December 16, 2017

Sina-cism: Remembering the Benchley brand of humor

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Columbia Pictures / public domain

Robert Benchley with Joyce Compton, his costar in the 1941 film "Bedtime Story."

At book club last week, a friend gave me a copy of Nathaniel Benchley’s 1955 biography of his father, comedian Robert Benchley, who remains — more than 70 years after his death — one of Worcester’s most famous funnymen.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The biography is a delight, recounting Benchley’s life with an unerring eye for a good story, deep affection, and as much objectivity as can be expected from a son writing about his father.

For those unfamiliar with the basic outline, Benchley was born Sept. 15, 1889, and attended Worcester schools, including South High, before heading to Phillips Exeter Academy to complete high school. At Harvard University, he acted and wrote for the Harvard Advocate and Harvard Lampoon. There followed a long and successful career as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and Hollywood actor, ending with his death from cirrhosis of the liver in 1945.

Three generations of the Benchley clan have made their mark in American letters and film.

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