May 18, 2019

“Greed is all right” — the forerunner of “Greed is good”

Ivan Boesky, Greed is all rightWall Street whiz Ivan Boesky was riding high in 1986.

During the early 1980s, he’d made hundreds of millions of dollars trading stocks, doing real estate deals and masterminding leverage buyouts of distressed businesses.

He was lauded as a financial genius in many magazine and newspaper articles and often invited to speak at business seminars, colleges and universities.

On May 18, 1986, Boesky gave the commencement address at the UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration. 

One of the things he told the students in that speech became a famous (and infamous) quotation that led to an even more famous movie quote.

“Greed is all right, by the way,” he said blithely. “I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”

Boesky was feeling less good the following year.

Federal SEC investigators had discovered that many of Boesky’s huge stock profit windfalls were based on illegal insider information.

In November 1986, he was arrested and eventually convicted, after providing evidence that led to the downfall of some of his other ethically-challenged Wall Street friends, including financier Michael Milken.

Based on a plea deal, Boesky was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and required to pay a record-breaking fine of $100 million.

Boesky’s rise and fall and his “Greed is all right” speech were part of filmmaker Oliver Stone’s inspiration for the movie Wall Street.

Stone co-wrote the script and directed the film, which was released on December 11, 1987 in U.S. theaters.  

The movie stars Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, a ruthless Wall Street investor who specializes in hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, and junk bond financing.

Michael Douglas Greed is Good Wall Street (1987)Gekko has no pangs about taking over, gutting, and reselling companies regardless of the impacts on employees and local communities.

In fact, he’s proud of his takeover record, as he explains in the memorable speech he gives that includes the line usually misquoted as “Greed is good.” It’s a pithier, shortened version of what Douglas actually says.

In that scene, he’s speaking to a meeting of shareholders of the company Teldar Paper, which he wants to take over.

To encourage them to approve his takeover bid, he tells them he has studied the company and found that the current management is wasting money and shortchanging shareholders.

Then he says:

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them. The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you.”

The Teldar shareholders like what Gekko says and give him a standing ovation.

Despite the fact that Gekko is a slimy character who, like Boesky, ultimately goes to prison for insider trading — and despite the financial scandals and meltdowns that happened before and after Wall Street was released — there are still those who essentially agree with what he and Boesky said about greed.

It’s fits the Ayn Randian “enlightened self-interest” creed of the wealthy 1%ers and others who support the ideal of unfettered capitalism and oppose “over-regulation” of businesses — a subset of people who have increasingly dominated American politics.

Indeed, the economic and political trends of the past few decades could be summed up by something else Gordon Gekko says in Wall Street

He explains to his protégé in the film, played by Charlie Sheen:

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars...We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you’re not naïve enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you buddy?”

Flash forward to Ivan Boesky three decades later. 

After being busted in 1987, he spent a mere two years in the Lompoc Federal Prison Camp in California.

And, although he was permanently prohibited from involvement in the realm of stocks and finance and was required to pay out much of his past fortune in fines, he’s still better off than most of us.

In 1991, he divorced his wife Seema, who came from a wealthy family and had her own fortune.

She agreed to pay him $23 million and $180,000 a year for life. She also gave him one of their mansions, in La Jolla, California.

As of 2019, at age 82, Boesky still lives there. According one recent article, he is now “a wild-haired Rasputin-like recluse.”

I imagine him looking at the continuing wealth gap in America and who's in the White House and thinking, with some chagrin, that our country is clearly still run by people who believe in the greed principle he espoused. People who, like him, may have bent or broken a few laws to become rich and powerful.

He’s just one of the few who got caught and punished for it.

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May 13, 2019

Blood, sweat and tears — and toil...

Almost everything most people know about the origin of the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” is wrong.

Some people think Winston Churchill coined it in the famous speech he gave to the British House of Commons on May 13, 1940.

But, in fact, Churchill didn’t coin the phrase. Nor did he say it in that address.

Even though it is often referred to as his “blood, sweat and tears speech,” the phrase he actually used on May 13, 1940 was “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

That’s probably why some books and online posts claim Churchill “never said ‘blood, sweat and tears.’”

But that’s wrong, too.

In fact, Churchill did use the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” in things he said before 1940.

