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Author Topic: "Give the people what they want, and they'll come out for it."
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http://www.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment/columnists/orl-coconut1806aug18,0,3109295.column

quote:
Let's start with one of the most famous movie-bidness quotes of them all.

When huge crowds turned out for the 1957 funeral of L.B. Mayer, the big bad head of MGM, and/or the 1958 funeral of Harry Cohn, the big bad head of Columbia Pictures, a wag noted: "Well, it only proves what they always say -- give the people what they want, and they'll come out for it."

Apparently, the quote was too good to use for only one tyrant.

The remark is apparently not apocryphal and is usually attributed to the late, great Red Skelton.


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antiquary
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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In his The Movie Moguls (1969) Philip French attributed that to Skelton, and so does Bob Thomas in King Cohn (1967); but only a few years later Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time (1976) gave it to George Jessel. Hellman's form of the words used is 'Same old story: give 'em what they want and they'll fill the theatre'. But many other people claimed credit at the time, so isn't this one of those cases where the waters were muddied so early that it would now be impossible to find the truth of the matter? Why should we believe that French, Thomas, Hellman or anyone else was able to sort out truth from fiction years after the event?
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Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I think that your George Jessel find is an important one, antiquary, at least in helping us look at the provenance of this anecdote. It helps us know that the joke was circulating before Mayer and Cohn died (in 1957 and 1958, respectively) and was unoriginal to their demises. For example,

quote:
And there was George Jessel's box-office-ish remark about a funeral which was drawing enormous crowds of people into a church door as he passed -- "Well, there you are, you see," said Jessel. "Give 'em what they want."

[From Katharine Brush's "Scrictly Screwball" column, The Washington Post, 8 March 1942, Pg. L1.]

Here's the Jessel anecdote as told in 1955,

quote:
Figuring out what the people want is not always difficult. Goodman Ace, TV and Radio critic, has an excellent article on this subject in the current issue of the Saturday Review. Says he:

"They tell the story of George Jessel's once passing a funeral home where a celebrity lay in state and the crowd waiting to file by for a last glimpse was four-deep.

"'You see,'" said the veteran showman, "Give the people what they want and they'll come."

[From Louis E. Martin's "Dope and Data" column, The Chicago Defender, 27 August 1955, Pg. 9.

As you note, then, it's tough to know who first may have recycled this wisecrack, applying it to Mayer's or Cohn's funerals, and when they may have done so. Perhaps it was Skelton or some other wag or maybe Jessel himself.

I wonder, though, whether the joke actually even originated with Jessel. After all, the advice to "give the people what they want [and they'll buy it]" [1] was well known in the business world (including the entertainment-business world) in the first half of the last century. Perhaps it circulated earlier –- unattached to Jessel -- in Vaudeville or Tinseltown or elsewhere, not just with respect to entertainment S.O.B.'s, but with regard to any old notorious S.O.B. For example, in a 1967 mention of Thomas's book on Cohn, Walter Winchell recalled (most curiously, I think) hearing that the line had not only been used with respect Mayer, but also to the death of Harry Horowitz, a supposedly vicious New York gangster known as "Gyp the Blood." Horowitz died in 1914. (Now, for what it's worth, I've found nothing that pushes this line's use back before the 1940s.)

In any event, finally, as if we haven't heard enough about L.B. Mayer's funeral,

quote:
Mayer's funeral was attended by huge crowds, a fact that could not in his case be attributed to universal popularity, [Samuel] Goldwyn explained: "The reason so many people showed up for his funeral was because they wanted to make sure he was dead."

[From Fadiman's and Bernard's Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 2000), p. 380. Originally told in Crowther's Hollywood Rajah; The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer (1960).]

Bonnie "that's a rap!" Taylor

[1] and related versions.

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antiquary
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Well then I take back my last remarks. Never despair of finding the truth when Bonnie's about!
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Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Well, thanks for that vote of confidence, but I think we probably need to give Lillian Hellman a pat on her cold, bony back for pointing us in the right direction.

After I posted I noticed that Ralph Keyes, whose The Quote Verifier appeared recently, has this to say about this Tinseltown observation. (I offer this because I'm fond of what's said to be Bert Lahr's version.)

quote:
"It only proves what they always say -- give the people what they want to see and they'll come out for it." Comedian Red Skelton's much-repeated comment about Harry Cohn's well-attended 1958 funeral has also been attributed to comedian George Jessel and director Billy Wilder. According to Bert Lahr's son John, his actor father said much the same thing a year earlier, about Louis Mayer's funeral: "If you want a full house, you give the public what it wants." [Pg. 198]
Bonnie "final performance" Taylor

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