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 November 24, 2010
“I can give you the formula for failure: Try to please everybody”

Longtime New York (NY) World editor Herbert Bayard Swope (1882-1958) said at a December 1950 dinner in his honor, as reported by Leonard Lyons: “Swope responded thus: He said that from the tributes accorded him, people might expect to learn from him the formula for success. ‘I can not give you that,’ he said, ‘but I can give you the formula for failure—which is: Try to please everybody.’”

Swope’s saying became a newspaper industry maxim. It’s not known if Swope used the saying before 1950, or if he’d heard it from someone else (such as friend and financier Bernard Baruch).


Wikipedia: Herbert Bayard Swope
Herbert Bayard Swope (January 5, 1882 - June 20, 1958) was a U.S. editor and journalist. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he was the younger brother of businessman Gerard Swope.

Swope spent most of his career at the New York World newspaper.

He was the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1917 for a series of articles that year entitled “Inside the German Empire.” The articles formed the basis for a book released in 1917 entitled Inside The German Empire: In The Third Year Of The War, which he wrote with James W. Gerard.

He is known for saying, “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” He is also credited with coining the phrase “Cold War”.

He was the first newspaperman to employ the “op-ed” concept of opinion pieces printed opposite the editorial page.

Although standard editorial pages have been printed by newspapers for many centuries, Swope established the first modern op-ed page in 1921. When he took over as editor in 1920, he realized that the page opposite the editorials, was “a catchall for book reviews, society boilerplate, and obituaries.” He wrote:

“It occurred to me that nothing is more interesting than opinion when opinion is interesting, so I devised a method of cleaning off the page opposite the editorial, which became the most important in America… and thereon I decided to print opinions, ignoring facts.”

Google News Archive
27 December 1950, Miami (FL) News, “Formula For Failure” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 11A, col. 1:
NEW YORK, Dec. 27—Herbert Bayard Swope was the guest of honor at a dinner by Interfaith in Action. There were tributes by Robert P. Patterson, Bernard M. Baruch, and Drew Pearson told of the newspaper training he’d received from Swope as executive editor who rose to head the most exciting N. Y. paper of its time. Swope responded thus: He said that from the tributes accorded him, people might expect to learn from him the formula for success. “I can not give you that,” he said, “but I can give you the formula for failure—which is: Try to please everybody.”

Google Books
4 June 1951, Cape Girardeau (MO) Southeast Missourian, “Drew Pearson’s Washington Marry-Go-Round,” pg. 6, col. 4:
Price Boss Mike Di Salle gets comfort from a quotation attributed to famed editor Herbert Bayard Swope. It reads: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure—try to please everybody.”

5 August 1951, New York (NY) Times, “He aims to please not terrorize” by Ursula Halloran, pg. 85:
IN devising a weekly TV drama series which frequently dabbles in the occult and the supernatural, Herbert Bayard Swope Jr., producer of “Lights Out” (Channel 4, Monday, 9 p.m.), tries to take people out of themselves without scaring them out of their wits.

The fact that more often than not he succeeds is the result of two things: a sense of responsibility to the viewing public and a precept which he inherited from his father, who once told him, “I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everyone.”

Google Books
Newsmen Speak;
Journalists on their craft

Edited by Edmond D. Coblentz
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
1954
Pg. 54 (Herbert Bayard Swope):
It is wise to remember, in following any rule of life, that perhaps the most important of all is that none can tell us how to be successful, but it’s easy to outline a formula for failure — to try to please everybody. I have tried to avoid that.

Google Books
The Sexual Offender and His Offenses;
Etiology, pathology, psychodynamics, and treatment

By Benjamin Karpman
New York, NY: Julian Press
1954
Pg. 624:
It has been stated that Bernard Baruch when asked for his formula for success, replied that he had none but that he could offer a formula for failure, which was: “Try to please everybody.”

Google Books
The American treasury, 1455-1955
By Clifton Fadiman
New York, NY: Harper
1955
Pg. 703:
Herbert Bayard Swope
I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure — which is: Try to please everybody.
Address, December 20, 1950

Google Books
The World of Swope
By Ely Jacques Kahn
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
1965
Pg. 429:
One of the phrases he was proudest of having coined, and which he used over and over, was “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: Try to please everybody.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMedia/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • (0) Comments • Wednesday, November 24, 2010 • Permalink