Steadily Misquoted

They Never Said It That Way

Certain fictional characters (and the actors who played them) have become known for famous catch-phrases they never said. Nobody is to blame, exactly, but once the Bad Quote Express got rolling, there was no stopping it.

Read on for details of those who were Steadily Misquoted.

Humphrey Bogart and “Play It Again, Sam”

HUMPHREY BOGART never said “Play it again, Sam.” Bogart landed the role of a lifetime in the 1943 movieCasablanca, playing Rick Blaine, the tough-guy cafe owner haunted by the memory of a lost lover and their favorite song, “As Time Goes By.” In a drunken late-night stupor he snarls to his piano player Sam (played by Dooley Wilson), “You know what I want to hear… You played it for her, you can play it for me… If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” Close, but not quite. Earlier in the movie, Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) says “Play it once, Sam, for old time’s sake… Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” How this all became remembered as “Play it again, Sam” isn’t clear, but the misreading was cemented when Woody Allen titled his funny 1969 play (and later movie) Play It Again, Sam.

James Doohan and “Beam Me Up, Scotty”

JAMES DOOHAN never heard the order to “Beam me up, Scotty.” In the original Star Trek television series (1967-69), Doohan played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, chief engineer on the starship Enterprise. Among his duties was the operation of the ship’s transporters, which “beamed” crew members down to local planets and back again. For decades after the series ended, Doohan was greeted by fans shouting “Beam me up, Scotty!” But that exact line was never stated on the series, though many close variations (“Two to beam up”) were. The misremembrance was helped along by the popular snickering bumper sticker, “Beam me up, Scotty — there’s no intelligent life down here.”

Sherlock Holmes and “Elementary, My Dear Watson”

Fictional detective SHERLOCK HOLMES never said “Elementary, my dear Watson” in any of the famous stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He didn’t even come close, really, although early in The Hound of the Baskervilles he makes the comment, “Interesting, though elementary,” and in the story “The Crooked Man” he proclaims, simply, “Elementary!” Watson was, of course, John Watson, M.D., the detective’s loyal companion and sounding board.

According to, the misremembered phrase “became popularized only after its trademark use in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) (the first Holmes film with sound), with Clive Brook and H. Reeves-Smith.”

Darth Vader and “Luke, I’m Your Father”

Perhaps it’s splitting hairs, but heavy-breathing villain DARTH VADER never said “Luke, I’m your father” in the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back.In the actual exchange with heroic Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), Vader says “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father,” to which Luke replies “He told me enough. He told me you killed him.” Then Vader delivers the zinger: “No. I am your father.” The famous misquote has linked with Vader more than any actor, perhaps because Vader was performed bodily by David Prowse but voiced by James Earl Jones. But “Luke, I’m your father” remains good for a giggle wherever Star Wars fans gather.

For Fans of Near Misses…

If you often think about near misses, you may also like these other features:

  • Almost Assassinated (with a surprising list of names including Andy Warhol and Ronald Reagan)

{ Photo: Chaos follows the shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley in 1981. Photo from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives. }

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