Benchley, Nathaniel (1915-1981)

The Nathaniel Benchley collection includes manuscripts, subject files, printed material, correspondence, photographs, audio, and other items.

Manuscripts by Benchley in the collection include his books Side Street (Harcourt, 1950); One to Grow On (McGraw, 1958); Sail a Crooked Ship (McGraw, 1960); The Off-Islanders (McGraw, 1961); Catch a Falling Spy (McGraw, 1963); A Winter’s Tale (McGraw, 1964); A Firm Word or Two (McGraw, 1965); The Visitors (McGraw, 1965); The Monument (McGraw, 1966); Welcome to Xanadu (Atheneum, 1968); The Wake of the Icarus (Atheneum, 1969); Lassiter’s Folly (Atheneum, 1971); The Hunter’s Moon (Little, Brown, 1972); Humphrey Bogart (Little, Brown, 1975); Portrait of a Scoundrel (Doubleday, 1979); Sweet Anarchy (Doubleday, 1979); All Over Again (Doubleday, 1981); Speakeasy (Doubleday, 1982); and several abandoned projects (ca. 1946-1972), including The Rivers Around Manhattan (contracted by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1966, abandoned in 1968), a book about John Steinbeck, and a book about the San Francisco earthquake.

Manuscripts for juvenile and young adult fiction by Benchley (all published by Harper except where indicated) include Sinbad the Sailor (Random House, 1960); Red Fox and His Canoe (1964); The Strange Disappearance of Arthur Cluck (1967); A Ghost Named Fred (1968); Sam the Minuteman (1969); The Several Tricks of Edgar Dolphin (1970); The Flying Lesson of Gerald Pelican (1970); Feldman Fieldmouse (1971); Gone and Back (1971); Only Earth and Sky Last Forever (1972); The Magic Sled (1972); Small Wolf (1972); Bright Candles: A Novel of the Danish Resistance (1974); The Deep Dives of Stanley Whale (1973); Beyond the Mists (1975); A Necessary End: A Novel of World War Two (1976); Snorri and the Strangers (1976); George the Drummer Boy (1977); Kilroy and the Gull (1977); Running Owl the Hunter (1979); Walter, the Homing Pigeon (1981); and Demo and the Dolphin (1981).

Plays by Benchley in the collection include The Frogs of Spring (Samuel French, 1954; based on his novel Side Street ), Just Keep Moving (1957), One to Grow On ; Be My Love (1966-1967); Quinine for Austin ; an untitled play; and an outline for a play about Grandma Moses.

Screenplays by Benchley in the collection include The Great American Pastime (1956) and Catch a Falling Spy (unproduced, 1963); The Cruise of the YP-438 (unproduced; adapted from the novel by Ellis Sard); Generation Gap (unproduced); Just Keep Moving (unproduced); You Van Gogh to Bed Now? (unproduced); and an outline for a screenplay based on Edward Streeter’s novel Mr. Hobb’s Vacation .

Other manuscripts by Benchley in the collection include an untitled Andy Griffith feature (1966; includes letters); The Upper Hand, a teleplay for NBC Matinee Theater (written by Benchley and adapted by George Lowther); and numerous articles, essays, and short stories. Several of the short stories include fan letters and correspondence from The New Yorker (primarily from Robert Henderson). The collection also includes several letters, photos, artwork, clippings and notes used for Benchley’s biography of his father, Robert Benchley (McGraw, 1955), as well as three articles ghost-written for Helen Hayes.

Manuscripts by others in the collection include Melville Goodwin, U.S.A ., a screenplay by Roland Kibbee and Allan Scott (unproduced, 1956); and The Rainmaker, a screenplay by N. Richard Nash (1956).

Subject files in the collection consist of files (arranged by Benchley) of various items, primarily correspondence and printed material regarding Benchley’s writings. File subjects include The Circus of Dr. Lao (1952-1957), Sail a Crooked Ship (1958-1962), The Off-Islanders (1961), Catch a Falling Spy (1962-1970); Gone and Back (1970-1973); Channel 3 on Nantucket, Mass. (1971); Hunter’s Moon (1970-1974); Lassiter’s Folly (1966-1971); The Spirit is Willing, the film version of Benchley’s novel The Visitors (1965-1966); The Rivers Around Manhattan, unpublished (1965-1970); an abandoned book about the 1940s and 1950s (1971-1972); and Benchley’s attempt at a musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s book Division Street: America (1967).

Printed Material in the collection primarily consists of the published versions of Benchley’s short pieces (stories, articles, etc.) as well as promotional material and reviews of Benchley’s work. Also included are programs for performances of Benchley’s plays.

Correspondence in the collection is extensive, covering Benchley’s professional career and personal life. The material gathered by Benchley for his biography of his father includes letters from Herbert B. Swope, Gluyas Williams, Alexander Woollcott, H. L. Mencken, W. Somerset Maugham, and Heywood Braun. Several notable letters pertain to Benchley’s unrealized book on Steinbeck; correspondents include Lewis Galantiere, Nunnally Johnson, Eliz Kazan, Burgess Meredith, George Plimpton, and Elaine (Mrs. John) Steinbeck. Other notable correspondents include Steve Allen, Cleveland Amory, Peter Benchley, William Castle, Craig Claiborne, William K. Coors, Brendan Gill, Ernest Gruening, Helen Hayes, Frank Loesser, Roberta Pryor, Richard Rodgers, Eva Marie Saint, William Shawn, Virginia Sorensen, John Steinbeck, Studs Terkel, and Charlotte Zolotow.

Photographs in the collection vary in subject. Several are images of Nathaniel Benchley, either alone or with family and/or friends. One photo is a print of Benchley with Eudora Welty, autographed by Welty (Dec. 1987). Many other photos are images of Robert Benchley. Also included are one hundred prints of Humphrey Bogart and his family; with a notebook identifying the prints.

Audio recordings in the collection include The Best of Benchley (BBC, May 8, 1946); Walter Mitty ; Bio in Sound – Robert Benchley ; Nat Benchley on Robert Benchley ; and other cassette tapes regarding Robert and Nathaniel Benchley’s writing.

A significant portion of the papers consist of documents and other items relating to Benchley’s service in the U.S. Navy. These items include Benchley’s Radar Training School certificate (1943); his training notes and a notebook with notes and drawings; files of documents, arranged by Benchley; a film reel regarding the Navy; photographs; a medal; and Benchley’s discharge card.

Additional material in the collection include Benchley’s baptismal and marriage certificates; a family history, by Gertrude Darling Benchley (Nathaniel Benchley’s mother); various awards and buttons; Benchley’s index files on publications by Robert Benchley; various early artwork; and other items.

Notable Figures
1. Benchley, Nathaniel, 1915-1981
Associated Subjects
1. Literary Collections Subject Guide
2. New Yorker Magazine Subject Guide
3. Humor, Comedy, and Satire Subject Guide
4. Children's Literature Subject Guide