Arts & Culture

You can quote them

Yale law librarian Fred R. Shapiro is editor of the <i>Yale Book of Quotations</i>.
<i>The Simpsons</i> and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The Simpsons and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Cartoon villain C. Montgomery Burns (left), Yale Class of 1914, boards a train after attending the Harvard game on an episode of The Simpsons. View full image

In the last column I began an examination of the most famous quotations by fictitious Yale alumni. I focused on the monuments of pseudo–Yalie culture, found in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the film Citizen Kane.

Another literary writer to put notable words in the mouth of a character who went to Yale is Tom Wolfe '57PhD; the protagonist of his Bonfire of the Vanities graduated from Yale College. Another Eli in the book, attorney Thomas Killian, has this to say about Yale Law School:

  • It's a nice place. It's easy, as law schools go. They don't try to bury you in details. They give you the scholarly view, the overview. You get the grand design. . . . Yale is terrific for anything you wanna do, so long as it don't involve people with sneakers, guns, dope, lust, or sloth.


Another Law School product is feminist lawyer Amanda Bonner, played by Katharine Hepburn in Adam's Rib. In her summation to the jury in the trial of a woman accused of shooting her adulterous husband, Bonner argued:

  • An unwritten law stands back of a man who fights to defend his home. Apply this same law to this maltreated wife and neglected woman. We ask you no more. Equality!


But enough of relatively highbrow Yaleiana. Let's talk about The Simpsons. The most prominent Eli on TV is clearly nuclear energy plutocrat Charles Montgomery Burns, Class of 1914. Burns is one of the most vividly delineated characters onThe Simpsons, and his creepy catchphrase, uttered gleefully and with fingertips tented, is among its highlights:

  • E-e-excellent!


Thanks to Haynes Lee's wonderful list of "Ivy League References on The Simpsons" on the Simpsons Archive website, we can veer off the famous-quotations track and wallow in the full range of Yale allusions on the show. In one episode, Burns takes a dog for a Yale man in a raccoon coat and recognizes the canine's grip as a Skull and Bones secret handshake. In another, he attempts to persuade Yale officials to admit his son, and takes out his checkbook to grease the skids. The following dialogue ensues:

  • Man: Well, frankly, test scores like Larry's would call for a very generous contribution. For example, a score of 400 would require a donation of new football uniforms, 300, a new dormitory, and in Larry's case, we would need an international airport.
  • Woman: Yale could use an international airport, Mr. Burns.
  • Burns: Are you mad? I'm not made of airports!


Simpsonologists do not need to dig too deep to uncover an explanation for the usually unflattering Yale mentions. The Simpsons Archive lists 21 Harvard-educated writers for the program over time. The best-known ex–Simpsons writer, Conan O'Brien, was president of the Harvard Lampoon.

Is Yale's prominence in modern popular culture confined, then, to the supercentenarian Burns? Au contraire, mes amis. In a forthcoming issue we will review the evidence that a far more formidable pop-culture icon is a Yale alumnus, and I don't mean Rory Gilmore, Niles Crane, or even Flash Gordon.  

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