George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Groucho Marx? Max Aitken? Mark Twain? W. C. Fields? Bertrand Russell?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous story about sex and money that I have heard in myriad variations. A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:
She: What kind of woman do you think I am?
He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.
This joke is retold with different famous individuals filling the roles. Often Bernard Shaw is mentioned. Did anything like this ever happen? Who was involved?
Quote Investigator: The role of the character initiating the proposal in this anecdote has been assigned to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson and others. However, the earliest example of this basic story found by QI did not spotlight any of the persons just listed. In addition, the punch line was phrased differently.
In January 1937 the syndicated newspaper columnist O. O. McIntyre printed a version of the anecdote that he says was sent to him as a newspaper clipping. This tale featured a powerful Canadian-British media magnate and politician named Max Aitken who was also referred to as Lord Beaverbrook [MJLB]:
Someone sends me a clipping from Columnist Lyons with this honey:
“They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: ‘Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?’ She said she would. ‘And if be paid you five pounds?’ The irate lady fumed: ‘Five pounds. What do you think I am?’ Beaverbrook replied: ‘We’ve already established that. Now we are trying to determine the degree.”
Note that this newspaper version does not use the blunt phrase “sleep with”. Instead, a more oblique expression, “live with”, is employed to conform to the conventions of the period.
Top-researcher Barry Popik has performed very valuable work tracing this tale, and we have incorporated some of his discoveries in this article. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.