All I Want Is a Story. If You Have a Message, Send It by Western Union

Samuel Goldwyn? Humphrey Bogart? Ed Sullivan? Moss Hart? John Ford? Brendan Behan? Harry Warner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Storytellers often wish to do more than simply entertain. They wish to instruct their audiences via a didactic narrative. Yet, the primary concern of the producers of films and plays is financial success. This tension is illustrated by the following dialog:

Storyteller: I plan to tell a tale that has a powerful message.
Producer: If you’ve got a message, send it by Western Union.

Western Union began as a telegraph company, and it operated the dominant communication system in the U.S. for many decades. The telegram service was shut down in 2006.

The sardonic response above has been credited to movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, playwright Moss Hart, Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the newspaper column of Aleen Wetstein in 1940. She relayed an anecdote from an unnamed screenwriter who was working with a collaborator on a gangster picture for Samuel Goldwyn. The collaborator desired to insert a message of social significance into the film. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Finally in Goldwyn ‘s office, the second writer outlined his idea. “Mr. Goldwyn,” he said, “this is a wonderful opportunity to point out labor’s battle against capitalism. You have a chance here to bring a great message to the people.”

Goldwyn looked at him. “Messages, messages,” he said. “From Western Union you get messages. From me you get pictures.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading All I Want Is a Story. If You Have a Message, Send It by Western Union

Notes:

  1. 1940 July 27, The Pittsburgh Press, One Girl Chorus: If Goldwyn Has a Message He’ll Keep It On a Telegram by Aleen Wetstein, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)