If People Don’t Want to Come, Nothing Will Stop Them

Yogi Berra? Sol Hurok? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

theater07Dear Quote Investigator: Baseball luminary Yogi Berra is famous for comical pronouncements that contain a kernel of wisdom. One of my favorites is about fan attendance at baseball games:

If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.

Recently, I heard that renowned impresario Sol Hurok made a similar remark that is widely known in the domain of show business:

When people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.

Would you please examine this family of phrases and determine who spoke first?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 a film biography of Sol Hurok called “Tonight We Sing” was being prepared by the Hollywood studio Twentieth Century-Fox. The gossip columnist Leonard Lyons reported on a cautionary remark from Hurok about the pending film. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Hurok, incidentally, warned the producers: “I’m enough of a showman to have learned at least this: If people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.”

In 1959 “LIFE” magazine published a profile of Hurok titled “Impresario Who Booked the Bolshoi” which included a comment by the producer lamenting the precarious nature of the entertainment industry: 3

“In a business I would be a millionaire 10 times over,” Hurok says, “but this is not a business, it is a disease.”

The “LIFE” magazine article also reprised another version the quotation about the impossibility of coercing an audience to see a show:

Says Hurok today, “When people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.”

In 1962 raconteur Joe Garagiola spoke at a “Banquet of Champions” for young baseball players. Garagiola was an athlete who transitioned into the world of radio and television broadcasting. Many colorful anecdotes about Yogi were popularized by Garagiola, and his banquet speech reported the now well-known quotation from his friend: 4

He told stories of Yogi Berra, his buddy since their boyhood days on the hill in St. Louis. Like Yogi’s quip about the sagging attendance in Kansas City—“If they don’t want to come out, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.”

The citation immediately above was the earliest linkage of the saying to Berra known to QI. Hence, based on current evidence Hurok delivered the humorous remark before Berra.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1963 Berra was elevated to the position of manager for the Yankees baseball team and a sports columnist for “The New York Times” spoke to Garagiola who testified to the positive qualities that would enable his friend to excel at this new job. Garagiola also presented interpretations for some of Berra’s remarks: 5 6

“When he said of the Kansas City attendance, ‘If they don’t wanna come out, nobody’s gonna stop ’em,’ he merely was saying that no one could force spectators to attend. Yogi always makes sense even if you have to look hard to find it.

In 1963 a weighty tome filled with thumbnail portraits titled “Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables” was published, and the entry for Sol Hurok included the expression with a slightly modified wording: “nothing will stop them” became “nothing can stop them”: 7

He came to America in 1906, lured lower-income “Hurok audiences” to Manhattan’s Hippodrome ($1 top) and, although encountering a few reluctant dilettantes (“If people don’t want to come, nothing can stop them”), soon rivaled the phonograph as a musical tastemaker.

In 1964 a newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts reported on the act of a comedian that included sayings ascribed to Berra: 8

YOGI BERRA, the new manager of the Yankees, has a lot to learn from an old one, Casey Stengel, but he’s catching on fast. From Somerville comic Billy Kelly who entertained at the Saints and Sinners soiree that made Yogi the fall guy, come these gems right out of the Yankee helmsman’s mouth: “You can observe a lot by watching . . . Those fans in Kansas City don’t want to come out and see their ball club—and nobody is gonna stop ’em.” But the Yankees keep right on laughing all the way to the pennant.

In 1969 the widely-syndicated columnist Earl Wilson printed an instance of the saying ascribed to Hurok: 9

Sol Hurok spoke this producerism: “If people don’t want to come to the theater, nothing will stop them”

In 2001 Yogi Berra published “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” which discussed many of his popular sayings. Berra indicated that he probably did make a comparable remark more than once: 10

IF PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO COME OUT TO THE PARK, NOBODY’S GOING TO STOP THEM

I think I first said this about the poor attendance in Kansas City, when the A’s were never too good. They eventually moved to Oakland in the mid-1960s. And I also said something like this to Bud Selig when he was interim commissioner. Attendance was declining in the early 1990s, and I think it was because of the threat of a strike.

In conclusion, there is substantive evidence that both Sol Hurok and Yogi Berra employed sayings in this family. Current knowledge suggests that Hurok was the originator, and QI suggests ascribing to him the version in the 1952 citation. The 1962 instance can be ascribed to Berra. Alternatively, the version accepted by Berra in his 2001 book may be used.

Image Notes: Picture of nearly empty theater from Montaplex at Pixabay; cropped and resized.

(In Memoriam: For my brother Stephen who greatly enjoyed Yogiisms.)

Notes:

  1. 1952 August 16, The Post-Standard, Doings in Rome by Leonard Lyons, Section Two, Quote Page 9, Column 1, Syracuse, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1952 August 16, Oregonian, In and Out of the Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1959 June 1, LIFE, Impresario Who Booked the Bolshoi by Joseph Roddy, Start Page 59, Quote Page 60, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View)
  4. 1962 September 13, Times-Picayune, NORD-MB Champs Honored by Nate Cohen, Section Two, Quote Page 8, Column 2, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1963 October 30, New York Times, Sports of The Times: Expert Opinion by Arthur Daley, Quote Page 36, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  6. 1963 October 30, The Kansas City Times, Don’t Sell Him Short, Say Garagiola and Rizzuto: Two Who Know Will Bet on Berra by Arthur Daley (New York Times News Service), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Kansas City, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1963, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables, Edited by Cleveland Amory with Earl Blackwell, Profile of Sol Hurok, Quote Page 310, Column 1, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1964 May 6, Boston Record American, My Boston: Brisbane Bit Cost 2 Bits by Harold Banks, Quote Page 30, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  9. 1967 May 27, Boston Traveler, An Exciting Girl: Yugoslavia’s Sylva Koscina Got Break Here by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 7, Column 5, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  10. 2001, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! by Yogi Berra with David Kaplan, Chapter 10, Quote Page 40 and 41, Hyperion, New York. (Verified in paper)