A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 17, 2016
“You have Van Gogh’s ear for music” (no ear for music)

Film director Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was making the film comedy Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) when he listened to an actor sing. The actor couldn’t sing. “You have Van Gogh’s ear for music,” Wilder is said to have told the actor. (The artist Vincent van Gogh cut off one of his ears.) Unfortunately for history (but fortunately for the actor), the actor’s name is unknown.

The anecdote has been cited in print since at least 1970.


Wikipedia: Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch: [ˈvɪnsɛnt ˈʋɪləm vɑn ˈɣɔx] ( listen); (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work had far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His paintings include portraits, self portraits, landscapes, still lifes of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers before traveling to The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England at Isleworth and Ramsgate. He drew as a child but did not paint until his late twenties; most of his best-known works were completed during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints.
(...)
The precise chain of events that led to Van Gogh slicing off his ear is not reliably known in any detail. The only account attesting a supposed earlier razor attack on Gauguin comes from Gauguin himself some fifteen years later, and biographers agree this account must be considered unreliable and self-serving. However, it does seem likely that, by 23 December 1888, Van Gogh had realized that Gauguin was proposing to leave and that there had been some kind of contretemps between the two. That evening, Van Gogh severed his left ear (either wholly or in part; accounts differ) with a razor, inducing a severe haemorrhage. He bandaged his wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a brothel frequented by both him and Gauguin, before returning home and collapsing. He was found unconscious the next day by the police and taken to the hospital.

Wikipedia" Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder (/ˈwaɪldər/; German: [ˈvɪldɐ]; June 22, 1906 – March 27, 2002) was an Austrian-born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist and journalist, whose career spanned more than fifty years and sixty films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age. With The Apartment, Wilder became the first person to win Academy Awards as producer, director and screenwriter for the same film. 

15 February 1970, Aberdeen (SD) American-News, “Earl Wilson’s New York,” pg. 4, col. 5:
TOM WOOD’s book, “The Bright Side of Billy Wilder, Primarily,” tells of the time the director listened to an actor sing. “You,” Wilder told him, “have Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

Google News Archive
11 March 1970, Sarasota (FL) Journal, “Biographer Pinpoints Billy Wilder’s Humor” by Bob Thomas (AP), pg. 9-A, col. 6:
To an actor trying to sing in “Kiss Me, Stupid”: “You have Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

Google News Archive
27 July 1971, Beaver County (PA) Times, Earl WIlson syndicated entertainment column, pg. B-11, col. 5:
TODAY’S BEST LAUGH: Director Billy Wilder listened to an actor sing, and told him, “You have Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

Google News Archive
15 December 1976, Boca Raton (FL) News, Earl Wilson syndicated entertainment column, pg. 6B, col. 2:
WISH I’D SAID THAT: Director Billy WIlder listened to an actor sing. “You,” he declared, “have Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

Google Books
He Has Van Gogh’s Ear for Music” and Other Famous Insults
Crombie Jardine
Lulu Press, Inc, Mar 21, 2014 - Humor
This collection of funny quotes brings together the wit and bitchiness of a range of famous people from Muhammad Ali to Oscar Wilde, from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s time to the present day. Whether you favour Billy Wilder’s “He’s got Van Gogh’s ear for music”, Clive James’ pithy description of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique or the dry, understated humour of William Whitelaw, there’s plenty here to make you snigger to yourself.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Sunday, January 17, 2016 • Permalink