He also approved its use as the title of a book of his speeches published in 1941, which included his May 13, 1940 speech — thus helping to create the confusion about what he actually said that day.

It takes a lot of Googling and reading to figure all this out.

I will save you some time by summarizing what I found after doing a lot of Googling and reading.

Some of the earliest uses of “blood, sweat and tears” are noted by quotation maven Ralph Keyes his excellent book The Quote Verifier, which says:

“A 1611 John Donne poem included the lines ‘That ‘tis in vaine to dew, or mollifie / It with thy Teares, or Sweat, or Bloud.’ More than two centuries later, Byron wrote, ‘Year after year they voted cent per cent / Blood, sweat, and tear-wrung millions—why?—for rent!’ In his 1888 play Smith, Scottish poet-playwright John Davidson wrote of ‘Blood – sweats and tears, and haggard, homeless lives.’ By 1939, a Lady Tegart reported in a magazine article that Jewish communal colonies in Palestine were ‘built on a foundation of blood, sweat, and tears’.”

Starting in the mid-1800s, the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” came to be used by in descriptions of the trials and tribulations of Jesus Christ.

For example, the lyrics of the 1842 hymn “Christ in the Garden” include the lines:

     “So deep was his sorrow, so fervent his prayers,
     That down o'er his bosom roll’d blood, sweat, and tears!”

In the decades after that, the phrase became — and remains — common in Christian sermons.

Wikipedia’s "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat" entry notes some other early uses, including one by UK poet Lord Alfred Douglas, who wrote in the introduction to a 1919 collection of his poems that poetry “is forged slowly and painfully, link by link, with blood and sweat and tears.”

By 1940, “blood, sweat and tears” and variations of those words had become a common way of describing the concept of extremely hard work needed to overcome challenges or hardships.

The evolution of Winston Churchill’s own uses of those words has been documented in articles by Churchill scholar Richard M. Langworth, posted on the websites of the Churchill Project and the International Churchill Society.

Langworth notes that Churchill used the two-word phrase “blood and tears” in several conversations, books and articles between 1899 and 1940.

Churchill first added sweat to the litany in his World War I memoir, The World Crisis, vol. V, “The Eastern Front,” published in 1931. In the first chapter of that volume, he wrote:

“These pages recount dazzling victories and defeats stoutly made good. They record the toils, perils, sufferings and passions of millions of men. Their sweat, their tears, their blood bedewed the endless plain.”

In 1939, Churchill used the formulation “blood, sweat and tears” in a newspaper opinion piece he wrote about the Spanish Civil War. In that, he said “here are new structures of national life erected upon blood, sweat and tears.”

Finally, on May 13, 1940, Churchill used the version immortalized by his speech to the House of Commons.

A few days before that, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had resigned in disgrace, after an unsuccessful attempt to avoid war with Germany by trying to appease Adolf Hitler with the “Munich Agreement.”

In that agreement, negotiated in September 1930, Chamberlain consented to Hitler’s demand to make the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia part of Germany, not long after Austria had been absorbed into the growing Nazi empire.

Chamberlain caved to Hitler in hopes of staving off a second world war. He apparently believed Hitler’s promise that, in return, Germany would refrain from attempts at further expansion.

On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain made the infamous, deluded claim that the Munich Agreement would ensure “peace for our time” (often misquoted as “peace in our time”).

Winston Churchill didn’t buy it.

He publicly lambasted Chamberlain, saying: “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

It soon became clear that Hitler had indeed lied and Churchill was right.

In the fall of 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Early in 1940, the Nazis overwhelmed Denmark, then invaded and overran Norway.

On May 9, 1940, faced with the failure of his appeasement policy, Neville Chamberlain resigned.

The next day, Winston Churchill was appointed as Prime Minister.

On May 13, Churchill met with his Cabinet. According to the International Churchill Society, one of the things he said to the Cabinet members was: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Later that day, he used the line in his first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister.

Some of the lines that came after that line in the speech also became widely quoted, and it’s still stirring to hear the historic recording of Churchill delivering them.

In the closing part of the address, Churchill said, in his inimitable way:

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’”

Shortly after Churchill’s May 13, 1940 address, some people were already misquoting or paraphrasing its most famous line.

