If People Don’t Want to Come, Nothing Will Stop Them

Yogi Berra? Sol Hurok? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

theater07Dear Quote Investigator: Baseball luminary Yogi Berra is famous for comical pronouncements that contain a kernel of wisdom. One of my favorites is about fan attendance at baseball games:

If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.

Recently, I heard that renowned impresario Sol Hurok made a similar remark that is widely known in the domain of show business:

When people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.

Would you please examine this family of phrases and determine who spoke first?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 a film biography of Sol Hurok called “Tonight We Sing” was being prepared by the Hollywood studio Twentieth Century-Fox. The gossip columnist Leonard Lyons reported on a cautionary remark from Hurok about the pending film. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Hurok, incidentally, warned the producers: “I’m enough of a showman to have learned at least this: If people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.”

In 1959 “LIFE” magazine published a profile of Hurok titled “Impresario Who Booked the Bolshoi” which included a comment by the producer lamenting the precarious nature of the entertainment industry: 3

“In a business I would be a millionaire 10 times over,” Hurok says, “but this is not a business, it is a disease.”

The “LIFE” magazine article also reprised another version the quotation about the impossibility of coercing an audience to see a show:

Says Hurok today, “When people don’t want to come, nothing will stop them.”

In 1962 raconteur Joe Garagiola spoke at a “Banquet of Champions” for young baseball players. Garagiola was an athlete who transitioned into the world of radio and television broadcasting. Many colorful anecdotes about Yogi were popularized by Garagiola, and his banquet speech reported the now well-known quotation from his friend: 4

He told stories of Yogi Berra, his buddy since their boyhood days on the hill in St. Louis. Like Yogi’s quip about the sagging attendance in Kansas City—“If they don’t want to come out, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.”

The citation immediately above was the earliest linkage of the saying to Berra known to QI. Hence, based on current evidence Hurok delivered the humorous remark before Berra.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If People Don’t Want to Come, Nothing Will Stop Them

Notes:

  1. 1952 August 16, The Post-Standard, Doings in Rome by Leonard Lyons, Section Two, Quote Page 9, Column 1, Syracuse, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1952 August 16, Oregonian, In and Out of the Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1959 June 1, LIFE, Impresario Who Booked the Bolshoi by Joseph Roddy, Start Page 59, Quote Page 60, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View)
  4. 1962 September 13, Times-Picayune, NORD-MB Champs Honored by Nate Cohen, Section Two, Quote Page 8, Column 2, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)