September 6, 2006

The Questionnaires of James Lipton, Bernard Pivot, and Marcel Proust

Fans of Inside the Actor’s Studio are familiar with James Lipton’s list of questions, which he poses to each of his guests at the end of an interview. Lipton always gives credit for this list to French talk show host Bernard Pivot, who hosted Apostrophes from 1975–1990 and Bouillon de Culture from 1990–2001; he often mentions that the list originally came from French novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922). Proust did not actually create the questionnaire that frequently has his name attached, though he did famously answer two versions of it (once at age 13, and a second time at age 20), and thereby gave the lists a certain notoriety. Their original author is unknown.

As it turns out, Lipton’s list differs in three questions from Pivot’s, and neither of the lists has a single question in common with either of Proust’s! But here are all four lists (the last three being approximate French translations).

James Lipton’s Questionnaire

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What is your favorite curse word?
  6. What sound or noise do you love?
  7. What sound or noise do you hate?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Bernard Pivot’s Questionnaire

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What is your favorite drug?
  4. What sound or noise do you love?
  5. What sound or noise do you hate?
  6. What is your favorite curse word?
  7. Who would you like to see on a new banknote?
  8. What profession other than your own would you not like to attempt?
  9. If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Marcel Proust’s Questionnaires

At age 13:

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  2. Where would you like to live?
  3. What is your idea of earthly happiness?
  4. To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  5. Who are your favorite fictional heroes?
  6. Who are your favorite characters in history?
  7. Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
  8. Who are your favorite fictional heroines?
  9. Who is your favorite painter?
  10. Who is your favorite musician?
  11. What quality do you most admire in a man?
  12. What quality do you most admire in a woman?
  13. What is your favorite virtue?
  14. What is your favorite occupation?
  15. Who would you have liked to be?

At age 20:

  1. What is your most marked characteristic?
  2. What quality do you most like in a man?
  3. What quality do you most like in a woman?
  4. What do you value most in your friends?
  5. What is your principal defect?
  6. What is your favorite occupation?
  7. What is your dream of happiness?
  8. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?
  9. What would you like to be?
  10. In what country would you like to live?
  11. What is your favorite color?
  12. What is your favorite flower?
  13. What is your favorite bird?
  14. Who are your favorite prose writers?
  15. Who are your favoite poets?
  16. Who are your favorite fictional heros?
  17. Who are your favorite fictional heroines?
  18. Who are your favorite composers?
  19. Who are your favorite painters?
  20. Who are your heroes in real life?
  21. Who are your favorite heroines of history?
  22. What are your favorite names?
  23. What do you most dislike?
  24. What historical figures do you most despise?
  25. What event in military history do you most admire?
  26. What reform do you most admire?
  27. What natural gift would you most like to possess?
  28. How would you like to die?
  29. What is your present state of mind?
  30. To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  31. What is your motto?

17 Responses to “The Questionnaires of James Lipton, Bernard Pivot, and Marcel Proust”

  1. SuperFrenchie » The sexuality of lobsters said:

    […] This statement made by James Lipton, the famous American interviewer, totally unknown in France, is an example of how Mr. Lipton became enthralled with Bernard Pivot, a famous French TV moderator, totally unheard of in America. What seemed to particularly impress Mr. Lipton was the famous questionnaire which Bernard Pivot presented to his guests at the end of each program. So impressed was Mr. Lipton with this questionnaire that he decided to use it at the end of his own programs. The French program Mr. Lipton had encountered, called “Apostrophes”, was famous in France in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a weekly literary opportunity to discuss new books covering a wide range of topics including novels, essays, sports, sciences, and philosophy. Nothing was deemed unworthy of Mr. Pivot’s attention. Aired each Friday in the second part of the evening, the program had obtained an absolute cult status in France, with an audience in the millions! Simply put, life would stand still for two hours as millions of French citizens had eagerly waited for Friday to arrive. Editors were dying to have their authors presented by Mr. Pivot because they knew their books would be instant best-sellers the very next day. It is fair to say that the impact this program had on French literary life cannot be underestimated. […]

  2. Pat de Verre said:

    With modesty, I would like to add my salt grains. I don’t agree completely with SuperFrenchie. Persons as me who have the TV by cable or satellite and which are impassioned of cinema, could appreciate during several year the broadcast “Inside the Actor’ S Studio” of James Lipton. It is an obviousness that James Lipton is more known in France than Bernard Pivot over the pond! Small additional precision, the questionnaires of this kind were very in vogue during the XIX in England in hight society and the intellectuals . Marcel Proust largely took as a starting point a questionnaire found in “Year Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, &c”, which it had been able to read in his friend Antoinette Faure, daughter of Felix Faure (President of french republic from 1895 to 1899). I hope that these further informations will have interested you.

