So far I’ve traced the witticism back to Donald Devine, a Reagan administration official, who can’t recall where he heard it. I suspect that someone Washingtonized a line in Samuel Gallu’s play Give ‘em Hell, Harry, with “in life” used originally rather than “Washington.” That would jibe with the opinion of Ralph Keyes, author of The Quote Verifier.
Now another quote tracer, Barry Popik (right photo), has more or less reached the same conclusion that Keyes and I have, along with the Harry Truman Library earlier. In so doing, the well-known etymologist cites an item in the Scandals blog—Truman dog mystery: Help for me from ex-Senator, but no solution, for which I talked to both Devine and former U.S. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker.
“’If you’re going to stay in this town (Hollywood—ed.) and want a friend, go out and buy yourself a dog’ is cited from 1941,” Popik writes, “but the ‘Hollywood’ version never caught on. The ‘Washington’ version is cited from at least 1985.”
At least ‘85, eh? That’s from this blog, complete with the related Web link. (Thanks to Garson O’Toole for the Popik tip.)