Robert Benchley: His Writings and Sayings and his Life and Times


The most comprehensive listing of Robert Benchley's books, essays, newspaper writings, and drama criticism is Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography compiled by Robert Benchley Society Director Mr. Gordon Ernst, Jr. It also contains a publishing chronology, filmography, and discography. Another excellent source of information is Wes D. Gehring's Mr. B" or Comforting Thoughts About the Bison: A Critical Biography of Robert Benchley In this book-length study of Benchley Gehring uses Benchley's diaries and letters in his biographical profile.

The Robert Benchley Society thanks Mr. Nat Benchley for permission to present on our website some quotations from Robert Benchley, all of which have been authenticated.

Our own annotated bibliography of writings by Robert Benchley is available free online.

Robert Benchley's papers are archived in the Department of Special Collections, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

Former RBS Vice Chairman, Miss Pamela Siska, has prepared a listing of the tables of contents of the published books of Benchley essays, along with an index of essays by Benchley that appeared in book form, showing the page numbers and books in which they appeared. Note please that this project does not include Benchley essays that, while printed in periodicals, were never gathered in book form; for which Ernst (v.s.) is the best guide. We are also constructing a keyword index to Benchley's essays.

The complete text of Benchley's 1921 book Of All Things and 1922 book Love Conquers All are public domain in the United States and available free thanks to the efforts of Project Gutenberg.

The Robert Benchley Society announces that our Commemorative Tenth Anniversary Edition of Love Conquers All is available for purchase on Create Space and at Amazon. (If you buy using the Amazon link be sure to buy from Amazon to get this commemorative edition. Other resellers on Amazon offer Love Conquers All in other editions lacking our valuable additional materials.)

Originally published in 1922 by Henry Holt and Company, this volume contains 63 Benchley essays, previously published in Life, The New York World, The New York Tribune, The Detroit Athletic Club News, and The Consolidated Press Association. The illustrations by Gluyas Williams are also from the 1922 edition.

The RBS 10th Anniversary Edition features a new forward written for the Society by humorist Bob Newhart, an introduction by Society chairman, David Trumbull, and a thoughtful essay on Benchley's humor style and influence by Ed Tasca.

That's not all. This volume has the essays from the first place winners of the Society's annual humor-writing competitions: W. Bruce Cameron, Horace Digby, Tim French, Madeleine Begun Kane, Daniel Montville, Mike Tuck.

Humorists Dave Barry, Arte Johnson, and Mark Russell also contributed material in this edition which is "must have" item for any fan of witty humor in the Benchley mode.

Published by award-winning Glendower Media.

Our shopping page, "Bayeux Christmas Presents Early" features Benchley books and movies which can be purchased through Amazon.com who gives the RBS a small percentage of the sales.


Gluyas [gli'-yas] Williams (1888-1982) illustrated Robert Benchley’s books using a distinctive pen-and-ink style that personifies Benchley as a lovable, hapless Everyman. For many fans of Benchley around the world, the Gluyas Williams drawings are Benchley. Benchley once jokingly protested this point:
    “After years of capturing those particular facial characteristics of which my mother is so fond, he has quite unconsciously taken to putting me in all his drawings . . . as the typical American sap . . . I am fast losing all personal identify and becoming a Gibson girl. However, if this is to be my path to fame, I am content.”

Williams and Benchley first met at Harvard just before the first World War, working on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon along with their classmate and friend Laurence McKinney (1891-1968). Williams began as a writer, and Benchley as an artist, but, as Benchley biographer Babette Rosmond notes, all of the people Benchley drew looked Irish, so the two quickly switched roles. /1/

Born in San Francisco, Williams lived in Massachusetts and was trained as an artist in Paris at Colorossi's Atelier. During the 1920s and 1930s, he became one of the leading graphic cartoonists in America, working for the New Yorker and other publications. Besides his work for the Benchley books, he illustrated Edward Streeter’s Father of the Bride and many other books. Three collections of his drawings have been published: The Gluyas Williams Gallery, Fellow Citizens, and The Best of Gluyas Williams.

Though Williams and Benchley worked in different media, both could skewer the foibles of society with genuine affection and without a trace of rancor. Speaking of Gluyas Williams, Benchley once noted,

[Above entry courtesy of Mr. Christopher Morgan, RBS Archivist.]

