Elaine Bernstein Partnow is an author, actor and public speaker who has written many quotation books; here is a link to her website:
Q: What inspired you to write The Quotable Woman?
A: 1973 was a very bad year for me: I contracted double pneumonia and had to quit a show I was acting in; the house I was living in caught on fire; I was injured in a car accident; but the worse was yet to come because my mother, at 61, suffered a stroke. Within 48 hours she was gone. I was terribly depressed, of course. My home unlivable from the fire, I went to stay with my dad. Dad traveled in his business and when he was away I would go and sleep in my parents’ bed, which made me feel closer to my mom. On one such night, lying there sleepless, I had a vision: it was a book. I could see the title of the book, the layout of the pages, the cover—everything. It was a collection of women’s quotations. The next day I bicycled over to the UCLA research library to see if a book called The Quotable Woman existed; it did not. My mom loved quotes and there were several classic collections in the apartment. I began looking through them and discovered, to my dismay, that women were practically nonexistent in them. I got mad—and then I got even. It took me four years to create the first edition of The Quotable Woman. Now it’s been in print for over 35 years; the 6th edition came out in 2010.
Q: What makes a quote memorable?
A: A quote, first of all, must work out of context. And then it must move one, either to tears, laughter, anger or heights of inspiration.
Q: What made you dedicate a book devoted to Jewish women‘s quotes?
A: The Quotable Woman has grown huge over the years (the last edition weighs 5 lbs. 2 oz!). It was my idea to do a series of quote books that would work for various heritage groups: Asian; Latino, Hispanic & Native American; African and Caribbean; and Jewish. Being Jewish myself, I started with that one. To date I have not been able to sell the other ideas to another publisher. I’d still love to do them.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: That is almost like asking a parent who their favorite child is. It’s kind of impossible. But if I have to choose, I’ll pick this one by Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Why? Because it implies to me that you can’t have too many wonderful quotations by amazing women.
Q: What is an example of a misunderstood quote?
A: Quote are sometimes misunderstood because they’re misquoted. For example, most everyone has heard “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” But if you read Gertrude Stein’s short story “Sacred Emily” you discover that Rose is a person and the quotation should be “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Another example is the oft misquoted “Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” The nightclub entertainer Texas Guinan said, “Fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong,” not can’t.
Q: Why buy a quote book instead of just reading a lot?
A: Why not do both? I read a lot—and pluck quotes from my collections whenever something pops out at me. A book of quotations is a very useful tool when one is planning a speech or writing a paper and wants to verify and emphasize a point by quoting someone with gravitas.
Q: Why do people care what famous people think?
A: People generally become famous because they have accomplished something great, something that has inspired others or changed things in the world. Most of us aspire to do good, to accomplish something. Hearing the words of wisdom from those we admire is motivating and validating.
Q: You were in What’s up, Doc; is Babs really a diva?
A: Streisand was—and is—the quintessential professional. She was always on time, she knew what was expected of her, and she pulled it off beautifully. She didn’t pal around with folks, but she wasn’t cold, either. She was polite and professional.
Q: How can I avoid nervousness when giving a speech?
A: Read my book, Speaking with Power, Poise & Ease. Speak publically whenever you can. Practice, practice, practice. Interpret your nervousness as excitement. Have fun with it. Know that people are very forgiving and want you to succeed. And remember—you’re there for the audience; you are giving them something they need or want.
Q: With all the quote books out there why should my readers choose yours?
A: Frankly, most of the quote books out there are not well-documented; they don’t cite sources, so you don’t know when it was said or where it was said or from work it was found in. There are, of course, other good books of quotations—and, these days, they are somewhat more inclusive than mine. But if you want to quote a woman, there is no other source as thorough or well-documented than The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years: it has become a classic.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)