Listen to A Complement to “The King’s Speech,” a poetic collaboration between Nat Benchley and Patricia Collinge.
The NPR interview is now available here. And for something completely different, read Another Opinion.
“Lost” Algonquin Round Table Works Found and Published
-New York: July, 2009: In the 90th anniversary year of the founding of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a new collection of little-known works by some of the group’s most famous members has come to light. Unearthed from private collections, public troves and dark recesses, the works of fiction, poetry, criticism, journalism, humor and silliness sprang from the prolific pens of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun, Ruth Hale, Marc Connelly and several other members and visitors at the renowned literary gathering.
“The Lost Algonquin Round Table” is a rich compendium of the writings which made the group famous, before their japes and bon mots were collected and anthologized. Here, under one cover and behind the droll cover art of New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler, are many of the pieces which brought the members of the famous salon to the public’s attention. Dug out from periodicals and files from the early 20th-Century, these criticisms, parodies, columns, poems, speeches, letters and snippets of journalism offer ample evidence of why the group was so revered.
The group which came to pride itself on being called “The Vicious Wits” first came together at New York’s Algonquin Hotel in 1919, shortly after World War I. The meeting that kicked off “the ten-year lunch” was originally intended as a jab at the wartime boastings of Alexander Woollcott. But they found such mutual affection and such enjoyment in each other’s company that they convened on a regular basis and cohered almost exclusively. Soon, these critics and writers were being written about, as their private tomfoolery garnered public notice. “In today’s celebrity-mad culture, such attention paid to published writers is not unusual,” said co-editor Nat Benchley. “But in 1919 it was a new form of entertainment. For a time, the group was more famous for how they behaved than what they did.
“But the truth of the Algonquin Round Table has always been that they were an immensely talented and productive group of playwrights, authors, poets, critics, journalists and speech writers who just happened to relish each other’s company. Their witticisms have been anthologized for decades, almost to the extent that the original reasons for their fame have been eclipsed.”
To set the record straight, and to offer up some forgotten or never-before-seen evidence of the group’s talents, Co-Editors Nat Benchley and Kevin C. Fitzpatrick have spent years combing through family archives, libraries, public records and secret troves. Not focusing on the humor –but not eschewing it either- they have pulled together a remarkable collection of writings which will highlight the literary skills of the famous quipsters.
“It has been an immense pleasure to collect these pieces for new readers to enjoy,” Fitzpatrick said. “The stories, poems and articles we are presenting capture the essence of the era in which they were written, and are just as interesting today as when they were composed decades ago. It is also an important book for fans of the group that think they know it well, because we have several gems which have never been published before.”
Benchley is the grandson of Round Table member Robert Benchley and has written and performed “Benchley Despite Himself.” Fitzpatrick is the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society and the author of “A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York.”
by admin in Miscellaneous
© Al Hirschfeld
Drawing reproduced by special arrangement with Hirschfeld’s exclusive representative, The Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York
Being a compilation of Robert Benchley’s best monologues, short films, radio rantings and pithy pieces
As recalled, edited and acted by his grandson
And combined with family reminiscences and friends’ perspectives.
A warm, touching, hysterical romp for all who are interested in language and its laugh potential.
“Benchley Despite Himself” is a one-man, one-act stroll through the glory period of literate American humor, from post-World War I New York to post-World War II Hollywood.
It is told through the story of one of America’s premiere humorists, a member of the fabled Algonquin Round Table in New York and a habitue of the Garden of Allah in Hollywood.
Robert Benchley made his mark in the numerous magazines in New York in the early 1920s, rose to stardom on the stage in various revues and wrote and starred in the first all-talking film in 1928. After that, his career skyrocketed in films and radio work, while he maintained several regular magazine columns and criticisms. He is still credited by many of the writers for The New Yorker magazine with inspiring their work. Modern humor writers from Woody Allen, Russell Baker and Calvin Trillin to Dave Barry still acknowledge their debt to Benchley’s innovative style.
Available for a variety of social and literary affairs, “Benchley Despite Himself” presents much of Robert Benchley’s best material in a live, ludicrous look at a unique life. Written and performed by Robert’s grandson, Nat, the show has entertained audiences in formats ranging from 25 minutes to a 90-minute examination of Robert’s life and legacy and the accomplishments of his various descendants. (Robert’s son, Nathaniel, wrote The Off-Islanders, which became the movie “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” and his son, Peter, wrote the thrillers Jaws and The Deep.)
This is an entertainment for anyone interested in the salutary power of word-based humor and the particular tickle of an off-beat imagination.
Robert Benchley Quote of the Moment:
“Surprise!…is not the name for the emotion with which I am overcome at being just now called upon to address you at this meeting. It is nothing short of confusion.”
from “The Ivy Oration” in “The Lost Algonquin Round Table”
Archive of Previous Quotes
Due to the wide variety of subjects treated by Robert Benchley in his writings, films, musings, mutterings and extemporanea, we could not pin the author or actor down as to just what he would discuss at any particular session. However, it is likely that the topics will be taken from the following semi-organized list… but don’t hold us to it.
“The Treasurer’s Report,” rodeos, dirty laundry, contradictions, sunny Las Los, Hobart Godfrey Weekes, autobiography (sort of), a formidable Questing Beast, WASPs, “the Undertoad,” misdirections, tilting at windmills, language and its use/misuse, expectations, Nathaniel G. Benchley, hanging from rafters, cleanliness is where?, William the Conqueror (vis-a-vis Leif the Unlucky), Worcester, exceptionally dependent children, telegrams, the Algonquin crowd, juggernauts, the Borgia family picnic, Arthur and Julius Marx, word games, Charles Dickens, Helen Hayes, Alice Brookhausen, “Sweet Old Bob,” theater criticism, religion, impeccable timing, Fox Movietone, “talking pictures,” sex (sort of), Marjorie B. Benchley, a reformed Victorian teetotaler, Charlie, Jenny, Edmund, Harvard, the divan, “What College Taught Me,” Lampoon cartoons, fisheries, Twain, Leacock, journalism, Queen Anne, Gertrude Darling, “Opera Synopses,” Charles Lindbergh, the Great Depression, a “Theory of Work,” Fred Allen, Hollywood, martinis, prodigious output, “How to Sleep,” narrowed eyelids, “Dementia Praecox,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Humor Analysis,” Jimmy Stewart, that old atavistic streak, the Garden of Allah, ‘Sconset lust, Der Querschnitt, doing your “first best,” “Swing Music,” Clio v. Thalia, Peter Lorre, Joe Bryan, Budapest, peace, Zack T. Benchley, discipline, “Abie’s Irish Rose,” …