Tag Archives: Harry Cohn

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)

Give the People What They Want and They’ll Come

Humorist: Red Skelton? George Jessel? Goodman Ace? Groucho Marx? Bert Lahr? James Bacon?

jessel07Funeral: Harry Cohn? Louis B. Mayer?

Dear Quote Investigator: A show business platitude states that success at the box office is achievable by simply giving the people what they want.

A harsh comical anecdote about a funeral reinterpreted this saying. The memorial service of a powerful and disliked movie mogul was surprisingly well attended. One ambivalent mourner asked another to explain the existence of the large crowd of attendees. The acerbic response was:

Give the public what they want, and they’ll come to see it.

Would you please explore this tale? What was the name of the movie potentate who had died? Who was telling the joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in “The Washington Post” in 1941. A columnist relayed a quip made by the popular actor and comedian George Jessel: 1

And there was George Jessel’s box-office-ish remark about a funeral which was drawing enormous crowds of people into a church door as he passed—”Well, there you are, you see,” said Jessel. “Give ’em what they want.”

The text above was located by top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake. Jessel was presenting a joke, and he was not actually attending a funeral. The adage was recognizable to readers even when it was truncated. The memorialized individual was nameless in the quip.

In later years this comical remark was linked to other wits such as Red Skelton, Goodman Ace, and Groucho Marx. In addition, the barb was precisely aimed at the prominent movie producers Harry Cohn and Louis B. Mayer.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1942 March 8, Washington Post, Strictly Screwball by Katharine Brush, Quote Page L1, Column 3 and 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

Writers Are Just Schmucks with Underwoods

Jack L. Warner? Bill Davidson? Samuel Goldwyn? Louis B. Mayer? Harry Cohn? Apocryphal?

underwood06Insult: Schmuck? Schlep? Schnook?

Dear Quote Investigator: The attitude of Hollywood producers toward writers has been epitomized by the following callous remark:

A writer is a schmuck with an Underwood.

The Underwood Typewriter Company manufactured the best writing implements when the statement was made. Here is another version I’ve seen:

Writers are just schmucks with typewriters.

These words have been attributed to Jack Warner, Samuel Goldwyn, and Harry Cohn. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1961. Oddly, two different versions were given by a journalist named Bill Davidson in that year. The book “The Real and the Unreal” recounted Davidson’s extensive experiences in Hollywood and included the following passage. Boldface has been added: 1

One of the Warner brothers, for example, used to call all writers—even William Faulkner, who was once under his command—“schmucks with typewriters” (schmuck is a derisive Yiddish expression for a bumpkin, an idiot). He used to make all his writers punch a time clock as they entered and left the studio…

While Faulkner was crafting screenplays he was employed by the powerful studio chief Jack Warner. Hence, Davidson was probably attributing the comment to Jack Warner who continued as an influential figure in the film business into the 1960s. This initial instance referred to “typewriters” instead of the particular brand “Underwood”.

In October 1961 Davidson wrote an article in “Show: The Magazine of the Arts”, and the content overlapped with material in his book. In the following excerpt the quotation incorporated the Yiddish term “schlep” instead of “schmuck”: 2

There are several ways of getting hired in Hollywood. The first, and most difficult, is to have talent. The talented are considered untrustworthy interlopers. One of the Warner brothers, for example, used to call all writers—even William Faulkner, who was once under his command—“schleps with typewriters” (schlep is a derisive Yiddish expression for a bumpkin, an idiot).

It is unclear why Bill Davidson presented two different quotations, and the inconsistency reduces the credibility of the ascription. Perhaps Davidson had collected conflicting reports. Etymologically “schmuck” can be traced to the Yiddish term for phallus, and it was considered vulgar by some speakers. This taboo association might have provided a motivation for replacing one term with another.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1961, The Real and the Unreal by Bill Davidson, Chapter 14: How to Get Fired in Hollywood, Start Page 241, Quote Page 242, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1961 October, Show: The Magazine of the Arts, Volume 1, Number 1, Hollywood: A Cultural Anthropologist’s View (Place in the Sun) by Bill Davidson, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, Hartford Publications, New York. (Verified on paper)