The secret of acting is sincerity — and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
Usually attributed to [George] Burns — as, for example, in Michael York, Travelling Player (1991). Fred Metcalf in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (1987) has Burns saying, rather: ‘Acting is about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’ However, Kingsley Amis in a devastating piece about Leo Rosten in his Memoirs (1991) has the humorist relating ‘at some stage in the 19705’ how he had given a Commencement address including the line: ‘Sincerity. If you can fake that… you’ll have the world at your feet’ So perhaps the saying was circulating even before Burns received the credit. Or perhaps Rosten took it from him? An advertisement in Rolling Stone in about 1982 offered a T-shirt with the slogan (anonymous): ‘The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.’ Fred MacMurray was quoted in Variety (15 April 1987): ‘I once asked Barbara Stanwyck the secret of acting. She said: “Just be truthful — and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.”’
At some stage in the 1970s at some party in London I ran into an American called Leo Rosten, who turned out on investigation to be the author, under the pseudonym of Leonard Q. Ross, of a number of stories (reprinted from The New Yorker) in the now (and even then) long-defunct British magazine Lilliput in the war years and after, comic genre pieces about one Hyman Kaplan, an Eastern-European immigrant to America, and his attempts to learn English in night school in New York. I remembered having thought them genuinely funny in a closely observed verbal way, and when Rosten amiably proposed throwing a quadripartite dinner including wives I gladly accepted. Continue reading sincerity