Quote Origin: Be Sincere; Be Brief; Be Seated

Franklin D. Roosevelt? James Roosevelt? Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher? William ‘Buster’ Collier Jr.? C. Z. Weiser? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Successful public speaking is both difficult and stressful, but it can be highly rewarding. The following tripartite guidance is both cogent and humorous. Here are two versions:

Be brief, be sincere. and be seated.
Be sincere, be brief, and be seated.

These words have been credited to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but I have never seen a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest ascription to Franklin D. Roosevelt located by QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in January 1940. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

The other day James Roosevelt opened a talk he made at Hollywood by saying: “My father gave me these hints on speechmaking. Be sincere … be brief … be seated.”

Thus, there is some evidence that F.D.R. employed the expression while conversing with his son James. However, the remark was already circulating before 1940, and it is unlikely that F.D.R. coined it.

For example, in February 1935 U.S. actor Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher appeared on stage in a farce titled “Hollywood Holiday”. After a successful performance there were multiple curtain calls. When Gallagher appeared he delivered a one-line speech:2

Gallagher said his mother had often told him, “When you are called upon to make a speech, always be brief, sincere and be seated.”

It is conceivable that the expression was originally crafted by the mother of Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, but the existence of other apparently unrelated citations in 1935 suggest to QI that the creator remains anonymous.

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

Image Notes: Picture of empty seats from Hansjörg Keller at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Calvin Engime whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1940 January 13, The Washington Post, My Friends, Quote Page 8, Column 2 and 3, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

[2] 1935 February 16, Journal-Every Evening, Movie Stars Back To Stage by W. P. F., Quote Page 19, Column 1, Wilmington, Delaware. (Newspapers_com)

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