Biography

Born in Worcester, MA, on September 15, 1889, Robert Benchley became a journalist upon graduating from Harvard in 1912, soon joining the staff of the New York Tribune. After serving in World War I, he returned to New York to accept the position of managing editor at Vanity Fair magazine, later tenuring as a columnist for the New York World before being named the drama editor of Life in 1920. The following year, Benchley published his first book collection, Of All Things, and in 1922 performed an acclaimed monologue, "The Treasurer's Report," as a skit in an amateur revue. Throughout the decade of the 1920s, Benchley also earned notoriety as a charter member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a much-publicized group of New York City writers, actors, and artists -- also including Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, and Harpo Marx -- who met for lunch daily at the Algonquin Hotel to share sparkling conversation, juicy gossip, and scathing insults. Through his work in Life as well as books including 1925's Pluck and Luck and 1927's Early Worm, Benchley emerged as one of America's most popular and well-respected writers, acutely dissecting the comic futility of Roaring Twenties society. His subtle, whimsical humor primarily depicted the struggles of the common man, often spinning off on purely nonsensical tangents; Benchley's friend Donald Ogden Stewart (The Philadelphia Story) dubbed his sensibility "crazy humor," and it found an eager audience among pre-Depression readers. Benchley first began working in movies in 1928, reprising "The Treasurer's Report" in one of the earliest short films to feature sound; in all, he appeared in some 46 acclaimed short features, typically appearing as a lecturer to muse on subjects including The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928), The Courtship of a Newt (1938), and How to Take a Vacation (1941). In 1935, Benchley even won an Academy Award for How to Sleep. In 1929, he rose to new prominence as the drama critic at The New Yorker, a magazine founded by Algonquin lunchmate Harold Ross. Beginning in 1932, Benchley began writing for feature films as well, making his debut with The Sport Parade, in which he also co-starred as a broadcaster. He continued to play any number of comedic supporting roles in the years to come, typically cast as a bumbling yet lovable sophisticate, a cocktail glass always firmly in hand. In 1940, he appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Foreign Correspondent; he also contributed dialogue to the script. Robert Benchley died on November 21, 1945, at the peak of his fame. Benchley's son, Nathanial, was a well-regarded novelist and children's books author while his grandson, Peter, later became a well-known novelist in his own right, authoring the book that inspired the film Jaws. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi