Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bob Newhart Names"Mad" Kane Winner of 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor

LOS ANGELES, CA. -- Bob Newhart—winner of three Grammy Awards, a Peabody, five Emmys, seven Golden Globes, and the Mark Twain Prize for Humor, author of the New York Times best-selling show-business autobiography, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, and perhaps the most celebrated comedian-humorist-actor-author and former accountant in show-business history—taking time out from his busy schedule to serve as finalist judge, has named New York City-based humor columnist, satirist, and past National Society of Newspaper Columnists honoree, Madeleine Begun Kane as winner of the 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor.

In a personal note Newhart told Kane her essay, "Guide for The Opera Impaired," finished first because it was "the most Benchleyesque. . . "I don't know if Robert Benchley ever commented on operas in his writings, but it is certainly a subject I suspect he would have handled exactly as you did," Newhart said.

Newhart enjoyed judging the essays, "It certainly brought back the memories of when I first started reading Robert Benchley and the joy his writing brought," Newhart said, but, "the judging was difficult because the finalists were so good."

Newhart has always credited Benchley as a major influence on his humor. In an earlier interview with past Robert Benchley Society award winner Horace J. Digby on A3Radio Newhart said, "Really good writing is timeless. Benchley created—like the persona Jack Benny created—a man who was very much full of himself, but in a self-deprecating way."

In his book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, Newhart tells readers, "My influences came from the more absurdist side of life. I've never forgotten the time I heard that a lady in Britain published her correspondence with Winston Churchill, so Robert Benchley decided to publish his correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. Benchley's correspondence consisted of letters accusing Shaw of taking his umbrella at the theater and asking for it to be returned. Shaw kept writing back saying, 'I don't know who you are and I don't have your umbrella.'"

In a recent letter Newhart told Digby, "Larry Gelbart, writer on Your Show of Shows, A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum and others too numerous to remember, once wrote, the comedy writer (and comedian) sees the world through a different lens. There is no question in my mind that Benchley helped construct the comedic lens through which I view the world. I think his [Benchley's] influence is certainly discernable in 'Abe Lincoln' and 'King Kong.'"

"I was a voracious reader of the works of Robert Benchley," Newhart wrote in I Shouldn't Be Doing This, "and at least on a subconscious level, one of Benchley's essays influenced me to go to law school. It was about a Walter Mitty-type character who . . . made an absolute fool out of the opposing counsel to the point where the jury was applauding and even the judge was enjoying the show."

Fortunately for the world of humor Benchley's "more absurdist" influence on Newhart won out.

Kane's essays have appeared in Family Circle, America Online, Newsday, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald,, The Houston Chronicle, The New York Times, The L. A. Times Syndicate, Knight-Rider/Tribune News Service, and on National Public Radio. She bills herself, as "Mad" Kane, political satirist, parodist and recovering lawyer. Kane holds a Law degree from St. John's University School of Law and a Bachelors of Fine Arts in music from the California Institute of the Arts. Her music studies led to an oboist chair in the Dallas Symphony and a faculty position in the Music Department of Southern Methodist University.

In 1995 Kane's humor was honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and her website,, has received accolades from USA Today, Shift Magazine, Maxim Magazine, The Guardian and other media.

On learning Newhart had ranked her essay first, Kane was uncharacteristically at a loss for words, saying only, "Yikes! I can't believe it! Thanks! . . . I'm still in shock . . ." Then, composing herself, Kane said, "Now that I've actually won I'm thrilled and honored, but being Jewish, I'm still anxious," alluding to the limerick she wrote celebrating being named a finalist:

"I can barely maintain my sobriety
Cuz the great Robert Benchley Society
Held a contest and wow,
I'm a finalist now.
Will I win the top prize? High anxiety!"

Benchley Society Medalists

The second, third and fourth place finalists selected by Newhart to receive the Robert Benchley Society Medal of Merit for 2008 are: Mike Tuck of Hopkins, MN, in second place for his essay, "Welcome To America;" Jesse Levy of North Hollywood, CA, in third place for, "How to Watch a Sad Movie and Retain Your Manliness;" and Denise G. Weeks of Richardson, Texas, in fourth place for "How to Start Your Own Band." The winning essays can be viewed at

Denise Weeks (a.k.a. Shalanna Collins) a home-grown Texas humorist, novelist, pianist, belly dancer, baton twirler, software engineer, National Merit Scholar, and graduate of Southern Methodist University, is also a true Robert Benchley lover. One of her hobbies is collecting Robert Benchley first editions. Weeks' husband first advised her not to get too excited about "this contest thing." But when he learned Bob Newhart was reading her essay, hubby quickly forgot his own advice. Weeks' reaction to placing in the top four was, "Aaaaa . . . I believe a 'Yay!' is in order now!'

