Sunday, December 30, 2012

Boston RBS Life Drawing Event Set for January 18th

The Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society has planned a January event: "Barefoot up to Her Chin," the name of our next life drawing session, is taken from the title of H. Allen Smith's interview with Sally Rand. Smith, a newspaperman and humorist of the mid-20th century, was a friend and great admirer of Robert Benchley.
We'll have food delivered at six and start drawing at seven. As in the past, we'll supply the food, drinks, and art supplies. Cost will be $25 for Robert Benchley Society members and $30 for non-members. Skilled artists are welcome, but the event is directed toward beginners. Write-ups of past life drawing events are available at www.trumbullofboston.blogspot.com. For more information, mail David at david@robertbenchley.org.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just in Time for the New Year...

...the Robert Benchley Society announces that our Commemorative Tenth Anniversary Edition of Love Conquers All is available for purchase on Create Space and at Amazon. (If you buy using the Amazon link, be sure to buy from Amazon to get this commemorative edition. Other resellers on Amazon offer Love Conquers All in other editions lacking our valuable additional materials.)
Originally published in 1922 by Henry Holt and Company, this volume contains 63 Benchley essays, previously published in Life, The New York World, The New York Tribune, The Detroit Athletic Club News, and The Consolidated Press Association. The illustrations by Gluyas Williams are also from the 1922 edition.
The RBS 10th Anniversary Edition features a new forward written for the Society by humorist Bob Newhart, an introduction by Society chairman, David Trumbull, and a thoughtful essay on Benchley's humor style and influence by Ed Tasca.
That's not all. This volume has the essays by the first place winners of the Society's annual humor-writing competitions:
W. Bruce Cameron, Horace Digby, Tim French, Madeleine Begun Kane, Daniel Montville, and Mike Tuck.
Humorists Dave Barry, Arte Johnson, and Mark Russell also contributed material in this edition, which is "must have" item for any fan of witty humor in the Benchley mode.

Published by award-winning Glendower Media.



Friday, December 21, 2012

Robert Benchey Society's Boston Christmas Party

The "We've Come for the Davenport" Boston Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society met for Christmas cocktails at the Harvard Club of Boston on Thursday, December 20, 2012. This was the inaugural of the Chapter's new arrangement to have a Benchley Roundup at the Harvard Club of Boston every third Thursday of the month. For more information contact David Trumbull at david@robertbenchley.org.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Boston Chapter Christmas Party December 20th

Join the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society for cocktails and holiday festivities, Thursday, December 20, 2012.

We'll meet at the Downtown Harvard Club's Crimson Pub. The clubhouse is located on the 38th floor of One Federal Street, in Boston's Financial District. We’ll have fantastic drinks and complimentary hot & cold hors d’oeuvres from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Parking in the One Federal Street Garage is just $7 for the entire evening. There’s no charge for admission. Dress code is business casual.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy the Home Where Humor is Read

The following column appeared in the October 19, 2012, issue of the Post-Gazette, the Italian-American Voice of Massachusetts.

I write from West Hollywood, California, where we just gave out the 2012 Robert Benchley Awards for Humor Writing. During our festivities, which featured Arte Johnson from TV's Laugh-In presiding at the award ceremony, we announced the publication of a book of humorous short essays, titled Love Conquers All and consisting of 63 classic Robert C. Benchley essays of 90 years ago, plus the winning entries from our annual humor-writing competitions.

We believe there is a want for witty clean comedy. The Robert Benchley Society is filling that want by turning back to humor written in, or in the style of, the 1920s. The funny thing is, just how contemporary, how of today, that humor is. Benchley is contemporary when he writes about the man who gets intimidated by the clerk at the department store, mirrors that seem to take perverse delight in making one's reflection look bad, and the, um, joys of reading the Sunday "funnies" aloud to the kiddies. Contemporary, yes, because the themes are universal, but so unlike many of today's comics in presentation.

The difference is that today humor has edge: it is "transgressive." While formerly it was thought that art might sometimes outrage conventional sensibilities, now, anything that outrages is "art." Offensiveness being more common than true artistic talent, this new definition has the advantage of greatly increasing the supply of "artists." Judging from some recent comedic offerings, one might conclude that the sole criterion to be a "comedian" is to have a reasonably functional body with its full complement of fluids, excretions, and naughty bits. It also helps to use the words that you can't − or at least used not be able to − say on television.

As Arte said in his remarks to us after dinner, "We've had the escalation of the scatological conversation, smut that gets tossed in for comedy -- that's not funny, it's not funny." Contrast that with Benchley, who wrote two essays entirely about bathrooms without even once using "bathroom humor."

The Robert Benchley Society hopes you enjoy reading this collection of short essays. Copies will go on sale shortly and the profits will be used to give out free copies to libraries, schools, hospitals, and to our men and women serving abroad in our military. If this book leads to more people reading and writing laugh-out-loud, sophisticated humor, then the Society, now at our tenth anniversary, will have justified its existence.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't Miss this Opportunity to Meet Fellow Benchley Fans in L.A. at a Private Dinner with Arte Johnson

The Robert Benchley Society announces its "Very Interesting" Tenth Anniversary International Annual Gathering, to be held Friday through Sunday, October 12th through 14th, in Los Angeles, California. The highlight of the event will be the Annual Awards Dinner with guest presenter, Arte Johnson. For more details or to register, go to www.robertbenchley.org/AG2012/registration.htm.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Register Now for Oct. 12-14 Benchley International Annual Gathering in L.A.

The Robert Benchley Society announces its "Very Interesting" Tenth Anniversary International Annual Gathering, to be held Friday through Sunday, October 12th through 14th, in Los Angeles, California. The highlight of the event will be the Annual Awards Dinner with guest presenter, Arte Johnson. For more details or to register, go to www.robertbenchley.org/AG2012/registration.htm.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New York Walking Tour Sept. 17

The monument was dear to Benchley.
If you are a fan of Robert Benchley, you know that he was obsessed with the Amiable Child Monument that is across the street from Grant's Tomb. He visited it on his birthday. For several years, I have done the same thing on Sept. 15. This year I am organizing a walking tour around the event that Benchley took part in during the 1930s and 1940s. The information:


Robert Benchley Birthday-1920s NYC Walking Tour
Monday, Sept. 17, 4:30 p.m. 
Meet at Grant’s Tomb, West 122nd Street & Riverside Drive, NY, NY, 10027

New York City’s “Fascinating Crimes” chapter of the Robert Benchley Society is sponsoring the walking tour. It meets in front of the General Grant National Memorial, better known as Grant’s Tomb, at 4:30 p.m.

The walking tour will include sites related to Benchley, starting with the Amiable Child Monument. The walking tour will include Riverside Park and the Upper West Side homes and haunts of 1920s figures, including Polly Adler, Babe Ruth, Dorothy Parker, William Randolph Hearst, George and Ira Gershwin, Heywood Broun, Edna Ferber, and many others.

We will see landmarks, historic sites, and noted architectural sites. The walk is led by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, a licensed New York City sightseeing guide, author of “A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York,” president of the local Robert Benchley Chapter, and founder of the Dorothy Parker Society.

The walk will encompass approximately 25 blocks. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a MetroCard because we will be boarding an MTA bus to skip over some blocks. The tour will end up approximately 6:15 in a cocktail lounge.

