Headline Origin: Sticks Nix Hick Pix
Question for Quote Investigator: A famous headline appeared in the U.S. show business periodical “Variety” in 1935:
STICKS NIX HICK PIX
STICKS referred to rural audiences. NIX meant reject. HICK referred to a rural theme. PIX meant a motion picture. Thus, the headline was stating that rural audiences were not going to see films with rural themes.
I have seen other versions of this headline, e.g., STIX NIX HIX PIX. The situation is perplexing. Would you please determine the precise original text together with a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: Here is a sampling of close matches for this headline which have appeared over the years. The similarity of these candidates has caused confusion. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
1935: STICKS NIX HICK PIX
1936: STIX NIX HICK PIX
1937: STIX NIX HIX PIX
1949: STIX NIX HICKS PIX
1953: STICKS NIX HICKS PICS
1955: STICKS NIX HIX PIX
The original headline appeared on the front page of “Variety” on July 17, 1935. The following was the main banner together with the subheading:¹
STICKS NIX HICK PIX
NOT INTERESTED IN FARM DRAMA
In 1935 the editor of “Variety” was Abel Green, and the person assigned to construct the headline was Lin Bonner. Green was still the editor when he wrote on the topic of authorship thirty years later in 1965. The term “streamer” meant headline:²
The story itself was anything but one of this paper’s best and Lin Bonner was assigned to come up with a lively streamer. Bonner had only just been transferred from the Hollywood to the New York staff, coming east in the hope a change of climate would help his health. After he groped half an afternoon for the right swing and size of caption this editor applied the final touch. All unanticipated, a VARIETY classic was born.
Thus, Abel Green took credit for crafting the headline although he may have received some input from Lin Bonner. Sadly, Bonner died from cancer within three weeks of the headline appearance according to Green. Thus, Bonner’s testimony remains unavailable.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In October 1936 the journal “Word Study” wrote about the headline and mistakenly used “Stix” instead of “Sticks”:³
Perhaps the most famous instance of Variety’s new brand of English is a headline that appeared a year or so ago: Stix Nix Hick Pix. One may puzzle over this for quite a while before discovering that it signifies (in Mr. Green’s choice language) that “the bucolic belt refuses to patronize mustang mellers, giddy-appers, horse operas, or bronc pix [Western films that is], along with other rural themes.”
In the passage above, “mustang” referred to a free-roaming horse, i.e., a cowboy film, and “meller” referred to a melodrama.
In January 1937 a columnist in “Variety” printed a version of the headline in which every word ended with an “X”:⁴
And so with utmost reluctance, we pack gag and camera as we prepare to leave the beautiful island of Kgnu. And our last thought as we pass under the sheltering palms is STIX NIX HIX PIX.
In October 1937 “Variety” wrote a review of a new radio show which used the task of deciphering cryptic headlines to challenge participants. The variant headline in the radio show contained four words ending in “X”:⁵
VARIETY’S headlines are given a contest twist in this hour sustainer and kicks up a lot of laughs. So called tricky vernacular is bandied between Emcee Al Poska and the studio band crew, idea being to guess what the titles mean.
Among those called off by Poska were ‘Stix Nix Hix Pix,’ ‘Heat No Crimp To B.O. Pix In Chi’ and others in a similar vein.
In 1942 the biographical movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was released. During one scene the actor James Cagney was shown reading a copy of a recreated issue of “Variety” which displayed the popular but incorrect version of the headline: “STIX NIX HIX PIX!” Two words were changed and an exclamation point was appended.⁶
In 1949 “The Bergen Evening Record” of Hackensack, New Jersey printed an instance with “Stix” and “Hicks” instead of “Sticks” and “Hick”:⁷
. . . but all most of us remember of “Variety” is that once, many years ago, a copyreader trailing clouds of glory wrote the headline “Stix Nix Hicks Pix”.
In 1953 “The New Statesman and Nation” of London printed a version with “HICKS” and PICS” instead of “HICK” and “PIX”:⁸
The desire to use the biggest possible type (and therefore the fewest and shortest words) in headlines helped to create a new jargon. America led here, and there will probably never be a better example of headline compression than the classic achievement by the sub-editors of Variety, the American showbusiness paper, which conveyed the news that the country districts of the United States objected to films portraying their citizens as comical rustic figures in the headline:
STICKS NIX HICKS PICS.
In 1955 “The American Treasury 1455–1955” edited by Clifton Fadiman included an instance with “HIX” instead of “HICK”:⁹
STICKS NIX HIX PIX.
Headline, Variety, 1935. Pictures about country people were found to be unpopular in the country.
In 1959 a columnist in “Variety” relayed a note from a reader who noticed that the version of the headline in the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was incorrect. Unfortunately, the reader’s statement about the version in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was also slightly inaccurate. (See the previous discussion in this article of the movie version):¹⁰
Reader Diane Hynd points out that Warner Bros.’ “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” now being shown on television, erred in reproducing VARIETY’S famous 1935 headline, “Sticks Nix Hick Pix.” The picture had it as “Sticks Nix Hix Pix.”
In conclusion, the original version of this “Variety” headline from July 17, 1935 was: STICKS NIX HICK PIX. During the following years variant statements have proliferated.
Image Notes: Famous headline from the magazine “Variety”.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter whose discussion of this topic led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Lighter found citations for a variant and remarked on the difference from the original.
 1935 July 17, Variety, Volume 119, Number 5, STICKS NIX HICK PIX (Front page headline), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
 1965 October 13, Variety, Volume 119, Number 5, STICKS NIX HICK PIX by Abel Green, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
 1936 October, Word Study, Volume 12, Number 2, Variety of Variety, Start Page 2, Quote Page 2 and 3, G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View)
 1937 January 6, Variety, Volume 125, Number 4, Radio: With Baker Through Darkest Radio Gags by Phil Baker, Quote Page 136, Column 5, Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
 1937 October 6, Variety, Volume 128, Number 4, Radio Reviews: Variety Headlines by Helm, Quote Page 32, Column 5, Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
 YouTube video, Title: Stix Nix Hick Pix!, Uploaded on July 9, 2029, Uploaded by: Patrick Reed, Clip from 1942 film “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, (Quotation appears on recreated “Variety” at 10 seconds of 36 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on July 15, 2023) link
 1949 April 8, The Bergen Evening Record, Remember?, Quote Page 36, Column 2, Hackensack, New Jersey. (ProQuest)
 1953 August 15, The New Statesman and Nation, The Week-end Review, The Decline of Journalese by Colin Wills, Start Page 177, Quote Page 177, Column 2, London, England. (ProQuest)
 1955, The American Treasury 1455–1955, Selected, Arranged, and Edited by Clifton Fadiman, Assisted by Charles Van Doren, Book One: We Look At Ourselves and Our Country, Section 4: How We Live, Topic: The Movies, Quote Page 238, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
 1959 January 21, Variety, Volume 213, Number 8, New York Sound Track, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Variety Inc., New York. (ProQuest)