Richard Armour (poet)
Richard Willard Armour was an American poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 who wrote over sixty-five books.

Life and work

Armour was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California
San Pedro, Los Angeles, California
San Pedro is a port district of the city of Los Angeles, California, United States. It was annexed in 1909 and is a major seaport of the area...

. His father was a druggist, and Armour's autobiographical Drug Store Days recalls his childhood in both San Pedro and Pomona. He attended Pomona College
Pomona College
Pomona College is a private, residential, liberal arts college in Claremont, California. Founded in 1887 in Pomona, California by a group of Congregationalists, the college moved to Claremont in 1889 to the site of a hotel, retaining its name. The school enrolls 1,548 students.The founding member...

 and Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, where he studied with the eminent Shakespearean scholar George Lyman Kittredge
George Lyman Kittredge
George Lyman Kittredge was a celebrated professor and scholar of English literature at Harvard University. His scholarly edition of the works of William Shakespeare' as well as his writings and lectures on Shakespeare and other literary figures made him one of the most influential American...

 and obtained a Ph.D. in English philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

. He eventually became Professor of English at Scripps College
Scripps College
Scripps College is a progressive liberal arts women's college in Claremont, California, United States. It is a member of the Claremont Colleges. Scripps ranks 3rd for the nation's best women's college, ahead of Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, and Bryn Mawr College at 23rd on the list for...

 and the Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California
Claremont, California
Claremont is a small affluent college town in eastern Los Angeles County, California, United States, about east of downtown Los Angeles at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. The population as of the 2010 census is 34,926. Claremont is known for its seven higher-education institutions, its...


In his early career he focused on serious literature, publishing (in 1935) a biography of the lesser English poet Bryan Waller Procter and in 1940, co-editing (with Raymond F. Howes) a series of observations by contemporaries about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Coleridge the Talker. Virginia Woolf cited this work in an essay stating, "Two pious American editors have collected the comments of this various company [Coleridge's acquaintances], and they are, of course, various. Yet it is the only way of getting at the truth—to have it broken into many splinters by many mirrors and so select."

Armour wrote funny poems in a style reminiscent of Ogden Nash
Ogden Nash
Frederic Ogden Nash was an American poet well known for his light verse. At the time of his death in 1971, the New York Times said his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry".-Early life:Nash was born in Rye, New York...

. These poems were often featured in newspaper Sunday supplements in a feature called Armour's Armory. Many of Armour's poems have been repeatedly and incorrectly attributed to Nash. Probably Armour's most-quoted poem (often attributed to Nash) is the quatrain: "Shake and shake / the catsup bottle / first none'll come / and then a lot'll." Another popular quatrain of his, also usually attributed erroneously to Nash, is: "Nothing attracts / the mustard from wieners / as much as the slacks / just back from the cleaners."

Armour also wrote satirical books, such as Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, and his ersatz history of the United States, It All Started With Columbus. These books were typically filled with puns and plays on words, and gave the impression of someone who had not quite been paying attention in class, thus also getting basic facts not quite right, to humorous effect.

As an example: "In an attempt to take Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

, the British
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 attacked Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay...

, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis "Off" Key
Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".-Life:...

 wrote The Star-Spangled Banner
The Star-Spangled Banner
"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships...

, and when, by the dawn's early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror!"

It All Started with Europa begins in the wilderness full of "fierce animals ready to spring and fierce birds ready to chirp."

It All Started with Marx includes the rabble-rousing Lenin declaring in public "Two pants with every suit!," "Two suits with every pants!" and "The Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

 is a tsap!"

It All started with Eve quotes Napoleon as writing in a letter "Do you [ Joséphine
Joséphine de Beauharnais
Joséphine de Beauharnais was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and thus the first Empress of the French. Her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she had been imprisoned in the Carmes prison until her release five days after Alexandre's...

 ] miss me? I hope the enemy artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...


His book The Classics Reclassified includes take-offs on works such as The Iliad, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, David Copperfield
David Copperfield (novel)
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery , commonly referred to as David Copperfield, is the eighth novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a novel in 1850. Like most of his works, it originally appeared in serial...

by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

, etc.; each take-off is prefaced by a short biography of the work's author in the same style. For Shakespeare, it says he "was baptized
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 April 26, 1564. When he was born is disputed, but anyone who argues that it was after this date is just being difficult."

In 1957, he appeared on the television game show You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life is an American quiz show that aired on both radio and television. The original and best-known version was hosted by Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers, with announcer and assistant George Fenneman. The show debuted on ABC Radio in October 1947, then moved to CBS Radio in September...

hosted by Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was an American comedian and film star famed as a master of wit. His rapid-fire delivery of innuendo-laden patter earned him many admirers. He made 13 feature films with his siblings the Marx Brothers, of whom he was the third-born...

