Letters and New Yorker Drafts: 1935-1944

Approximately 20 items: Letters from humorist, longtime New Yorker columnist (1925-40), screenwriter, and actor Robert Benchley to his secretary Charles MacGregor and his wife, Broadway singer and dancer Virginia Birmingham MacGregor; with three draft pieces intended for the New Yorker. Benchley to Charles MacGregor: Two typed letters signed, “Lux” and “Shit” to “Raffles” and “Klopstock”; [ca. mid-1930s]; 4tos.; two pages each; on New Yorker and Beverly-Wilshire letterhead respectively regarding administrative matters and reporting on life in Hollywood. Benchley to Virginia MacGregor: Ten typed letters signed, “Bob” to “Ginny,” with one letter to MacGregor and her daughter, Jean; 1935-44; 8vos.; one to two pages each on Benchley’s personal stationery writing about Benchley’s financial support, Jean’s academic career, etc. A telegram from “Marc Connelly et al.” regards a memorial gathering for Benchley, and with newspaper clippings (obituaries).

Draft material as follows: “Winter Sports”; 4to.; two pages; brittle; apparently unfinished, headed “Events No. 1” on page two with no written material following. Reflecting on the Olympics in California, Benchley reminisces about the games in Lake Placid, where “everyone seemed to be so gay and wet-nosed about ski-jumping, bob-sledding, and ice-skating that the wonder is they haven’t worked up something to take the place of these sports in the warm, sunny climate of California.” “Stamps”; 4to.; three pages; brittle; also apparently unfinished, ending midsentence on page two. The piece is a parody debating “the success or failure of the new three-cent stamps as a source of revenue,” as well as their flavor. “Movie audiences”; 4to.; three pages; brittle; with numerous autograph emendations. Published in the New Yorker April 28, 1930, on the status of theatre in New York and “why Broadway is losing its stars to Hollywood.”

In the earliest letters Benchley reports candidly from the West coast, where he worked as a freelance screenwriter and actor for much of his career. Slipping in gossip and recounting the latest developments in Hollywood, and dropping names like Ginger Rogers (with whom, he writes, he is slated to act in a film called “Rapture Romance”), he describes his visit to the film capital in his letter of May 26, [193?], writing; “At present, I am writing on a turkey called ‘Pursuit’ which is godawful […]. I think that I go back to acting in a month so, on a picture called ‘Hell Afloat’ which Phil Barry is working on now. They have a new idea for me: a drunk on shipboard. Everyone who has seen ‘China Seas’ thinks that it is a money-maker and that my future lies in playing drunks on shipboard.” The letters to Charles also deal with administrative matters – e.g., periodical subscriptions, book requests, etc. Benchley checks in on the status of his neglected column at the New Yorker: “As I asked in the telegram, and as you probably have answered by now, does the New Yorker business-office ever ask where the rest of those pieces are? I will do them for them if they are getting nasty. Not drinking much out here has solved the problem of writing extra pieces and, unless they tighten up on the acting work I ought to have enough time to slip in a piece now and then.”

A friendship grew from Charles MacGregor’s employment and the letters to “Ginny” often regard financial support extended by Benchley to Virginia and daughter, Jean, after Charles’s death. Benchley urges Virginia to take a break from New York where “it must be terribly hot” and visit him on the West Coast. He writes, “And really give quite a lot of thought to California. It is so nice and far away, and really is pleasant, once you get used to the oranges, and I think it would do both you and Jean worlds of good.” He also mentions his wife Gertrude’s travels to Bermuda, thanks Virginia and Jean for “cadeaux” – particularly when he notes that “You and Jean were very sweet to remember my dirty old fiftieth birthday. It made things a lot easier to know that they make funny cards about it,” and offers advice on Jean’s academic career. In one of his last letters, he writes, “I just wanted to tell you, though, that whatever cessation in the income from this end there may be during these days of working for the Government, will be resumed when it comes time for Jean to go to college as planned. With the experience she is having now she ought to be able to go right to Johns Hopkins or Oxford. Whatever she saves up now will be for the little fripperies of college life (like food), for I want to do the main part.”.

[Book #28180P]

Price: $3,500.00

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