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Laughter's Gentle Soul: The Life of Robert Benchley
by Billy Altman
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393038335, Hardcover)While he lived, Robert Benchley was a household name--writer, actor, critic, and wit, Benchley was lionized in the pages of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the New York Tribune and appeared in countless Hollywood films, some of which he wrote himself. Fifty years after his death, Benchley has become something of a footnote to the likes of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wollcott, and other luminaries of the Algonquin Hotel Round Table. Most of Benchley's books are out of print, as are the two previous biographies about him. Thus, Billy Altman's Laughter's Gentle Soul comes at a good time to reawaken interest in this forgotten funnyman.
Altman's biography chronicles Benchley's life from his birth in Worcester, Massachusetts, his schooling at Harvard, and early writing career in New York through the heady days of Hollywood and the Algonquin Hotel to his untimely death from cirrhosis in 1945. The stories are all here: Benchley's practical jokes, his legendary drinking, his strict separation of suburban family life and urban adultery. What is not in Laughter's Gentle Soul is any critical analysis of the stories, the writing, or the reasons for Benchley's self-destruction. Why, for example, was Benchley so admired by fellow humorists? Why did he not drink until the age of 31 and then apparently fall immediately into incurable alcoholism? Fans of Robert Benchley won't find anything in Laughter's Gentle Soul that they haven't read before; for those who are unfamiliar with the man, however, Altman's book provides a good first introduction.
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:10 -0400)
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