  3. Cutting Remarks | spectatrix said:

    […] that required making conversation would be among the professions I would not like to attempt (as James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s […]

  4. VodkaDunhill said:

    I’d like to answer to Pat de Verre (what does it mean by the way ? Pat of Glass doesn’t ring a bell…) about one sentence : It is an obviousness that James Lipton is more known in France than Bernard Pivot over the pond!

    I’m French, living in France. And I can assure you that Bernard Pivot is more known than James Lipton. And Pivot is still a celebrity. Well was. I don’t know where he is today. The fact is that The Actor’s Studio is on cable channels only and around midnight. So, I don’t think the “who’s the most famous in France” is going to change ^^. But as a french person, passionate about cinema, I can tell that I know more Lipton than Pivot.

    Sur ce, à la revoyure !

  5. B.T. Foster said:

    To address VodkaDunhill, I believe what Pat de Verre meant was that more French viewers know who James Lipton is than U.S. viewers know who Bernard Pivot is. I reside in the U.S., but have been to France, and Lipton’s celebrity here does NOT rise to the level of regard Pivot enjoys in his country. Probably a better “fame” comparison would be something like PIVOT is to France as OPRAH is to America!”

  6. by special request . . . « ceci n’est pas une blog. said:

    […]  https://senselist.com/2006/09/06/the-questionnaires-of-james-lipton-bernard-pivot-and-marcel-proust… […]

  7. Puffin’s Place » Life is Short. Read Fast. said:

    […] acting as a craft, James Lipton’s unexpectedly—to me—intriguing life, the genesis of the Pivot questionnaire, a sprinkling of celebrity chat, Bob Kerrey’s tenure at the New School vis a vis The Actors […]

  8. Susan’s Randoms: Organizing the Voices in My Head « the 5 randoms said:

    […] 1) I interview my characters like I’m full of myself and pretentious, a la James Lipton and Marcel Proust. James Lipton is that self-important interviewer on Inside the Actor’s Studio, and asks questions like “What is your favorite curse word?” and “Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, what would you like God to say to you?” Proust-deriven questions appear on the last page of each month’s Vanity Fair and consist of “What is your idea of earthly happiness?” and “What are your favorite heroes of fiction?” More of their questions can be found here. […]

  9. Mike said:

    Lipton was afrench pimp. he knows from which country he speaks.

    and im not joking he used to be a french pimp.

  10. DishyMix: Susan Bratton Podcasts & Blogs Famous Executives » DishyMix Questions Illuminate Greatness - My Secret Formula - Can You Add To It? said:

    […] I was just considering posting my list to LinkedIn Answers to see if anyone could better it with an idea I hadn’t considered when Jim replied that he liked my list better than Bernard Pivot’s. I wasn’t familiar with Bernard and found not only Bernard’s questions (he’s a French TV show interviewer) but also James Lipton’s and Marcel Proust’s at SenseList. […]

  11. Thallia said:

    It seems Lipton’s questions are most appropriate to actors (the focus of his show) and Proust’s are most appropriate to a wider variety of artists (again, most appropriate to whom he interviews). Pivot’s drug question is “politically incorrect” for a US audience, and the banknote question has no relevance to the US since our banknotes are pretty much set already — but his “plant or animal” question should have been added to Lipton’s list. I find the four lists interesting nonetheless.

  12. Don’t Forget Your Creativity Sources – Part 1 | Brainzooming said:

    […] to Bernard Pivot using the questions on French TV prompted some background research. There’s an interesting little history to the questionnaire that highlights that great questions always have a […]

  13. Questionnaires « The Steampunk Cottage said:

    […] https://senselist.com/2006/09/06/the-questionnaires-of-james-lipton-bernard-pivot-and-marcel-proust/ […]

  14. lajames said:

    […] inspections and could hit dealerships as soon as … Mail (will not be published) (required) …The Questionnaires of James Lipton, Bernard Pivot, and Marcel …Fans of Inside the Actor's Studio are familiar with James Lipton's list of questions, … characters […]

  15. James Lipton’s List | Innovation is Dead said:

    […] the now famous TV show Inside the Actor’s Studio. For some info on the list itself visit this website for a try out at explaining the link between Lipton’s, Pivot’s and Prout’s lists. […]

  16. Hessel said:

    I most appreciate both Lipton’s show and Pivot’s, but why is it that Pivot gives the credit to Proust when they have no questions in common? Not that I dislike Pivot giving credit to Proust, but if non of the questions are the same, then how can it be the same questionnaire?

  17. GopherIllustrated » Romeo Alaeff shows us his tapeworm said:

    […] allow people to expound on the books they’ve chosen.  I’m using my own variation on the “Proust Questionnaire” that James Lipton from “Inside the Actors Studio” and “Variety” magazine use to […]