they are letting Lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their Guide.”


Wikipedia: Will Rogers
William “Will” Penn Adair Rogers (November 4, 1879 – August 15, 1935) was an American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer and actor and one of the best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s.

Known as Oklahoma’s favorite son, Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). He traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 “talkies"), wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and became a world-famous figure. By the mid-1930s, Rogers was adored by the American people. He was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era, and was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time. Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed near Barrow, Alaska.

His vaudeville rope act led to success in the Ziegfeld Follies, which in turn led to the first of his many movie contracts. His 1920s syndicated newspaper column and his radio appearances increased his visibility and popularity. Rogers crusaded for aviation expansion, and provided Americans with first-hand accounts of his world travels. His earthy anecdotes and folksy style allowed him to poke fun at gangsters, prohibition, politicians, government programs, and a host of other controversial topics in a way that was readily appreciated by a national audience, with no one offended.

8 April 1923, St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, “Will Rogers the Cowboy Humorist Says,” pt. 5, pg. 31, col. 3:
Now, as I say, these Girls all wanted to do what was right, as they could afford to, but this Income Tax has not acted that way with the men. The Income Tax has made more Liars out of the American People than Golf has.

Even when you make one out on the level, you don’t know, when it’s through, if you are a Crook or a Martyr.

8 April 1923, New York (NY) Times, “Slipping the Lariat Over” by Will Rogers, pg. XX2, col. 2:
Even when you make one (Income Tax—ed.) out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a Crook or a Martyr.

16 March 1929, New York (NY) Times, pg. 14:
Will Rogers Says Income Tax
is No Subject for Humor

To the Editor of The New York Times:
This is income tax paying day. There is going to be no attempt at humor, for it would be mighty forced. No two can agree on what is deductible. When it’s made out you don’t know if you are crook or a martyr. It’s made more liars out of the American people than golf, and this is a good time to bring up again the sales tax.
(...)
Yours,
WILL ROGERS.
New York, March 15.

The Notes:
Ronald Reagan’s Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom

By Ronald Reagan
Edited by Douglas Brinkley
New York, NY: HarperCollins
2011
Pg. 107:
Will Rogers
Even when you make out a tax return on the level you don’t know if you are a crook or a martyr.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Wednesday, May 25, 2011 • Permalink