William's papers are archived at Syracuse University. The collection includes original book illustrations for books by Robert Benchley, Edward Streeter, William Freeman, and Corey Ford, magazine cartoons for Cosmopolitan, Life and The New Yorker, and newspaper cartoons (1922-1947); correspondence, 1918-1949, and manuscript of a poem about Williams by Kenneth Bird and prefaces to Fellow Citizens (1941) and The Gluyas Williams Book, both by Robert Benchley (1929). Correspondents include Randolph G. Adams, Robert Benchley, Kenneth Bird, Charles Dana Gibson, G.S. Lobrano, Christopher Morley, D. Nassau, H.W. Ross, Frank Sullivan, and K.S. White.


In addition to starring in some 50 Hollywood short subjects Benchley played significant supporting roles in several feature-length films.

The most comprehensive listing of Robert Benchley's motion pictures, books, essays, newspaper writings, and drama criticism is Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography compiled by Robert Benchley Society Director Mr. Gordon Ernst, Jr..

The Internet Movie Database has information on Benchley's motion pictures. RBS Secretary Mrs. David (Sharon) Lyon has put together a list of Benchley's Hollywood "short subjects". Finally, there is a website tv-now.com which has a search capability to find Benchley movies on television in the coming month.


Benchley signed many of his books, and even wrote an essay ""Why Does Nobody Collect Me?”–which appeared in Part Eighteen of The Colophon, September, 1934–about his practices in signing dedications in books. The essay is reprinted in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949.


Beginning November 20, 1938 Robert Benchley and band leader Artie Shaw teamed up for Melody and Madness on the Old Gold Program on CBS on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. eastern time. The program moved in 1939 to Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. eastern time on the NBS-Blue network. In addition Benchley was a frequent guest on other radio programs.


For more information about Robert Benchley, see some of the many books about Benchley and about the people and events of his time. For suggestions on books to read, see our annotated bibliography. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute website has a brief biography of Robert Benchley on its Worcester authors pages.

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, written and performed by Mr. Nat Benchley (RB's grandson).

A 1994 major motion picture about Robert Benchley and the members of the Round Table, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is available on VHS. Click here for a review by a member of the RBS.

14 Kingsbury St., Worcester
Photo copyright 2004 Jeanice Sherman,with permission.
3 Shepard St., Worcester
Photo taken in 1979 by William Hyder.


According to the Worcester, Massachusetts City Clerk, Robert Charles Benchley was born September 15, 1889 at the family home at 14 Kingsbury Street. He was the only child born in the City that day. His mother is Maria Jane Moran, nicknamed Jennie, born in Webster, Mass. His father is Charles H Benchley, born here. The family made their home there for several years subsequent to his birth. He was married in Worcester to Gertrude Darling on June 6, 1914.

Benchley wrote of his childhood in Worcester in the essays "Lost Youth" and "Mind's Eye Trouble."

An early trauma in Benchley's life was the death, in the Spanish American War, July 1, 1898, of his brother Edmund N. Benchley
Photo copyright 2004 Jeanice Sherman, with permission.


In New York Benchley was a regular at the Algonquin Hotel where Benchley, Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) and Robert Sherwood (1896-1955) founded the famous literary Round Table that met from 1919 to 1929. Other Round Table regulars included:

  • Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960),
  • Heywood Broun (1888-1939),
  • Marc Connelly (1890-1980),
  • Edna Ferber (1885-1968),
  • Margalo Gillmore (1897-1986),
  • Jane Grant (1892-1972),
  • Ruth Hale (1887-1934),
  • Beatrice Kaufman (1894-1945),
  • George S. Kaufman (1889-1961),
  • Peggy Leach (1894-1974),
  • Neysa McMein (1888-1949),
  • Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897-1953),
  • Harpo Marx (1888-1964),
  • William B. Murray,
  • Brock Pemberton (1885-1950),
  • Murdock Pemberton (1888-1982),
  • Harold Ross (1892-1951),
  • Art Samuels (1889-1938),
  • Laurence Stallings (1895-1968),
  • Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980),
  • Deems Taylor (1886-1966),
  • John Peter Toohey (1880-1946),
  • David Wallace (1889-1955),
  • John V.A. Weaver (1893-1938),
  • Peggy Wood (1892-1978),
  • Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943)

    While visiting the Algonquin, be sure to see the painting A Vicious Circle, which adorns the dining room; it's by Natalie Ascencios.


