I Love Criticism as Long as It Is Unqualified Praise

Noel Coward? Frank Sinatra? Margaret McManus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular English playwright Noel Coward apparently once suggested that he welcomed any amount of criticism as long as it was unqualified praise. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In January 1956 Noel Coward was interviewed by journalist Margaret McManus who asked him about his recent appearance in Las Vegas. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It was a great success, so naturally I loved it,” he said. “If I hadn’t been a success I’d probably have blamed it on the scenery. I’d have said, ‘I hate it here.’”
“I always say I love criticism as long as it is unqualified praise.”

In March 1957 a columnist writing in “The Londonderry Sentinel” of Northern Ireland credited Coward with a different phrasing of the quip. QI believes he employed both versions: 2

Said Noel Coward: “I can take any amount of criticism as long as it is unqualified praise.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1915 W. Somerset Maugham published a book in which a character spoke a thematically similar remark: 3

“People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Besides, what’s the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?”

QI has created a separate article about Maugham’s remark available here.

In January 1956 Coward used the saying during an interview, and in March 1957 Coward received credit for a different phrasing as mentioned previously.

In November 1957 syndicated columnist Cholly Knickerbocker printed an instance while crediting Coward: 4

Blithe Spirit Noel Coward’s amusing admission: “I can take any amount of criticism, as long as it is unqualified praise.”

Also, In 1957 a variant of the saying was linked to crooner Frank Sinatra in the book “The Seven Deadly Sins of Hollywood” by Thomas Wiseman: 5

One of the minor disadvantages of being the hottest thing in Hollywood is that you have to stand up a dozen times during your meal to be introduced to gushing women whose friends or husbands insist that they simply must meet you. I have to report that Sinatra submitted to their compliments with grace. He is the sort of man who will take any amount of criticism as long as it is flattering.

In 1960 columnist Sidney Skolsky playfully criticized Hollywood actors: 6

Hollywood is a place where an actor will take any amount of criticism, so long as it’s flattering. That’s Hollywood For You.

In 1963 Mignon McLaughlin published a book containing a thematically similar remark: 7

Nobody wants constructive criticism. It’s all we can do to put up with constructive praise.
Mignon McLaughlin

QI has created a separate article about McLaughlin’s remark available here.

In 1977 “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” echoed the instance from 1956: 8

I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.
—Noel Coward

In 2010 “The Noël Coward Reader” credited Coward with an instance of the remark: 9

I can take any amount of criticism, as long as it is unqualified praise.
—PRESS INTERVIEW

In conclusion, Noel Coward deserves credit for the two versions of the saying in the 1956 and 1957 citations.

(Great thanks to Jesse Sheidlower who told QI about the W. Somerset Maugham quotation which led QI to discover this remark from Noel Coward.)

Notes:

  1. 1956 January 8, The Des Moines Register, Section: Iowa TV Magazine, Noel Coward a ‘Blithe Spirit’–in Sunny Jamaica (Continuation title: ‘I Love Criticism, Just So It’s Unqualified Praise’) by Margaret McManus (Exclusive Dispatch to The Iowa TV Magazine), Start Page 1, Quote Page 5, Column 3 and 4, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1957 March 2, The Londonderry Sentinel, Limelight: The transformation of Sally Ann Howes by Thomas Wiseman, Quote Page 7, Column 5, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (British Newspaper Archive)
  3. 1915, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Chapter 50, Quote Page 267, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1957 November 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Grandee in Paree Thrills Rosie by Cholly Knickerbocker, Quote Page 27, Column 3, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1957, The Seven Deadly Sins of Hollywood by Thomas Wiseman, Chapter 10: Crazy Mixed-Up Kids, Quote Page 121, Oldbourne Press, London. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1960 September, Photoplay, Volume 58, Number 3, That’s Hollywood For You by Sidney Skolsky, Start Page 4, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Macfadden Publications, New York. (Verified with scans at archive.org)
  7. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 4: Health, Happiness, Self-Esteem, Quote Page 41, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Topic: Criticism, Quote Page 145, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 2010, The Noël Coward Reader by Noël Coward, Edited by Barry Day, Part 5: The 1950s, Quote Page 498, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)