Thursday, December 10, 2015


This morning I was idling browsing Youtube for videos that may be relevant to any of the playlists in the GBS Youtube Channel (subscribe, pretty please!). After a few minutes I came across a short documentary video about Hearst Castle, the mansion built by William Randolph Hearst. In the description, it is said that Shaw deemed this stately house "the place God would have built if he had the money." 

The video had been uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution to their Official Youtube Channel, so I had every reason to believe that the quotation was legitimate. But, alas, no source was provided. 

After searching my database for a few minutes, I found that the quotation had indeed been pronounced by Shaw during the few days they (he and Charlotte) were guests of Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies (24th to 27th March, 1933). In the editorial material preceding a letter Shaw wrote to Hearst (in fact, an inscription in Hearst's copy of What I Really Wrote About the War), Dan H. Laurence writes that Shaw, when asked by a fellow guest what he thought about the building, replied: "This is the way God would have built it, if He'd had the money." We are told that Shaw spent those days "luxuriating in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools and enjoying his proximity to the exotic animals and birds with which the ranch was stocked." In addition, they were "surrounded by a bevy of Hollywood starlets and intimate friends of Davies" (See Collected Letters Vol. IV, 1926-1950, p. 332-333). 

Laurence, in turn, provides Walter Wagner's You Must Remember This (New York: Putnam, 1975) as his source. Sure enough, the quotation and the accompanying anecdote are mentioned on page 85. 
However, other sources do not attribute the quotation to Shaw, or at least attribute the same words to a different person. Specifically, Howard Teichmann's George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait (New York: Atheneum, 1972), quotes the American critic on page 127 as having said "This is what God could have done if He'd had the money." Kaufmann's words, however, do not express his awe at Hearst's castle-like mansion, but rather at the 2,000 pine trees that Moss Hart had transplanted to the once-barren land he owned in Bucks County, Pa. The same story is reported in a 1977 issue of People Weekly (7 Feb. 1977, p. 32)

For good measure, however, the above attribution is, in turn, considered apocryphal by a letter to the same magazine (published three weeks later, on Feb. 28). The letter, signed by David A. France from New Hope, Pa., claims that it was "AlexanderWoollcott who, after inspecting the [Hart's] gardens and "the Gertrude Lawrence Memorial Wing" snapped, "It's exactly what God would have done—if He'd had the money."" The letter provides no source for this, although the editor's reply to the letter concedes that the author of the article (Kitty Carlisle Hart, Moss's wife) "had always associated the quote about God with Kaufmann," "but it may well have been Alec. It sounds like Alec." 

Once again, an alleged Shaw quotation has to be quarantined until a definitive source surfaces. Whatever the case may be, the time the Shaws spent at Hearst's is worth recording as one of their most remarkable international visits. GeoShaw material, in other words.

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