Benchley, Robert (1889-1945)

The Robert Benchley collection consists of manuscripts (by Benchley and others), diaries, printed material, scrapbooks, correspondence, artwork, photographs, memorabilia, and other material.

Manuscripts by Benchley in the collection consist of short humorous pieces (including the “Mr. Peters” series, items for the New Yorker, longer and/or serious pieces, introductions, drama reviews, front matter and material for collections, a theatre sketch, radio scripts, scripts for film shorts, speeches, notebooks, and other works.

The short humorous essays by Benchley in the collection (1914-1934) were written for publication in various newspapers and magazines, including American, Bookman, Boston Herald, Chicago Tribune, Colliers, DAC News, Judge, Liberty, Life, New York Mirror, Seven Seas, Sunday New York Tribune, Passing Show, and Vanity Fair . Most of these pieces were republished in various collections, including Of All Things (Holt, 1921); Pluck and Luck (Holt, 1925); The Early Worm (Holt, 1927); The Treasurer’s Report, and Other Aspects of Community Singing (Harper, 1930); No Poems, or, Around the World Backwards and Sideways (Harper, 1932); From Bed to Worse, or, Comforting Thoughts About the Bison (Harper, 1934); Inside Benchley (Harper, 1942); Benchley Beside Himself (Harper, 1943); and the posthumous collection Chips Off the Old Benchley (Harper, 1949). A few of the items are unpublished or incomplete.

Items for the New Yorker by Benchley date from ca. 1925 to 1935, and include some unfinished pieces. Also included are some “Wayward Press” pieces written by Benchley under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes; one pieces includes several news clippings used as research for the article, along with Benchley’s notes.

Benchley’s longer pieces consist of four pieces: an article on magazines in the United States, with Benchley’s research included (1918); an article about the inauguration of Warren G. Harding as president (1921); an article for the Yale Review (1931); and an undated article titled “The Newspaper Game.”

Introductions by Benchley consist of his introduction to The Reluctant Dragon, a reprint of a book by Kenneth Grahame, made into a film with Benchley by Disney (1940); and his introduction and forward to the collection Inside Benchley (Harper, 1942).

Drama reviews by Benchley consist of his review of a Eugene O’Neill play and Bert Lahr’s performance in Let’s Go Native, both (probably) for Life magazine (1930), as well as his reviews of All Good Americans, Jezebel, and Tobacco Road for The New Yorker (1933).

Front matter, manuscript material, and printed items (primarily tearsheets) for collections by Benchley includes material for The Treasurer’s Report (Harper, 1930) and No Poems (Harper, 1932).

The theatre sketch by Benchley is titled “Framed Girl,” and was written for Beatrice Lillie.

Scripts for radio broadcasts date from 1927 to 1939 (several are undated), and include various short pieces, mainly humorous. Notable is a Benchley-Eddie Cantor script of “Kolster Hour” for Will Rogers’ presidential campaign (ca. 1928).

Short screenplays by Benchley include material for The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928); How to Break 90 at Croquet (1935); How to Behave (1936); How to Vote (1936); The Romance of Digestion (1936); How to Figure Income Tax (1938); How to Read (1938); How to Sub-Let (1938); An Hour for Lunch (1938); Dark Magic (1939); Day of Rest (1939); Home Early (1939); Home Movies (1939); How to Eat (1939); That Inferior Feeling (1939); See Your Doctor (1939); The Trouble with Husbands (1940); The Forgotten Man (1941); Nothing but Nerves (1941); Crime Control (1941); Waiting for Baby (1941); Keeping in Shape (1942); The Witness (1942); and No News is Good News (1943). Other material includes Benchley’s script suggestions for The Gay Divorcee (1934); an outline for a film titled Ship Ahoy ; and captions for a silent film.

Speeches by Benchley consist of several items (all undated); they include versions of “The Sex Life of the Polyp” and “The Treasurer’s Report,” as well as a speech printed in DAC News as “Getting In on the Ground Floor” (1928). Many of the speeches are incomplete.

Notebooks by Benchley include a notebooks of story ideas and observations (undated); and two notebooks containing notes made during Benchley’s trip with Rollin Kirby to Cornwall in 1922.

Other manuscripts by Benchley consist of numerous papers (mostly themes, some translations) written as an undergraduate student at Harvard University (1908-1912); many have holograph notes by Professor Charles Townsend Copeland.

An additional section of manuscripts in the collection includes notes and research by Gertrude Darling Benchley for Chips Off the Old Benchley and Nathaniel Benchley’s biography Robert Benchley (1955). These items include an alphabetical index of Benchley’s books; an annotated list of Benchley’s work for The New Yorker, with two letters from Harold Ross (1946 and 1947) regarding Benchley’s contributions to the magazine; various lists of published pieces; lists of film shorts by Benchley, script credits, and feature film appearances (1928-1945); and miscellaneous biographical and anecdotal notes, some used by Nathaniel Benchley in his biography.

