Robert Benchley: A Biography,
By Nathaniel Benchley, McGraw-Hill, 1955
Advice for Getting Rid of Hiccups
"Roll down a long, inclined lawn, snatching a mouthful of grass up each time the face is downward."
"The only real cure for a hangover is death."
I've schlepped around the same 20 boxes of books I've half read since 1989 and have been steadfast in my refusal to part with any of them. I finally steeled myself to sort through and divest myself of any book that doesn't fit on current bookshelves, because once again, I bought a copy of something I already owned but didn't realize it and enough's enough.
In every case but one, it was an easy call to get rid of one or even both* duplicates. The exception was Robert Benchley's My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew, because I forgot I had it in hardcover when I bought the paperback and I'm not giving up the ability to carry it with me everywhere now that I know I can.
People who like humorists remember Benchley as either Dorothy Parker's friend and co-regular at the Algonquin Round Table, or as one of the early essayists and critics for the fledgling magazine, The New Yorker. Classic movie buffs remember him an occasional actor (Foreign Correspondent, 1940; Three Girls About Town, 1941), and writer/actor in about 50 Depression-Era short subject comedies (Your Technocracy and Mine, 1933; How to Sleep, 1935).
Robert Benchley was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1889, the grandchild of Henry Wetherby Benchley, one of the founders of the Republican Party and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in the mid 1850s. Robert's beloved elder brother, Edmund, was killed in the Spanish-American War, leaving behind a wealthy fiancee, who payed for Robert's education at the posh Phillips-Exeter Academy and Harvard University. Benchley became a popular editor and contributor to the Harvard Lampoon and performed in productions of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, both of which associations forged lasting connections throughout his career.
After a short and unsuccessful stint as a reporter, Benchley found his footing as a writer and theater critic at Vanity Fair, where he met and befriended Dorothy Parker and Robert E. Sherwood, the three of them taking long lunches at the Algonquin Hotel while management was away. When management returned, however, Parker was fired and Benchley quit in solidarity.
Thus began a period of freelance reviewing for Life magazine, screenwriting for Jesse Lasky silents, and writing and performing in short sketch films for Universal, MGM, and Paramount (The Treasurer's Report, being the most famous). By the late 1920s, after contributing for The New Yorker for a number of years, he joined the publication as its theater critic. He continued to write and perform in radio and films until his death on November 21, 1945 from a cerebral hemorrhage (and cirrhosis of the liver). He was only 56 years old.
Robert Benchley's son, Nathaniel (with Gertrude Darling, his wife of 31 years), also became a writer (The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming), as did Nathaniel's son, Peter, who wrote the Jaws franchise.
So while we're on the subject:
How to Eat (1939)
* No one needs both copies of Rats, Lice, and History. Besides, my girlfriend already has it on her spinner rack, which is one of the reasons I find her to be so charming. That, and the fact that she has a spinner rack.