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.

Continue reading Writers Are Just Schmucks with Underwoods

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)

A Verbal Contract Isn’t Worth the Paper It’s Written On

Samuel Goldwyn? Bryan O’Loghlen? Boyle Roche? Ed Wynn? Anonymous?

contract05Dear Quote Investigator: A contract that is written and signed is easier to comprehend and enforce. But many people rely on unwritten promises. The following cautionary humorous remark is attributed to the famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn:

A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Similar expressions replace “verbal” with “oral”. Also, some instances use “agreement” instead of “contract”. Here is an example:

An oral agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Is this an authentic Goldwynism?

Quote Investigator: The use of the word “verbal” in this quotation may be confusing to some readers. Strictly speaking a “verbal contract” would simply be a contract expressed in words, but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recorded another common meaning for “verbal”:

Verbal adj. Sense 4 a: Expressed or conveyed by speech instead of writing; stated or delivered by word of mouth; oral.

The OED presented a first citation dated 1617 indicating that this sense has been present in English for a very long time.

In 1937 the short biography “The Great Goldwyn” attributed this saying to Samuel Goldwyn, and in 1956 a denial from Goldwyn was printed. These two citations are detailed further below. Interestingly, the quip was already in circulation decades before the 1937 volume was published.

In June 1890 “The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal” printed an instance of the joke ascribed to an Australian/Irish politician named Bryan O’Loghlen. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In the adjoining colony of Victoria, Sir Bryan O’Loghlen, M.P., who has a national right to indulge in this sort of thing, gravely told the Supreme Court that “a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it’s written on.”

In September 1890 the “Rocky Mountain News” of Denver, Colorado published a version of the quip credited to “Pat”. The archetypal name and dialectical speech signaled that the speaker was Irish. In the following passage “indade” was “indeed”, “wid” was “with”, and “razon” was “reason”. The periodical “Texas Siftings” was acknowledged: 2

It was verbal: Lawyer—Have you got a verbal contract with him? Pat:—Indade I have, but I didn’t bring it wid me, for the razon that I don’t believe it’s worth the paper it’s written on.—Texas Siftings.

The text immediately above was reprinted in other newspapers. For example, in 1893 it appeared in a section called “Smiles” of the “Northern Christian Advocate” newspaper of Syracuse, New York. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Verbal Contract Isn’t Worth the Paper It’s Written On

Notes:

  1. 1890 June 14, The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal, (Untitled short note), Quote Page 320, Column 1, John Falconer, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1890 September 12, Rocky Mountain News, Random Selections, Quote Page 5, Column 4, Denver, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1893 December 6, Northern Christian Advocate, Smiles, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Syracuse, New York. (GenealogyBank)

It’s Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future

Niels Bohr? Samuel Goldwyn? K. K. Steincke? Robert Storm Petersen? Yogi Berra? Mark Twain? Nostradamus? Anonymous?

predict01Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of popular humorous sayings about the formidable task of successful prognostication. Here are five examples:

  1. It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
  2. Predictions are hazardous, especially about the future.
  3. It is hard to prophecy, particularly about the future.
  4. It’s dangerous to prophesy, particularly about the future.
  5. Never make forecasts, especially about the future.

Of course, a prediction is inherently about the future, and the modifiers “especially” and “particularly” emphasize the comical redundancy of the statement. These expressions have been attributed to a diverse collection of individuals, including Niels Bohr, Sam Goldwyn, Robert Storm Petersen, and Yogi Berra. Would you please tell me who I should credit?

Quote Investigator: The Danish politician Karl Kristian Steincke authored a multi-volume autobiography, and the earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the fourth volume titled “Farvel Og Tak” which was released in 1948. The title in English would be “Goodbye and Thanks”. The pertinent section of the book was called:

Og saa til Slut et Par parlamentariske Sprogblomster

And finally a couple of parliamentary howlers (English translation)

A remark made during the parliamentary year 1937-1938 was presented although no attribution was given. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Det er vanskeligt at spaa, især naar det gælder Fremtiden.

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. (English translation)

This citation was mentioned in the prominent reference “The Yale Book of Quotations”. 2 More information about Danish citations for this saying is presented in the addendum at the end of this article.

