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.

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Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote

Dear Quotation Investigator: Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood studio chief, was famous for his creatively humorous speech errors. A famous actor once asked if he could be in one of Goldwyn’s new productions. But Goldwyn did not like the actor, and he supposedly said:

I can answer you in two words, “im possible.”

Well, that is the story. Is it true?

QI: Many funny lines of this type are attributed to the movie mogul, and collectively they are known as Goldwynisms. The quip above has been linked to Goldwyn for many years; however, he probably never said it. Charlie Chaplin claimed that he deliberately pinned this saying on to Samuel Goldwyn according to the biographer Alva Johnston [GLD].

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