If you have a message, call Western Union (variant Samuel Goldwyn 1943)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 25 23:14:59 UTC 2012

If you have a message, call Western Union.
If you've got a message, send a telegram.

The lines above are classic rebuffs delivered by hardheaded Hollywood
producers to idealistic writers who have created didactic scripts for
plays or movies. The words have been attributed to a variety of people
and many of them were not Hollywood producers.

The Quote Verifier gives this list: Harry Warner, Harry Cohn, Humphrey
Bogart, Marlon Brando, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Ernest
Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Goldwyn.

The Yale Book of Quotations has a 1954 cite with an attribution to
Moss Hart. Barry Popik gives a 1953 cite for Moss Hart. Building on
this valuable work I've been able to push the date back a bit for this
type of saying.

Cite: 1943 April 17, Dallas Morning News, Heard in New York: Samuel
Goldwyn Gets a Message by Leonard Lyons, Section 2, Page 4, Column 6,
Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
NEW YORK, April 16.—Sam Goldwyn, who is seeking a new film story for
Bob Hope, received a phone call from a Hollywood writer."I have a
wonderful comedy story," the writer excitedly told him. "It's ideal
for Hope. It's a great comedy." . . . "Fine, fine," Goldwyn said. . .
. "Not only is it a great comedy," the writer continued, "but also, it
has a message." . . . A message?" Goldwyn repeated. "Just write me the
comedy. Messages are for Western Union."
[End Excerpt]

Cite: 1944 June 12, LIFE, Close-Up: Humphrey Bogart by George Frazier,
Quote Page 55, Time Inc., New York. (Google Books full view)
[Begin Excerpt]
Actually, Bogart has less ham in him than almost any other movie star.
Completely candid in his self-appraisal, he has an active grudge
against performers who take themselves too seriously. People like Paul
Muni, whom he suspects of nursing the conviction that their work must
convey a message," give him a pain. "If they have a message," says
Bogart, "they should call Western Union."
[End Excerpt]

Cite: 1945 April 13, Sherbrooke Telegram, "Gag-of-the-day", Page 6,
Column 2, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. (Google News Archive)
[Begin excerpt]
Singer Dick Haymes knows a prominent Hollywood producer who ordered
one of his writers to dig up a script for one of his expensive
contract stars. A couple of days later the writer popped into the
producer's office. "I've got just the story", he enthused. "Not only
is it sure boxoffice, but it also carries a great message."
"Look," grunted the producer. "All I want is a story. Let Western
Union take care of the messages."
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1951 May 17, Boston Globe, The Generals' Memories by Ed
Sullivan, Page 21, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
[Begin excerpt]
Every time a Yip Harburg musical comes to town, playgoers must examine
it for a message. Yip never being content to let Western Union handle
messages. "Flahooley," mighty cute in spots, is embarrassed by its
message so confused in its symbolism that I defy the Joint Chiefs of
Staff to decipher it.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1951 June 07, Trenton Evening Times, Hollywood On Upbeat by Bob
Thomas, Page 10, Column 5, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
[Begin excerpt]
"The pictures that are selling in the current market are those which
bear no problems."
This means that the future films will place the accent on music,
comedy and adventure. As the old Hollywood saying goes "Let Western
Union carry the messages"
[End excerpt]

Cite: Circa 1953, "Some enchanted evenings: the story of Rodgers and
Hammerstein" by Deems Taylor, GB and HT Page 232, Harper, New York,
(Google Books snippet; HathiTrust match; Not yet verified on paper;
Data may be inaccurate)
[Begin excerpt]
Moss Hart is credited with giving the following advice to budding
playwrights: "If you have a message, call Western Union." If he really
said that, it is a somewhat cynical and curiously inconsistent dictum
to come from a man who wrote a musical comedy extolling the virtues of
[End excerpt]


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