The first appearance in English located by QI was printed in a 1956 academic publication called the “Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A”. This early citation 3 and several others remarked on the Danish language origin of the aphoristic joke: 4

Alas, it is always dangerous to prophesy, particularly, as the Danish proverb says, about the future.

In May 1961 “The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science” printed an instance of the saying using the word “hazardous” instead of “dangerous”. Indeed, the phrasing changed over time and was highly variable: 5

“Prediction,” goes an old Danish proverb, “is hazardous, especially about the future.” For the Canadian economy the hazard is especially great.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future

Notes:

  1. 1948, Farvel Og Tak: Minder Og Meninger by K. K. Steincke, (Farvel Og tak: Ogsaa en Tilvaerelse IV (1935-1939)), Quote Page 227, Forlaget Fremad, København. (Publisher Fremad, Copenhagen, Denmark) (Verified with scans; thanks to a kind librarian at Åbo Akademis bibliotek)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Niels Bohr, Quote Page 92, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 206, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1956, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (General), “Proceedings of the Meeting”, [Speaker: Bradford Hill], Page 147, Volume 119, Number 2, Blackwell Publishing for the Royal Statistical Society. (JSTOR) link
  5. 1961 May, The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science / Revue Canadienne d’Economique et de Science politique, Volume 27, Number 2, “Canada’s Economic Prospects: A Survey of Ten Industries” by Jesse W. Markham, Page 264, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Canadian Economics Association. (JSTOR) link

You Are Only Interested in Art and I Am Only Interested in Money

George Bernard Shaw? Howard Dietz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful anecdote about a meeting between the famous movie studio chief Samuel Goldwyn and the renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw. Goldwyn flew to England to convince Shaw to write material for him to use in films. Goldwyn emphasized the high quality and the artistic merit of the movies he hoped to produce, but Shaw was more interested in the extent of the compensation. Shaw responded with a classic line that humorously reversed the formulaic expectations present when an artist meets a moneyman. Could you research the veracity of this tale and determine the precise statement made by Shaw?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed on May 1, 1921 in the Baltimore American newspaper of Baltimore, Maryland. The famous remark of Shaw was relayed from London via a special cable message according to the dateline: 1

Mr. Goldwyn is a ready talker and G.B.S. being Irish, was a little behind him at times. After going over the entire film situation in a discussion lasting several hours, Mr. Shaw closed the interview as follows:

“Well, Mr. Goldwyn, there is not much use in going on. There is this difference between you and me: You are only interested in art and I am only interested in money.”

The passage above was reprinted in other newspapers during the following days and weeks, e.g., The Springfield Sunday Journal of Springfield, Illinois, 2 and The State of Columbia, South Carolina. 3

In 1922 Shaw recounted the episode with Goldwyn during an address before an organization of wordsmiths and composers.  His speech provided additional background that helped to explicate his remark. He repeated the quotation but used a different phrasing. In 1926 Shaw described the meeting again, and this time he used a third phrasing for the quotation. In 1937 a biography of Goldwyn contended that the statement was actually composed by a publicity man named Howard Dietz who was employed by the movie mogul. The details for these cites are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Are Only Interested in Art and I Am Only Interested in Money

Notes:

  1. 1921 May 1, Baltimore American, Shaw Refuses to Write for Movies, (Special Cable to the New York Herald and the Baltimore American), Dateline: London, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Baltimore, Maryland. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1921 May 15, The Springfield Sunday Journal (Daily Illinois State Journal), I Seek Coin, You Art, Shaw to Goldwyn, (Special Dispatch from London), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1921 May 29, The State, Section: Part II, Art and Profiteer: G. B. Shaw Eager in Chase of Almighty Pound, Quote Page 26, Column 8, Columbia, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have

Thomas Jefferson? Coleman Cox? Stephen Leacock? Samuel Goldwyn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorously insightful quotation about luck that is often credited to the American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

The class notes of a course taught by the renowned entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel featured this quote. Here is a more concise version of the saying:

The harder I work, the more luck I have.

Is this remark really connected to Jefferson?

Quote Investigator: The saying has been ascribed to Jefferson for a few decades. However, the valuable Thomas Jefferson Monticello website states that there is no evidence to support the attribution [TJGB]:

Neither this statement nor any variations thereof have ever been found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings.

The earliest close match for this aphorism known to QI is in a 1922 collection titled “Listen to This” by Coleman Cox who composed a large number of sayings [CCGB]:

I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.

This theme has been reflected in adages for quite a long time. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists the following proverb which it dates to the late 16th century [OXDL]:

Diligence is the mother of good luck.

A novel in 1857 “The Laird of Restalrig’s Daughter” presented a maxim about luck in a comical context. The following passage used alternate spellings to reflect dialect [JHGL]:

Good luck mainly depends on the thrying to get it, as Darby O’Reilly said when he made Thady O’Rhu’s will afther the creathur was dead, and left the whole dollop iv his fortune to himself, sure.

In 1870 the periodical “Contemporary Review” reprinted a small collection of “Notices to Correspondents” from the London Journal. These items were similar to the classified advertisements or Craigslist ads of today. A notice from a woman named Maggie May commented about luck [CRNC]:

People make their own luck in this world.

In 1879 the American Bee Journal printed the same basic adage about luck [BJML]:

I think that many of you will say, “You make your own luck.”

In 1890 an agricultural magazine “Western Garden and Poultry Journal” linked hard work with making your own luck [WGML]:

Poor luck is often given as an excuse for lack of energy. You make your own luck and must work hard and plan carefully if you would succeed.

This post continues with additional selected citations in chronological order.

Note that information from the website of top etymologist and quote-tracer Barry Popik helped QI to construct this short essay. A commenter using the name “Anna Berkes” at the website provided an important lead to the saying which was credited to Coleman Cox in 1923 in a magazine [ANBP] [CMCC].

Continue reading I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have

“Will You Write an Autobiography?” “Not Until Long After I’m Dead”

Samuel Goldwyn? Ezra Goodman? Robert Gessner?

Dear Quote Investigator: The supply of comical lines credited to the Hollywood chief Samuel Goldwyn seems endless. Here is one that I love:

I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.

But I have become rather skeptical of these jokes because no one seems to hear these risible phrases and malapropisms from the mouth of Goldwyn himself. Is there an example of a reporter or someone hearing one of these statements spoken directly by Goldwyn?

Quote Investigator: Yes. In fact, the questioner has found a good example. This Goldwynism was evidently heard by two different people: Ezra Goodman, a reporter for Time magazine, and Robert Gessner, a professor of film. But the two listeners each heard a different version of the phrase at a different time.

In May 1955 Time magazine published a story discussing the continuing Hollywood success of Goldwyn at the age of 73. He was still active assembling the major production “Guys and Dolls”, but he had no plans to reveal his extensive confidential knowledge of filmdom in a book [SGTM]:

A foxy lone wolf—no partners, no board of directors, no bank financing—Goldwyn probably knows as much about Hollywood and its half century of history as any man alive. But another Goldwynism covers the situation. “I’m never going to write my autobiography,” he says, “as long as I live.”

In August 1955 Time printed a “Publisher’s Letter” outlining the recent activities of the magazine’s Hollywood journalist, Ezra Goodman. He visited Michael’s Cheesecake Stand in the Los Angeles and saw Marilyn Monroe crowned “Miss Cheesecake”. He also spoke to Samuel Goldwyn and was responsible for recording the May 1955 observation given above though the precise phrasing below is slightly different [EGTM]:

And he is willing to testify personally to one epic Goldwynism: “I will never write my autobiography as long as I live.”

In 1960 the New York Times reviewed a biography of Louis B. Mayer who was one of the rival moguls during Goldwyn’s heyday. The reviewer, Robert Gessner, was described as a “Professor of Motion Pictures at New York University and president of The Society of Cinematologists”. Gessner claimed that he directly heard a version of this classic Goldwynism [SGRG]:

Sam Goldwyn once inadvertently explained the difficulty in writing an honest screen biography. In response to this reviewer’s urging that he compose his own, a look of horror came over Mr. Goldwyn’s face and he smacked his palms upon his chest. “I write my autobiography?  Oh, no—I can’t do that! Not until long after I’m dead.”

QI believes that this variant from Gessner is more humorous than the statement reported by Goodman because of its heightened absurdity. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Will You Write an Autobiography?” “Not Until Long After I’m Dead”

The Next Time I Send a Damn Fool for Something, I Go Myself

Samuel Goldwyn? Michael Curtiz? Sheilah Graham? Jones? Scones? Louis Cukela? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an unintentionally hilarious remark credited to the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He sent an assistant on an important errand and was angry when the task was badly botched. In exasperation Goldwyn created this classic rebuke:

The next time I send a damn fool for something, I go myself.

However, I am now told that Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian-American film director, actually spoke this line to a prop man who retrieved the wrong prop three times in a row. Can you resolve this uncertainty?

Quote Investigator: The earliest example of this basic story located by QI does not involve Samuel Goldwyn or Michael Curtiz. In 1889 the following funny tale was told about a person named “Jones”, but this incident was not portrayed as an actual event. Instead, “Jones” was used as a generic name in a fictional gag [JBHM]:

Jones, having sent a stupid servant to do an errand, was greatly annoyed on finding that he had done exactly the opposite of what he had been ordered.

“Why, you haven’t common-sense,” he remonstrated.

“But, sir”—

“Shut up! I should have remembered that you were an idiot. When I’m tempted to send a fool on an errand again I’ll not ask you—I’ll go myself.”

The passage above was printed in the Boston Herald newspaper of Massachusetts; however, an acknowledgment indicated that the words were reprinted from “Judge” an influential humor magazine. Indeed, the joke was published a couple years later in 1891 in the companion magazine “Judge’s Library: A Monthly Magazine of Fun” [JLMJ]. Versions of the tale were also featured in several other newspapers and magazines in succeeding years.

Sometimes a pre-existing comical anecdote is spuriously assigned to a series of famous personalities over a period of decades. When this occurs the attributions are inaccurate and the events are fictitious. These entertaining apocryphal tales can be used to fill column inches in newspapers and pages in books. Yet, in this case, intriguingly, there is eyewitness evidence that a variant of the gag was embodied in an actual occurrence on a film set.

The first connection found by QI between Michael Curtiz and the saying was dated 1936. The syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham visited the movie location for “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and observed the behavior of the director Curtiz.

During the filming of one scene an actor playing an English cavalryman shouted “Yippee”, and the incongruous scene required a reshoot. During the second take a horse became recalcitrant and spoiled the action [SGMC]:

It is now 10 minutes to six, and the light is going fast. The third “take” is ruined by a too-eager extra who charges ahead of the order. “Next time I send a fool into the charge, I’ll go myself,” wails the foreign Mr. Curtiz, whose American becomes confused in moments of stress.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Next Time I Send a Damn Fool for Something, I Go Myself

The Main Thing Is Honesty. If You Can Fake That, You’ve Got It Made

Groucho Marx? George Burns? Jean Giraudoux? Celeste Holm? Ed Nelson? Samuel Goldwyn? Daniel Schorr? Joe Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest advice I was ever given as a sales associate was from another seasoned employee:

The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Later, I read or heard this type of advice several times. For example, a television actor being interviewed said something like:

The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you’re in.

The expression varies but the basic joke is the same. Could you explore this saying to see where it began?

Quote Investigator:  Groucho Marx, Samuel Goldwyn, and George Burns have each been credited with versions of this remark. George Burns did include a version in his third memoir in 1980, but this was a relatively late date. QI has located no substantive evidence supporting an ascription to Marx or Goldwyn.

The earliest evidence QI has found for this type of remark appeared in a syndicated newspaper column by Leonard Lyons in 1962. The popular Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm attributed the words to an anonymous theater actor [LLCH]:

Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. invited a panel of performers – including Celeste Holm and Shelly Berman – to discuss the trends in show business. Miss Holm spoke of the vogues in acting, and said she heard one actor say: “Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty … and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.”

In 1969 an actor named Ed Nelson who played the character Dr. Michael Rossi on the soap opera Peyton Place stated a version of the maxim in Life magazine. QI believes that multiple later occurrences of the expression can be traced back to this instance, but usually the actor’s name was omitted [ENPP]:

… Ed Nelson (Dr. Rossi) summed up what he had learned in his five years on the show. “I’ve found that the most important thing for an actor is honesty,” he said. “And when you learn how to fake that, you’re in.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Main Thing Is Honesty. If You Can Fake That, You’ve Got It Made

“It’s too caustic.” “To hell with the cost.”