In addition to manuscripts by Benchley, the collection includes several manuscripts by other authors, including Dorothy Parker, Fernand Léger, Charles Lederer, and others. Manuscripts by Dorothy Parker in the collection include the short piece “Unattractive Authors Whose Work I Admire,” as well as the poems “Gifts” (4 lines), “Quia Amore Languco” (two 8-line stanzas), “Reuben’s Children” (4 lines, published in Sunset Gun ), and an untitled poem (two 4-line stanzas). The manuscript by Léger is “Charlot Cubist,” an outline for an animated color cartoon, dating from the 1930s. The manuscripts by Charles Lederer are the short pieces “Frigidity in Newsreels” and “A Saving Sense of Humor” (dated ca. 1930s); these were submitted to The New Yorker by Benchley, and they include a rejection letter from Harold Ross. Also present are poems by “Patience Worth,” a spirit speaking though the medium Mrs. John Curran. Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Dorothy Parker and Frank Crowninshield interviewed “Worth,” and a secretary transcribed the poems dictated by her. Included are three poems, as well as an account of a visit to Curran (dated 1919) and a column by Billy Rose for the New York Herald Tribune regarding “Worth” (1950).

Benchley’s diaries consist of notes in his hand, in bound volumes. They date 1911-1914 and 1916.

Printed material in the collection consists primarily of tearsheet copies of Benchley’s writings. These include tearsheets for The New York Sunday Tribune (1916-1917); Vanity Fair (1915-1920); The Bookman (1919-1931); The New York World-Sun (1927); Seven Seas (1930); Detroit Athletic Club News (1922-1959); Liberty (1930-1932); Harper’s Bazaa r (1931-1933); The New Yorker (1926-1935), including several “Wayward Press” articles (1928-1939) and theatre reviews; New York Daily Mirror (1933-1934); New York American (1934-1936); Yale Review (1931-1934); Life (1949), including two drama reviews (1921 and 1926); Oakland Tribune (1921); “Mr. Peters” pieces from the Boston Sunday Herald, the Chicago Tribune, The Passing Show, and Redbook (1926-1930); Harvard Lampoon (ca. 1911 and 1921); and various other periodicals (1919-1964).

Also present are two publications edited either wholly or in part by Benchley, Life Sunday edition (Sep. 7, 1922) and the New York Sunday Tribune from June 9, 1918. The latter is an unused proof of the rotogravure section, edited by Benchley and Ernest Gruening. The proof shows photos of African-American troops in World War I juxtaposed with a Southern lynching; it was rejected by the editors, and soon after Benchley and Gruening were fired for being “pro-German.”

Other printed material in the collection includes news clippings and tearsheets regarding Benchley and his family (1920s-1950) and reviews and advertisements for Benchley’s books (1921-1949). Also included are seven scores for songs from Gershwin musical Funny Face, for which Benchley and Fred Thompson wrote the book (1927), and a news clipping regarding the Sacco-Vanzetti trial (1927; Benchley had accused Judge Webster Thayer of prejudice in the case).

Scrapbooks in the collection consist of two scrapbooks of clippings and other items about Benchley and his work (including book reviews, articles, dust jackets, dinner menus, theatre programs, and photographs, all dating ca. 1920-1928), a scrapbook regarding Benchley’s short films, compiled by Gertrude Darling Benchley (includes letters, notes, reviews, clippings, film strips), and a scrapbook regarding Benchley’s appearances in feature films, also compiled by Gertrude Darling Benchley (includes clippings and other items). Also present is a memorial scrapbook with obituaries, articles, and letters written in tribute to Benchley.

Correspondence in the collection is grouped into various sections. Correspondence with Benchley includes Benchley’s letters and telegrams to his wife and sons, sent from Hollywood, Europe, New York, and other locations (1915-1945); Benchley’s letters to his mother (1911 and 1929); Benchley’s letter drafts regarding the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the DAC News – Liberty lawsuit, and Heywood Broun (1927 and 1934); Benchley’s letters to Lillian C. Duryea, the fiancée of Benchley’s brother Edmund who later became Benchley’s benefactress after Edmund’s death (1900-1907); letters to Benchley; letters regarding newspaper and magazine publications; book publishing correspondence; film and radio business letters (includes contracts); Harvard University correspondence; Liberty Loan correspondence; general business correspondence; fan letters and questions; and unsolicited manuscripts and suggestions.

Posthumous letters regarding Benchley includes publishing, business, permissions, and general correspondence involving Gertrude Darling Benchley, the Benchley estate, Harper and Row, Cass Canfield, Nathaniel Benchley, and others. Other groups of posthumous letters include correspondence regarding the Robert Benchley Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library; the biographical article in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography ; the Robert Benchley Theatre at Phillips Exeter Academy; royalty and account statements; and personal letters of Gertrude Darling Benchley (1935-1957).

