Some of the Biggest Failures I Ever Had Were Successes

Pearl Bailey? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone experiences failures in life. Yet, each setback can be transformed into an energizing event and an episode of learning. Even the largest failures can be changed into successes. The prominent U.S. actress and singer Pearl Bailey said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 Pearl Bailey published the memoir “Talking To Myself” which included the following passage: 1

Some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes. A man has to try in order to grow, and try again. The point is that it’s the trying that does it, and not necessarily achieving what he is attempting to do.

For every failure, one grows a bit. Failure inspires some people to go on, at least that’s the way it affects the greats of show business as I’ve observed them.

This remark combines two contradictory words: “failures” and “successes”. The resulting figure of speech is called an oxymoron, and it seems inconsistent from a narrow overly literal viewpoint; however, a wider perspective reveals its insightfulness.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1996 “The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio included an entry for the remark: 2

Some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes.
Pearl Bailey, Talking to Myself (1971)

In 2004 “Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths” edited by Mardy Grothe also included the statement with an ascription to Bailey. 3

In conclusion, Pearl Bailey should receive credit for the statement she penned in her 1971 memoir. She crafted an entertaining and instructive example of an oxymoron.

Notes:

  1. 1973 (1971 Copyright), Talking To Myself by Pearl Bailey, Chapter: The measure of its contents, Quote Page 176, Pocket Books: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1996 Copyright, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Failure, Quote Page 234, Column 2, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2004, Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths, Edited by Mardy Grothe, Chapter 7: Oxymoronica On Stage & Screen, Quote Page 125, Publisher HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper)