Tag Archives: Lyndon B. Johnson

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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  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)

If a Cluttered Desk Is a Sign of a Cluttered Mind, We Can’t Help Wondering What an Empty Desk Indicates

Albert Einstein? Truman Twill? Lyndon B. Johnson? Laurence J. Peter? Paul A. Freund? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many sayings attributed to the scientific genius Albert Einstein concern the mind. Here is a funny example:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help me to determine whether Einstein said this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this quip. It was attributed to him in the 2000s many years after his death in 1955. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent. 1

This comical riposte was inspired by a family of admonishments about messy desks, and this website has a pertinent entry here: “A Cluttered Desk Produces a Cluttered Mind”.

The earliest pertinent partial match in this family known to QI appeared in 1911. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Orderliness and cleanliness are two important factors in efficiency. A disordered desk is an evidence of a disordered brain and a disordered character.

In 1941 a newspaper in East Liverpool, Ohio printed a column titled “Confession” by Truman Twill who was critical of the common adage extolling well-organized desks: 3

A neat desk, they always say, is the sign of a well ordered mind. Important executives make it a point of pride never to have any clutter on their desks. Finally, the desk is immaculate. It is free of clutter as a bald head.

Yet, Twill thought that the cleanliness advice was inherently flawed:

There is a man who has cleaned himself out of the wherewithal to work with, whose empty desk reflects his empty mind, a man who won’t be worth his social security till his desk gets cluttered up again.

So, Twill articulated the idea of the quotation under examination. He employed two concise counterpoint phrases, but the overall column was prolix.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, (No page number because statement is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1911 December, The Mediator, Volume 3, Number 12, Editor: J. K. Turner, Section: Editorial, Two Men and a Pin, Quote Page 34, The Mediator Publishing Company, Cleveland, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  3. 1941 April 9, East Liverpool Review (The Evening Review), Confession by Truman Twill, Quote Page 4, Column 7, East Liverpool, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

The Noblest Search of Today Is the Search for Excellence

Lyndon B. Johnson? Apocryphal?

johnson08Dear Quote Investigator: Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the U.S. during the 1960s. I am having a difficult time trying to verify the following uplifting quotation which has been attributed to him:

The noblest search is the search for excellence.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In April 1964 a strongly matching statement appeared in a widely-distributed magazine called “This Week” which was inserted into Sunday newspapers. The article containing the quotation was titled “Words to Live By: The Challenge We Face” with a byline of Lyndon B. Johnson. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

In a world that sometimes seems vexed by change and wearied by doubt, there is little need of the next-best, the almost-completed and the nearly-as-good-as.

The noblest search of today is the search for excellence. In every endeavor, there simply cannot be allowed any lessening in this search.

In conclusion, QI believes that Johnson can be credited with the remark in the article. Of course, Johnson was very busy in 1964; hence, it was possible that parts of the article were ghost written.

Image Notes: Lyndon Johnson portrait in the National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of young Lyndon Johnson circa 1915 from the LBJ Library at lbjlibrary.org. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Julia Hyman whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)


  1. 1964 April 26, The Des Moines Sunday Register, Section: This Week (Sunday Newspaper Supplement published by United Newspapers Magazine Corporation), Words To Live By: The Challenge We Face by Lyndon B. Johnson, Quote Page 2, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1964 April 26, The Salt Lake Tribune, Section: This Week (Sunday Newspaper Supplement published by United Newspapers Magazine Corporation), Words To Live By: The Challenge We Face by Lyndon B. Johnson, Quote Page 2, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Newspapers_com)