Letters of the Benchley family includes correspondence between Lieutenant Edmund N. Benchley (Robert Benchley’s brother, killed in action at Fort San Juan, Cuba, July 1, 1898) and his father Charles H. Benchley and others (1897-1898); letters to and from Charles H. Benchley and his sons (1898-1922); letters to Mrs. Charles Benchley (1918, 1932-1933); letters of Nathaniel Benchley to his parents, chiefly his mother (1929-1945); letters of Robert Benchley to his mother from Harvard University (1938-1940); and other miscellaneous family letters.

The correspondence includes letters from numerous notable figures. Especially noteworthy are the letters from Benchley’s colleagues Frank Crowninshield, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman, Harold Ross, and Gluyas Williams. Other notable correspondents include George M. Cohan, Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Dana Gibson, Ernest Gruening, Learned Hand, Herbert Hoover, Dorothy Kilgallen, Stephen Leacock, Walter Lippmann, Clare Boothe Luce, H. L. Mencken, Kermit Roosevelt, David O. Selznick, George Bernard Shaw, Herbert B. Swope, Deems Taylor, E. B. White, Walter Winchell, Anna May Wong, and Alexander Woollcott. The group of correspondence regarding the sponsorship of and contributions to the Robert Benchley Memorial Theatre at Exeter also includes several notables, among them Tallulah Bankhead, John Dos Passos, Jimmy Durante, James Forrestal, Ernest Gruening, Joseph P. Kennedy, George Jean Nathan, John O’Hara, S. J. Perelman, Richard Rodgers, David O. Selznick, James Thurber, and Walter Wanger.

Benchley’s artwork includes numerous comic drawings and illustrations. Early drawings include illustrations for The Aeneid, done in Benchley’s Junior year at South Worcester High School, as well as other drawings from the same time (1906-1907) and later sketches and cartoons of professors and school events (1913-1914). Also present is a framed cartoon by Benchley with a signed inscription to James C. Savery, signed and dated 1912. Additional drawings are present on Benchley’s letters to Lillian C. Duryea (see above) and other letters.

Photographs in the collection consist of formal portraits of Benchley (1894-1930); early informal photos (1899-1906); photos used by Harper and Bros. for Nathaniel Benchley’s biography of Robert Benchley; informal photos of Benchley and others (1912-1940); film studio publicity photos (ca. 1941); stills from Benchley’s short films (1935-1944); stills from feature films in which Benchley appeared (1935-1945); and Benchley family photographs and portraits. These photographs are almost all black and white prints. Notable persons represented include Nathaniel Benchley, Douglas Fairbanks, Louise Macy, David Niven, David O. Selznick, and Artie Shaw.

Memorabilia in the collection consists of material regarding Benchley and items regarding his family. The material regarding Benchley consists of a list of numerous jokes and riddles with sketches on verso, done in childhood; Worcester High School and Harvard University material, including several items regarding Benchley’s activities with the Hasty Pudding Club (1911-1912); items regarding Benchley’s marriage and family life, including a wedding and family album titled “By Our Fireside”; various invitations and menus; awards and citations, including Benchley’s citation for patriotic service in connection with the Victory Liberty Loan (1919) and Benchley’s appointment as Honorary Mayor of Marineland, Florida (1942; Benchley was Mayor for three days); and other miscellaneous items.

Benchley’s family is heavily represented in the memorabilia. These items include material regarding Benchley’s father, Charles H. Benchley. Included are clippings about him (1889-1923) as well as official documents regarding his status as Justice of the Peace; his 1919 commission is signed by Calvin Coolidge (then Governor of Massachusetts). Also present is material regarding Edmund N. Benchley, including clippings regarding his death in the Spanish-American War, a pouch that belonged to him and which he used during the war, and other miscellaneous items. Other family-related material consists of genealogical research conducted by Gertrude Darling Benchley; these items include notes, family trees, printed material, correspondence, and memorabilia.

Additional material in the collection pertains to Nathaniel Benchley’s stage show “Benchley Beside Himself” (1997), including a script, a program for a performance on Nantucket, Mass., printed articles, and a video cassette recording of a performance.

Notable Figures
1. Benchley, Robert, 1889-1945
Associated Subjects
1. Literary Collections Subject Guide
2. Theatre and Film Subject Guide
3. Radio Subject Guide
4. Humor, Comedy, and Satire Subject Guide
5. Criticism Subject Guide
6. Motion picture industry
7. Screenwriters – United States
8. Humorists, American
9. Authors, American
10. Actors -- United States
11. American wit and humor.
12. American literature--20th century
13. Photographs
14. Diaries