When did "J.B" come to mean "the boss of the company?"

See query. The question was raised by my colleague John Gordon in a note to Finnegans Wake, and he mentions that at some point in movies of the first half of the 20th century “J.B” was the go-to moniker for “boss.” He also cites Archibald MacLeish’s 1958 play about a modern-day Job entitled J.B.

The “ready when you are, Mr. DeMille” anecdote (about clueless preparation gone wrong) rings a bell in my ear, because I’ve seen/heard it as “ready when your are, C.B.,” the film director’s first initials (Cecille B.), which perhaps was what he was known by in the the industry. And (speculating wildly here) his dictatorial reputation and name, like Caesar’s becoming “tsar,” stood for “absolute boss” as an inside joke in Hollywood, and was changed in screenplays ever so slightly for deniability.

An homage to James Buchanan Brady, perhaps?


Here’s what looks like a cite from 1912

From my perspective going back to the 60s and 70s, “J.R.” was the generic initials for a rich guy in fiction. Then came “Dallas” and that took on a particular application. Don’t seem to have anything like it since.

I suspect that “J.B.” was a safe way of mocking J.P. Morgan without the risk of getting sued. With a less likely connection to John D. Rockefeller (who didn’t seem to be known as “J.D.”.)

When/why “J.B.” might have been replaced by “J.R.” I can’t even guess.

JB … representing “Job” (the biblical name).

But there are lots and lots of movies… so is it true that J B is used somehow interestingly frequently ? or you just remember these uses ?

I have never heard of “JB” ubiquitously used in reference to the boss. Only when the bosses initials were JB.

JP Finch, JP Bigley, etc., all from Jay Pierpont Morgan, financier.

As I say, John Gordon in his blog jogged my memory, in his gloss at FW, 497:36

…and there was J. B. Dunlop, the best tyrent of ourish times…

and I too have it at the tip of my ear, but can’t name it, from old black and white moviedom. (Which reminds me, Joyce has ALP, the woman-center of his book, queenly promise to be our hero’s “aural eyeness.”)

(John Dunlop was the rubber and tire (tyrent) man, so his name figures when condoms and sterility are around; Daniel Dunlop was president of the Dublin Theosophical Society, which has ideas sort-of-congruent to Viconian cycles of history, which are never not around.)

I haven’t bugged him with my Hollywood boss idea, nor the other on Diamond Jim; I particularly like the Pearson’s find: it is literary, involves ghosts, a double, a murder in a park, and the guy is identified first off with his hat and stick–all delicious tidbits for Wake-heads.

Sorry, just saw this.

You think my/our memory is a mishearing of this in many cases?

Can you cite the Finch and Bigley references?

A previous discussion that doesn’t really produce any useful answers.

But it does stress that nobody can find a number of examples of anyone using J.B. as a synonym for boss, except in a few specific cases where J.B. is the actual initials of the boss. The use of initials to refer to a particular boss is common, especially in humor, to be sure. No evidence appeared for J.B. as a special case.

L.B., you need to read that other thread.

Thanks to Spolier–and to SD, which leaves nothing unexamined ever–and to Harpo, for the respect on my name.

Wait a minute. Stop the presses. Pause to make fun of hyper-glossing associative flights of fancy by over-avid Joyceans.

The name of the tire guy, born in Scotland but lived in Ireland, was* John fucking-Boyd Dunlop.*

End of story. What is the matter with me? Wake-heads can get seriously bent out of shape.

What did Talleyrand mean by dying? If only we had half the wit of Maeternich.

Aside from Bloomsday cerebrations (or Broomsday celebrations), we have this Nesbitt’s Orange commercial featuring a boss named J.B.

So, no, it probably isn’t a real phenomenon, aside from the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon surrounding it, but it does pop up every so often.

Both are characters in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.


Me, either.