“Which Is My Best Side, Do You Think?” “You’re Sitting On It”

Leon Shamroy? Alfred Hitchcock? Apocryphal?

lifeboat07Dear Quote Investigator: According to Hollywood legend a vain actor or actress was deeply concerned about being photographed in a flattering manner. The following words were exchanged with a famous director:

“You’re not photographing me with my best side to the camera.”
“But how can I when you’re sitting on it?”

Would you please explore this story?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published by the powerful syndicated gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in December 1943. Hopper did not name the director, the actress, or the movie. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I loved the crack a top director made to a young girl who was complaining they were shooting the wrong side of her face. He stood it as long as he could, then said, “Miss, you’re sitting on your best side.”

In 1945 the syndicated Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fidler relayed an anecdote told by the comedian Hugh Herbert about an actress and an unhappy director: 2

He finally got her posed correctly for the wanted shot, but just as the cameras began to whir she suddenly switched from left profile to right. “Why did you do that?” roared the director. “Because I want my best side to be photographed,” she retorted haughtily. “Honey,” said the director sweetly, “you’re sitting on it!”

In 1950 the anecdote collector Bennett Cerf suggested that the punchline was delivered by the prominent cinematographer Leon Shamroy to an aging movie star. But in 1957 the popular columnist Walter Winchell stated that the remark was made by the famous director Alfred Hitchcock. Finally, in 1970 an interview with Hitchcock was published in which he stated that he spoke the line to Mary Anderson. In 1943 Hitchcock was directing “Lifeboat” which was released in 1944, and Anderson was one of the stars of the film. Detailed citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In February 1948 the “Moulton Weekly Tribune” of Moulton, Iowa printed the following version of the tale: 3

Most men are inclined to agree with the movie director who was arguing with the female star. The lady was quite up in arms. Claimed that the camera man was not photographing her best side. Said the director, “My dear, how can he when you’re sitting on it.”

In October 1948 the widely-syndicated columnist Walter Winchell relayed the following joke from the television comedian Morey Amsterdam: 4

Morey Amsterdam heard a starlet squawk to a still photographer: “You’re not taking my best side!” . . . “How can I?” was the squelch. “You’re sitting on it!”

In 1950 Bennett Cerf published a compendium of humor called “Laughter Incorporated”, and he included an instance of the tale that featured the distinguished director of photography Leon Shamroy as the quipster: 5

An imperious and aging movie star viewed the rushes of a day’s work in the studio, and complained to the boss camera man, Leon Shamroy, “You are not photographing my best side.”How can I?” snapped Shamroy. “You’re always sitting on it.”

In February 1957 Walter Winchell revisited the topic, and he identified Alfred Hitchcock as the director who delivered the punchline: 6

Temperamental battles are quite common, of course. When a star squawked to Alfred Hitchcock, “You’re not photographing me with my best side to the camera,” the director glared: “But how can I, my dear, when you’re sitting on it?”

In Octobers 1957 a variant tale appeared in a Seattle, Washington newspaper. Hitchcock was credited with the jest, but the setting was moved from a movie set to a television studio: 7

On a set where Alfred Hitchcock was filming a TV show, a starlet kept hounding Hitchcock to tell her which was her best side. Exasperated, Hitchcock snapped: “Young lady, you are sitting on it.”

In 1962 an interestingly different version was printed in a trade publication called “Pit and Quarry”. The narcissistic performer was male instead of female: 8

The arrogant and egotistical ham actor was causing his director plenty of trouble and delaying completion of the picture. Now as the cameras started to roll again, after the tenth interruption of the day, the actor yelled, “Just a second! You’re not photographing me with my best side!”

The director, completely fed up, put his megaphone to his lips and said: “How can I, old pal, when you’re sitting on it!”

In 1968 the joke was retold with yet another setting: 9

When one of Miss America aspirants told the photographer that he hadn’t photographed her best side yet, he replied. “How can I when you’re sitting on it?”

In 1970 an extensive interview with Hitchcock was printed in “The Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio. Hitchcock claimed that he made the remark to the actress Mary Anderson during the filming of “Lifeboat”: 10

One day she sat in the back of the boat and preened herself. ‘Mr. Hitchcock, which is my best side, do you think?’ I said, ‘Mary, you’re sitting on it’.

In 1980 the following was printed in Hitchcock’s obituary published in the “Los Angeles Times”: 11

When a temperamental actress once suggested to him that he was not photographing her best side, Hitchcock rejoined: “You’re sitting on it.”

In 1983 a biography by Donald Spoto titled “The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock” was released, and the following instance of the story was included: 12

Another player — young Mary Anderson, whom the studio was preparing for an important career — did not impress the director so much. She was eager to please him and his cameraman, however, and she wanted to learn about details like profile photography.

“Mr. Hitchcock, what do you think is my best side?” she asked, taking a seat near his director’s chair. “My dear,” he answered without looking at her, “you’re sitting on it.”

In conclusion, the preponderance of evidence indicates that the quip was spoken by Alfred Hitchcock to Mary Anderson in 1943 while Hitchcock was directing “Lifeboat”. The precise phrasing of the dialog has remained uncertain because multiple versions have been given. QI favors Hitchcock’s 1970 version because he was an eyewitness participant although the time delay was rather long.

Curiously, Leon Shamroy married Mary Anderson in 1953, and it was possible that the two were romantically paired by 1950. Perhaps the version of the tale given by Bennett Cerf in 1950 about an aging movie star was influenced by Shamroy or Anderson. QI has located no direct evidence about the formulation of Cerf’s anomalous version of the anecdote, so any conjecture would be speculative.

Image Notes: Publicity photo for the 1944 film “Lifeboat” directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitchcock.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Bruce Reznick who pointed out to QI that Leon Shamroy was married to Mary Anderson which may have influenced Cerf’s 1950 citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1943 December 31, The Harrisburg Telegraph, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, Quote Page 7, Column 6, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1945 July 28, Joplin Globe, Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Joplin, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1948 February 12, Moulton Weekly Tribune, Just Between You and Me, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Moulton, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1948 October 21, The Terre Haute Tribune, Walter Winchell on Broadway (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Terre Haute, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1950 Copyright, Laughter Incorporated by Bennett Cerf, (Published in volume 2 of a 1956 omnibus edition titled: Bennett Cerf’s Bumper Crop of Anecdotes and Stories), Chapter: Red Pastures, Quote Page 264, Garden City Books, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1956 omnibus edition)
  6. 1957 February 25, The Terre Haute Tribune, Walter Winchell of New York (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Terre Haute, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1957 October 20, The Seattle Sunday Times, Section: The Week in TV, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  8. 1962 August, Pit and Quarry, Volume 55, Number 2, Screenings by Ray L. Smith Jr., Quote Page 15, Column 2, Published by Pit and Quarry Publications, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)
  9. 1968 October 7, The Times-Picayune, Girl Watchers Get Eyeful by Clayton Rand, Section 3, Quote Page 6, Column 5, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  10. 1970 February 1, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Section: The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine, Article: Let’s Hear It for Hitchcock: The definitive interview, with the movie master doing most of the talking by Emerson Batdorff, Start Page 28, Quote Page 29, Column 4, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  11. 1980 April 30, Los Angeles Times, Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Mystery Movies, Dies by Jerry Belcher. Start Page B1, Quote Page 27, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  12. 1999, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto, Chapter 9, Quote Page 269, Published by Da Capo Press: Member of Perseus Books Group, New York. (Revised version of 1983 edition) (Verified with scans of 1999 edition)