"Hooray! Thank you so much (and many thanks to Mr. Newhart)," said third-place winner, Jesse Levy, a New York City transplant to Los Angeles. "I am thrilled beyond words," he continued. "In fact, right now I'm making sounds to express my thrilledness but they can't be conveyed in an email without doing some small damage to the keyboard."

Levy keenly appreciates that, "Essays are tough, especially at 500 words. I wrote my entry in a Benchleyesq frenzy. I was reading a lot of Sweet Old Bob at the time and the influence shows. Benchley has always been my favorite humorist."

Levy said he was "absolutely thrilled" just to learn that Bob Newhart was going to be reading his entry. "To go from being an accountant to being a stand-up comic has always been a dream of mine," Levy said, in homage to Newhart's early career. Then, after reflecting for a moment on his own career which includes filmmaker, actor, radio disk jockey, writer, director and humorist, Levy added, "I guess I'd better start hitting those accounting books."

Mike Tuck, of Hopkins, Minn., had this to say about being first runner-up, "Thanks for the wonderful news. I assume this means I get my $10 entry fee back."

Tuck first read Robert Benchley 30 years ago and immediately realized he'd found his favorite author. Even today "All who value humor look up to Robert Benchley and wonder, 'How the hell does he make it look so easy?' . . . For this Benchley aficionado it’s a bit numbing having my name linked with his," Tuck said.

Tuck began writing humor as a young man growing up in Minneapolis when he started selling a few jokes and gags, soon earning a tidy sum of $30 a week, "and this is back when $30 a week was like $20 a week," Tuck said.

"Knowing Bob Newhart actually read something I wrote (even if he barely got through the first paragraph before crumpling and tossing it) is intimidating. I have grown up with Newhart's albums, stand-up, movies and television to understand and appreciate what a brilliant humorist he is," Tuck said. "This would be the highlight of my career if I had one," Tuck said.

Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley rose to fame in the 1920s writing for Harvard Lampoon, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Life magazine and as humor columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain. Benchley appeared in more than eighty short films and feature length motion pictures. He is credited, along with Dorothy Parker, with founding the notorious Algonquin Round Table.

Benchley and his colleagues, all members of the famed Algonquin Round Table luncheon group, dominated print media for nearly two decades, creating a new face for American humor. Many of America’s brightest comic talents including, this year's finalist judge Bob Newhart, Dave Barry, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Erma Bombeck, Shelly Berman, Jonathan Winters, Richard Pryor, Steve Allen, Russell Baker and Dan Rowan acknowledged Benchley's impact on their work,

"The book that most impressed me when I was growing up and influenced my approach to comedy would have been any book by Robert Benchley, or specifically My Ten Years in a Quandary," Newhart said. "I was very much influenced by Robert Benchley."

Benchley's warm, self-effacing comic writing style made it nearly the template for modern humor essays, said humor writer Ed Tasca. Tasca holds the singular distinction of placing among the top four Robert Benchley Society entries for three consecutive years.

About the Competition
Other finalists in 2008 are, in alphabetical order, Cornelius "Con" Chapman of Weston, Mass., Eileen Mitchell of Palatine, Ill., Joseph Nebus of Jackson, N.J., Brenda Pontiff of Los Angeles, Calif., John Thom of Los Angeles, Calif., and Sharon Elizabeth Wood of Cary, N.C.

The Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor competition is open to amateurs and professionals alike. W. Bruce Cameron, whose book Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter inspired John Ritter's Emmy Award winning television series for ABC/Disney, and who's newest book, Eight Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter, is now in book stores everywhere, took top Benchley Society Award honors in 2006. Last year's top award went to Daniel Montville of Oak Park, Illinois for his hilarious essay, How to Write a Book.

"All entries are read blind, so neither Bob Newhart, nor any of the preliminary judges knew who wrote any of the essays. That way the competition is entirely merit based," said 2005 Robert Benchley Society Award winner Horace J. Digby, who has returned to help with judging in the past three years.

This year's preliminary judges include, Benchley Society member Dwain Buck, 2005 Benchley Society award winner Horace J. Digby, author of Robert Benchley An Annotated Bibliography Gordon E. Ernst, writer Eileen Forster Keck, puzzle designer Chris Morgan, radio personality Tom Saunders, and Robert Benchley Society chairman David Trumbull.

"I'm happy for the winners," said finalist Brenda Pontiff, "but darn! I will enter again next year and see if I make the top ten one more time. I'll be the poor man's Ed Tasca - he placed 3 times, maybe I can get on the top ten list 3 times."

David Trumbull, the Robert Benchley Society's national chairperson, joined in Newhart's sentiments. "I believe Mr. Benchley would be pleased to see how this year's contestants are keeping alive his tradition of warm, genial, witty humor," Trumbull said. "I hope future judges are as lucky as I was in the quality of their finalists," Newhart concluded.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Whole Tooth, and Nothing But The Tooth.

Dear B.R.,

Thank you for contacting the Robert Benchley Society. In response to your inquiry–


In 1950, I was in a public speaking class at LA High School, and was entered in a speech contest at Redlands University. My teacher had me memorize "The Tooth, The Whole Tooth, and Nothing But The Tooth", by Robert Benchley. Now, with 24 grandchildren, I'd love to re-memorize it. Can you tell me if it is in "The Best of Robert Benchley", and if not, what of his works might it be in?? Any help would be much appreciated.

The essay is found in Love Conquers All, beginning on page 131, and in Inside Benchley, beginning on page 73.

A list of Benchley's essays showing what books they appear in as well as the table of contents of each book is available on our website at

Benchley's books are available for purchase on our website at

The complete test of Love Conquers All is available free on our website at

--David Trumbull, RBS

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Sex Life of the Polyp in the City

Last December, Robert Benchley's 1928 gem The Sex Life of the Polyp was among the 25 movie classics to be preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. Although this quality is poor, Benchley's genius comes through.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

From the Mail Bag

[Please note, we pass this on merely as an item of possible interest; the RBS is not in a position to pass comment favorable or unfavorable with regard to the dealer mentioned.]

* * *

Hi David,

I am a longtime Vintage Paper Dealer who sells articles, stories, cartoons, illustrations, photos, prints etc. on all subjects. I lost a longtime collector for Benchley Vintage paper some months ago and am trying to find someone else who might have some interest. There is a variety of material but particularly, items from 34 volumes of Life Magazines from the teens, twenties and thirties--Benchley wrote most of the review pages and also many other humorous articles.

I would like to send you a package on approval--look it over and return the unwanted items with a check for what you keep. Its really that simple and has worked well for over twenty years. Email me any special wants and be sure to include your mailing address.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sandra Baker
Searsport, Maine

I am currently dealing with Kevin Fitzpatrick at the Dorothy Parker Society if you require a reference.

From Benchley's Wider Circle of Friends

From the Broadway Show "Leave It To Jane" (1917)
(Jerome Kern / P.G. Wodehouse)

Georgia O'Ramey (Broadway Production) - 1917
June Allyson (feat. in the film "Till The Clouds Roll By") - 1946
Dorothy Greener (Off-Broadway Revival) - 1959
Joan Morris - 1983

Verse 1

In days of old beside the Nile
A famous queen there dwelt.
Her clothes were few,
But full of style.
Her figure slim and swelt.

On every man that wandered by
She pulled the Theda Bara eye.
And every one observed with awe,
That her work was swift,
But never raw.

I'd be like Cleopatterer,
If I could have my way.
Each man she met she went and kissed.
And she'd dozens on her waiting list.

I wish that I had lived there.
Beside the pyramid.
For a girl today don't get the scope
That Cleopatterer did.

Verse 2

And when she tired as girls will do,
Of Bill or Jack or Jim,
The time had come, his friends all knew,
To say goodbye to him.

She couldn't stand by any means,
Reproachful, stormy farewell scenes.
To such coarse stuff she would not stoop,
So she just put poison in his soup.

When out with Cleopatterer,
Men always made their wills.
They knew there was no time to waste,
When the gumbo had that funny taste.

