The Only “Ism” in which Hollywood Believes Is Plagiarism

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: From Fascism, Marxism, and Anarchism to Consumerism, Materialism, and Postmodernism the world has been infatuated by and convulsed by “isms”. The famous wit Dorothy Parker reportedly spoke the following line while she was writing screenplays in Hollywood:

The only “ism” Hollywood really believes in is plagiarism.

Did she really say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the 1941 book “Hollywood: The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers” by Leo C. Rosten. The political stances of individuals in Hollywood have often attracted controversy. Yet, in the past the community was also criticized for being too apolitical or apathetic. Rosten wrote the following of Hollywood in the 1920s and early 1930s. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[ref] 1941 copyright, Hollywood: The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers by Leo C. Rosten, Quote Page 133, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Facsimile produced on demand in 1973 by University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan)(Verified on paper in facsimile) [/ref]

The harsher view found Hollywood politically indifferent, innocent, and ignorant, populated by rich children who lolled in an Arcadia of swimming pools and bonbons. The only “ism” in which Hollywood believed, Dorothy Parker remarked, was plagiarism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

When Rosten’s work was examined in the “New York Times” in 1941 the comment credited to Parker was found noteworthy and reproduced by the reviewer Charles Poore:[ref] 1941 November 29, New York Times, Books of the Times by Charles Poore, Quote Page 15, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]

In his chapter on “Politics Over Hollywood” Mr. Rosten quotes Dorothy Parker’s early remark to the effect that there was a time when the only “ism” Hollywood believed in was plagiarism.

In 1944 the prominent newspaper scribe Walter Winchell printed a version of the saying in his syndicated column and credited Parker. This instance used the word “interested” instead of “believed”:[ref] 1944 July 7, Augusta Chronicle, Walter Winchell in New York, (Syndicated column), Start Page 6, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

But the film capital has come a long way since Dorothy Parkered: The only “ism” Hollywood is interested in is plagiarism.

In 1949 Evan Esar placed the saying in his compilation “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”:[ref] 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Dorothy Parker, Quote Page 159, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)[/ref]

PARKER, Dorothy, born 1893, American wit, poet, and short-story writer.
The only “ism” Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.

In 1963 the collection of short biographical profiles “Celebrity Register” asserted that the remark had been directed at an individual and not aimed at Hollywood as an abstraction:[ref] 1963, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables, Edited by Cleveland Amory with Earl Blackwell, Profile of Dorothy Parker, Quote Page 478, Column 2, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

[She wrote] … of a controversial author (“The only ‘ism’ he believes in is plagiarism”)

After Dorothy Parker’s death in 1967 an article of remembrance in the “New York Times” printed a version of the quotation that was similar to the one published in the “Celebrity Register”:[ref] 1967 June 8, New York Times, Dorothy Parker, 73, Literary Wit, Dies by Alden Whitman, Start Page 1, Quote Page 38, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]

Of a well-known author, “The only ‘ism’ she believes in is plagiarism.”

In 1970 the Boston Globe published a review of a Jay Martin’s biography of the author Nathanael West. The book reviewer reprinted a remark from the volume that was credited to Parker:[ref] 1970 July 5, Boston Globe, Metaphysician of Doom by Jerrold Hickey, (Book review of “Nathanael West: The Life of His Art” by Jay Martin), Quote Page A25, Column 1 and 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)[/ref]

Among the more apposite quotes Mr. Martin presents—along with a mountain of minutiae—is one by Dorothy Parker, who, fed to the spleen with the literati’s snarling over Marxism, Fascism, Stalinism, declared that the only “ism” Hollywood really believed in was plagiarism.

In 1974 “The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes” included an instance of the expression:[ref] 1974, The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes by Leslie Halliwell, Section: Hollywood, Quote Page 100, [Reprint of 1973 edition Granada Publishing, London], Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

Ethics were out, as Dorothy Parker knew: The only — ism Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.

In conclusion, the earliest citations for this saying did not present exact quotations, so there is some uncertainty about the wording. The earliest evidence also indicated that the statement was aimed at Hollywood and not an individual writer. The ascription to Dorothy Parker appeared repeatedly, and there were no substantive rivals.

Image Notes: Hollywood Sign from DaController on Pixabay. Dorothy Parker image from Wikimedia Commons. Copyright expired.

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