The walk is $10, or free for all Robert Benchley Society members. It is open to the public of all ages; dogs are welcome (but can’t go in the Memorial). For more information: email Kevin Fitzpatrick (Kevin @ dorothyparker DOT com), call 917.526.0597 or sign up on Facebook.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

It's Okay to Stare

The Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society will have a Round-up on Saturday, September 15, 2012, the anniversary of Mr. Benchley's birth. We have hired artists' models for an afternoon/evening of life drawing. For $25 ($30 for non-members), which covers the cost of the models and artists' supplies, beer, wine, tonic, and food, you can join us for sketching, food, drinks, and conversation. Maybe someone will read Mr. Benchley's essay "Artist’s Model Succumbs" to put us in the mood.

WHEN: Afternoon of Saturday, September 15, 2012.

WHERE: Beacon Hill, Boston, Mass.

HOW MUCH: $25 for Robert Benchley Society Members; $30 for non-members

NOT AN ARTIST? Don't worry. The idea is to expose ourselves to something new -- sketching -- in a fun atmosphere with friends. No one will judge your work.

Our models for this session are curvaceous Thea and muscular (welterweigh mixed martial arts fighter) Mike "The Stuntman."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Benchley in Worcester

Theatre - Performance
Thursday, August 23, 2012, 6:30 PM-8:30 PM
Worcester (Mass) History Museum's Fletcher Auditorium
Have a glass of wine -- or two -- and enjoy the wit and whimsy of some of Worcester's greatest writers. "Benchley, Behrman, & Bishop," the final in the a three-part performance series, will be on August 23 and promises laughs with a reading of "The Sex Life of the Polyp," from Robert Benchley's 1928 outrageously hilarious short film, which documents a dim-witted doctor attempting to describe the sex life of a polyp to a women's club. Excerpts from "The End of Summer" by S.N. Behrman will also be performed. Considered to be one of Behrman's best-written plays, "The End of Summer" details the story of a liberal household threatened by a devious psychoanalyst who is able to play upon their weaknesses in his desire for wealth and power. Poetry by Elizabeth Bishop will also be read.

An honor bar and hors d'oeuvres will be available.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

RBS Announces Preliminary Schedule of Events for 2012 Annual Gathering

DATES: Friday through Sunday, October 12 through 14, 2012

LOCATION: Los Angeles, California

WHERE TO STAY: We do not have a block of rooms; however, a half dozen or so of us have already booked at
LeParc Suites
733 N. West Knoll Dr.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310-855-8888
www.leparcsuites.com
reservations@leparcsuites.com

SCHEDULE

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2012

Afternoon private reception at the Venice Beach studio of Helen Garber.
Helen is the world's premier neo-noir photographer and a huge fan of Mr.
Benchley and Mrs. Parker. Those who were at her 2006 reception for the RBS
can attest that this is an event you must not miss.
www.helenkgarber.com

Dinner to be arranged.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2012

9:45 a.m. Private tour of the J. Paul Getty Museum
www.getty.edu/museum
Paul O'Day of the Washington "Lost Locomotive" Chapter has arranged this
private event. Paul is friends with Rocco C. Siciliano, a leading patron of the arts and civic affairs in California, whose activities include being a board member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (having served as President and then Chairman), Director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and Trustee Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Luncheon TBA

Evening. Annual Awards Dinner
Jonathan Beach Club
Santa Monica, CA 90403
This year's presenter will be Arte Johnson, star of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
Rocco C. Siciliano (our Getty Museum connection) will be attending and has a fascinating biography
(http://crdl.usg.edu/people/s/siciliano_rocco_c/?Welcome)
Also attending will be "Mad Men" costar Meghan Bradley
Dress for the Annual Awards Dinner is black-tie with option of 1920s-1940s period.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2012

Brunch
Canter's Fairfax Delicatessen and Restaurant
Los Angeles, California 90036
www.cantersdeli.com

Then off to the corner of Hollywood & Vine for a guided tour. See Robert Benchley's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the stars of Benchley contemporaries, associates, and followers nearby. The Hollywood Walk of Fame consists of more than 2,400 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California. The stars are permanent public monuments to achievement in the entertainment industry, bearing the names of a mix of actors, musicians, directors, producers, musical and theatrical groups, fictional characters, and others. The Walk of Fame is administered by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and maintained by the self-financing Hollywood Historic Trust.

Monday, August 13, 2012

All Comedy Radio Comes to Boston, Other American Cities.


According to a post on Radio Insight, Clear Channel Communications will be launching about a score of all-comedy radio stations over the coming weeks. Here in Boston, the formerly all-talk AM 1200 has already switched to Matty's Comedy 1200. The website has a search engine where you can enter the name of the comedian to get more information. A search of Benchley yielded Nat's recordings of his grandfather's stories. However, I could not find a play list with times to expect particular artists.

Benchley in Worcester

Theatre - Performance
Thursday, August 23, 2012, 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

Worcester (Mass) History Museum's Fletcher Auditorium

Have a glass of wine -- or two -- and enjoy the wit and whimsy of some of Worcester's greatest writers. "Benchley, Behrman, & Bishop," the final in the a three-part performance series, will be on August 23 and promises laughs with a reading of "The Sex Life of the Polyp," from Robert Benchley's 1928 outrageously hilarious short film, which documents a dim-witted doctor attempting to describe the sex life of a polyp to a women's club. Excerpts from "The End of Summer" by S.N. Behrman will also be performed. Considered to be one of Behrman's best-written plays, "The End of Summer" details the story of a liberal household threatened by a devious psychoanalyst who is able to play upon their weaknesses in his desire for wealth and power. Poetry by Elizabeth Bishop will also be read.

An honor bar and hors d'oeuvres will be available.

Washington/Baltimore RBS Chapter Plans Evening of Comedy to Celebrate Anniversary of the Birth of Robert Benchley

The Baltimore/Washington "Lost Locomotive" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society is pleased to announce its first event of the season: "Wojo and Mickey: Heaven Help Us!” -- a night of comedy, improv and “fun” raising, will be held Saturday, September 15, at The Catholic High School of Baltimore, 2800 Edison Highway in Baltimore.

Starring national award-winning writer and humorist (and RBS member) Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski and Mickey Cucchiella from 98 Rock, the evening is a fundraiser for Catholic High and the official launch of Wojo’s first book, Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box, a hilarious look at searching for a dream home, finding it, and enduring the move.

Doors open at 7 p.m. with light refreshments and cash bar, and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20 per person and may be purchased by calling 410-732-6200 x248 or visiting www.thecatholichighschool.org

All proceeds from ticket sales will match a 1:1 challenge grant from the France-Merrick Foundation to support Catholic High's Science Department, including a renovation of the chemistry lab and the creation of a first-ever science prep room for teachers. The room will be named in memory of M. Beverly Brooks Hanan '60, Wojo’s mother, and Sandra Forte '67, Mickey’s mother.

For more information, contact Matt Hahn at mathahn@yahoo.com.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Who Was It Who Said...?

The line "Death ends a life, not a relationship" is quoted on several websites with attribution to Robert Benchley, but none, at least not any of the sites that I visited, offer any verification (such as when and where was it uttered or printed). In fact, the various websites all seem to be simply swiping it from each other with no attempt to verify.

It appears (verified) in Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) but not attributed to Benchley.

Matthew Hahn, president of the Washington "Lost Locomotive" Chapter of the RBS, reports that the line appeared in Irish playwright Hugh Leonard's 1978 play Da.

It appears (verified) more expansively in Robert Woodruff Anderson's 1966 play (and 1970 movie) I Never Sang for My Father:
"Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind torwards some resolution which it never finds."
This occurrence also is without attribution to Benchley.

