Woody Allen? Marshall Brickman? Donkey Hotey? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to track down the origin of a quotation about success in life that has divaricated into many versions. Here are some examples:
Ninety percent of success is just showing up.
Showing up is 80 percent of life.
Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Seventy-five percent of life is showing up.
In life, 50% of it is showing up.
Some of these expressions are credited to the famous comedian and director Woody Allen, but I have not located a solid citation. Could you explore the provenance of these sayings?
Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI was printed in the New York Times in August 1977. Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman co-wrote the Oscar winning screenplay for the 1977 movie Annie Hall, and they were interviewed together by the journalist Susan Braudy. The following words were spoken by Marshall Brickman, but he attributed the adage to Woody Allen. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
I have learned one thing. As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.’ Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.
In 1989 Woody Allen was asked about this saying by William Safire, the language columnist for the New York Times, and Allen replied with a letter in which he asserted: “I did say that 80 percent of success is showing up.” Hence, Allen accepted credit for a common variant of the expression using the word “success” instead of “life”. The details of this interesting cite are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1977 August 21, New York Times, Section 2: Arts and Leisure, He’s Woody Allen’s Not-So-Silent Partner by Susan Braudy, Page 11 (ProQuest Page 83), New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Woody Allen, Page 17, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro Page 140, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