Harry Cohn? Samuel Goldwyn? David O. Selznick? Jimmie Fidler? Lyndon B. Johnson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote investigator: According to a Hollywood legend a movie mogul expressed his unhappiness by angrily upbraiding underlings. Eventually, an assistant cautioned him that delivering repeated harangues can cause stomach ulcers. The magnate snarled:
I don’t get ulcers. I give them.
This remark has been attributed to several people including:
- Harry Cohn who was president of Columbia Pictures Corporation which made films such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “All the King’s Men”.
- Samuel Goldwyn who worked at Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn Productions while making films such as “Wuthering Heights” and “The Best Years of Our Lives”.
- David O. Selznick who worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and RKO while producing films such as “King Kong” and “Gone With the Wind”.
Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Jimmie Fidler in March 1947. The line was delivered by a Hollywood producer who was not named but was described as famous and egotistical. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Seems one of his employes, after listening to the big shot administer a fifteen-minute tongue-lashing to an assistant, ventured one solicitous remark. “You shouldn’t let yourself become so excited,” he warned. “You’re liable to get stomach ulcers.” “I don’t get ulcers,” roared the mighty one, “I give them!”
Fidler retold the tale in June 1949, and he belatedly identified the producer as David O. Selznick.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In May 1948 a newspaper in South Dakota printed an instance of the anecdote while acknowledging a paper called the “Message-Signaleer”: 2
A Hollywood writer, present for a conference, patiently listened while a producer ranted into the telephone. As he slammed down the receiver, the writer remarked, “If you’re not careful, you’ll get ulcers.”
The producer snapped back, “I don’t get them, I give them.”
In August 1948 the remark was ascribed to powerful movie man Sam Goldwyn by columnist Edith Gwynn: 3
Someone asked Sam Goldwyn how come he doesn’t have ulcers. And he answered, “I don’t get them. I give them!”
In September 1948 the critic Joseph Wood Krutch repeated the line while writing in the pages of “The New York Times Book Review”, but the ascription was anonymous: 4
That movie magnate who is reported to have said—no, “snapped” is the inevitable word —“I don’t have ulcers, I give them,” was not really chic.
In February 1949 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” published a profile of Lyndon Baines Johnson who was at that time a U.S. Senator representing Texas. He later became the President. Members of his entourage employed the line: 5
Senator Johnson is a dynamic worker and talker which is why his confreres call him the Blanco Blitz. When one of his 16 secretaries came down with an ulcer, the question was asked:
“When is that BB going to get ulcers?”
To which the rejoinder was: “The Blanco Blitz doesn’t get ulcers; he gives ’em.”
In June 1949 Jimmie Fidler revisited the topic and identified the potentate who delivered the zinger: 6
David O. Selznick, nerve strainer.
It was Mr. Selznick who, on being warned that his tantrums might leave him with stomach ulcers, irately replied, “I do not GET ulcers; I GIVE them!”
In November 1949 a version of the story appeared in the Sunday newspaper supplement “This Week”. The movie producer was unnamed: 7
EXECUTIVE: In the course of a hot-tempered telephone conversation with a high-powered movie producer, a harried screen writer was moved to remark: “Take it easy, will you? If you’re not careful, you’ll get ulcers.”
To which the producer snarled back: “I don’t get ulcers. I give them.”
In 1955 a gossip columnist presented a different tale featuring Goldwyn: 8
When MGM boss Dore Schary landed in the hospital with an ulcer, movie veteran Sam Goldwyn telephoned him and said:
“Young fellow, I’ve got some advice for you about ulcers–give ’em, don’t get ’em.”
In 1967 journalist Bob Thomas published “King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn” which included an instance: 9
More than one executive provided truth to the statement which Cohn proudly claimed to have originated: “I don’t have ulcers; I give them!”
In 1968 quotation compiler Evan Esar shared a variant with his readers: 10
The really smart businessman is the one who doesn’t get ulcers, but whose competitors do.
In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. The earliest citation in Jimmie Fidler’s column in March 1947 did not identify the crafter of the remark, but a couple years later Fidler named David O. Selznick. Thus, Selznick is the leading candidate. The second leading candidate is Samuel Goldwyn who was named in August 1948. These results are tentative, and future research may reorder possibilities
Image Notes: Portrait of Samuel Goldwyn circa July 19, 1919 in “Exhibitors Herald”. Publicity photo of David O. Selznick. Illustration of Gastric Ulcer; author: Bruce Blaus; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Images accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been resized and cropped.
(Thanks to previous researchers who located valuable citations beginning in September 1948, i.e., Ralph Keyes of “The Quote Verifier” and Fred R. Shapiro of “The Yale Book of Quotations”.)
- 1947 March 31, The Democrat and Leader (Quad-City Times), In Hollywood by Jimmy Fidler (Jimmie Fidler), Quote Page 7, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 May 3, The Daily Argus-Leader, On the Giving End (Acknowledgment to Message-Signaleer), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 August 12, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Section: The Everyday Magazine, Current News From Hollywood Lots by Edith Gwynn, Quote Page 2D, Column 2, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1948 September 5, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, Worrying, Raised to a Fine Art by Joseph Wood Krutch, Quote Page BR12, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1949 February 27, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Who’s Who in the News: Lyndon (Blanco Blitz) Johnson Democratic Senator from Texas by Joseph Driscoll (National Correspondent of the Post-Dispatch), Quote Page 1C, Column 5, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1949 June 15, St. Louis Star-Times, In Hollywood by Jimmie Fidler, Quote Page 33, Column 1, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1949 November 27, The Baltimore Sun, Section: This Week: The Sunday Magazine, Sidelines, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 March 23, The News-Herald, Hollywood Today! by Erskine Johnson, Quote Page 5, Column 3, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1968, (Copyright 1967), King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn by Bob Thomas, Chapter 12: Home Cooking Away from Home, Quote Page 120, (Original 1967 edition G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York), A Bantam Book, New York. (Verified with scans of Bantam edition) ↩
- 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: Ulcer, Quote Page 831, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