Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote

Dear Quotation Investigator: Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood studio chief, was famous for his creatively humorous speech errors. A famous actor once asked if he could be in one of Goldwyn’s new productions. But Goldwyn did not like the actor, and he supposedly said:

I can answer you in two words, “im possible.”

Well, that is the story. Is it true?

QI: Many funny lines of this type are attributed to the movie mogul, and collectively they are known as Goldwynisms. The quip above has been linked to Goldwyn for many years; however, he probably never said it. Charlie Chaplin claimed that he deliberately pinned this saying on to Samuel Goldwyn according to the biographer Alva Johnston [GLD].

Writing in The Great Goldwyn (1937), Johnston says that the joke is “almost the cornerstone of the Goldwyn legend.” But, it appeared in a 1925 humor magazine, and it was not initially attributed to Goldwyn. A more precise citation for this 1925 appearance is apparently unknown.

The date of the earliest citation that QI has located is 1928. A column about Hollywood in the University of Illinois periodical, the Daily Illini, contains the comical utterance, and it is attributed to an unnamed movie producer [IMPO]:

Director trying to calm excitedly gesturing producer, who disproves (sic) of a newly-built set. Producer answering: “What’s the matter with it? In two words I can tell you what’s the matter with it: It’s im-possible.”

A 1931 theatrical production contains a fictional movie company president named Phil Mashkin who employs the saying. A review of the play in Time magazine indicates that the remark is already a Hollywood legend in the 1930s [TMW]:

The story of the would-be dentist cajoled into brief stardom is Hollywood legend. So is Phil Mashkin’s remark: “In two words, im-possible.” Well acted, cleverly directed, Wonder Boy is a live & funny play.

[GLD] 1937, The Great Goldwyn by Alva Johnston, Page 27, Random House. Google Books snippet view) link

[IMPO] 1928 January 26, Daily Illini, Screen Life In Hollywood by Wade Werner, Page 7, Col. 2, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. (Google News Archive, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection full view.) link

[TMW] 1931 November 2, Time magazine, The Theatre: Other Plays in Manhattan, Time  Inc., New York. link

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