Does anyone care to research this any further, or shall we say it is a Robert Anderson quotation with no Benchley association?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Robert Benchley Society Announces 2012 Humor Competition Winners

BOSTON, July 24, 2012 -- The Robert Benchley Society announces that comedian Arte Johnson has named, as First Place winner in the 2012 Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Competition, Tim French of Midway, Alabama, for his essay Who Says You Can't Dance? In honoring Mr. French, who is the only two-time First Place winner in the history of the competition, Mr. Johnson said:
"As a youngster I used to look forward to seeing the Benchley shorts. Somehow I always felt he looked like an avocado with clothing. Watching him act was a great joy and your essay forces him to do just that. I could just picture him demonstrating all of the dance styles, badly."
Mr. French won last year's competition as well, when humorist Mark Russell chose his essay The Old Man and the Leaf Blower.

Mr. Johnson awarded Second Place to Cathy Lennon of Park City, Utah, for How to Yawn, saying:
"You have found a subject that would be right down 'the Benchley Alley.' Taking the common and giving it an aura of importance was one of the great keys of Benchley humor. 'How to Yawn' as a subject matter with possible demonstrations would be well worth watching in the Benchley mode."

Coming in third was Jesse Levy of Burbank, Calif., for My Scotch Adventure. Johnson noted:
"Benchley would definitely attempt a Scotch accent and would fail dismally, but it would certainly be worth hearing. He certainly would try to make all of these brands exciting for the tasting if not for the hearing. Hopefully, he would wear the proper tartan for each and possibly model each for the camera."
This was Mr. Levy's second time in the top four. In 2008 his essay How to Watch a Sad Movie and Retain Your Manliness was ranked third by humorist Bob Newhart.

Carol Cherman of Los Angeles, Calif., takes the Fourth Place title for Cane Mutiny. Mr. Johnson said:
"The serious side of everyday life was something that Benchley understood, and what could be more serious than fly swatting? Your essay gives meaning to what is a technical side of insect removal. It certainly would be a Benchley subject, along with nose blowing."

Every year since 2005, the Robert Benchley Society has put on this humor-writing competition, which is open to all writers of English language humor. All judging is done blind, with the preliminary judges and final celebrity judge not knowing the names of the entrants. This means that amateurs and professional humorists compete equally. Watch our blog for an announcement of next year's competition.

Arte Johnson will give out the awards at this year's Annual Awards Dinner to be held in Los Angeles at the Ninth International Annual Gathering of the Robert Benchley Society. "As a youngster," said Johnson, "I could hardly wait for Benchley movie shorts when I went to the movies. After all, for 12 cents, who could be satisfied with just Flash Gordon, the news, and a double feature?"

We are currently working out the details of the October 12-14 Annual Gathering, but we can already promise that it'll be as packed with fun and features as a good old-fashioned Saturday at the talkies.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dorothy Parker News

Schedule for Parkerfest

Parkerfest will have a more venues than in past years, as we kick off the events on the anniversary of Mrs. Parker's birth, August 22.

Parkerfest 2012 Schedule of Events

Wednesday, 8/22 7:00 PM: Dorothy Parker Birthday Party, The Shanty/NY Distilling Co. 79 Richardson St, Brooklyn

Thursday, 8/23 7:00 PM: That Dorothy Parker, Performed by Carol Lempert, The Arclight Theatre, 152 West 71st Street ($22)

Saturday, 8/25 12:00 PM: Dorothy Parker's Upper West Side Walking Tour, Riverside Drive & West 72nd Street ($20)

Saturday, 8/25 8:00 PM: Wit's End Summer Scandals Party featuring the Moonlighters, Flute, Midtown, 205 West 54th Street ($12)

All of the information is found online here.


West Coast Connection

The Los Angeles Chapter of the Dorothy Parker Society is holding two great events in July for all fans of Mrs. Parker and her friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. On July 22 is a free walking tour of Parker and Fitzgerald's local haunts; on July 23 at Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Boulevard, is "That Side of Paradise: Dorothy Parker & F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Garden of Allah," a dinner and talk with writers Adrienne Crew and David Kippen. Advance tickets are required for the dinner. Event info and tickets here.

"Mad Men" Actress to Attend Benchley Award Ceremony

Television actress Meghan Bradley, who has a recurring role on AMC's critically acclaimed popular cable television drama Mad Men, will be attending the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Awards Dinner on Saturday, October 13, 2012, in Los Angeles. Ms. Bradley plays Julia, a friend of Megan Draper, wife of Don Draper, and has also appeared with Hugh Laurie in the series House.
"Many of our Society members are also fans of Mad Men", said Society chairman, David Trumbull, speaking of the show, which is set in the tumultuous 1960s. "Growing up in the 1960s, I remember the serious issues of the times presented, with a humorous twist, every Monday evening, on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," continued Trumbull, who added, "I know we are all looking forward to this year's event, as the Robert Benchley Society Humor Awards presenter will be Laugh-In star Arte Johnson."

The Robert Benchley Society was founded in 2003 to promote interest in the work of Robert C. Benchley, American humorist (1889-1945). The Society has chapters in seven American cities and at-large members throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. The Los Angeles "Uncle Edith" Chapter takes its name from a recurring character in Mr. Benchley's essays and is headed up by humor writer Barb Best. Robert Benchley was a writer, a founder of the Algonquin Round Table of wits, and a radio, motion picture, and television actor. His 1935 picture How to Sleep won an Academy Award.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Benchley in Worcester

On Thursday, June 28th, Robert C. Benchley returned to his native Worcester, Massachsetts, for an evening at the Worcester Historical Museum. The program by American Classic Theater featured readings and dramatic presentations of works by Worcester natives Robert C. Benchley, S.N. Behrman, and Elizabeth Bishop. The highlights of the evening were dramatic recitations of "The Treasurer's Report" and "Swing Music" by guest artist Nat Benchley, grandson of Robert Benchley.

Other performers under the direction of James B. Nicola were Barbara Guertin, Rob Lynds, Anna Marie Shea, and Derek Sylvester. The program included an excerpt from S.N. Behrman's Biography and several shorter pieces by Behrman, Bishop, and such authors as Charles Olson, Frank O'Hara, and Stanley Kunitz. Robert Benchley's friend and Round Tabler Dorothy Parker was represented by readings of "Two-Volume Novel," "One Perfect Rose," and "Resume." Readings of Mr. Benchley's "Rules and Suggestions for Watching Auction Bridge," "How to Watch a Chess Match," and "Watching Baseball" kept the audience laughing.

Other dates in the series are Thursday, July 26th and Thursday, August 23rd. Robert Benchley's grandson, Nat Benchley, creator of the one-man show "Benchley Despite Himself," will be participating on all three dates.

Attending from the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society were Andrea Cormier, Christopher Morgan, and David and Mary Trumbull.

American Classic Theater is a non-profit theatre troupe dedicated to the presentation, promotion, and celebration of American plays, playwrights and the American experience.

The Worcester Historical Museum, founded in 1875, is the only organization solely dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of Worcester's unique history from all time periods and subject areas.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

18th International Sons of the Desert Convention ~ July 19th - 22nd, 2012 ~ Manchester, New Hampshire


The Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society is happy to learn that The Sons of the Desert, the International Laurel and Hardy Society, is holding its International Convention in New England at nearby Manchester, New Hampshire. More information and registration form are available online at http://2012.looserthanloose.com/index.html

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Benchley in Worcester

Bob Benchley returns to his native city of Worcester, Massachusetts, in a three-evening series that begins Thursday, June 28, 2012 from 6:30 p.m. through 8:30 p.m. Other dates in the series are Thursday, July 26th and Thursday, August 23rd. Robert Benchley's grandson, Nat Benchley, creator of the one-man show "Benchley Despite Himself," will be participating on all three dates.