They'd take her hand and squeeze it.
They'd murmur "Oh you kid!"
But they never liked to start to feed,
Til Cleopatterer did.

Verse 3

She danced new dances now and then.
The sort that make you blush.
Each time she did them, scores of men
Got injured in the rush.

They'd stand there gaping in a line,
And watch her agitate her spine.
It simply use to knock them flat,
When she went like this and then like that.

At dancing Cleopatterer,
Was always on the spot.
She gave these poor Egyptian ginks,
Something else to watch besides the spinx.

Marc Antony admitted,
That what first made him skid,
Was the wibbly, wobbly, wiggly dance,
That Cleopatterer did.

When Your Honey's On The Telephone

July 6, 2008
Dear S. D.,

Thank you for contacting the Robert Benchley Society. In response to your inquiry–
I have been carrying a phrase in my head since teen age that I think is from a Robert Benchley Essay.

Something like:

".... I've got my honey on the telephone....."

Can you find the original for me?
I believe you have in mind George S. Kaufman's "When Your Honey's On The Telephone," published in The New Yorker, February 22, 1958, p. 29

The writer likes honey for breakfast. Sometimes the telephone rings during this meal. When he takes the phone off the cradle the wire dangles over the honey saucer just close enough to pick up the merest daub of honey. Once he wiped it off, and transferred it succesively to the telephone instrument, dial holes, coffee cup, bathroom doorknob, his belt. Nowadays he's more careful...
The piece is actually very similar to a Benchley piece "Read and Eat," in which the morning newspaper and the breakfast reader's suit are successively smeared with butter, marmalade, and egg. According to Gordon Ernest in his Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography, the Benchley piece first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, February 18, 1935, p. 11. It is available in My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew (1939), p. 116.

–David Trumbull, RBS

Nagging: An Evolutionary Perspective

With the amazingly concise clarity of its writing, Webster’s New World Dictionary defines ‘nag’ as ‘to annoy by continual scolding, faultfinding, complaining, urging…a person who nags, particularly a woman.’ The behavioral definition may be offered as: Repetitive communications which imply or direct behavioral change, usually unwelcome to the recipient.

In most cultures, nagging occurs between mates, usually wife to husband, mother to children, less often to extended family and other members of the community.

A safe assumption is that any behavior which persists from generation to generation probably has some survival value. What is the evolutionary advantage of nagging?

Picture a Neanderthal cave. The male is dominant, having superior strength, better able to provide food and protection. Female mate is weaker. She cannot coerce him by physical threats or withholding sexual activity. She can, however, repeatedly urge him to build a fire, hunt a mammoth, chase away an intruder. By trial and error, she must learn to calibrate this behavior. Too little, the family is cold and hungry; too much she gets a rock to the head. Some dyads may have no need of nagging; the male provides without it. Others may require much for bare survival. Most require some. Obviously, the dyad in which the male yields to the female’s nagging by satisfying her realistic desires has a better chance of survival than one in which the male is lazy, unreliable (instead of hunting mammoths, he goes off with another woman), or has a low threshold for retaliatory violence.

Fast forward to the present. The Jewish ethnic group is characterized by wifely nagging. The males are usually compliant. Here it must be noted that much nagging is good, sound, advice: lose weight, eat your vegetables, stand up straight, do your homework, stop drinking, get a job, go to work on time, drive slower, go to college, etc. It is therefore possible that a factor in the generally high achievement level among Jews is—nagging.

To sail into risky waters, is it not at least a reasonable observation that successful nagging is directly proportional to cultural success? And that the reverse is true?

Cultures which have a high incidence of impulsive male violence and low achievement, the black and Hispanic, have high incidence of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. It’s no use, in fact dangerous, to nag an intoxicated spouse.

Fudamentalist sects, such as the Amish, and the billion-strong Muslims inculcate obedience, submission, servitude in their women. The Koran explicitly commands wife beating. The Taliban cruelly force subjugation, ignorance, fear, on the enslaved distaff population. The technological, intellectual, and artistic accomplishments of these groups speak for themselves. It is difficult to imaging a nagging Taliban wife.

High achievement in Italy was often associated with older, single males—da Vinci, Michelangelo (gay), Galileo. In Ireland, the clergy, who were not spouse-nagged, preserved civilization in the Dark Age. Wife beating is common in both cultures. Nordic, English, and French cultures are characterized by significant nagging, low domestic violence, and high achievement.

