You Can Make a Killing in the Theater, But Not a Living

Robert Anderson? William Goodhart? Sam Taylor? Israel Horovitz? John Guare? Sherwood Anderson? Ron Dante? Norman Mailer?

Dear Quote Investigator: Trying to build a career in the entertainment industry is precarious. One play, movie, or album might be a huge and lucrative hit for an artist, but the next project might be a complete money-losing bust. The situation has been described with the following bitter-sweet expression using wordplay:

You can make a killing in this business, but you can’t make a living.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a January 1966 article by playwright Robert Anderson in “The Christian Science Monitor”. The play “Tea and Sympathy” was Anderson’s first Broadway production, and it proved to be a great success that was also made into a Hollywood movie. Yet, Anderson found it difficult to recapture that triumph, and he supplemented his uneven theatrical income by writing screenplays and teaching. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

On the down-to-earth matter of money: A hit play can make a fortune (taxable!) for an author by movie sales, road tours, foreign rights, etc. But I have always felt it was too bad that you could make a killing, but not a living, in the theater. Stable, growing careers cannot be based on chance killings.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Make a Killing in the Theater, But Not a Living


  1. 1966 January 31, The Christian Science Monitor, A playwright’s view: What it is like to ‘go APT’ by Robert Anderson, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)