Worcester Historical Museum is pleased to announce a partnership with American Classic Theatre for a three-part summer series: Benchley, Behrman and Bishop: Wit, Wisdom and Whimsy from the Great Writers of Worcester.

Each evening will have a unique focus, with material coming from the drawing-room comedies of S.N. Behrman, the humor of Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley, the exquisite poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and their contemporaries. These three remarkably talented people called Worcester their hometown before moving on to the literary circles of New York City. American Classic Theatre's Artistic Director James B. Nicola will direct. Each performance will feature an honor bar and hor d'ourves.

The June reading will incorporate scenes from Biography. Written by S.N. Behrman and first performed in 1932, Biography is a brilliant take on media overexposure when a single woman, semi-famous for painting celebrities’ portraits, is asked to write her memoirs. The play went on to become a feature film in 1934 staring Ann Harding and Robert Montgomery. Other notable works that will be featured are "How to Watch A Chess Match" by Robert Benchley and "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop. The evening will also feature pieces by Dorothy Parker, Charles Olson, Frank O'Hara, and Worcester's poet laureate, Stanley Kunitz, along with a special guest.

Cost: $20.00 per person. Info info@worcesterhistory.net or 508-753-8278.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Save the Dates! Humorist Arte Johnson is Our Confirmed Guest for the October 12-14 Robert Benchley Society Annual Gathering

Come join us in Los Angeles, California, for another fun-filled Robert Benchley Society ("RBS") Annual Gathering and Humor Awards Dinner, honoring the 2012 winners, to be announced soon. This year, festivities will take place over the weekend of October 12-14th. Additional details will be posted on the http://www.robertbenchley.org/ website.

Television comedian Arte Johnson has confirmed his attendance at this year's Annual Gathering, which bears the theme: "Very Interesting...But Stupid!" The Society last met in Los Angeles in 2006, when our first place winner was W. Bruce Cameron. Details of this, the Ninth Annual Gathering, are in the works, but already we have identified several fun, and out of the ordinary, events for our attendees. Watch for details!

Just to give you an idea of what you can expect, last year’s theme was “A Capitol Idea.”
“Born on the Isle of Wight, September 15,1807, shipped as cabin boy on the Florence J. Marble in 1815, wrote Tale of Two Cities in 1820, married Princess Anastasie of Portugal in 1831 (children: Prince Rupprecht and several little girls) and was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1871.” ~ Mr. Robert Benchley, an autobiographical sketch in his famous “dementia praecox” style.
"As we reflected on the above biography at the RBS 2011 Annual Gathering and Humor Awards Dinner," said Society director Rose Valenta, "the dementia praecox process was greatly enhanced by several martini toasts that kicked-off this fantastic Eighth Annual Gathering."

The 2011 event was held in Washington, D.C. The highlight of the festivities was Saturday night at the University Club, where political humorist Mark Russell presented the 2011 Robert Benchley Award for Humor to Tim French of Midway, Alabama, for his Benchleyesque offering, “The Old Man and the Leaf Blower.” Mark greeted all of our attendees personally over cocktails before dinner and after dinner dazzled us with a private performance of his famed humor routine.

Russell, who is famous for his political satire, became even more popular in 1990, shortly after the execution of Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, when he did a parody song on his PBS show to the tune of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” It went like this: "Pardon me, boys, are you the cats who shot Ceauşescu? You made my day, the way you blew him away."

He entertained us all night at the Club with quips like “Congress wanted to commemorate the holiday Cinco de Mayo, but they couldn’t agree on a date” and “The trick now is figuring out how many guys from Penn State will end up in the State Penn.”

He is truly a remarkable comedian, and most of us felt that he prepared and executed his comical material for us, as if he was headlining in front of a global audience.

After Mark's performance, Matthew Hahn treated us to a private screening of his short film, "The Ten Thousand-Dollar Martini," a comedic "send up" of the Algonquin Hotel's "Martini on the Rock," which contains an actual engagement diamond.

In addition to the Awards Dinner, 2011 attendees enjoyed several events chosen for their appeal to fans of witty humor. On Friday night we dined at the round table in the "Pope" room at Buca di Beppo, where everyone enjoyed a five-course dinner and delightful entertainment. The highlight of the evening was an unofficial still photo caption writing competition wherein participants were asked to write captions to still photos from the Mexican "soap opera" called "La Fea Mas Bella." Contest winners were Jean Keleher and Matthew Hahn, both of the Washington, D.C. "Lost Locomotive" Chapter, Tim French of Midway, Alabama, and Christine McCarthy of the Boston, Mass. "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter.

On Saturday morning, our group gathered for a trip to the Library of Congress “Hope for America” exhibit that allowed us to examine artifacts and get a glimpse of the cultural evolution of American politics and entertainment. Details of the exhibit can be found at http://myloc.gov/exhibitions/hopeforamerica/Pages/default.aspx.

We lunched at Sam’s Deli and News Stand on 15th Street NW. The food was delicious and the ambiance of the restaurant resembled a busy news room, quite fitting for the prolific Benchley fans in attendance from RBS Chapters in Boston, Mass., Philadelphia, Penn., Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington, D.C. The guest list also included members Bob and Mary Haught from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists ("NSNC") and Barb Best, from the Los Angeles "Uncle Edith" Chapter and winner of the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Award for Global Humor.

Rose said, "Mary Trumbull and I left our group to take a quick tour of the new Martin Luther King Memorial before returning to the Club. We were so impressed by the memorial that we stayed and took photos to post for everyone's enjoyment. The official photographer for the entire weekend was Chris Morgan of Boston and he did a phenomenal job."

Rose continued:

"I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at this event and loved reading the Benchleyesque offerings for the 2012 humor writing competition. I am champing at the bit to attend the next Annual Gathering, October 12th through 14th, in Los Angeles."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our Top Ten Funny Writers for 2012

The Robert Benchley Society is pleased to announce the ten semi-finialists in the competition for the 2012 Robert Benchley Humor Writing Award. The top ten entries, in alphabetic order by author, are:
These essays are in the hands of this year's celebrity judge, comedian Arte Johnson, perhaps best known for playing Wolfgang the German soldier on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Mr. Johnson will select the top four essays in order and send the writer of each essay a personal note stating what he liked about the essay. The Annnual Award Ceremony and Dinner will be held this fall in Los Angeles at a date to be determined based on the availability of our winners and Mr. Johnon.

The judges in the first round, which resulted in the top ten semi-finalists were:
  • 2005 Benchley Society First Place Award Winner, President of the Longwood, Washington "We Only Came to See if There Really is an Award" Chapter of the RBS, and West Coast Vice Chairman of the RBS, Horace Digby;
  • Author of Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography, and RBS Director, the late Gordon E. Ernst;
  • President of the Washington, D.C. "Lost Locomotive" Chapter of the RBS, Matthew Hahn;
  • Writer and RBS Director, Eileen Forster Keck;
  • RBS Co-Founder and Director, Sharon Lyon;
  • RBS East Coast Vice Chairman, Christopher Morgan;
  • 2007 Benchley Society First Place Award Winner, author of Disabled Fables, and RBS Director, Dan Montville;
  • Chairman of the Ann Arbor "A Moderate State of Preservation Chapter" of the RBS, editor of The Athletic Benchley, and RBS Director, Tom Saunders;
  • Co-Founder and Director of the RBS and past Vice Chairman, Pamela Siska; and
  • 2009 Benchley Society First Place Award Winner and RBS Director, Ed Tasca.

Gordon Ernst, 1959-2012

Gordon Emery “Chip” Ernst, Jr., 52, of Morgantown passed away on May 13, 2012 at his home. Gordon was born on December 31, 1959 in California to the late Gordon E. Ernst, Sr. and Muriel R Ernst.

