Dorothy Parker Mysteries

Mr. Benchley

It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Braun’s byline
in The World


Dear Mr. Benchley,

Today is your birthday, and I really am sad to have missed the chance to meet you in person, to shake your hand, if you know what I mean?   But, you see, you left the stage long before my entrance.  I am glad that there are forty-eight short subject films and 38 major motion pictures you appeared in, twelve books of your slightly (?) warped humor, numerous posthumously published anthologies, and a score of theatrical and literary biographies where you are sometimes the prime suspect, or are mentioned and explained (your brand of humor prefigured the comedy of so many comedians and humor writers of the past century that people have to explain a phenomenon like you), so I’ve gotten to know you, in a way.

You really were a unique character, from all I’ve seen and read.  Quite complex, a combination of the dark and light sides of life.  Oh, you were a bad boy.  They used to call men like you Boulevardiers:  Always looking for a good time, a party, a pretty woman, a stiff drink, carousing, staying up all hours of the night, spending more than you earned . . . .  But you were the most loyal of friends and you never failed to support your wife and sons in spite of those distractions, and you were much loved by most everyone who ever had the pleasure of your company.  Oh, you were a bit of a scoundrel, if the truth be known.   And it may be oxymoronic to say this, but you were an honorable scoundrel, Mr. Benchley, and that was your saving grace.  Yes grace.  You had grace.  Why, although you were a famous actor and screenwriter whose levity relieved the dramatic tension in the most serious of film stories,  and your reviews for Life Magazine and The New Yorker were sometimes sharp at times, you never went after the players directly; you were kind to them.  Hey, they were working, and it wasn’t their fault the material they were performing was crap.  Of course, there was Abie’s Irish Rose, prejudice in the guise of stage comedy, running on Broadway for nearly five god-forsaken years—see the Benchley page to read selections of his comments in Life about that show at:—but weren’t you a clever fellow, if misguided into thinking it would close on its own.  Why, your weekly one-line reviews during the run of the show expressed your protest and disgust through humor, while people kept flocking to make the curtain every night!

Although you had success, it wasn’t the success you had hoped to achieve.  To quote you:  “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”  You never did get to write that serious biography about Queen Anne that you had been researching for most of your life, and you never were taken seriously in literary fiction.  I can understand your frustration.  Like Dorothy Parker, the friend who adored you, there never was published the “serious” work, the novel.

But, what a whirlwind life you did have.   And I have to say that you left quite a legacy.  It’s a wonderful thing to make people laugh, to lighten their load, and for a time, help divert them from the problems that plague them.  Why, you didn’t just leave us an old biography gathering inches of dust on a bookshelf about a queen whose legacy is best known as a period in which was produced some rather uncomfortable furniture.  No!  There are movies!  There are funny stories and observations that bring wit and joy into our lives so many years after your death.


Until next time,