Quote: Give 'em what they want. (George Jessel March 8, 1942)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 4 14:39:39 UTC 2013

Paul Johnson wrote:
> Same vein, supposedly Oscar Levant, at some studio heads
> funeral, "Well you give the people what they want and they'll
> show up."

Thanks for your response, Paul. Yes, that is another famous Hollywood
tale which is listed in the Yale Book of Quotations and other
references. YBQ has a valuable 1967 cite attributing the joke to
comedian Red Skelton who was discussing Harry Cohn.

Back in 2006 Bonnie Taylor-Blake performed wonderful work identifying
the earliest currently known citations. Here are two cites:

[ref] 1942 March 8, Washington Post,  Strictly Screwball by Katharine
Brush, Quote Page L1, Column 3 and 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

[Begin excerpt]
And there was George Jessel's boxofficeish 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."
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1955 August 13, The Saturday Review, TV and Radio: The $64,00
Answer by Goodman Ace, Start Page 23, Quote Page 23, Saturday Review
Associates, New York. (Unz)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
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, "you give the people what they
want and they'll come."
[End excerpt]

Skipping forward to 1958. Here is a fun Groucho cite that Stephen
Goranson kindly verified.

[ref] 1958 May 11, The Observer, At The Theatre: Musing Out Loud by
Kenneth Tynan, Quote Page 15, Column 2, London, UK. (ProQuest)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
But that reminds me of Groucho Marx's comment when 3,000 people turned
up at the funeral of a commercially successful but universally
detested Hollywood mogul. "You see what I mean?' he said. 'Give the
public what they want, and they'll come to see it."
[End excerpt]

Here is a link to Bonnie's message in the archive:


Continuing Paul Johnson's message
> Old joke about the death of Benny Goodman;
>   "I've got good news and bad news,what do you want first?"
>      "Give me the good news."
>      "Benny Goodman is dead."
>      "so what's the bad news?'
>      "He died in his sleep."
> On 12/4/2013 12:21 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
>> In a classic Hollywood anecdote a powerful and detested movie mogul
>> dies and when his funeral is held people are flabbergasted by the
>> enormous attendance. Finally, an acridly witty individual suggests an
>> explanation: "The only reason so many people attended his funeral was
>> they wanted to make sure he was dead."
>> The Yale Book of quotations lists a version of this quip attributed to
>> Samuel Goldwyn in a key 1960 citation. The expired potentate was Louis
>> B. Mayer whose funeral was held in 1957. Nigel Rees has the same cite
>> in Cassell's Humorous Quotations. Sometimes the role of the late
>> unlamented movie man is filled by Harry Cohn who died in 1958.
>> Here is an instance of the joke in 1952 which suggests that quipsters
>> were repeating an existing barb, or the anecdote(s) were fictitious.
>> [ref] 1952, Joey Adams' Joke Book by Joey Adams, Quote Page 213,
>> Frederick Fell, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> When he died, thousands showed up, not to mourn him but to make sure
>> he was dead. Nobody wanted to give the eulogy at the funeral because
>> nobody could think of anything nice to say. They finally induced one
>> man because, "You know his family, and you knew him better than
>> anybody else. Maybe you can think of one nice thing to say about him."
>> He finally consented, and after much thought said, "This man lying
>> here was a cheat, a faker, a no-good bum and a stinker, but he's got
>> six brothers and compared to them, he's an angel."
>> [End excerpt]
>> Off Topic: Many list members have helped me in a variety of ways to
>> explore quotations, and I wish to heartily thank them all for their
>> kindness and resourcefulness!
>> The number of unique visitors to the Quote Investigator website for
>> the year 2013 has exceeded 2 million according to Google Analytics.
>> (The metric "unique visitors" is distinct from "visitors". If a single
>> visitor returns to a website many times he or she is only counted once
>> by the "unique visitors" metric, in theory. This metric also differs
>> from hits, page views, etcetera)
>> With appreciation,
>> Garson
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> --
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