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


  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)

We Do Not Want Now and We Never Shall Want the Human Voice with Our Films

D. W Griffith? Harry Warner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: D. W. Griffith was the most innovative and important director during the early days of cinema. However, he was unable to foresee the momentous shift away from silent movies. Apparently, he stated that audiences would never wish to hear recorded human voices in films. Is that true?

Quote Investigator: Yes. In 1924 David Wark Griffith published an article titled “The Movies 100 Years from Now” in “Collier’s: The National Weekly”. He speculated about the future of the art form that he loved, but his vision was surprisingly circumscribed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We do not want now and we never shall want the human voice with our films. Music, as I see it within that hundred years, will be applied to the visualization of the human being’s imagination. And, as in your imagination those unseen voices are always perfect and sweet, or else magnificent and thrilling, you will find them registering upon the mind of the picture patron, in terms of lovely music, precisely what the author has intended to be registered there.

Griffith pointed to the flaws in human speech that would detract from his idealized conception of cinema:

There will never be speaking pictures. Why should there be when no voice can speak so beautifully as music? There are no dissonant r’s and twisted consonants and guttural slurs and nasal twangs in beautiful music.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Do Not Want Now and We Never Shall Want the Human Voice with Our Films


  1. 1924 May 3, Collier’s: The National Weekly, The Movies 100 Years from Now by David Wark Griffith, Start Page 7, Quote Page 7, P. F. Collier and Son Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Who the Hell Wants to Hear Actors Talk?

Harry Warner? Sam Warner? Jack L. Warner? D. W. Griffith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Four brothers: Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner founded Warner Bros. Pictures which became a powerful long-lived institution in Hollywood. Their extraordinary success did not arise from a pellucid view of the future. In fact, the development of motion pictures with sound impelled Harry Warner to make a statement that is often included in collections of bone-headed predictions:

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?

Can you find a solid citation for this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match found by QI appeared in the 1965 autobiography of Jack L. Warner who recounted a contentious episode between his two brothers Harry and Sam. In the 1920s Bell Laboratories had developed a new system that enabled the coupling of film with high-quality synchronized sound, but Harry Warner was uninterested because previous technical attempts to combine sound with movies had resulted in commercial debacles.

In 1925 Sam convinced Harry to attend an ostensible meeting with Wall Street financiers, and when he arrived he was actually shown a demonstration of the prototype Vitaphone sound film system. Harry realized he had been deceived but agreed to evaluate the system which produced music of remarkable fidelity from speakers behind the movie screen on the left and right. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Now, that is something,” Harry said softly, as the lights came up. “Think of the hundreds of small theater guys who can’t afford an orchestra or any kind of an act. Or even a good piano player! What a gadget!”

“But don’t forget you can have actors talk too,” Sam broke in.

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Harry asked testily. “The music—that’s the big plus about this.”

Harry was excited by the breakthrough because theater owners would be able to save money by forgoing live musical accompaniment. Yet, he did not perceive the primal importance of the expressive human voice to the future of film.

This anecdote from Jack was published decades after the event occurred. Also, Jack was not present; hence, the quotation must have been relayed to him from Sam, Harry, or another participant.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Who the Hell Wants to Hear Actors Talk?


  1. 1965, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood by Jack L. Warner with Dean Jennings, Quote Page 167 and 168, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)