February 20, 2016

“I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.”


“I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” (Usually paraphrased as “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.”)
       George M. Cohan (1878-1942)  
       American singer, dancer, actor, playwright, composer and producer 
       This old show business axiom is most closely associated with Cohan, though it has been attributed to many other celebrities, including P. T. Barnum, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Mae West, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, as well as to several prominent politicians, such as Harry Truman and Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan. 
       According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and other quotation reference books, Cohan spoke the longer version shown above in 1912 when a reporter interviewed him about one of his upcoming musical shows. That quote is also noted in the definitive biography of Cohan written by John McCabe. Cohan may also have used the better-known, short version “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right,” but there’s no clear documentation for it that I could find. The classic quip about name spelling seems to have been floating around in show business and politics in the late 1800s. It’s doubly humorous in Cohan’s case, since his last name was sometimes misspelled as “Cohen.” However, it’s uncertain whether Cohan coined the saying. On the other hand, no one seems to have been able to document an earlier use by P.T. Barnum or anyone else. There is documentation for an earlier variation of the line by Cohan himself. In a reminiscence he wrote for the Syracuse Post Standard newspaper in 1926, Cohan recalled telling his sister “I don't care what they say about me, so long as they keep mentioning my name” in a conversation he had with her in 1898.

Barbra Streisand, Color Me Barbra


“I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name wrong.”
       Barbra Streisand
       American singer and actress
       Remark accepting a 1970 award for “Best Female Singer of the Year” in an Ed Sullivan Show special
       In Streisand’s case it was doubly (or maybe triply) humorous because her first name was often misspelled as “Barbara,” while she used the “wrong” spelling Barbra.

Mark Twain


“I don’t mind what the opposition say of me, so long as they don’t tell the truth.”
       Mark Twain (1835-1910)
       American author and humorist 
       From a speech Twain gave in Hartford, Connecticut on October 26, 1880
       This quote is probably the reason why the show biz saying George M. Cohan made famous is wrongly attributed to Twain. It comes from the part of the speech in which Twain made some remarks about politics that still ring true. “[Y]ou don’t get anything out of the opposition but a noble, good supply of infamous episodes in your own private life which you hadn’t heard of before,” he said. “However, I don’t mind these things particularly. It is the only intelligent and patriotic way of conducting a campaign. I don’t mind what the opposition say of me, so long as they don’t tell the truth about me; but when they descend to telling the truth about me, I consider that that is taking an unfair advantage.”

Tallulah Bankhead-8x6


“I don’t care what they say as long as they talk about me.” 
       Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) 
       American stage and film actress   
       Her personal version of the show business axiom
       Bankhead appears to have used this line more than once to deal with criticism of her notorious lifestyle, which included heavy drinking, various drugs, and affairs with both men and women. It became thought of as one of her catchphrases, along with her use of the word “Darling! at the beginning of sentences. (Spoken with her posh accent as “Dah-ling!”). The earliest use I found is noted in the 1999 biography of Bankhead written by Bryony Lavery. It recounts an anecdote that occurred around 1921. Tallulah's sister Eugenia overhead someone at a party say “Everyone knows her sister is a lesbian.” Eugenia responded by throwing an ice pick at the blabbermouth. Tallulah nonchalantly told her sister: “I don’t care what they say as long as they talk about me.” 

Dorothy Parker & Katherine Hepburn 

“I don’t care what is written about me, so long as it isn’t true.”
       Attributed to both writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) and actress Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)
       This line is widely credited to both of these great ladies by many websites and books, but without any specific citations of when either of them may have actually said it. If you know of any documented sources, please shoot me an email and let me know. In Hepburn’s case, it would have been another example of a doubly humorous twist, since her first name was sometimes misspelled as “Katherine.”

Dale Earnhardt 

“I don’t care what they call me as long as I get to the bank on Monday.” 
       Dale Earnhardt (1951-2001)
       American race car driver, team owner and NASCAR star 
       Commenting on the fact that other race car drivers complained about his aggressive driving style and used a number of negative-sounding nicknames for him, such as “The Intimidator” (and worse). Quoted in the book The Sporting World of the Modern South (2002), by Patrick B. Miller.

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