Playwrights and screenwriters are often cautioned against sending a political message in their dramatic scripts; the public wants entertainment, not a lecture. Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn (1904-1961) has been credited with “Just write me the comedy. Messages are for Western Union” since at least 1943. The playwright Moss Hart (1904-1961) was credited in 1953 with saying, “If you’ve got a message, call Western Union.” Western Union used to deliver telegram messages, and the saying is also often given as “If you have a message, send a telegram.”
Although the saying is dated—the last Western Union telegram was sent in 2006—the meaning remains the same and the saying is still used. New message technology (such as email and Twitter) is sometimes substituted, while others prefer to use “Western Union telegram” to indicate that this is a classic piece of Broadway and Hollywood advice.
[This entry was prepared with the assistance of the Quote Investigator and Bill Mullins of the American Dialect Society listserv.]
Wikipedia: Samuel Goldwyn
Samuel Goldwyn (c. July 1879 – January 31, 1974) was an American film producer, and founding contributor executive of several motion picture studios.
Wikipedia: Moss Hart
Moss Hart (October 24, 1904 – December 20, 1961) was an American playwright and theatre director, best known for his interpretations of musical theater on Broadway.
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
U.S. playwright, 1904-1961
“If you have a message, call Western Union.”
Quoted in Van Wert (Ohio) Times Bulletin, 26 Aug. 1954. Usually attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, but this citation is considerably earlier than any source crediting Goldwyn.
17 April 1943, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Heard in New York: Samuel Goldwyn Gets a Message” by Leonard Lyons, sec. 2, pg. 4, col. 6:
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.”
(The Leonard Lyons column originally appeared in the New York Post, April 13, 1943, pg. 26, col. 4—ed.)
A practical guide for teachers and administrators
By Gunnar Horn
New York, NY: Inor Pub. Co.
Indeed, editors might well state their stand with the words Sam Goldwyn is said to have employed when some hopeful dramatist offered him a play with a “message.” “Messages,” said Sam, “is for Western Union.”
25 November 1953, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Too Much Talk From Reporters” by Walker S. Buel, pg. 8, col. 3:
Recently we (Wall Street Journal editorial—ed.) read a remark attributed to Moss Hart, the playwright. It was in the form of advice to those who would like to see their plays on the Broadway boards. Mr. Hart said: ‘If you’ve got a message, call Western Union.’ We think this is good advice for some of the gentlemen of the Washington press corps, too.”
The Genius of American Politics
By Daniel J. Boorstin
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press
1953, 1962 printing.
The reaction of some cynical spirits is exemplified in the comment of Sam Goldwyn of Hollywood on the script of a movie which ended with a familiar exhortation to high ideals: “If you wanna send a message, use Western Union.”
Chain of Circumstances;
A murder play in three acts
By Conrad Sutton Smith
New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service
ROBIN. Oh, it doesn’t “say” anything, I’m afraid. You young fellows always have so much to “say.” But I’m a relic of another theatrical era. I follow George S. Kaufman’s old advice “If you have a message — call Western Union “
Google News Archive
26 September 1964, The Press-Courier (Oxnard, CA), “The Secret Life of Cara Williams” by Isobel Ashe, weekly magazine, pg. 8, col. 1:
It’s not that Cara’s carrying a message; she’d be one of the first to steal the legendary line from a movie producer, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” But she is serious on the subject of wives working.
The Theatrical Response
By Kenneth M. Cameron and Theodore J. C. Hoffman
In the modern sense, however, communication refers to a great deal more than the mechanical transmission of verbal messages; and in the theater, wiseacres advise, “If you’ve got a message, send a telegram.”
Fiction, poetry and criticism of the new American writers
Edited by Charles Hamilton Newman and Bill Henkin
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press
A famous movie mogul once said: “If you have a message, send a telegram.”
Some Enchanted Evenings;
The story of Rodgers and Hammerstein
By Deems Taylor
Publisher: Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press
Moss Hart is credited with giving the following advice to budding playwrights: “If you have a message, call Western Union.”
New York City • Music/Dance/Theater • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 21, 2012 • Permalink