Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reading Benchley Aloud

In response to this inquire:
I am writing to inquire if you are aware of any "speeches" or "public addresses" that Robert Benchley may have made. I am specifically looking for something in the range of six to ten minutes for a Forensics speech competition. My eleven year old son is competing, and he feels most comfortable and does his best when delivering something humorous. Mr. Benchley's writings are some of the funniest pieces I have ever read. Do you know if he happened to "deliver" any of them to an audience? I suppose a transript of a radio address could qualify as a "public address".

the Robert Benchley Society wrote:
Thank you for contacting the Robert Benchley Society. Yes, indeed, there are several Benchley "pieces" that might serve for your boy.

Mr. Benchley's humor career started when he delivered his "Treasurer's Report" on the New York stage. The text can be found in two collections of Benchley's work published in book form:

--The Treasurer's Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing (beginning on page 334) and

--Benchley Beside Himself (beginning on page 193).

Both are available in libraries. "Benchley Beside Himself" is also available for purchase through Amazon; you'll find a link to it on our website at http://www.robertbenchley.org/shop/index.htm.

He reprised The Treasurer's Report as a movie. In fact it was the first "all-talking" picture ("The Jazz Singer" is usually considered the first "talkie" but it actually had talking --and singing-- in just a few parts, with most of the picture being silent). A film library may have a copy of the movie. It has also been transferred to DVD and is available for purchase. To obtain a copy see our website http://www.robertbenchley.org/sob/shorts.htm. "The Treasurer's Report" is tremendously funny when delivered by someone who can keep an absolutely straight face while making a fool of himself.

Benchley went on to have a successful Hollywood career. He is particularly known for his "short subjects." His 1935 short "How to Sleep" won him the Academy Award. Most of his shorts were on the "How to" theme. That's a theme he returned to in his writings as well. You'll find, our website a list of his essays along with a feature that allows you to look up an essay by keyword. It's at http://www.robertbenchley.org/sob/index.htm For example, any of the "How To" essays would be good for a public address, and Benchley did, indeed, deliver many of them in his movies.

One of Benchley's books "Love Conquers All" is no longer under U.S. copyright and we have posted it to our website at http://www.robertbenchley.org/lca/index.htm Perhaps you can find something there.

Benchley did quite a lot of radio work, but I'm not sure how best to direct you to recordings or transcriptions.

Even the Benchley essays that we not originally written for public delivery work very well as spoken pieces. In fact, I was first exposed to Benchley when, in 9th grade drama class, my friend Steve read aloud "Vacation Time in Sunny Las Los." I've been a Benchley fan ever since.

Please let us know if the lad decides to use a Benchley piece for the competition. It would make many of our members happy and would please Mr. Benchley's family to read in our Society news that Benchley's humor is being enjoyed by a new generation. Best luck for success in the competition.

We followed up with this note:
Here's another suggestion for a Benchley piece for your son's competition.

According to Benchley scholar Gordon Ernst (Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography, Greenwood Press, 1995) "The Woolen Mitten Situation" was originally published by the Association of National Advertisers Through the Courtesy of the Champion Coated Paper Company (1926) as a speech given by Benchley to the Association in Atlantic City, N.J. on November 9, 1926.

It was subsequently published in two books of essays during Benchley's life:

--20,000 Leagues under the Sea, or David Copperfield (1928) beginning on page 212 and

--Inside Benchley (1942) beginning on page 298.

No comments:

Robert Benchley Society

For more information about the Robert Benchley Society, local chapters near you, our annual Award for Humor, and our Annual Gathering, visit The RBS Website