Tag Archives: Ben Hecht

Change One Letter in That Phrase and You Have My Life Story

Dorothy Parker? Ben Hecht? Corey Ford? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker apparently constructed a risqué quip when she observed people ducking for apples at a party. Would you please explore this topic?

Dear Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of Parker’s jest located by QI appeared in the 1957 book “Charlie: The Improbable Life and Times of Charles MacArthur” by Ben Hecht. MacArthur and Hecht were successful writing partners who created popular plays such as “The Front Page” and “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Dorothy Parker was Hecht’s friend and MacArthur’s lover. The book recounted the following anecdote. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At a subsequent Halloween party, Miss Parker spoke one of her wryest sentences. Asked to join a group of merrymakers who were “ducking for apples,” Dorothy said, “Change one letter in that phrase and you have my life story.”

The change probably referred to the transformation of “ducking” into a synonym for fornication.

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  1. 1957, Charlie: The Improbable Life and Times of Charles MacArthur by Ben Hecht, Quote Page 99, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with hard copy)

I’m Looking for Loopholes

W. C. Fields? Ben Hecht? Gene Fowler? Thomas Mitchell? Apocryphal?

fields08Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant comedian and movie actor W. C. Fields led an unrestrained showbiz life displaying a fondness for alcohol and mistresses. He was not known as a religious man, but as his death approached he began to peruse the Bible. When a friend asked him about this behavior he humorously explained that he was:

Looking for loopholes.

Would you please explore this anecdote and quotation?

Quote Investigator: W. C. Fields died in 1946, and the earliest evidence located by QI appeared many years later in November 1960 in “Playboy” magazine. The prominent screenwriter and director Ben Hecht wrote a nostalgic piece reflecting on his experiences in Hollywood. Hecht recounted a story about the journalist Gene Fowler and his friend Fields that included an instance of the quotation. The nickname “Bill” was used for W. C. Fields. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Fields was Fowler’s favorite self-destroyer. No man ever worked so patiently at wrecking his soul and body as did this prince of comedians. A Mississippi of gin sluiced through him in his declining years.

Fowler visited his ailing crony shortly before his death. He found Fields sitting in the garden reading the Holy Bible. “I’m looking for loopholes,” Bill explained, shyly.

Another version of the tale was published in 1966; the person visiting Fields was identified as the actor Thomas Mitchell instead of Fowler. Of course, it was possible that Fields used the quip more than once, and therefore both versions might be accurate. The 1966 citation is given further below.

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  1. 1960 November, Playboy, Volume 7, Number 11, “If Hollywood is Dead or Dying as a Moviemaker, Perhaps the Following Are Some of the Reasons” by Ben Hecht, Start Page 56, Quote Page 134, Column 2, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)

Millions Are To Be Grabbed Out Here, and Your Only Competition Is Idiots

Herman J. Mankiewicz? Apocryphal?

clapperboard07Dear Quote Investigator: I have just returned from seeing an expensive Hollywood fiasco. While watching the film I was reminded of a vibrant telegram that a successful Hollywood writer reportedly sent to cajole another scribbler to join him. He made promises such as: “millions of dollars can be grabbed” and “the only competitors are idiots”. Did this telegram actually exist? Can you determine who sent it and who received it?

Quote Investigator: In 1954 the prolific Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht published a memoir titled “A Child of the Century” which included the text of a telegram he was sent before he began his acclaimed career in motion pictures. The screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz enticed Hecht to join him in Tinseltown with a dream of wealth in a note delivered by a Western Union messenger. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The telegram he delivered on this spring day in 1925 came from the unknown Scythian wastes of Hollywood, Calif. It read, “Will you accept three hundred per week to work for Paramount Pictures. All expenses paid. The three hundred is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.
“Herman Mankiewicz.”

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  1. 1954, A Child of the Century by Ben Hecht, Quote Page 466, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)

Hollywood: They’ll Pay You a Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, and Fifty Cents for Your Soul

Marilyn Monroe? Ben Hecht? Milton Greene? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The legendary screen star Marilyn Monroe was ambivalent about her fame. She supposedly said the following:

Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

Is this an accurate quotation? Do you know where it appeared?

Quote Investigator: This is a controversial quote because it was printed in an autobiography of Monroe titled “My Story” that was first published in 1974. This was a posthumous work released twelve years after the tragic death of Monroe in 1962, and some critics believe that the text does not reflect the actual words of the celebrity. Here is a longer excerpt [MSMO]:

In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.

When “My Story” was released it was evaluated critically by the book editor of the Los Angeles Times. The source of the memoir was a typewritten manuscript from a former photographer of Monroe named Milton Greene. The publisher Stein & Day did not attempt to check or research the text. The executors of the Monroe estate shared profits from sales of the book with Greene and the publisher. The newspaper wrote the following [MSLA]:

This “new” autobiography covers the same ground—most of it word for word—as a series of luridly illustrated articles published 20 years ago in the London Empire News between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. The collaborator/ghost writer of that series was apparently screenwriter Ben Hecht.

Extended passages of identical text from the memoir and the London Empire News were displayed in sidebars of the article in the Los Angeles Times.

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