, of Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

 fame. After introductions, Groucho repeated the show's famous catch-phrase, "Say the secret word, win a hundred dollars." Each episode of the show had a secret, common word (i.e. home, head, door) and if the contestant said the word during his/her often hilarious interview, then the partnered contestants would each get $50. In this particular case, Armour caught the host in a semantic trap, by immediately stating, "The secret word." He then demanded his $100. After a very brief moment of confusion the band broke out with a short medley indicating that the secret word had been said. Announcer and assistant George Fenneman
George Fenneman
George Watt Fenneman was an American radio and television announcer.Fenneman was born in Beijing, China, the only child of American parents in the import-export business. He was nine months old when his parents moved to San Francisco, California, United States, where he grew up...

 then arrived on camera and turned to Armour, "From the C.O. over here that we will allow you to do what you just did. But nobody else better try this. That's what they said." Armour replied, "Thank you, very much." And Fenneman left the frame and responded, "You're welcome," quickly caught himself, and almost cut himself off stating, "I had nothing to do with it." Normally when the secret word is said, Groucho immediately hands over cash. He did not hand over the cash and it's unclear if they paid Armour the bonus even after Armour and his partner won the game. He also composed the following poem that he read to Groucho.

To Groucho

Most poets write of Meadowlarks

I sing instead of Groucho Marx

His lustrous eyes, each like a star

His noble brow, his sweet cigar

His manly stride, his soft moustache

His easy way with sponsors' cash

His massive shoulders, brawny arms

His intellect, his many charms

In short, unless the truth I stray from

A man to keep your wife away from.

Armour's books are typically written in a style parodying dull academic tomes, with many footnotes (funny in themselves), fake bibliographies, quiz sections and glossaries. This style was pioneered by the British humorists W. C. Sellar
W. C. Sellar
Walter Carruthers Sellar was a Scottish humourist who wrote for Punch. He is best known for the 1930 book 1066 and All That, a tongue-in-cheek guide to "all the history you can remember," which he wrote together with R. J...

 and R. J. Yeatman
R. J. Yeatman
Robert Julian Yeatman was a British humorist who wrote for Punch. He is best known for the book 1066 and All That, 1930, ISBN 0-413-77270-5), a tongue-in-cheek guide to "all the history you can remember", which he wrote with W. C...

 with their parody of British history '1066 and All That
1066 and All That
1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a tongue-in-cheek reworking of the history of England. Written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds, it first...

' in the 1930s.


Title Year Subject/Notes
It all Started with Columbus 1955 American history
It all Started with Eve 1956 History of women)
It all Started with Europa 1955 European history
It all Started with Marx 1956 History of communism)
The Classics Reclassified 1963 Famous books (parody)
Twisted Tales from Shakespeare 1957 Parody
English Lit Relit 1970 English Literature
AmericanLit Relit 1970 American Literature
Nights with Armour 1958
Barry Cornwall: A biography of Bryan Waller Procter 1935 -
Punctured Poems 1969 -
Coleridge the Talker 1940 Co-edited with Raymond F. Howes
Our Presidents 1983 Woodbridge Press, California. ISBN 0-88007-134-6
It All Started with Hippocrates 1966 Medicine
The Medical Muse 1963 Humorous medical poetry)
It all Started with Nudes 1977 Art appreciation. Illustrated by Campbell Grant.
Going Like Sixty 1974 Humorous look at aging. McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-002295-5
The Academic Bestiary 1974 Humorous look at higher learning. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1974 . ISBN 0-688-02884-5
To These Dark Steps 1943 Stage play (life of John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

), with Bown Adams
An Armoury of Light Verse 1964
For Partly Proud Parents 1950 Light verse.
Golf Bawls 1946 Light verse.
Private Lives 1944 Light verse.
The Spouse in the House - Light verse.
Yours for the Asking - Light verse.
Armour's Almanac 1962
Educated Guesses 1983 Education (serious)
A Diabolical Dictionary of Education 1969
Drug Store Days 1959 Autobiography
Going Around in Academic Circles 1966 Higher education.
Golf is a Four-Letter Word -
The Happy Bookers 1976 Librarians. Written with and Campbell Grant.
It All Started with Freshman English -
It All Started with Stones and Clubs 1967 Warfare and weaponry.
My Life with Women -
Out of My Mind 1972 About Bryan Waller Procter/Barry Cornwall
A Safari into Satire 1961
A Short History of Sex 1970
Through Darkest Adolescence 1963
Punctured Poems: Famous First and Infamous Second Lines 1982 Illustrated by Eric Gurney
Eric Gurney
Eric Gurney was a Canadian-American cartoonist and illustrator.Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he grew up in Toronto, where he began a career as a commercial artist. In 1938 he emigrated to the USA to work with The Walt Disney Company, where he was a story writer and collaborated on several classic...

. Woodbridge Press
Writing Light Verse and Prose Humour -
All in sport 1972 With drawings by Leo Hershfield. New York, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0070023026
The Strange Dreams of Rover Jones -
The Adventures of Egbert the Easter Egg - Children's book.
All Sizes and Shapes of Monkeys and Apes - Children's book.
Animals on the Ceiling - Children's book.
A Dozen Dinosaurs - Children's book.
Odd Old Mammals - Children's book.
On Your Marks: A Package of Punctuation - Children's book.
Sea Full of Whales 1974 Children's book.
Who's in Holes? - Children's book.
Insects all around us 1981
Leading with my left 1945 With caricatures by Joseph Forte.
The Year Santa Went Modern 1964 Children's book.
Anyone for Insomnia? A Playful Look at Sleeplessness by a blear-eyed insomniac 1982
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