Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

George M. Cohan? P. T. Barnum? Mae West? Elinor Glyn? Babe Ruth? Damon Runyon? James J. Johnston? Charley Murphy? Max Schmeling? Walter Winchell? Oscar Wilde? Samuel Johnson? Ed Sullivan?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person once planned to write an article or book containing derogatory material about a celebrity. The unruffled response of the celebrity to this prospect was surprising. Here are three versions:

  1. I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.
  2. I don’t care how much you pan me, but please spell the name correctly.
  3. Boost me or knock me; it doesn’t mean a thing. Just make sure you spell my name right.

This notion has been credited to Broadway musical icon George M. Cohan, showman P. T. Barnum, actress Mae West, baseball slugger Babe Ruth, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in several U.S. newspapers in 1888. The line was delivered by P. T. Barnum who was a founder of Barnum & Bailey Circus. He also operated a museum filled with curiosities and hoaxes. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

P. T. Barnum was once interviewed by a woman who told him that she was writing a book, and that it would contain something disagreeable about him. “No matter, madam,” was his reply, “say anything you like about me, but spell my name right — P. T. B-a-r-n-u-m, P. T. Barnum — and I’ll be pleased anyway.” The blackmailer retired in confusion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

Notes:

  1. 1888 August 8, The Evening News, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

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)