Beginning with an apology.
This anecdote was told to me at a party more than thirty years ago, and I no longer recall it word-for-word. If I had known I’d be writing a blog someday, I’d have written it down when I got home. Or, more likely, jotted it down on a cocktail napkin. And then inadvertently used the napkin, smearing “jot-down” ink all over my face.
The thing is, it’s a wonderful story, and even a fractured version seems to me worth retelling.
The tale, set in the halcyon days when the studios controlled the movie business, is attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, the middle moniker in famed MGM Studio’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. On second thought, maybe the story’s about Mayer. Does anybody care? I don’t. I know it’s not Metro. There are no stories about Metro. I don’t even know if Metro is a person. It could be the French subway. Although why Goldwyn and Mayer would partner up with a French subway is beyond my comprehension.
Anyway, this massively successful studio boss is at some gathering, and, demonstrating that this is a perennial rather than a contemporary concern, a party guest is berating him for the dismal quality of his company’s pictures. Frothy. Mindless. Juvenile. A waste of time.
The studio boss listens patiently, and then says,
STUDIO BOSS: “Tell me something. Our studio makes two hundred movies per annum. Would you say that twenty per cent of those movies are worthwhile?”
STUDIO BOSS: “Okay, then. Out of the two hundred movies we put out, would you say that ten per cent of those movies are worthwhile?”
STUDIO BOSS: “How about five percent? Would you say five percent of the movies we produce are worthwhile?”
STUDIO BOSS: “All right. Now be fair. Of those two hundred the pictures we make a year, would you say we make at least one picture you would consider to be worthwhile?”
“Okay, I will grant you that. Of the two hundred movies, I admit you make one movie a year that’s worthwhile.”
STUDIO BOSS: (SMILING PATERNALISTICALLY) “We don’t have to.”