Hollywood Is the Only Place Where You Can Die of Encouragement

Dorothy Parker? Pauline Kael?

Dear Quote Investigator: The decision to greenlight a movie in Hollywood is complicated and protracted. Those eager to make films experience a mixture of encouragement, uncertainty, delays, and heartbreak. Here are two versions of a germane witticism:

  • Hollywood is the one place on earth where you could die of encouragement.
  • Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.

These words have been credited to author Dorothy Parker and movie critic Pauline Kael. Would you please determine the correct ascription?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker who died in 1967 crafted this line.

In 1980 Pauline Kael published a piece in “The New Yorker” titled “Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers”. Many people in the movie business have the power to say no to a nascent project. Individuals at the top of the studio hierarchy can say yes, but they are cautious: 1

They postpone decisions because they’re fearful, and also because they don’t mind keeping someone dangling while his creative excitement dries up and all the motor drive goes out of his proposal. They don’t mind keeping people waiting, because it makes them feel more powerful.

Kael named some executives who were willing push projects forward with alacrity. Yet, she stated that definitive responses were uncommon. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

But most of the ones who could say yes don’t; they consider it and string you along. (Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.) For the supplicant, it’s a matter of weeks, months, years, waiting for meetings at which he can beg permission to do what he was, at the start, eager to do.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1982 “The Washington Post” published a profile of Bobby De Laurentis (now known as Robert De Laurentiis), and Kael’s remark was referenced: 2

Oh, he knew there were deals and big wheels and spiels out there in Lala Land—“the only place,” Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker, “where you can die of encouragement.” But these are not the things that come to prematurely balding, ever-smiling Italian kids from Atlantic City.

In 1994 the “Chicago Tribune” mentioned another domain in which encouragement could be fatal: 3

“A lot of chefs do books because their friends and customers tell them they should,” former Times critic Miller says. “Agents and publishers promise them they will make money. It’s flattering. You can die of encouragement.

“Yet for a chef to have a best-selling cookbook, he or she needs visibility, affability and accessibility. And it helps to have a national reputation or an institution behind you.”

In 1997 a message posted to the Usenet discussion system within a newsgroup about movie production included a version of the saying without attribution: 4

I’ve learned the hard way that you can die of encouragement in Hollywood, as several of my scripts have climbed up the ladder only to be rejected by the big wigs in the end.

The 2003 book titled “Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry” employed the saying as a chapter epigraph and incorrectly credited Dorothy Parker: 5

Hollywood is one place in the world where you can die of encouragement.
— Dorothy Parker

In February 2003 a message posted to the Usenet newsgroup misc.writing.screenplays contained a variant saying: 6

Subject: Hollywood is the only place…
You can die of enthusiasm.
They have meetings to plan the next meeting!

In conclusion, Pauline Kael should receive credit for the remark she wrote in 1980. The ascription to Dorothy Parker is spurious.

Image Notes: Image Notes: Picture of Hollywood sign from 12019 at Pixabay. Depiction of aspiring screenwriter from lukasbieri at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Mardy knew that the proper attribution was to Pauline Kael, but he wished to acquire a solid citation. He operates a valuable website with an extensive collection of metaphorical quotations.)

Notes:

  1. 1980 June 23, The New Yorker, The Current Cinema: Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers by Pauline Kael, Start Page 82, Quote Page 88, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Archive of The New Yorker at archives.newyorker.com)
  2. 1982 April 9, The Washington Post, Spotlight ; De Laurentis, With One ‘i’ by Tom Zito, Quote Page D7, Column 1, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1994 November 10, Chicago Tribune, Section Food Guide, Chefs overstuff nation’s shelves with cookbooks by William Rice (Tribune Food and Wine Columnist), Start Page H1, Quote Page H5, Column 2, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  4. 1997 February 14, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.arts.movies.production, From: Jody Ewing @pionet.net, Subject: Re: Females in the business??, (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 22, 2018) link
  5. 2003, Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong, Second Edition: Fully Revised and Updated, Chapter: Introduction, (Epigraph), Quote Page 1, An Owl Book: Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  6. 2003 February 17, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: misc.writing.screenplays, From: LennoxLA @aol.com, Subject: Hollywood is the only place…, (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 22, 2018) link