My Love Affair With An Older Man


Falling in Love

In 1967, when I was a sophomore in high school, I fell in love with an older man.  I would have married him in a heart beat too, if he had ever asked me.  But alas, he never did –partly because we never met and partly because he had been dead since 1945.

The personage to whom I refer is a rather obscure gentleman that, unless you were lucky enough to have discovered his many books of humorous essays, he could be easily overlooked.  His name is Robert Benchley.

My beloved Robert Benchley
This is the picture of my beloved Robert that I keep taped to my computer.

I stole Robert Benchley from my Mother.  She had him on her beside table.  The book was called, Love Conquers All.

One day, I took Love Conquers All to school with me and started reading it in Spanish class.  The first essay I read was “Do Insects Think” in which Robert writes:

During the summer of 1899, while I was at work on my treatise “Do Larvae Laugh,” we kept a female wasp at our cottage in the Adirondacks. It really was more like a child of our own than a wasp, except that it looked more like a wasp than a child of our own. That was one of the ways we told the difference.

I had never read anything like it!  I was shocked to find there were actually people out there, grown men, in fact, who made it their life’s work to be funny like this!  And not Mark Twain funny or Will Rogers funny, because they were funny too.  But they were an acquired taste of funny, a more mature type of humor.  You had to be sophisticated and know a little bit about the world to appreciate them.

And thinking back now on when  I was 15, the only thing I can remember knowing about the world is that eating an entire bag of Sweet Tarts for lunch made your mouth really sore for the rest of the day.

So you can imagine how happy I was when I realized that I could appreciate Robert Benchley’s humor without having to know a darn thing about the world!

Robert Benchley was my kind of humorist!

Robert Benchley and The Algonquin Roundtable

In the 1920’s, the coolest people in New York City were a group of witty writers, actors and celebrated personalities who met for lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.

Naturally, my beloved Robert Benchley was among the  sparkling members of the group — which also included Dorothy Parker who said a lot of really funny things like “Way deep down he’s very superficial.” (I wanted to like Dorothy Parker, but from all that I’ve read, she really wasn’t very nice at all.)

The Algonquin Round Table in caricature by Al Hirschfeld. Seated at the table, clockwise from left: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood. In back from left to right: frequent Algonquin guests Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case.
The Algonquin Round Table in caricature by Al Hirschfeld. Seated at the table, clockwise from left: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood. In back from left to right: frequent Algonquin guests Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case.

Anyway, there’s a really good movie based on the group called, Mrs. Parker and The Vicious Circle starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as Dorothy Parker, and Campbell Scott really nails my beloved Benchley.

Robert Benchley in Hollywood

Robert Benchley is probably most well known for his 30 comedy shorts in which he instructed audiences on things such as: How to Sleep and How to Eat.

Benchley also wrote much of the dialogue and frequently acted in many full length movies of the time as well — usually playing the part of  the on-the-wagon drunk.

My two favorites are Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent where Benchley plays the part of Stebbins.  Here’s a taste of the Benchley-esque dialogue:

Johnny Jones: This is Scott ffolliott, newspaperman same as you. Foreign correspondent. Mr. Haverstock, Mr. ffolliott.
Scott ffolliott: With a double ‘F’.
Johnny Jones: How do you do?
Scott ffolliott: How do you do?
Johnny Jones: I don’t get the double ‘F’.
Scott ffolliott: They’re at the beginning. Both small ‘F’s
Johnny Jones: They can’t be at the beginning.
Scott ffolliott: One of my ancestors was beheaded by Henry VIII. His wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate it. There it is.
Johnny Jones: How do you say it, like a stutter?
Scott ffolliott: Just a straight ‘fuh’.

The other Benchley movie I dearly love is The Sky’s the Limit.  It stars Fred Astaire and Robert Benchley.  The plot’s really stupid but Fred Astaire performs One for My Baby where, in a drunken display of despair, he dances on the bar  shattering all the glass (here).   And Robert Benchley plays the sidekick character who has to deliver a speech he is totally unprepared for  — check it out here.

Well, I could go on and on, Dear Readers, about my love affair with this older man.  And perhaps I’ll expound upon this topic when I write my memoirs someday.  I already have the title.  It’s called “Do Larvae Kiss and Tell?”

Until next time . . . I love you (but not as much as Robert Benchley)

18 thoughts on “My Love Affair With An Older Man

  1. I can see why you fell in love with him… He has your exact sense of humor!!! “Do Larvae Laugh” is something you could have written! This was a great post, Linda. I love finding out little bits and pieces about my favorite people. 🙂

    • Oh thank you Lisa! I’ve always felt a really strong connection with him. I’m always interested in finding out things about my favorite people too. I love blogging! It cuts through everything and gets to the heart of people! What did we ever do with ourselves before out blogs? I can’t even remember. LOL! 😀

  2. I’m a big Benchley fan, too. I discovered him in 7th grade, and never lost my respect (and ability to laugh) for his work.

    Thanks for this reminder of dear Robert. I’ll have to re-read him, I could use a chortle or five.

    • Oh you love him too? That’s so cool! His work has held up really well! Especially when you consider he wrote so many of those essays in the 20’s. Very few come across as dated. And your right, he’s always good for a chortle or five! 😀

  3. Robert Benchley your beloved! He really was a funny man. Perhaps you are him reincarnated since your humor styles are spot on! I do love the speech he gives that he is unprepared for. You can’t help but laugh out loud when reading or watching a Benchely-ism.

    • And not only could he write funny, he was so delightful to watch. He was just an original and everybody who knew him loved him. Except for F. Scott Fitzgerald who kept a pad and pencil with him and wrote down things that Benchley would say at parties — anyway, from what I’ve read that really bugged Robert Benchley, at that point, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a washed up drunk though.

    • Oh thank you Diane so much! 😀 And what a wonderful gift he left the world to enjoy! I always think that we writers are so lucky because we to get to leave behind pieces of ourselves. We get to say, one time we lived on earth and we thought this . . .

  4. What a great insight into your humorous inspiration. Based on your glowing report, I’m going to have to check him out. Thanks for the tip. I’m a big fan of Groucho Marx. I always thought he was ahead of his time. So funny. I’d stay up late to watch his re-runs, because of course, he was before my time!! Enjoy always, (I know you do.) T

    • Well, I think you’ll really like him Tricia. I’d start with The Benchley Roundup which is a collection of his best ones I think.

      I’ve always loved Groucho too. He was so clever and a true original. You should check out Harpo’s memiors, Harpo Speaks. It’s really interesting and gives a lot of insight into how the Marx Brothers became the Marx Brothers, and what a hard life they had when they were kids. 😀

  5. Truly excellent! Always liked Benchley, and it’s great to see him getting some publicity. And I echo some fellow commenters and say it’s cool– and revealing– to get a glimpse of your early influences.

    I’m not a bit surprised you dig Mr. B, you guys have much in common, most especially a knack for combining wit, intelligence, pure zaniness and nonsense, and an exquisite use of wordplay. 99% of all comedy today is rude, crude, demeaning, and/or insulting. You and Benchley not only don’t need to go there, you’re much, much funnier than all the idiots who do go there.

    You picked a great role model, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if Benchley were alive today, he’d be a subscriber to your blog– the guy had good taste!!!! : )

    • Mark! My head is spinning from your wonderful comment and it has gone directly into my heart where I will call upon it whenever I am feeling discouraged or down. Your kind words and unwavering support of my writing and my drawing! has given me the courage to put myself out there and go for it! I hope you know how much I truly appreciate the hilarious and wonderful comments from you Mark. And I truly can’t thank you enough! ❤

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