The Lunatics Have Taken Charge of the Asylum

Edgar Allan Poe? Richard Rowland? Terry Ramsaye? Laurence Stallings? H. L. Mencken? William Gibbs McAdoo? Jack Oakie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The leaders of a group often face a variety of criticisms. Harsh detractors employ a vivid metaphor from the domain of mental health. Here are two examples:

  1. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
  2. The inmates are in charge of the asylum.

This barb has often been aimed at Hollywood. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this metaphor known to QI appeared in the 1926 book “A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925” by Terry Ramsaye. The statement was applied to the upstart movie studio United Artists and its four founders: prominent film director D. W. Griffith, popular comic actor Charlie Chaplin, well-known star Mary Pickford, and matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The classic comment of the occasion came from Richard Rowland, then head of Metro Pictures Corporation. He received the interesting tidings from Arthur James, press and intelligence agent of Metro. Rowland meditated on the significance of the new move for almost a full second.

“So,” he remarked, “the lunatics have taken charge of the asylum.”

It should be added, lest there be an assumption that the comment sprang from snobbery, that Rowland has been philosopher enough to classify himself as “one of the accidentally successful.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Lunatics Have Taken Charge of the Asylum

Notes:

  1. 1964 (1926 Copyright), A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925 by Terry Ramsaye, Chapter 79: Mary, McAdoo and Monte Carlo, Quote Page 795, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)