Gordon was a very intelligent member of society. Scholastically he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and went on to receive his Masters degree at Kent State University in Ohio. Following his education, he found his career at West Virginia University as an Associate university librarian. Gordon’s passion of expanding his mind and learning new things made this career a great fit. Gordon took great pride in being the Director of the Robert Benchley Society. A tribute was made in Mr. Ernst’s honor and can be viewed by going to http://www.mcculla.com/.

Gordon is survived by his two sisters who loved him dearly, Nancy Kiefer and her husband Raymond of Illinois and Barbara Havemann and her husband Alan of Wisconsin. He is also survived by several nieces and nephews.

In honoring Gordon’s wishes, McCulla Funeral Home his provided cremation services and there will be no public memorial services. Online condolences may be extended to the family at http://www.mcculla.com/

Friday, May 18, 2012

RBS Boston Chapter Remembers Gordon Ernst

The Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society met Thursday, May 17th, at the downtown clubhouse of the Harvard Club of Boston to raise a glass in memory of our friend and pre-eminent Benchley scholar Gordon Ernst.



Above: Chris Morgan and David Trumbull enjoy the view from the 38th floor as they share reminiscences of Gordon.




Above: Gordon Ernst in Boston for the 2010 Robert Benchley Society's Seventh Anniversary International Annual Gathering. Photo credit: Chris Morgan.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering Gordon Ernst

As fans of Robert Benchley and classic movies, we were saddened today to learn the news of the passing of our good friend Gordon Ernst. He was just 52. Gordon’s day job may have been as a research librarian at West Virginia University, but to many others he was a fountain of knowledge about classic films of the 1930s and 1940s.

Gordon had a dry sense of humor and an incredibly warm personality. I first met him in Manhattan several years ago, when the Robert Benchley Society and the Dorothy Parker Society had the first joint gathering at a former speakeasy. Gordon was matching jokes with us, as well as soaking up the atmosphere of being surrounded by friends who had the same passions as he did. Gordon resided in West Virginia, and he lived for making the trips to Boston and New York City for parties with the Benchley friends.

I was impressed by Gordon’s scholarship.  His book Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography (Greenwood, 1995) remains the definitive comprehensive bibliography on the humorist, and is the only detailed book about Benchley’s writing and performing career. Gordon loved sharing his knowledge with others; he took to social media to broadcast little known trivia and inform us of late-night airings of Benchley films.

But it is the in-the-flesh Gordon I’ll miss the most. Sipping cocktails with us in humid Boston, on a walking tour of Manhattan, and chatting about films and directors. My most vivid, and lasting, memory of Gordon was the last time we were together. It was July 2010 and we were on a luxury boat, chartered by David and Mary Trumbull in Boston. The Robert Benchley Society was gathered for a fine meal and delicious drinks as the sun sank over the horizon. We were in perfect company and Gordon wrote later it was the highlight of his year.

For most of this year, he was battling his illness. He still wrote often online about classic films and appearances of his favorite stars on TV. Now that he is gone, it is rather easy to say he’s now having a highball with Robert Benchley and Humphrey Bogart. But I prefer to think of him still with us, having a laugh and smile.

Here’s a clip of one of Gordon’s favorite Benchley movies, How to Start the Day, from 1937. Watch this and think of our friend Gordon. We’ll miss you.


Robert Benchley Society Shocked by Death of Gordon Ernst

I regret to inform you that Gordon Ernst died unexpectedly this past weekend, Mother's Day weekend. Gordon was Authories/Cataloging Librarian at West Virginia University and the notice to the Robert Benchley Society of his death was made in an email from the Head of the Cataloging Department received a few minutes ago.

In addition to his professional duties at the University, Gordon was the world's leading scholar on Robert Benchley. He was the author of Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography and at the time his death was serving as a Director of the Robert Benchley Society. He was a long-time, well-beloved member of the Society and we all shall miss him terribly.

I'll post more information as soon as it becomes available.

-- David Trumbull

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Expose Yourself to Art

On Sunday, May 13, 2012, the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society met for an afternoon of life drawing based on the similar successful Chapter Round-up in November.
Above, Mary DiZazzo-Trumbull sketches our models Shoney and Jim.

David Trumbull made a music compilation CD for the party.


For more photos of Shoney and Jim, click here [WARNING, CONTAINS NUDE IMAGES.]

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rare View of Benchley's Digs at the Royalton

As many Robert Benchley fans know, when in New York Robert lived across the street from the Algonquin Hotel at the Royalton New York Hotel, 44 West 44th Street, where the clutter in Benchley's rented rooms prompted his friend Noel Coward (1899-1973) to remark, "I must say, it looks lived in." Recently, Robert's grandson Nat gave the Robert Benchley Society permission to reproduce, on our website, a photographic copy of a painting of Robert's digs at the Royalton produced by Robert's son Nathaniel. You can see it on our website by clicking here. Please note that the image is copyrighted by the estate of Robert Benchley.
Nat's blog "Benchly on Benchley" may be viewed at www.natbenchley.com.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Expose Yourself to Art

WHAT: Life drawing

WHEN: Afternoon of Sunday, May 13, 2012.

WHERE: Beacon Hill, Boston, Mass.

HOW MUCH: $25 for Robert Benchley Society Members; $30 for non-members

The Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society will have a Round-up on Sunday, May 13, 2012. We have hired artists' models for an afternoon/evening of life drawing. For $25, which covers the cost of the models and artists' supplies, wine and tonic and pizza, you can join us for sketching, food, drinks, and conversation. Maybe someone will read Mr. Benchley's essay "Artist’s Model Succumbs" to put us in the mood.

NOT AN ARTIST? Don't worry. None of us are. The idea is to expose ourselves to something new -- sketching -- in a fun atmosphere with friends. No one will judge your work. For more information or to sign up, email David or Mary at trumbull@trumbullofboston.org.

Our models for this session are:
the lovely Shoney
And handsome Jim

When this event was last offered, in November, 2011, it proved one of our most successful local chapter Round-ups. Read more here -- http://benchley.blogspot.com/2011/11/boston-rbs-chapter-enjoys-artists-and.html

Saturday, April 21, 2012

They're Off!

Join the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society on Saturday, June 2, 2012, for the opening day of live thoroughbred horse racing at Boston's Suffolk Downs. “They’re Off!” is the title of a Benchley essay that appears in Benchley Beside Himself, beginning on page 180, The Treasurer's Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing, beginning on page 277, and Benchley Lost and Found, beginning on page 1. In addition, Benchley was a part-owner of a race horse (bonus points if you can name that horse).

Kristen Minsky Entertains Us

Kristen Minsky performs for "A Night of Burlesque" at the West End Museum, Boston, Mass.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Night of Burlesque

Join the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society for a "A NIGHT OF BURLESQUE," Friday, April 20, 8 p.m. to midnight, at the West End Museum.

April 20th the doors of the Howard open again with a night of burlesque featuring the lovely Kristen Minsky along with the John Licata Sextet. The evening will feature vintage costumes, live music, handcrafted cocktails, and appetizers. Find out why the West End is back again!

The John Licata Sextet
John Licata (Trombone)
Bob McCloskey (Tenor Sax)
Hiroaki Tokushige (Trumpet)
Chas McCann (Bass)
Barry Lit (Drums)
Garrison Fewell (Guitar)

Cost: $75

For more information or to purchase tickets, click here

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And he shall come to judge...


