George Bernard Shaw? Howard Dietz? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful anecdote about a meeting between the famous movie studio chief Samuel Goldwyn and the renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw. Goldwyn flew to England to convince Shaw to write material for him to use in films. Goldwyn emphasized the high quality and the artistic merit of the movies he hoped to produce, but Shaw was more interested in the extent of the compensation. Shaw responded with a classic line that humorously reversed the formulaic expectations present when an artist meets a moneyman. Could you research the veracity of this tale and determine the precise statement made by Shaw?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed on May 1, 1921 in the Baltimore American newspaper of Baltimore, Maryland. The famous remark of Shaw was relayed from London via a special cable message according to the dateline: 1
Mr. Goldwyn is a ready talker and G.B.S. being Irish, was a little behind him at times. After going over the entire film situation in a discussion lasting several hours, Mr. Shaw closed the interview as follows:
“Well, Mr. Goldwyn, there is not much use in going on. There is this difference between you and me: You are only interested in art and I am only interested in money.”
In 1922 Shaw recounted the episode with Goldwyn during an address before an organization of wordsmiths and composers. His speech provided additional background that helped to explicate his remark. He repeated the quotation but used a different phrasing. In 1926 Shaw described the meeting again, and this time he used a third phrasing for the quotation. In 1937 a biography of Goldwyn contended that the statement was actually composed by a publicity man named Howard Dietz who was employed by the movie mogul. The details for these cites are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
On May 21, 1921 the story was published in The Evening Telegram of New York, and this version was not a reprint. The newspaper used different sentences to describe the context, and the reported remarks from Shaw were slightly different. However, the final sentence from Shaw was the same: 4
When Bernard Shaw was insulted by Samuel Goldwyn, a moving picture producer, with a tempting offer to visit this country with a view to writing for the screen, the question of “art” was raised. The man from Dublin made this unexpected retort:—
Do you know, Mr. Goldwyn, there is a radical difference between you and me? You are only interested in art and I am only interested in money.
Another effort on the part of Shaw to keep his end up as a producer of paradoxes, the unthinking will imagine.
In 1922 Shaw addressed the Incorporated Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers and discussed his encounter with an unnamed “great film producer”, i.e., Goldwyn. Shaw presented the quotation, but he used an altered wording: 5
“Don’t lunch with a publisher or film person and think that because he is such a nice chap he won’t ‘do’ you. As a matter of fact, he won’t ‘do’ you. He is simply out to exact the most he can. It is not dishonest to get the best terms.”
He told of having been interviewed by a great film producer who said that he had no mercenary motives, but wanted to elevate the people and see that the authors got their rights.
“I said to him: ‘The difficulty between us is that you care for nothing but art and I seem to care for nothing but money.'”
Mr. Shaw advised authors that if publishers or producers wanted to talk art, to say to them: “That does not interest me. I create art. What is important to me is money. You look after the art. I’ll look after the money.” He added that at the beginning of his career he did not sign a single agreement that he did not draft himself.
In 1926 an interview with Shaw that was described as an “exclusive interview with International News Service” was printed in newspapers under the byline H. K Reynolds. Shaw discussed his previous meeting with Goldwyn and presented an interesting longer version of the 1921 statement: 6 7
It reminds me of the time Mr. Goldwyn called on me here and talked to me for half an hour about himself. He said he’d made so much money he didn’t care about money at all. He asked me to write a scenario for him, declaring his sole future objective was to improve the level of art throughout the world.
I listened quietly to him, and at the end of the half-hour, in bidding him good-bye, I remarked. ‘I’m afraid, Mr. Goldwyn, that we shall not ever be able to do business together. You see you’re an artist and care only about art, while I’m only a tradesman and care only about money.’
In 1937 a short biography titled “The Great Goldwyn” by Alva Johnston was published, and it contained a cornucopia of anecdotes and quotations. Johnston suggested that the words attributed to Shaw were really crafted by the publicist Howard Dietz: 8
Sam wanted to make a Goldwyn writer of George Bernard Shaw. They discussed it over tea one day in London. Shaw thought Sam was too esthetic to be a practical man. A version of the conversation was cabled over to Howard Dietz, Goldwyn’s publicity chief; he compressed Shaw’s words into: “The trouble, Mr. Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art and I am only interested in money.” This was cabled back to London and released there. It added considerably to Shaw’s reputation as a wit.
In 1969 a book about Hollywood potentates titled “The Moguls” by Norman Zierold included a paragraph about the meeting between Shaw and Goldwyn. In the following excerpt “the producer” referred to Goldwyn: 9
The producer was more pleased with a beefed-up version of his encounter with George Bernard Shaw. Goldwyn visited the great Irish playwright at his home and tried to sign him to a contract. Shaw, impressed by Goldwyn’s appreciation of good things, jokingly questioned his commercial sense. Publicist Howard Dietz worked up a story that had Shaw saying, “The trouble, Mr. Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art, and I am only interested in money.” As such, it gained the widest circulation.
In conclusion, QI thinks that George Bernard Shaw likely did make the statement reported in the Baltimore American in May 1921. It is conceivable that Howard Dietz offered some input, but Shaw must have agreed with the form of the statement based on his comments in 1922 and 1926. By definition the expressions used by Shaw in 1922 and 1926 also qualify as Shavian quotations, but they apparently did not precisely match what was said in 1921. QI believes the most eloquently humorous version was delivered in 1926.
- 1921 May 1, Baltimore American, Shaw Refuses to Write for Movies, (Special Cable to the New York Herald and the Baltimore American), Dateline: London, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Baltimore, Maryland. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1921 May 15, The Springfield Sunday Journal (Daily Illinois State Journal), I Seek Coin, You Art, Shaw to Goldwyn, (Special Dispatch from London), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1921 May 29, The State, Section: Part II, Art and Profiteer: G. B. Shaw Eager in Chase of Almighty Pound, Quote Page 26, Column 8, Columbia, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1921 May 21, The Evening Telegram, A Shavian Confession!, Quote Page 6, Column 3, New York, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1922 May 28, Philadelphia Inquirer “Look after Money,” is Bernard Shaw’s Advice to Authors, (Special Cable to the Philadelphia Inquirer by New York Herald), Quote Page 1, Column 8, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1926 October 9, Evening Tribune, Apex Passed in Career of Shaw by H. K. Reynolds (Staff Correspondent International News Service), Page 9, Column 6, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: George Bernard Shaw, Page 705, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1978 [Reprint of 1937 Random House edition], The Great Goldwyn by Alva Johnston, Page 59 and 60, Arno Press: A New York Times Company, New York. (Verified on paper in 1978 edition) ↩
- 1969, The Moguls by Norman Zierold, Quote Page 128, Coward-McCann, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