Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley was a well-known humorist from the early 1920s into the 1940s. He wrote articles and essays for several magazines, including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, covering topical events, with a humorous and satirical theme, and many of those have been collected in various anthologies over the years.

Mr. Benchley was a member of the famous 'Algonquin Round Table', which was a group of writers and actors who would meet weekly at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. Among the members were Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, and Marc Connelly (in 1980, I wrote to Mr. Connelly, and he kindly sent me two photos, which you can see here and here).

Mr. Benchley appeared in many movies, as an actor or sometimes a narrator. He also appeared in a series of comedy shorts, in which he'd discuss a variety of subjects. Some titles include "The Treasurer's Report", "The Sex Life of a Polyp", "Waiting for Baby", and "How to Eat".

Here's a portrait and a scene still:

For many years, up to his death in 1945, Mr. Benchley lived in the New York City suburb of Scarsdale, which is about 10 minutes from where I live.

He was still listed in the telephone directory as of 1971. Actually, the listing was for his widow Gertrude, listed as 'Mrs. Robert Benchley'. I called her and told her of my appreciation of Mr. Benchley's writings, several of which I'd read in books borrowed from my public library. I told her of my collection of autographs and my desire to add one of Mr. Benchley. While she did not have any signed photos, she did have some canceled checks which he had signed. She wrote down my address, and a few days later, I received this letter from her, along with Robert Benchley's signature cut from a canceled check. I suppose she didn't feel secure in sending me the entire check, but anyway, I was happy to receive the signature as is.

Mrs. Benchley wrote the incorrect year (1961) on the letter, so just to remind myself of when I actually received it, I wrote the correct year (1971) on the upper left.

1 comment:

catsafterme said...

That was certainly kind of her. I'm a huge fan of Robert Benchley.

I've never had that much luck getting signatures from spouses of the deceased - although I have tried a few times.

I once wrote to Charlotte Henry's husband for a signature of her, and I got back a hand-drawn photo of Charlotte with no signature. I never knew if he drew it..or she did.