Groucho Marx? George Burns? Jean Giraudoux? Celeste Holm? Ed Nelson? Samuel Goldwyn? Daniel Schorr? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest advice I was ever given as a sales associate was from another seasoned employee:
The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
Later, I read or heard this type of advice several times. For example, a television actor being interviewed said something like:
The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you’re in.
The expression varies but the basic joke is the same. Could you explore this saying to see where it began?
Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx, Samuel Goldwyn, and George Burns have each been credited with versions of this remark. George Burns did include a version in his third memoir in 1980, but this was a relatively late date. QI has located no substantive evidence supporting an ascription to Marx or Goldwyn.
The earliest evidence QI has found for this type of remark appeared in a syndicated newspaper column by Leonard Lyons in 1962. The popular Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm attributed the words to an anonymous theater actor [LLCH]:
Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. invited a panel of performers – including Celeste Holm and Shelly Berman – to discuss the trends in show business. Miss Holm spoke of the vogues in acting, and said she heard one actor say: “Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty … and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.”
In 1969 an actor named Ed Nelson who played the character Dr. Michael Rossi on the soap opera Peyton Place stated a version of the maxim in Life magazine. QI believes that multiple later occurrences of the expression can be traced back to this instance, but usually the actor’s name was omitted [ENPP]:
… Ed Nelson (Dr. Rossi) summed up what he had learned in his five years on the show. “I’ve found that the most important thing for an actor is honesty,” he said. “And when you learn how to fake that, you’re in.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.