“Broadway By Candlelight: Simple Games For Young and Old to While Away the Long Dark Nights” (E63)

  • Originally printed:  Vanity Fair, March 1918
  • First reprinted in:  Never Reprinted
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley 


Benchley makes light of the somber state of affairs on the Faint White Way during the darkest days of World War One energy rationing. With the United States Fuel Administration, headed by the name-checked Doctor (Harry Augustus) Garfield, on an austerity rampage in early 1918, our author proposes a passel of pre-electric pastimes to the flaming youth of the soon-to-be-lost generation. Who knows? They may very well have lost themselves playing Blindman’s Buff in a blacked out alley back of Brown’s Chop House.

As with many of RB’s early Vanity Fair pieces, the title is way too long and the essay itself feels a trifle distended in its quest to elaborate upon a one-joke premise, which is essentially that it’s tough for a modern human-about-town to get around in the Great War gloom; but it certainly has its pleasurable aspects. It also provides an early glimpse of Benchley’s lifelong distaste for bureaucratic officiousness and the cant of expertise (would that be “Expertese” – a particularly obnoxious relative of Esperanto?). These objections are exacerbated in this case by his well-known opposition to the war itself.

We also get a palpable feel for his deep-seated resistance to anything that keeps people from leaving their homes. One shudders to imagine how RB would have reacted to some of the measures adopted during the COVID era. Fortunately, the march of time has spared your humble annotator from having to deal with the unwelcome image of our dinner-jacketed Diogenes hitching a ride on any kind of “freedom” vehicle.      

Favorite Moment:

But, gloomy as the situation may appear, our indomitable American sense of humor (which leads us through a six-day bicycle race every year without mob-violence being done to the promoters) should guide us in this crisis and help us to improve each shining kilowatt-hour.

“A Bas the Military Censor: The Ride of Paul Revere — As It Would Be Featured in Washington Today.” (E1)

  • Originally printed: Vanity Fair, May 1918
  • Reprinted: Chips Off the Old Benchley
  • Original Byline: Brighton Perry


Written under the pseudonymous Brighton Perry byline, Benchley winces waggishly in the gloved grip of Great Wartime public discourse. The piece opens with a knowing nod toward the three thousand war correspondents whose most insightful writing on the conflict will remain under intellectual quarantine until accessed by future scholars looking to find out what the hell actually happened. Benchley gets in a jab at topical super patriot James M. Beck and teasingly begs Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson not to ban Vanity Fair from the mails just for daring to have a little fun with the concept of soft news during hard times.

The remainder of the essay presents an alternate history of the Revolutionary War in which Paul Revere’s wild midnight ride is replaced by a Sunday section puff piece on picturesque stops for Redcoats on a walking tour of New England and George Washington’s trip across the Delaware is stage managed by military police who function like (21st century) movie location security guards.

Research note:
Benchley worked as a military aircraft information censor for the U.S. Government in early 1918, so he knew whereof he joked.

Favourite moment:
“…the great (numerically speaking) American public..”

Reprint Notes:

  • Major excisions from topical preamble on World War One Censorship
  • Topical reference to jingoistic blowhard James M. Beck removed
  • Teasing request not to be banned by the Postmaster General removed
  • Favourite moment (above) was a casualty of the excision process and does not appear in Chips Off the Old Benchley – too anti-patriotic for the HUAC era?