The Robert Benchley Society is happy to announce that we have 41 entries in this year's humor writing competition. To view the entries, click here. The preliminary judges have begun their task of selecting the top ten semifinalists to send to this year's celebrity judge, Arte Johnson, for his final ranking of the top four entries.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Target practice! Target practice!"

Find out if you are a better marksman than Robert Benchley in this 1936 M-G-M short subject "How to be a Detective."

Join us at Mass Firearms School, Holliston, Massachusetts for a One-Hour Learn to Shoot Live Fire Session.

If you are interested, contact David Trumbull at david@robertbenchley.org to coordinate the day and time for the outing and we'll get together a group from the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society.

Act quickly (with the next three days) and get a bargain -- $37 for One-Hour Learn to Shoot Live Fire Session ($75 Value). To see the Groupon bargain click here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Lost Locomotive" Chapter meets in DC

On Sunday, March 18, the "Lost Locomotive" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society met at America Eats Tavern in Washington, DC for brunch. The pop-up restaurant near the National Archives was originally in support of the same-named exhibit there (now closed). Historical food and beverages, including Golden Age Cocktails (like the French 57), are served, making it a very appropriate venue for a Society Meeting. Local chapter members Jean Keleher and Cheri and Matthew Hahn were joined by Society President David L. K. Trumbull, and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Robert Benchley-W.C. Fields Connection


Photos of Benchley and Fields, flanking a letter from Fields to Benchley


Brian A. Thomas has done some research on the connection between Robert Benchley and W.C. Fields, which is available for reading on the Robert Benchley Society website at www.robertbenchley.org/sob/benchley-fields.htm.

More information about Mr. Benchley, including his connection to other funnymen of the time and his continuing influence, is available at www.robertbenchley.org.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Important Message for Those Entering the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Competition.

IMPORTANT NOTICE for those entering the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Competition. PLEASE NOTE that I will have limited access to a computer to process your entries or respond to questions between March 16th and March 21st. If you enter during that period and do not hear from me immediately, do not worry: your entry or question will be handled -- it just may have to wait until the 22nd.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Don't Miss Out on Benchley News

Be sure to subscribe to our free email news feed. Just click on the "Subscribe to Robert Benchley Society by Email" link to the right and enter your email address. On days that we post to the blog, you will get a single email of all that day's postings. If there is no news, you get no email. And you never get more than one per day, so it's not like we're going to flood your mailbox. Why not sign up?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

If You Are Not the Lead Dog, the View Never Changes

"If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes" ~ Robert Benchley

This famous quotation by Robert Benchley is the inspiration for the newly formed Philadelphia Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society - "The Lead Dog."

If you live in the Philadelphia area (virtual proximity is accepted) and would like to join, please submit your membership dues (only $10) and inform the president of the Robert Benchley Society that you are a Lead Dog. Meetings are held informally at no special time for cocktails at Dave and Buster's in Philly. Dress is 1920s-40s attire, or not.

JOIN THE ROBERT BENCHLEY SOCIETY. The annual membership fee of US$ 10.00 may be paid through PayPal using the link below. Our membership year runs from April 1 through March 31. If you are joining part-way through the year, please note that you will be charged the full US$ 10.00 as, we do not pro-rate the fee for a partial year. Also note, one US$ fee is good for up to two persons at the same mailing address. If you are joining as a couple just send one payment; later you will have an opportunity to add the second name to the membership. CLICK HERE TO JOIN

Also, The Robert Benchley Society discussion group is on YahooGroups at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Benchley/.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Washington, D.C. Benchley Round-up Set for St. Patrick's Day

Matthew Hahn of the Washington, D.C. "The Lost Locomotive" Chapter of the Robert Benchley Society has announced a Benchley Round-up, at member Paul O'Day's house in Virginia (suburban Washington), beginning at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 17th. Light and heavy finger foods and liquid refreshment (including Guinness for St. Patrick's Day) will be served. They plan to watch shorts not seen at the last meeting, and also discuss future club events. David and Mary Trumbull will be in attendance. Matthew says, "Hope you can make it! Please RSVP to me and I will send you directions and contact info -- mathahn@yahoo.com.
Since they are serving beer, they should consider Ballantine Ale and the Black Velvet cocktail (made with stout). Both have a strong Benchley connection -- see www.robertbenchley.org/rbs/cocktails.htm for drink suggestions for a Robert Benchley party. --dt
The delta chapter of the RBS, with the name "The Lost Locomotive" was founded September 6, 2005, by Bill Hyder. The name is the title of a Benchley essay that appears in My Ten Years in a Quandary (page 1) and Inside Benchley (page 49).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time to Renew Your Robert Benchley Society Membership

JOIN THE ROBERT BENCHLEY SOCIETY. The annual membership fee of US$ 10.00 may be paid through PayPal using the button below. Our membership year runs from April 1 through March 31. If you have not already paid the year ended March 31, 2013, please do so by April 1st (no joke!)

Note: one US$ 10 fee is good for up to two persons at the same mailing address. If you are joining as a couple, just send one payment; later, you will have an opportunity to add the second name to the membership.

NOTE that your PayPal reciept will read "MARY4NAILS."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Robert Benchley at the Crossroads of Comedy

Robert Benchley at the Crossroads of Comedy
By David Trumbull, Chairman of the Robert Benchley Society
Given February 28, 2012 to the Beacon Hill Seminar.

"'What is the news this morning, Mr. MacGregor?' I asked, peering around from behind a hangover."

That's the opening line from the Benchley essay, "MacGregor for Ataman!" The Mr. MacGregor in question was a real person, a bit of an odd duck, and a good friend and personal secretary to Robert Benchley.

Benchley knew many odd ducks; and he had an inexhaustible supply of friends. If we conceive of twentieth-century American humor as a city full of witty, funny people, Benchley would be the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway in that town. Or perhaps he would be the corner of Hollywood and Vine, which, by the way, is where Benchley's star is placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It seems that just about every witty or humorous writer crossed paths -- but never swords -- with Sweet Old Bob (S.O.B. to his friends). Benchley knew everyone. And he was friends with everyone.

Humorist Will Rogers famously said, "I never met a man I didn't like," but when you read his comments on the men of his age, especially politicians he disagreed with, you will find that he had a pretty low opinion of many men, or at least of their intelligence and integrity. Benchley, on the other hand, really does seem to have never met a man he didn't like.

It is true that bias -- such as Benchley believed was displayed by Judge Thayer during the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial -- could work Benchley up to a righteous anger worthy of the Old Testament Jehovah. But Benchley, even when roused to the strongest of emotions over the actions of men, never indulged in personalities.

About Sacco and Vanzetti. Here is one of the Benchley -- also Dorothy Parker -- connections to Boston generally, and Beacon Hill specifically. In August 1927 Benchley and Parker came to Boston to protest the verdict. Benchley met with Governor Alvin T. Fuller, and his correspondence with the governor survives. Benchley -- not the radical that Parker was, and generally more cautious that she -- did not, as did Parker, get arrested protesting in front of the State House. Parker was booked at the police station at 74 Joy Street (now the Beacon Hill Civic Association). Asked whether the police had taken her fingerprints, Parker is reported to have bared her black-and-blue arm and said "No. But they left me a few of theirs."