Finally, to recognize its value is not to approve it.

William Goldsmith, M.D.
July 5, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Peterkins Celebrate the Fourth

The day began early.

A compact had been made with the little boys the evening before.

They were to be allowed to usher in the glorious day by the blowing of horns exactly at sunrise. But they were to blow them for precisely five minutes only, and no sound of the horns should be heard afterward till the family were downstairs.

It was thought that a peace might thus be bought by a short, though crowded, period of noise.

The morning came. Even before the morning, at half-past three o'clock, a terrible blast of the horns aroused the whole family.

Mrs. Peterkin clasped her hands to her head and exclaimed: "I am thankful the lady from Philadelphia is not here!" For she had been invited to stay a week, but had declined to come before the Fourth of July, as she was not well, and her doctor had prescribed quiet.

And the number of the horns was most remarkable! It was as though every cow in the place had arisen and was blowing through both her own horns!

"How many little boys are there? How many have we?" exclaimed Mr. Peterkin, going over their names one by one mechanically, thinking he would do it, as he might count imaginary sheep jumping over a fence, to put himself to sleep. Alas! the counting could not put him to sleep now, in such a din.

And how unexpectedly long the five minutes seemed! Elizabeth Eliza was to take out her watch and give the signal for the end of the five minutes, and the ceasing of the horns. Why did not the signal come? Why did not Elizabeth Eliza stop them?

And certainly it was long before sunrise; there was no dawn to be seen!

"We will not try this plan again," said Mrs. Peterkin.

"If we live to another Fourth," added Mr. Peterkin, hastening to the door to inquire into the state of affairs.

Alas! Amanda, by mistake, had waked up the little boys an hour too early. And by another mistake the little boys had invited three or four of their friends to spend the night with them. Mrs. Peterkin had given them permission to have the boys for the whole day, and they understood the day as beginning when they went to bed the night before. This accounted for the number of horns.

It would have been impossible to hear any explanation; but the five minutes were over, and the horns had ceased, and there remained only the noise of a singular leaping of feet, explained perhaps by a possible pillow-fight, that kept the family below partially awake until the bells and cannon made known the dawning of the glorious day,–the sunrise, or "the rising of the sons," as Mr. Peterkin jocosely called it when they heard the little boys and their friends clattering down the stairs to begin the outside festivities.

They were bound first for the swamp, for Elizabeth Eliza, at the suggestion of the lady from Philadelphia, had advised them to hang some flags around the pillars of the piazza. Now the little boys knew of a place in the swamp where they had been in the habit of digging for "flag-root," and where they might find plenty of flag flowers. They did bring away all they could, but they were a little out of bloom. The boys were in the midst of nailing up all they had on the pillars of the piazza when the procession of the Antiques and Horribles passed along. As the procession saw the festive arrangements on the piazza, and the crowd of boys, who cheered them loudly, it stopped to salute the house with some especial strains of greeting.

Poor Mrs. Peterkin! They were directly under her windows! In a few moments of quiet, during the boys' absence from the house on their visit to the swamp, she had been trying to find out whether she had a sick-headache, or whether it was all the noise, and she was just deciding it was the sick headache, but was falling into a light slumber, when the fresh noise outside began.

There were the imitations of the crowing of cocks, and braying of donkeys, and the sound of horns, encored and increased by the cheers of the boys. Then began the torpedoes, and the Antiques and Horribles had Chinese crackers also.

And, in despair of sleep, the family came down to breakfast.

Mrs. Peterkin had always been much afraid of fire-works, and had never allowed the boys to bring gunpowder into the house. She was even afraid of torpedoes; they looked so much like sugar-plums she was sure some the children would swallow them, and explode before anybody knew it.

She was very timid about other things. She was not sure even about pea-nuts. Everybody exclaimed over this: "Surely there was no danger in pea-nuts!" But Mrs. Peterkin declared she had been very much alarmed at the Centennial Exhibition, and in the crowded corners of the streets in Boston, at the pea-nut stands, where they had machines to roast the pea-nuts. She did not think it was safe. They might go off any time, in the midst of a crowd of people, too!

Mr. Peterkin thought there actually was no danger, and he should be sorry to give up the pea-nut. He thought it an American institution, something really belonging to the Fourth of July. He even confessed to a quiet pleasure in crushing the empty shells with his feet on the sidewalks as he went along the streets.

