“It’s too caustic.” “To hell with the cost.”

Who Said It? Samuel Goldwyn? Robert Benchley? Gracie Allen? Alva Johnston? Anonymous?

Who or What Was Caustic? The Little Foxes? Jim Tully? An Unnamed Actor? Mr. Rosenblatt? An Unnamed Script? An Unnamed Writer? Sidney Howard? Moss Hart?

Dear Quote Investigator: An entertaining legend about the powerful movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn has been amusing people for decades. “The Little Foxes” was a major Broadway hit in 1939 and Goldwyn was considering purchasing the rights to create a film based on the story. He asked his top advisor to see the play and report to him. Here is what the aide supposedly told Goldwyn together with his reply:

“Sam, it’s a great drama, but it might be a little too caustic.”
“I don’t care what it costs, I want it.”

This is my favorite anecdote about Goldwyn, and it is supported by the fact that he did buy the rights and made a classic movie starring Bette Davis. Could you research this quotation?

Quote Investigator:Thanks for sending in this fun story. Unfortunately, there is a problem with the timeline that makes this tale unlikely. In January 1930 the widely-syndicated columnist Walter Winchell reported a version of the joke based on the misconstrual of the word “caustic” that was being disseminated by the popular humorist and actor Robert Benchley. Thus, the core joke was in circulation about nine years before the premiere of “The Little Foxes”.

The tale centered on two movie magnates who began their careers in the garment business. This biographical detail matched Samuel Goldwyn who was a glove salesman before moving to Hollywood. The maladroit line was spoken by one of the magnates. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

They were in conference trying to save a new picture that lacked, what critics usually call, “a wallop.”
“If we could only get someone to fix it up,” said one.
“Why don’t you get Jim Tully?” suggested an executive.
“Jim Tully is too caustic!”
“Oh,” thundered one of the magnates, “the hell with the cost, get him!”

The writer Robert Benchley constructed many humorous stories, and it was possible that he simply invented this anecdote to entertain friends. Alternatively, he may have been present at a meeting when the line was spoken. Special thanks to ace researcher Bill Mullins who located the citation given above.

Here are some additional citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “It’s too caustic.” “To hell with the cost.”


  1. 1930 January 9, The Scranton Republican, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is Named Sam

Samuel Goldwyn? Roger Miller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I noticed that the Wikiquote website lists one of my favorite funny sayings attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, the famous film producer [WSG]. In the version of the story I heard, a friend told Goldwyn that he wanted to honor the studio head by naming his son after him, but Sam responded without enthusiasm:

No, don’t do that. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sam!

Wikiquote says that Goldwyn’s reply is unsourced, hence it is only listed on the discussion webpage. Can you find evidence that Goldwyn said it? Or can you determine who did say it?

Quote Investigator: There are many variants of this joke, but it is not clear whether Goldwyn ever uttered the gag line. Quotation expert Ralph Keyes notes that “inventing mangled comments to put in the mouth of the Polish-born movie mogul was a popular pastime during Goldwyn’s lifetime” [GQV].

The earliest instance of this anecdote that QI has located appeared in the Hollywood grapevine column of Jimmie Fidler in June of 1940 [JFG]:

A friend of Samuel Goldwyn asked the producer what he should name his new baby. Goldwyn pondered a moment, then suggested “Montmorency” as a possible and “high-sounding” monicker. “But Sam,” argued his friend, “don’t you think it would be better to call him something simple, like Bill or Joe?” “For heaven’s sake, no!” cried Goldwyn. “Why, every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country is named Bill or Joe!”

Two months later, in August of 1940 the columnist Leonard Lyons told another version of the tale that used the baby name William instead of Bill or Joe. Lyons also claimed that Goldwyn’s friend who inquired about names was the film director Ernst Lubitsch. Other variants of the story appeared in Hedda Hopper’s newspaper column, Boys’ Life magazine, Erskine Johnson’s column and elsewhere. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is Named Sam

Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote

Dear Quotation Investigator: Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood studio chief, was famous for his creatively humorous speech errors. A famous actor once asked if he could be in one of Goldwyn’s new productions. But Goldwyn did not like the actor, and he supposedly said:

I can answer you in two words, “im possible.”

Well, that is the story. Is it true?

QI: Many funny lines of this type are attributed to the movie mogul, and collectively they are known as Goldwynisms. The quip above has been linked to Goldwyn for many years; however, he probably never said it. Charlie Chaplin claimed that he deliberately pinned this saying on to Samuel Goldwyn according to the biographer Alva Johnston [GLD].

Continue reading Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote