Tag Archives: David O. Selznick

I Don’t Get Ulcers. I Give Them

Harry Cohn? Samuel Goldwyn? David O. Selznick? Jimmie Fidler? Lyndon B. Johnson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: According to a Hollywood legend a movie mogul expressed his unhappiness by angrily upbraiding underlings. Eventually, an assistant cautioned him that delivering repeated harangues can cause stomach ulcers. The magnate snarled:

I don’t get ulcers. I give them.

This remark has been attributed to several people including:

  • Harry Cohn who was president of Columbia Pictures Corporation which made films such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “All the King’s Men”.
  • Samuel Goldwyn who worked at Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn Productions while making films such as “Wuthering Heights” and “The Best Years of Our Lives”.
  • David O. Selznick who worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and RKO while producing films such as “King Kong” and “Gone With the Wind”.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Jimmie Fidler in March 1947. The line was delivered by a Hollywood producer who was not named but was described as famous and egotistical. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Seems one of his employes, after listening to the big shot administer a fifteen-minute tongue-lashing to an assistant, ventured one solicitous remark. “You shouldn’t let yourself become so excited,” he warned. “You’re liable to get stomach ulcers.” “I don’t get ulcers,” roared the mighty one, “I give them!”

Fidler retold the tale in June 1949, and he belatedly identified the producer as David O. Selznick.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1947 March 31, The Democrat and Leader (Quad-City Times), In Hollywood by Jimmy Fidler (Jimmie Fidler), Quote Page 7, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Can’t Act; Slightly Bald; Can Dance a Little

Studio Report? David O. Selznick? Apocryphal?

astaire07Dear Quote Investigator: The celebrated movie star Fred Astaire was known for his charm and his extraordinary dancing, but his initial screen test was a disaster. Hollywood legend claims that the studio report evaluating Astaire contained the following line:

Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.

The earliest supporting citations I’ve found were published in the 1970s and 1980s, but the screen test must have occurred in the 1930s. So this information was not persuasive. Is this anecdote accurate? What was in the studio report?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1937 newspaper article from an Associated Press reporter. The negative evaluation was not as elaborate as that given in the common modern stories. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

Studios often pass up a player who then proceeds to score a hit at another plant. What Metro reported on Deanna Durbin, who clicked at Universal, is not in the archives.

But I think the report card on Fred Astaire (who made his first film at M-G-M) takes the prize for picturesqueness in blundering. “Slightly bald and can dance a little,” said the fellow who is probably an ex-Metroite now.

In August 1939 “Fortune” magazine published an article about the Loew’s company and its studio unit Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “Fortune” stated that Irving Thalberg was a key decision maker at the studio, but he was absent due to illness when Fred Astaire was being evaluated. The following passage included an instance of the quotation: 2

During his illness, Deanna Durbin and Fred Astaire were tested at Culver City, and turned down. On the subject of Astaire, some hapless underling scrawled on his report card, “Can’t act; slightly bald; can dance a little.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1937 June 16, The Canton Repository, News and Gossip of Stage and Screen by Robbin Coons (Associated Press Writer), Quote Page 9, Column 3, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1939 August, Fortune, Volume 20, Number 2, Loew’s Inc., Start Page 25, Quote Page 104, Column 3, Published by Time, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)