I Don’t Owe My Public Anything Except a Good Performance

Humphrey Bogart? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Maintaining a private personal life is nearly impossible for individuals who become famous. Gossip shows revel in presenting an endless stream of sensitive and embarrassing incidents. Apparently, the Hollywood superstar Humphrey Bogart once said in exasperation something like the following::

  1. The only thing I owe the public is a good performance.
  2. I owe the public just one thing — a good performance

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1949 a California newspaper presented remarks made by Bogart during an interview. He referred to the antics of Errol Flynn. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Nowadays they want you to treat this industry like a religion. Flynn and I are the only ones left who do any good, ole hell-raising. Oh, a couple of the girls have a little spark … Shelley Winters and Paulette Goddard and Lana Turner.

“But watch the old hypocrites land on us every time we cut loose!”

They’re forever reminding him. Bogie snorted, about his responsibilities to his public.

“I don’t owe my public anything,” he says, “except a good performance. That’s what they pay for. And if they get it, we’re even-stephen.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




Also in November 1949 The newswire INS reported a slightly different version of the comments by Bogart: 2

“If I want to take a panda to a night club that’s nobody’s business but mine.”

“They’re trying to run Hollywood like a girl’s school.

“All I owe my public is a good performance. When I give them a good performance that makes us all even.”

In December 1949 popular columnist Earl Wilson shared Flynn’s reaction: 3

Errol Flynn writes to me that the British papers approve Humphrey Bogart’s comments about getting stiff, and his contention. “I don’t owe my public anything except a good performance.”

Flynn then adds—with a touch of sympathy for his brother sufferer—”Bogie is just like any other individualist—a man striving to be himself in a world unwilling to let him be.”

In 1984 “The Hollywood Reporter: The Golden Years” reprinted sections of the Bogart interview. QI believes that that the interview probably first appeared in “The Hollywood Reporter”: 4

People are forever reminding me of my responsibilities to my public. Well, I don’t owe my public anything except a good performance. That’s what they paid for and, if they get it, we’re even-steven. Instead I’m expected to go around bowing and scraping to my public. Hell, if I bowed every time they told me to, I’d be spending all my time on my knees!

In conclusion, Bogart should be credited with the statement in the first citation above and in the 1984 book from “The Hollywood Reporter”.

Image Notes: Screenshot of Humphrey Bogart from the trailer for the 1939 film Invisible Stripes. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall from the 1946 film The Big Sleep printed in New Movies, the National Board of Review Magazine. Both images are from Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1949 November 10, San Mateo Times Bogart Likes Pandas-They Don’t Talk About the Movies by Virginia Macpherson, Quote Page 7, Column 2, San Mateo, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1949 November 13, The Oregonian, Bogart Sneers at Critics, Yearns for Wilder Days (News Provider INS), Quote Page 14, Column 5, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1949 December 16, The Times Recorder Some Half-Wit And Wisdom by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Zanesville, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1984, The Hollywood Reporter: The Golden Years by Tichi Wilkerson and Marcia Borie, Boxoffice Favorites, Start Page 246, Quote Page 247, Column 1, Coward-McCann, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)