Robert Benchley

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Robert Charles Benchley (September 15, 1889 in Worcester, MassachusettsNovember 21, 1945) was an American humorist, newspaper columnist, film actor, and drama editor.

His essays were published in collections including Of All Things, Benchley Beside Himself, Inside Benchley, and Chips Off the Old Benchley. His books were illustrated by Gluyas Williams, whose spare, knowing line drawings added to Benchley's success.

Benchley's humor was based on everyday life, news oddities, and absurd, almost surreal essays such as his "Uncle Edith" series. At Harvard, he was a leading contributor to the Harvard Lampoon. With Dorothy Parker and Robert E. Sherwood, his colleagues at the original Life magazine, Benchley formed the Algonquin Round Table. He was an early and regular contributor to the New Yorker Magazine. His style influenced other humorists such as S. J. Perelman and James Thurber.

Film work

In 1928, Benchley starred in The Treasurer's Report, a short comedy film that was possibly the first all-talkie film shown in theaters (as opposed to The Jazz Singer (1927), which was primarily silent, and The Lights of New York (later in 1928), the first full-length talkie feature film). This led to a series of more than three dozen comedic instructional short films whose titles frequently began with "How to…". Each featured Benchley as a lecturer or as his family man alter-ego, Joe Doakes. How to Sleep (1935) won an Academy Award in 1938.

At the same time, he found frequent work, at several studios, as a character actor in feature films, often playing a variation on the befuddled burgher of his shorts or else a dipsomaniacal sophisticate. He appears in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, in Rene Clair's I Married a Witch and with Fred Astaire in The Sky's the Limit.

Benchley also appeared in the 1941 feature film The Reluctant Dragon, giving a loose tour of the then-new Walt Disney Studios facility in Burbank, California.

Benchley was awarded a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. He is the father of author Nathaniel Benchley and grandfather of Jaws writer Peter Benchley.

On his passing in 1945, Robert Benchley was interred in the family plot at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Nantucket, Massachusetts.


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