Who Said It? Samuel Goldwyn? Robert Benchley? Gracie Allen? Alva Johnston? Anonymous?

Who or What Was Caustic? The Little Foxes? Jim Tully? An Unnamed Actor? Mr. Rosenblatt? An Unnamed Script? An Unnamed Writer? Sidney Howard? Moss Hart?

Dear Quote Investigator: An entertaining legend about the powerful movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn has been amusing people for decades. “The Little Foxes” was a major Broadway hit in 1939 and Goldwyn was considering purchasing the rights to create a film based on the story. He asked his top advisor to see the play and report to him. Here is what the aide supposedly told Goldwyn together with his reply:

“Sam, it’s a great drama, but it might be a little too caustic.”
“I don’t care what it costs, I want it.”

This is my favorite anecdote about Goldwyn, and it is supported by the fact that he did buy the rights and made a classic movie starring Bette Davis. Could you research this quotation?

Quote Investigator:Thanks for sending in this fun story. Unfortunately, there is a problem with the timeline that makes this tale unlikely. In January 1930 the widely-syndicated columnist Walter Winchell reported a version of the joke based on the misconstrual of the word “caustic” that was being disseminated by the popular humorist and actor Robert Benchley. Thus, the core joke was in circulation about nine years before the premiere of “The Little Foxes”.

The tale centered on two movie magnates who began their careers in the garment business. This biographical detail matched Samuel Goldwyn who was a glove salesman before moving to Hollywood. The maladroit line was spoken by one of the magnates. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

They were in conference trying to save a new picture that lacked, what critics usually call, “a wallop.”
“If we could only get someone to fix it up,” said one.
“Why don’t you get Jim Tully?” suggested an executive.
“Jim Tully is too caustic!”
“Oh,” thundered one of the magnates, “the hell with the cost, get him!”

The writer Robert Benchley constructed many humorous stories, and it was possible that he simply invented this anecdote to entertain friends. Alternatively, he may have been present at a meeting when the line was spoken. Special thanks to ace researcher Bill Mullins who located the citation given above.

Here are some additional citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “It’s too caustic.” “To hell with the cost.”

Notes:

  1. 1930 January 9, The Scranton Republican, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is Named Sam

Samuel Goldwyn? Roger Miller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I noticed that the Wikiquote website lists one of my favorite funny sayings attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, the famous film producer [WSG]. In the version of the story I heard, a friend told Goldwyn that he wanted to honor the studio head by naming his son after him, but Sam responded without enthusiasm:

No, don’t do that. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sam!

Wikiquote says that Goldwyn’s reply is unsourced, hence it is only listed on the discussion webpage. Can you find evidence that Goldwyn said it? Or can you determine who did say it?

Quote Investigator: There are many variants of this joke, but it is not clear whether Goldwyn ever uttered the gag line. Quotation expert Ralph Keyes notes that “inventing mangled comments to put in the mouth of the Polish-born movie mogul was a popular pastime during Goldwyn’s lifetime” [GQV].

The earliest instance of this anecdote that QI has located appeared in the Hollywood grapevine column of Jimmie Fidler in June of 1940 [JFG]:

A friend of Samuel Goldwyn asked the producer what he should name his new baby. Goldwyn pondered a moment, then suggested “Montmorency” as a possible and “high-sounding” monicker. “But Sam,” argued his friend, “don’t you think it would be better to call him something simple, like Bill or Joe?” “For heaven’s sake, no!” cried Goldwyn. “Why, every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country is named Bill or Joe!”

Two months later, in August of 1940 the columnist Leonard Lyons told another version of the tale that used the baby name William instead of Bill or Joe. Lyons also claimed that Goldwyn’s friend who inquired about names was the film director Ernst Lubitsch. Other variants of the story appeared in Hedda Hopper’s newspaper column, Boys’ Life magazine, Erskine Johnson’s column and elsewhere. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is Named Sam