When publishers used BLOOD SWEAT and TEARS as the title of a collection of his speeches that was announced by press releases in the fall of 1940 and published in 1941, it solidified the mistaken belief that those were the words he had used and his May 13 address.

It also helped ensure that the address would be commonly referred to as Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tears speech.”

Of course, Hitler and the Nazis were eventually defeated, thanks in large part to Churchill’s steadfast leadership.

As he urged, victory against the Nazis was achieved by an unprecedented, united effort by the people of Great Britain with the crucial help of the United States.

And, as Churchill said prophetically in his speech, that victory required a great deal of blood, toil, tears and sweat.

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May 05, 2019

“Live fast, die young and have [or leave] a good-looking corpse!”

The saying “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” is often associated with actor James Dean.

Dean didn’t say it as a line in any of his own movies. Nor did he coin it.

But he was a fan of the classic 1949, noir film that made it a famous movie quote, Knock on Any Door.

Biographies of Dean indicate that he embraced the words as his own fatalistic motto and lived his brief life accordingly.

Indeed, two books about Dean use part of the saying in their title: John Gilmore’s 1997 biography Live Fast–Die Young: Remembering the Short Life of James Dean and Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause (2005) by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel.

Gilmore was an actor and writer who met Dean in 1953, became Dean’s close friend and (according to Gilmore) his lover.

Gilmore noted Dean’s fondness for the “live fast, die young…” line in his own book and in interviews he did for others.

For example, in an interview Gilmore did for the LIFE magazine book James Dean: A Rebel's Life in Pictures (2016), he said Dean once wondered aloud what they’d put on his tombstone, then quipped: “You remember the movie [Humphrey] Bogart made — Knock on Any Door — and the line ‘Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse?’ I’m going to be so good-looking they’re going to have to cement me in the coffin.”

If you’re a serious movie buff, you may know actor John Derek says the line “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” in Knock on Any Door, which premiered in New York City on February 21, 1949.

It was the first major film role for Derek (who later married and guided the early film career of Bo Derek).

He plays Nick Romano, a young Italian hoodlum from the Chicago slums who is accused of killing a cop.

Humphrey Bogart plays his attorney, Andrew Morton.

In the film, Nick tells his girlfriend that “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” is his motto in life.

The movie gave the saying lasting fame, though it now often given in the variant form “…leave a good-looking corpse” (instead of have).

The movie line comes directly from the novel the film is based on, Knock on Any Door by the African-American novelist Willard Motley (1912-1965).

In Motley’s novel, Nick says it several times and cites it as his personal motto.

The novel was published on May 5, 1947 and became a popular bestseller.

At the time, it was unusual for an African-American author to write a book in which the central characters were white. But most readers didn’t care.

Some bigoted observers did complain about a “Negro” writing about white people.

Motley responded to their jibes by saying “My race is the human race” (a line he cited as his own personal motto).

Indeed, that empathetic concept is a central theme of the book and movie. And, the reason for empathy is memorably summed up by Humphrey Bogart’s character during a courtroom scene.

Bogart says to the jury who will decide if Nick is executed: “Until we do away with the type of neighborhood that produced this boy, ten will spring up to take his place, a hundred, a thousand. Until we wipe out the slums and rebuild them, knock on any door and you may find Nick Romano.”

Quotation expert Ralph Keyes notes in his great book The Quote Verifier that Motley was probably “recycling street talk” when he wrote the line “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.”

More recent research by quote guru Garson O’Toole, author of the excellent website and the book Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, found precursors of the saying dating back to the 1800s. 

O’Toole found also documented that the version Motley used in his novel was in common use by the 1920s.

So, although Motley’s novel and the movie adapted from it gave the saying wider familiarity, neither one is the origin.

Over the decades, there have been many witty reuses and variations on the line.

One of my favorites is spoken by Ricky Gervais in an episode of original BBC version of the TV series The Office.

In Season 2, Episode 3 of that show, Gervais says: “You know that old thing, live fast, die young? Not my way. Live fast, sure, live too bloody fast sometimes, but die young? Die old! That’s the way. Not orthodox. I don’t live by ‘the rules’ you know.”

I like that motto much better than the one James Dean lived — and ultimately died — by.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the years, the original saying "Live fast, die young..." has launched many thoughtful and witty variations. To read some of my favorite take-offs, see the post on my site at this link.

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