There has always been much speculation as the exact nature of the friendship between Mr. Benchley and "Our Mrs. Parker." Alexander Woollcott wrote of showing a young man the sights of New York:
"I pointed out celebrities in the manner of a barker on a Chinatown bus. Young Bill seemed especially interested in the seamy lineaments of a fellow Harvard man named Robert Benchley... Seated beside him was a little and extraordinarily pretty woman with dark hair, a gentle, apologetic smile, and great reproachful eyes. 'And that, I suppose,' said the lad from Emporia, 'would be Mrs. Benchley.' 'So I have always understood,' I replied crossly, 'but it is Mrs. Parker.'"
Woollcott, today largely forgotten, was one of the most celebrated drama critics and journalists of the 1920s through 1940s. He was the inspiration for the character of Sheridan Whiteside in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and possibly for Waldo Lydecker in "Laura." The Algonquin Round Table originated as a celebrity roast for Woollcott and he as regular at that luncheons. He is also the namesake of the Alexander Cocktail (roughly equal parts gin, white crème de cocoa, and light cream), of which Benchley wrote:
"Professor Klaus Hansen, of Norway, has announced that he recently drank a 98 per cent solution of 'heavy water' (H O) without experiencing any ill effects. That's what he thinks. That's what the man said who first drank an Alexander cocktail."
But to go back to the beginning.

Benchley was born in 1889 in Worcester, Massachusetts. His New England roots remained with him through his career first in New York and later in Hollywood, and account for a certain puritanical disposition. He didn’t take an alcoholic drink until well into his thirties. It was during prohibition and the drink was an Orange Blossom.
"He tried one sip, then put the glass down and looked around the room, ‘This place ought to be closed by law,’ he said and everybody fell off their chairs with laughter."
Robert Benchley, a Biography by Nathaniel Benchley (page 163)
He went on to have rather too many drinks over the next 20 some years. And he did deliver, but not write, the line:
"Why don’t you slip out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"
which is followed in the movie, The Major and the Minor, by the line--
"I’d offer you a whiskey sour, but that would mean thinking up a new joke."
Although he seldom wrote about New England, he frequently peppered his essays with New England place-names… Ah, New England, or as Benchley put it:
"New England, that 'vacation-land of America,' where the business slogan is 'The customer is always in the way.'"
—"Abandon Ship"
Of his childhood in Massachusetts he wrote:
"When I was a child I was of an affectionate disposition, but not enough to get arrested."
—"A Brief Study of Dendrophilism"
For those who find in the comedian some desperate longing for escape from personal pain through humor, you will find much to work with in one incident from his youth. Robert's older brother, Edmund Benchley, died in 1898 in the Spanish-American War when Robert was but nine years of age. Upon learning of Edmund's death, his mother cried out, "Why couldn't it have been Robert?" To this day, Edmund is better memorialized in Worcester than is Robert.

Benchley left Worcester for school, including Harvard College, where was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. This brings us to Benchley's period in the Boston/Cambridge area and I'll share one anecdote from the biography written by his son Nathaniel.
"Another time, he and a friend were walking on Beacon Hill, and when they reached Louisburg Square, with its neat facing rows of eighteenth-century brick houses and its atmosphere of Old World elegance, Robert had an idea. 'Come on,' he said, 'Let's get the davenport.' Picking a house at random, they went up the front steps and tapped on the silver knocker. A maid answered the door, and Robert said, 'We've come for the davenport.' The maid paused a second, then said, 'Which one?' and Robert, who by this time could see into the hall, replied, 'That one.' The maid let them in, and they picked up the davenport, carried it out and across the square, and brought it to the door of another house. Robert rang the bell, and when the maid answered he said, 'We've brought the davenport. Where should we put it?' The maid looked around in bewilderment, then said, 'There, I guess,' pointing into the sitting room. They deposited it where she said, and left. The matter wasn't straightened out for several months, when the owner of the davenport went to the other house for tea and recognized her property. The explanation that 'two men just left it here' was accepted graciously, albeit a little coldly."
And that is the origin of the name of the Boston "We've Come for the Davenport" chapter of the Robert Benchley Society.

After college there were a few unsatisfying jobs in the Boston area. These included a brief stint at Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where his principle duty was to accompany Mrs. Jack Gardner to Red Sox games so she would stop pestering the professional staff to drop their duties and run off to Fenway Park with her.

His professional life took off when he started, in the late nineteen-teens, to write for various New York publications, including Vanity Fair, where he filled in as theatre critic when P. G. Wodehouse left to pursue screen-writing.

And so we come to the Benchley/Wodehouse connection. Benchley's essay, "The Social Life of the Newt," first published in Vanity Fair in 1919, was almost certainly the inspiration for the Wodehousian newt-obsessed character Gussie Fink-Nottle.

Benchley was friend and admirer of many of the writers of his time. In fact, he was so gregarious that it got in the way of his already poor work habits and contributed to his small literary output compared to, say, Wodehouse. The distractions of friends from the Algonquin Round Table -- that gathering of New York wits that lasted from 1919 to 1929 -- got so bad that he finally took rooms across the street at another residential hotel, the Royalton. But the friends followed him there (and brought with them "presents" that over-filled the place and made work just about impossible). Benchley writes of his digs at the Royalton in his essay "No Pullmans, Please!"
"It began with little articles to line up on top of a bookcase, miniature geese, little men with baskets, shells with eggs in them and broken stags. I also was not averse to hanging oddments on the walls. My friends entered into the spirit of this admirably. Every one had fun but the lady who dusted.

"Then people began looking around town for heavier gifts. It got to be a game. Trucks began arriving with old busts of Sir Walter Scott, four-foot statues of men whose shirtfronts lit up when attached to an electric connection, stuffed owls and fox terriers that had lain too long at the taxidermist's. This phase ended with the gift of a small two-headed calf in a moderate state of preservation.

From then on the slogan became: 'Send it to Benchley!' Wrecking concerns were pressed into service, and chipped cornices from the old Post Office, detached flights of stairs, hitching posts and railings began pouring in. Every day was like Christmas in Pompeii. The overflow went into the bedroom and I started sleeping under an old spinet, covered over with a set of bead-curtains which had been brought to me from a bordello in Marseille."
Noel Coward, a Round Table semi-regular, at least when he was in New York, upon visiting Benchley at the Royalton said:
"I must say, it looks lived in."
Benchley’s other literary friends included--

Ernest Hemingway (also a great drinking buddy).

Stephen Leacock, who wrote:
"Here, for example, is Robert C. Benchley, perhaps the most finished master of the technique of literary fun in America. Benchley's work is pure humor, one might almost say sheer nonsense. There is no moral teaching, no reflection of life, no tears. What Benchley pursues is the higher art of nonsense and he has shown in it a quite exceptional power for tricks of word and phrase."
--Greatest Pages of American Humor (1936).
Speaking of Leacock, English legal scholar (and humor author) Sir Carleton Kemp Allen (1887-1966) wrote in his "Oh, Mr. Leacock!" (1925):
"There are certain things which are too sacred to every Englishman to be lightly joked about; among them I would name Shakespeare, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the pious peace, the beatific beauty, of a Christmas afternoon...These things go deep into our inner natures; but I am sorry to say none of them is sacred to Mr. Benchley. He is pleased to be satirical about them."
James Thurber confessed that the professional humor writer is plagued by:
"the suspicion that a piece he has been working on for two days was done much better and probably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924."
–My Life and Hard Times (1933).
Wolcott Gibbs, editor, humorist, parodist, drama critic, and short story writer for the New Yorker, wrote:
"When you were with him, in the wonderful junk shop he operated at the Royalton in '21', or in less fashionable saloons which had the simple merit of staying open all night, you had a very warm and encouraging feeling that you were a funnier man than you'd previously suspected, the things you said sounded quite a lot better than they really were and, such was the miracle of his sympathy and courteous hope, they often actually were pretty good. He wanted his guests to feel that they were succeeding socially and he did his best to make it easy for them. The truth, of course, was that Benchley himself maneuvered there conversations, tactfully providing most of the openings for wit, but the effect was that people were mysteriously improved in his company, surprisingly at home on a level of easy charm of which nobody would have dreamed they were capable. This willingness to play straight man to amateur but hopeful comedians is rather rare in the world he inhabited, where it is not customary to give very much away, but he did it instinctively."
--excerpt from "Robert Benchley: In Memoriam" published in More in Sorrow, 1958; originally published in the New York Times.
Other friends and admirers included S. J. Perelman and H. Allen Smith, among others.