Agamemnon thought it a simple joy.

In consideration, however, of the fact that they had had no real celebration of the Fourth the last year, Mrs. Peterkin had consented to give over the day, this year, to the amusement of the family as a Centennial celebration. She would prepare herself for a terrible noise,–only she did not want any gunpowder brought into the house.

The little boys had begun by firing some torpedoes a few days beforehand, that their mother might be used to the sound, and had selected their horns some weeks before.

Solomon John had been very busy in inventing some fireworks. As Mrs. Peterkin objected to the use of gunpowder, he found out from the dictionary what the different parts of gunpowder are,–saltpetre, charcoal, and sulphur. Charcoal, he discovered, they had in the wood-house; saltpetre they would find in the cellar, in the beef barrel; and sulphur they could buy at the apothecary's. He explained to his mother that these materials had never yet exploded in the house, and she was quieted.

Agamemnon, meanwhile, remembered a recipe he had read somewhere for making a "fulminating paste" of iron-filings and powder of brimstone. He had written it down on a piece of paper in his pocket-book. But the iron filings must be finely powdered. This they began upon a day or two before, and the very afternoon before laid out some of the paste on the piazza.

Pin-wheels and rockets were contributed by Mr. Peterkin for the evening. According to a programme drawn up by Agamemnon and Solomon John, the reading of the Declaration of Independence was to take place in the morning, on the piazza, under the flags.

The Bromwicks brought over their flag to hang over the door.

"That is what the lady from Philadelphia meant," explained Elizabeth Eliza.

"She said the flags of our country," said the little boys. "We thought she meant 'in the country.'"

Quite a company assembled; but it seemed nobody had a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Elizabeth Eliza said she could say one line, if they each could add as much. But it proved they all knew the same line that she did, as they began:–

"When, in the course of–when, in the course of–when, in the course of human–when in the course of human events–when, in the course of human events, it becomes–when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary–when, in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people"–

They could not get any farther. Some of the party decided that "one people" was a good place to stop, and the little boys sent off some fresh torpedoes in honor of the people. But Mr. Peterkin was not satisfied. He invited the assembled party to stay until sunset, and meanwhile he would find a copy, and torpedoes were to be saved to be fired off at the close of every sentence.

And now the noon bells rang and the noon bells ceased.

Mrs. Peterkin wanted to ask everybody to dinner. She should have some cold beef. She had let Amanda go, because it was the Fourth, and everybody ought to be free that one day; so she could not have much of a dinner. But when she went to cut her beef she found Solomon had taken it to soak, on account of the saltpetre, for the fireworks!

Well, they had a pig; so she took a ham, and the boys had bought tamarinds and buns and a cocoa-nut. So the company stayed on, and when the Antiques and Horribles passed again they were treated to pea-nuts and lemonade.

They sung patriotic songs, they told stories, they fired torpedoes, they frightened the cats with them. It was a warm afternoon; the red poppies were out wide, and the hot sun poured down on the alley-ways in the garden. There was a seething sound of a hot day in the buzzing of insects, in the steaming heat that came up from the ground. Some neighboring boys were firing a toy cannon. Every time it went off Mrs. Peterkin started, and looked to see if one of the little boys was gone. Mr. Peterkin had set out to find a copy of the "Declaration." Agamemnon had disappeared. She had not a moment to decide about her headache. She asked Ann Maria if she were not anxious about the fireworks, and if rockets were not dangerous. They went up, but you were never sure where they came down.

And then came a fresh tumult! All the fire-engines in town rushed toward them, clanging with bells, men and boys yelling! They were out for a practice and for a Fourth-of-July show.

Mrs. Peterkin thought the house was on fire, and so did some of the guests. There was great rushing hither and thither. Some thought they would better go home; some thought they would better stay. Mrs. Peterkin hastened into the house to save herself, or see what she could save. Elizabeth Eliza followed her, first proceeding to collect all the pokers and tongs she could find, because they could be thrown out of the window without breaking. She had read of people who had flung looking-glasses out of the window by mistake, in the excitement of the house being on fire, and had carried the pokers and tongs carefully into the garden. There was nothing like being prepared. She had always determined to do the reverse. So with calmness she told Solomon John to take down the looking-glasses. But she met with a difficulty,–there were no pokers and tongs, as they did not use them. They had no open fires; Mrs. Peterkin had been afraid of them. So Elizabeth Eliza took all the pots and kettles up to the upper windows, ready to be thrown out.

