Category Archives: Marlon Brando

I Want to Be What I Was When I Wanted To Be What I Now Am

Marlon Brando? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: We are unable to anticipate the full consequences of the changes we make to ourselves. The following wistful and convoluted expression reflects this unease:

I want to be who I was when I wanted to become who I am now.

While listening to the radio I heard this attributed to the famous actor Marlon Brando, but I cannot find any citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence linking this expression to Marlon Brando.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an article published in the journal “Christianity Today” in July 1967 about the rebellious young generation. The words were printed as a slogan on a button, and no ascription was provided. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

When it comes to expressing their views on life, they say by button: “I Want to Be What I Was When I Wanted To Be What I Now Am,” or “Neuroses Are Red, Melancholy Is Blue, I’m Schizophrenic, What Are You?,” or “End Poverty, Give Me $10.” They further advise: “Reality Is Good Sometimes for Kicks But Don’t Let It Get You Down,” and “Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1967 July 21, Christianity Today, Dear Slogan-Lovers by Etychus III, Page 20, Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)

Actor: A Guy Who If You Ain’t Talking About Him, He Ain’t Listening

Marlon Brando? Gladwin Hill? George Glass? George Alan O’Dowd? Anonymous?

masks07Dear Quote Investigator: Performers on stage and screen are sometimes stereotyped as egocentric. Here is one formulation of that critique:

An actor’s a guy who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.

These words are usually attributed to the Oscar-winning star Marlon Brando. Did Brando create or employ this saying? Also, was the statement aimed at a specific actor?

Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that Marlon Brando did use and popularize this expression. But there is also evidence that he did not craft it originally.

The earliest citation located by QI was published in a profile by journalist Gladwin Hill of the prominent actor Kirk Douglas in “Collier’s” magazine in 1951. The expression of acerbic disapproval was used to describe Douglas by an unnamed acquaintance. The word “ain’t” was not part of this version. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“He is the complete Hollywood actor,” an acquaintance remarked, “in that if you’re not talking about him, he isn’t listening. He’s incapable of participating in a conversation without shifting it around in the first five minutes to Kirk Douglas.”

By June 1955 TV impresario Ed Sullivan printed the saying in his gossip column. Sullivan noted that Marlon Brando had collected the humorous saying and was now using it. The context indicated that Brando had not created the self-deprecating remark: 2

Marlon Brando has a file of jokes about actors. He just added this one: “An actor is a guy, who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.” He and Jean Simmons are terrif’ in “Guys and Dolls.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1951 July 21, Collier’s, Hollywood’s “Heavy” Heartthrob by Gladwin Hill, (Subtitle: Kirk Douglas made his name in films by playing a new kind of villain: you feel sorry for him while you despise him), Start Page 20, Quote Page 67, Column 1, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)
  2. 1955 June 10, The Morning Herald, Little Old New York by Ed Sullivan, Quote Page 13, Column 3, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)