Robert Benchley

Benchley’s Best Top 10 List

Just in time for the holidays, we got a message from David Trumbull from The Robert Benchley Society in Cambridge.

The Robert Benchley Society announces a “top ten” list of humorous holiday readings.
The list includes two pieces by Mr. Benchley along with eight other humor authors.
Members of the Robert Benchley Society suggested readings for the list. Each piece
is short and can typically be read in 30 minutes or less. All are excellent pieces
to read aloud to friends and family at holiday gatherings.

No. 7 is by Mrs. Parker’s pal, James Thurber, “Joyeux Noel, Mr. Durning” — with Benchley himself charting twice on the list ala Letterman. A great effort from a great bunch of people!

BOSTON, November 22, 2004 — The Robert Benchley Society announces its second annual “Top Ten Holiday Reading List.”

The list includes two pieces by Mr. Benchley along with current authors David Sedaris, Tom Lehrer, and Christopher Jennison. The list also includes classic humorists Stephen Leacock, Don Marquis, S. J. Perelman, Daymon Runyon, and Jean Shepherd.

Members of the Robert Benchley Society suggested readings for the list. “We hope that people will enjoy these selections,” said Robert Benchley Society chairman David Trumbull. Each piece is short and can typically be read in 30 minutes or less. “All are excellent pieces to read aloud to friends and family at holiday gatherings,” continued Trumbull. Following each entry is a
brief description and a quotation from the piece. Enjoy!

The Robert Benchley society was founded in Boston in 2003 for the mutual enjoyment and promotion of the writings and motion pictures of American humorist Robert Benchley (1889-1945). The society has members on three continents who range in interest from the serious and scholarly to social and fun.

Robert Benchley Society 2004 Holiday Reading List

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(1) “Bayeux Christmas Presents Early,” Robert Benchley

Few holiday images are more deeply branded into the American psyche than that of Christmas in Merry Olde England, which is why Mr. Benchley transports us to France for Christmas A.D. 1066.

“Christmas must have been on all lips framed in probably the worst Norman-French ever heard. Noël, they probably called it. The old oaken bucket that hung in Noël–to put it badly”

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(2)”All Aboard for Christmas,” Christopher Jennison

In the spirit of Norman Rockwell and Frank Capra, author Robert Benchley Society Member, Christopher Jennison evokes the enchantment of
bygone Christmases in the era of train travel. There are lots of stories and pictures, mostly dating back to the first half of the twentieth century, including a short piece from Benchley!

“Hurray, hurray! Off to the country for Christmas! Pack up all the warm clothes in the house for you will need them up there where the air is clean and cold. In order to get to East Russet you take the Vermont Central as far as Twitchell’s Falls and change there for Torpid River Junction, where a spur line takes you right into Gormley. At Gormley you are met by a buckboard which takes you back to Torpid River Junction again. By this time a train or something has come in which will wait for the local from Beesus. While waiting for this you will have time to send your little boy to school, so that he can finish the third grade.”

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(3) “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family,” David Sedaris

What would Christmas be without David Sedaris? Easter. This pick is from a collection of Christmas stories which can also be found in his
‘Barrel Fever’ collection.

“Some of you are probably reading this and scratching your heads over the name ‘Khe Sahn.’ ‘That certainly doesn’t fit with the rest of the family names,’ you’re saying to yourself. ‘What, did those crazy Dunbars get
themselves a Siamese cat?’ You’re close.”

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(4) “A Chrismas Carol” and other songs, Tom Lehrer

With this entry we stray a bit from our stated theme of holiday readings and suggest a hilarious volume of song parodies. What would a
holiday sing-along be without The Hunting Song, My Home Town, National Brotherhood Week, and The Vatican Rag.

“Angels we have heard on high
Telling us to go and buy”

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(5) “The Barbi Doll Celebrates New Year’s Eve,” Jean Shepherd

When a GI returns to his Indiana hometown, restless, lonely, and looking for a New Year’s Eve date, he steps out with the preacher’s
daughter, who is not exactly as he remembers her.

“A giant moth-eaten moosehead hung over the bar, an obscene red balloon extending from its mouth like some grotesque swollen tongue. It bore the
legend HAPPY NEW YEAR ONE AND ALL. The moose wore a fireman’s hat.”

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(6) “Dancing Dan’s Christmas,” Damon Runyon

After a few Tom and Jerrys –and then a few more– an infamous “get-’em-up guy” dons the red suit and beard and doles out a few little trinkets.

“I understand there is some gossip among these citizens because they claim a Santa Claus with such a breath on him as our Santa Claus has is
a little out of line”

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(7) “archie interviews a pharaoh,” Don Marquis

Okay, so it’s not exactly a holiday reading, but she when suggested it showed at our last event dressed as Dorothy Parker, how could we refuse?
Besides its anti-prohibition message is a tonic to today’s new puritanism.

“on what are you brooding
with such a wistful
wishfulness
there in the silences
confide in me
my perial pretzel
says i

i brood on beer
my scampering whiffle snoot
on beer says he”

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(8) “Hold that Christmas Tiger!”, S. J. Perelman

The Martha Stewart of his day, minus the felony convictions, this master of absurd gives his Christmas party decorating advice in the manner
of the trendy fashion magazines of the 1940s.

“I kissed my newsagent goodbye and set out to read the Christmas party suggestions in Mademoiselle, Vogue, and House & garden. “Dip tips of twisted cotton strips in India ink and trim your tree entirely in ‘ermine tails’,” said one. “Well, what do we do next?” I can hear a Mr. Kapustin asking his wife. Mrs. Kapustin peers uncertainly at her copy of Mademoiselle. “Tip dips of twisted crotton sips’ ” — she begins. “No, wait a minute. ‘Sip dips of cristed totton tips.’ ” Obviously, such an enterprise can only end in disaster”

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(9) “The Errors of Santa Claus,” Stephen Leacock

As legal scholar C. K. Allen said in his essay Oh, Mr. Leacock!, “The are certain things which are too sacred to every Englishman to be lightly
joked about; among them the pious peace, the beautific beauty, of a Christmas afternoon.” Oh well, Mr. Leacock is, after all, a Canadian
humorist.

“And upstairs Grandfather was drinking whiskey and playing the Jew’s harp. And so Christmas, just as it always does, turned out all right
after all”

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(10) “Editha’s Christmas Burglar,” Robert Benchley

Christmas is, of course, about the children. But that doesn’t have to ruin it for the rest of us.

“Of course, it might be that the old folks had been right all along and that there really was a Santa Claus after all, but Editha dismissed this supposition at once. The old folks had never been right before and what chance was there of their starting in to be right now, at their age?”

–30–

DAVID TRUMBULL
Boston, Mass.

“One of these days I have got to go and see a doctor about my cigarette smoking. I am slowly but surely losing the knack.”
–Robert Benchley

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