But where was Mrs. Peterkin? Solomon John found she had fled to the attic in terror. He persuaded her to come down, assuring her it was the most unsafe place; but she insisted upon stopping to collect some bags of old pieces, that nobody would think of saving from the general wreck, she said, unless she did. Alas! this was the result of fireworks on Fourth of July! As they came downstairs they heard the voices of all the company declaring there was no fire; the danger was past. It was long before Mrs. Peterkin could believe it. They told her the fire company was only out for show, and to celebrate the Fourth of July. She thought it already too much celebrated.

Elizabeth Eliza's kettles and pans had come down through the windows with a crash, that had only added to the festivities, the little boys thought.

Mr. Peterkin had been roaming about all this time in search of a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The public library was shut, and he had to go from house to house; but now, as the sunset bells and cannon began, he returned with a copy, and read it, to the pealing of the bells and sounding of the cannon. Torpedoes and crackers were fired at every pause. Some sweet-marjoram pots, tin cans filled with crackers which were lighted, went off with great explosions.

At the most exciting moment, near the close of the reading, Agamemnon, with an expression of terror, pulled Solomon John aside.

"I have suddenly remembered where I read about the 'fulminating paste' we made. It was in the preface to 'Woodstock,' and I have been round to borrow the book to read the directions over again, because I was afraid about the 'paste' going off. READ THIS QUICKLY! and tell me, Where is the fulminating paste? "

Solomon John was busy winding some covers of paper over a little parcel. It contained chlorate of potash and sulphur mixed. A friend had told him of the composition. The more thicknesses of paper you put round it the louder it would go off. You must pound it with a hammer. Solomon John felt it must be perfectly safe, as his mother had taken potash for a medicine.

He still held the parcel as he read from Agamemnon's book: "This paste, when it has lain together about twenty-six hours, will of itself take fire, and burn all the sulphur away with a blue flame and a bad smell."

"Where is the paste?" repeated Solomon John, in terror.

"We made it just twenty-six hours ago," said Agamemnon.

"We put it on the piazza," exclaimed Solomon John, rapidly recalling the facts, "and it is in front of our mother's feet!"

He hastened to snatch the paste away before it should take fire, flinging aside the packet in his hurry. Agamemnon, jumping upon the piazza at the same moment, trod upon the paper parcel, which exploded at once with the shock, and he fell to the ground, while at the same moment the paste "fulminated" into a blue flame directly in front of Mrs. Peterkin!

It was a moment of great confusion. There were cries and screams. The bells were still ringing, the cannon firing, and Mr. Peterkin had just reached the closing words: "Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

"We are all blown up, as I feared we should be," Mrs. Peterkin at length ventured to say, finding herself in a lilac-bush by the side of the piazza. She scarcely dared to open her eyes to see the scattered limbs about her.

It was so with all. Even Ann Maria Bromwick clutched a pillar of the piazza, with closed eyes.

At length Mr. Peterkin said, calmly, "Is anybody killed?"

There was no reply. Nobody could tell whether it was because everybody was killed, or because they were too wounded to answer. It was a great while before Mrs. Peterkin ventured to move.

But the little boys soon shouted with joy, and cheered the success of Solomon John's fireworks, and hoped he had some more. One of them had his face blackened by an unexpected cracker, and Elizabeth Eliza's muslin dress was burned here and there. But no one was hurt; no one had lost any limbs, though Mrs. Peterkin was sure she had seen some flying in the air. Nobody could understand how, as she had kept her eyes firmly shut.

No greater accident had occurred than the singeing of the tip of Solomon John's nose. But there was an unpleasant and terrible odor from the "fulminating paste."

Mrs. Peterkin was extricated from the lilac-bush. No one knew how she got there. Indeed, the thundering noise had stunned everybody. It had roused the neighborhood even more than before. Answering explosions came on every side, and, though the sunset light had not faded away, the little boys hastened to send off rockets under cover of the confusion. Solomon John's other fireworks would not go. But all felt he had done enough.