    Whether lunching together at the Algonquin, working together at the New Yorker, or playing together at various speak-easies or Polly Adler's place, Benchley's name was frequently in tandem with that of Dorothy Parker. In a new book Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin Parker's biographer, Marion Meade writes about the women writers of the 1920s. According to her publisher: "In a style and tone that perfectly captures the jazzy rhythms and desperate gaiety that defined the era, Meade tells the individual stories of Parker, Fitzgerald, Millay, and Ferber, traces the intersections of their lives, and describes the men - including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, Harold Ross, and Robert Benchley - who influenced them, loved them, and sometimes betrayed them.


    Painting of Mr. Benchley's digs at the Royalton, by Nathaniel Benchley, copyright Estate of Robert Benchley, presented here by permission of copyright holder, all rights reserved.
    Benchley lived across the street from the Algonquin at the
    Royalton New York Hotel 44 West 44th Street, where the clutter in Benchley's rented rooms prompted his friend Noel Coward (1899-1973) to remark, "I must say, it looks lived in."

    In New York Benchley was a frequent diner at 21 Club where he is memorialized with a brass plaque at his customary spot in the barroom: "ROBERT BENCHLEY – HIS CORNER."

    Benchley was also a frequent guest of New York's most infamous madam, Polly Adler, whose 1953 book A House is not a Home is out of print, but second-hand copies may be found in bookshops and on Amazon.com.


    From 1925 to 1940 Benchley wrote for Harold Ross's New Yorker.

    In Hollywood Robert Benchley lived at the The Garden of Allah. A company that creates digital special effects has adopted the name and has information about The Garden of Allah in the period when Benchley lived there.



    Wolcott Gibbs, editor, humorist, parodist, drama critic, and short story writer for the New Yorker wrote:

    When you were with him, in the wonderful junk shop he operated at the Royalton in "21", or in less fashionable saloons which had the simple merit of staying open all night, you had a very warm and encouraging feeling that you were a funnier man than you'd previously suspected, the things you said sounded quite a lot better than they really were and, such was the miracle of his sympathy and courteous hope, they often actually were pretty good. He wanted his guests to feel that they were succeeding socially and he did his best to make it easy for them. The truth, of course, was that Benchley himself maneuvered there conversations, tactfully providing most of the openings for wit, but the effect was that people were mysteriously improved in his company, surprisingly at home on a level of easy charm of which nobody would have dreamed they were capable. This willingness to play straight man to amateur but hopeful comedians is rather rare in the world he inhabited, where it is not customary to give very much away, but he did it instinctively.

    excerpt from "Robert Benchley: In Memoriam" published in More in Sorrow, 1958; originally published in The New York Times.

    Benchley's friends included fellow writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), who, in his only commercial product endorsement wrote "Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has been a good companion ever since."

    Fellow humorist and New Yorker writer James Thurber (1894-1962) confessed that the professional humor writer is plagued by ". . . the suspicion that a piece he has been working on for two days was done much better and probably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924." –My Life and Hard Times (1933).

    English legal scholar (and humor author) Sir Carleton Kemp Allen (1887-1966), wrote "There are certain things which are too sacred to every Englishman to be lightly joked about; among them I would name Shakespeare, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the pious peace, the beatific beauty, of a Christmas afternoon...These things go deep into our inner natures; but I am sorry to say none of them is sacred to Mr. Benchley. He is pleased to be satirical about them." –Oh, Mr. Leacock! (1925).

    Brian A. Thomas has done some work on the Benchley/W.C. Fields connection.

    In addition Benchley's influence can be seen in later generations of humorists as well as among his contemporaries.


    Agata Puccio Stanford took these photos of the Benchley home on Nantucket in June 2010.

    PLEASE NOTE that the "Benchley home" on Nantucket pictured at the link above is not one Robert ever knew: it was purchased by Nathaniel in 1954 (and sold by Peter in 1999, or so); the only piece of property Robert ever owned on Nantucket is the plot at the Prospect Hill cemetery


    Bill Hyder, founder of the "The Lost Locomotive" (greater Washington, DC) chapter of the Robert Benchley society has supplied photos of the Benchley family burial plots on Nantucket.


    What is your level of knowledge of Benchley lore? beginner? middle? advanced? Try our Benchley quiz just for the fun of it.


    /1/ Rosmond, Robert Benchley: His life and Good Times, p. 41.

    /2/ The Best of Gluyas Williams, p. viii.

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