It was in New York that Benchley first performed "The Treasurer's Report" live on stage. The skit, which I'll not read because I simply do not have the talent or discipline to carry it off, presents a woefully unprepared and nervous assistant treasurer delivering the most fractured financial report ever [uhm] delivered. It was widely successful and soon Benchley was off to Hollywood to film The Treasurer’s Report. It was the first all-talking picture (people forget that most of The Jazz Singer was silent with dialogue cards).

Benchley went on to a successful career in the talkies (eventually quitting writing entirely). His How to Sleep won the 1935 Academy Award for Best Short Subject. Many of Benchley’s "shorts" are available now on DVD. He also played supporting roles in several feature-length films, usually type-cast as a society drunk or writer with a less-than-admirable work ethic.

His death in 1945 can be traced, ultimately, to his heavy drinking.

This brings us to Benchley’s lasting influence.

In his day, Benchley was one of America's most well-known and loved humorists. Today he is largely forgotten by the general public. But among professional, or serious amateur, humorists he is revered as the master.

After his death, the Benchley character of the confused "everyman" was taken up by such writers as:
Woody Allen
Dave Barry
Erma Bombeck
Bob Newhart
Jean Shepherd
The Robert Benchley Society keeps alive the Benchley tradition of warm, genial, witty humor through an annual writing competition. Past judges have included Dave Barry, Bob Newhart, and Mark Russell. This year's judge is Arte Johnson, well-known to many as "Wolfgang the German" and "Tyrone the Dirty Old Man" from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Entries are due by April Fool's Day.

For more information about Benchley, the Society, or rules for entering the competition, see our website http://www.robertbenchley.org.

The Short Answer is...

The following inquiry just came in by carrier pigeon:
Wikipedia lists this film as making $6 million in 1936:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films#High-grossing_films_by_year

They're not referring to the Benchley short subject, are they? Do you have any idea?

Thanks,

Mark M.

Reply:
Funny you should ask just now. With the "Oscars" being awarded recently, there was an article in Smithsonian (http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/movies/2012/02/what-ever-happened-to-the-short-film/ that addresses the issue, although not that specific film. Indeed, short subjects were big business in the golden age of Hollywood and did sometimes exceed the box office gross of the feature films. So the short answer is, yes, assuming the the Wikipedia entry is correct, then Robert Benchley's short, "How to be a Detective" was the highest grossing picture of 1936.

For more information on, or to buy, Robert Benchley short subjects, see our website at http://www.robertbenchley.org/sob/shorts.htm.

RBS 2009 Winner Ed Tasca to Teach Writing Course

Working Through the Writing Process, April 23-29, 2012, at the Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

Discover who you are as a writer, whether you’re interested in fiction or nonfiction, whether you plan for a career in writing or enjoy it purely as an avocation. This course covers the basic considerations every writer should address as you think, prepare for, and work through the writing process. For beginners and intermediate writers. Activities include student readings and discussion, and personal one-on-one assistance, time permitting.

Ed Tasca was born in Philadelphia, and retired to Mexico in 2006 after living in England and Canada for several years. He’s the author of six novels and works of fiction, including Apocalypse Now...Grab the Karaoke Machine!, The Fables of Leonardo da Vinci, Autobiography of a Worm, Lub Dub, The Fishing Trip That got Away, and Return of the Lost Horses, in addition to a parody of Columbus’s journey of discovery, Good Morning--Why is Everyone Here Naked?

Ed is also the creator of several optioned screenplays and was awarded
the Grand Prize at the 2011 Screenplay Search Competition. He won the prestigious Robert Benchley Society Humor-Writing Award for 2009 and was a runner-up three years in a row. Ed holds awards from humorpress.com and the M. Culbertson’s Life and Humor Award. His work has appeared in publications in the US, Canada, England, Italy, and Mexico and he has been anthologized in Laugh Your Shorts Off and America’s Funniest Humor.

Registration $360 + lodging & meals

Additional information, including lodging fees, can be found at
www.ghostranch.org or you may call the registrar at 505.685.4333, ext. 4155.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thurber House Presents New York Times Bestselling Author Tim Dorsey

Tim Dorsey is back with his gloriously unrepentant Florida serial killer, Serge Storms, in Pineapple Grenade: A Novel. A hollow corpse, shark carcasses lying in busy intersections, touchy grenade launchers, superhero capes, among many other things set the tone in this latest laugh-riot thriller. Serge has finagled his way into becoming a secret agent in Miami, spying for the president of a banana republic. Will Serge still have time for a cocktail before Homeland Security brings him down?

Dorsey was a reporter and editor for the Tampa Tribune from 1987 to 1999, and is the author of 15 novels, including Electric Barracuda, Nuclear Jellyfish, Atomic Lobster, and Hurricane Punch. He lives in Tampa, Florida.

He will be reading on Wednesday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St. A book signing and an informal coffee and cookie reception will follow the reading. Tickets are $20 general admission in advance, with discounts for students and seniors. All tickets at the door are $20. Tickets are available at www.thurberhouse.org, or by calling 614-464-1032 x. 11.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Very Interesting... but Stupid, Robert Benchley Society Announces 2012 Humor Writing Competition

The Robert Benchley Society announces comedian ARTE JOHNSON as celebrity judge of the 2012 ROBERT BENCHLEY SOCIETY AWARD FOR HUMOR WRITING.
Johnson, who is perhaps best know for his portrayal of "Wolfgang," a German soldier, on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, will pick and rank the top four essays from among the entries received by the Society and will give out the awards at the Ninth Robert Benchley Society International Annual Gathering, to be held this autumn in Los Angeles.

THE DEADLINE TO ENTER IS APRIL FOOL'S DAY (APRIL 1ST, 2012).

Entries must be:
  • Original;
  • Benchleyesque (in the sense of reflecting the Benchley style and humor);
  • Not more than 500 words in length (times height times width);
  • In the English language, such as it is these days; and
  • Accompanied by the $10 entry fee.
Entries are limited to one per person. Submission of an entry to the competition grants the Robert Benchley Society permission to publish the entry on the Society's website and online newsletter. All other rights are retained by the author.

Judging Rules. All judging will be done in accordance with WBC rules:
  1. There is no standing 8 count and no 3 knockdown rule;
  2. Fighter can be saved by the bell in the last round only;
  3. A 10-point must system is in effect; and
  4. Accidental head butt goes to the scorecard after the fourth round.
  5. None of the above.
  6. Officers and family members of officers of the National RBS, and judges are excluded.
The top four finalist entries will be ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th by ARTE JOHNSON. Winners will be announced in JUNE 2012, by the Robert Benchley Society.

Required Electronic Submission Procedure. Entries must be accompanied by $10 entry fee, payable through PayPal, which funds will be used by the Society exclusively to cover the costs associated with the competition, to buy the plaque(s) and other insignificant prizes for the winner(s) and, so far as possible, pay for the cost of the first-place winner attending the Annual Gathering and Award Ceremony. Entries must be in MS Word or HTML format with no identifying information (such as name, address, etc.) in the entry. To enter click here and follow the instructions.

DEADLINE TO ENTER IS APRIL 1ST.

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