Mrs. Peterkin retreated into the parlor, deciding she really did have a headache. At times she had to come out when a rocket went off, to see if it was one of the little boys. She was exhausted by the adventures of the day, and almost thought it could not have been worse if the boys had been allowed gunpowder. The distracted lady was thankful there was likely to be but one Centennial Fourth in her lifetime, and declared she should never more keep anything in the house as dangerous as saltpetred beef, and she should never venture to take another spoonful of potash.
The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale (1820-1900). Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, c1886, c1914.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Los Angeles Event July 31

Members of the Robert Benchley Society have been invited by the Los Angeles chapter of the Dorothy Parker Society to an evening of frolic and LA history in the 20s on Thursday, July 31, at 6:30-10 pm at Casa Del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Phone: (310) 581-5533.

We will have time to get to know each other during cocktail hour between 6:30-7:30 in the Casa Del Mar bar. Around 7:30 pm, historian Alison Jefferson will give a brief slide show about the special history of the beach area, nicknamed "The Inkwell," in front of the Casa Del Mar, the site of a beach club popular with Dorothy Parker's crowd in the 20s and 30s.

Alison Jefferson works for Historic Resources Group as a historian. She has a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology from Pomona College in Claremont, California and her Master's in Historic Preservation from the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on Southern California vacation spots frequented by African Americans during the segregation in the 20s and 30s.

The meeting is open to the public. Invite your friends.

1950s Hotel Algonquin 21-Feature Match Book--NYC

I get this on Ebay recently!

This Lion 21-Feature match book is from the Hotel Algonquin on West 44th Street in New York City. The saddle reads: Ben B. Bodne, Pres. The sticks list their accommodations.

21-Feature --A Lion Match Co. trademark for a match book containing wide match sticks that were printed with lettering, designs or a combination of both (not to be confused with printed sticks). The standard 30-stick size match book held 21 wide stick feature match sticks in three rows of seven. The 20-stick size match book held 15 wide match sticks and was known as the Feature. Introduced September 1930. They are no longer made.

Robert Benchley Society Top-Ten Humor Books for the Summer

In time for Independence Day Weekend, the Robert Benchley Society presents a Top-Ten List of humorous summer reading for 2008.

Number one on this year's list is “What To Do While the Family is Away” from Love Conquers All, by Robert Benchley. The family is off on holiday: what does Daddy want to do with his freedom? What does he actually end up doing?
Somewhere or other the legend has sprung up that, as soon as the family goes away for the summer, Daddy brushes the hair over his bald spot, ties up his shoes, and goes out on a whirlwind trip through the hellish districts of town.
Other authors on this summer's list are Dorothy Parker, O. Henry, Dorothy Sayers, Jean Shepherd, Charles Lamb, H. Allen Smith, Mark Twain, and P. G. Wodehouse.

Past summer top-ten lists are available here and here

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dorothy Parker Society News

BIRTHDAY PARTY! The Dorothy Parker Societ announces plans for a special Dorothy Parker birthday party on Wednesday, August 20, 2008. It will have live music, singing, and a lot of fun. The event will be held at Broadway Baby Bistro, 318 West 53rd Street, New York, at 10 p.m. In the Chicago City Limits Room will be an open mic, available for anyone that wants to belt out a classic song from the '20s, '30s, or '40s. The party is hosted by DPS officers (minister of martinis) Jen Wren and (minister of chaos) Bill Zeffiro. There is NO COVER and the cocktails will flow. If you are a singer, come on out and win a prize. The event is 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

"We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter Has a Gay Old Time

The "We've Come for the Davenport" Chapter (Boston) of the Robert Benchley Society met on Saturday, June 14, 2008 at the home of Chris Morgan for an evening of cocktails, cook-out, and sing-a-long with the pianola.

Attending with Mr. and Mrs. David (Mary) Trumbull, Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy (Eileen) Keck, Mr. David Richardson, Miss Susan Imrie, Mr. James Gilreath, and Mrs. Harriet Finkelstein.

Congratulations to Ed Tasca

The Yahoo Discussion Group Writers With Humor annnounced as 6/08 Winners, including, as a tie for Winner Short Humor Contest (700-1800 words), Ed Tasca of Toronto, Canada for Okay, The World's Coming to an End. Now What?. Ed is a Director of the Robert Benchley Society and three-time finalist in the prestigeous annual Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor writing competition.

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