Daily Archives: September 15, 2013

From The Writer’s Almanac

Compilation of Hirschfeld's work, showing cari...

Compilation of Hirschfeld’s work, showing caricatures of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams and other members of the Algonquin Round Table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the birthday of humorist, actor, and drama critic Robert Benchley (1889) (books by this author), born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became managing editor of Vanity Fair in 1919, and that was where he met Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood. The three of them would go to lunch together at the Algonquin Hotel and complain about their jobs, and those sessions formed the core of what would become the Algonquin Round Table. He was only with Vanity Fair briefly, because Parker was fired in January 1920, and he and Sherwood resigned in protest. He was hired by Life magazine a few months later, and worked as a drama critic for about nine years. He was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker during that time, and in 1921, he published his first essay collection, Of All Things!

Benchley also wrote and acted in several short films from the late 1920s onward, usually humorous monologues. Through the 1930s and into the ’40s, he gradually moved away from writing, becoming more and more interested in films, but all his work carried the same thread of the self-deprecating and mildly inept intellectual. By 1943, he had given up writing. And in 1945, he died of cirrhosis of the liver. He once said, “I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.” And: “It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in American Lit