“The Bridge of Don Gene’s Nose” (E57)

  • Originally printed:  The Bookman, October 1928
  • First reprinted in:  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; or, David Copperfield (1928)
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



A slight piece occasioned by a trio of 1928 pop culture headlines: 1. Gene Tunney’s retirement from boxing as heavyweight champion of the world; 2. Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey; and 3. The European walking tour undertaken by this supposedly unlikely pair. Already celebrated by the media as “The Thinking Man’s Pugilist,” especially after ensorcelling slugger Jack Dempsey with sweet science in back-to-back bouts, Tunney’s eagerness to express his thoughts on Shakespeare and other aspects of literary history made irresistible copy. News of the boxer’s friendship with novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder was music to editorial ears everywhere, and their plans to ramble across rural France and Germany got nearly as much coverage as a Trans-Atlantic Flight or a Polar Expedition. What would these extraordinary men talk about? What magnificent epiphanies awaited them? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Gene Tunney guided Thornton Wilder to a new understanding of The Iliad? And if Thornton Wilder enlightened Gene Tunney on a fine point of feint and jab? Wouldn’t that be wonderfully counterintuitive?! Well, possibly it would it have been. But in Benchley’s account, we get the bro version of “dog bites man”.

Favourite Moment:

To all of these, and many more problems, Don Gene turned an ingenuous attention. And, in the meantime he lived immaculately, read much, and punched a large, harassed leather bag.

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted under the title: “The Bridge of Sans Gene”

“The Birth of a College Comic Paper” (E47)

  • Originally printed: Life Magazine, June 2, 1927
  • First reprinted in: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or David Copperfield
  • Unable to Access Original Text at This Time – Benchley Data will analyze any excisions/amendments when Life 1927 enters the Public Domain (in 2023)
  • Original Byline: Not Available


An extremely off the cuff entry in the Benchley canon – but one with its heart on its sleeve. Here, the author takes us behind the scenes at The Razorblade, a fictional entrant in the college humour sweepstakes of the 1920s, where Messrs. Youling, Beamish, Roffen, and Phielo take their bi-weekly half-assed stab at putting together a passable periodical. It is a truism that no one wants to see how the sausage gets made, but in The Razorblade’s case, it seems pretty clear that encountering this sausage at any stage of its life cycle would be a mistake.

Benchley’s disdain for puerile sex jokes, which he considered a substitute for actual humour, comes through pretty clearly in this piece, as does his irritation with an epidemic of ersatz nonsense churned out by Boston Bro-mins whose approach to the mirthful metier lacks any tinge of cosmic absurdity. These charmless chums, whose every “anarchic” act or statement comes embalmed in quotation marks, seem to conceive of comedy as a fraternity hazing ritual perpetrated upon the public. Rah rah rah!

Favourite Moment:
Eighteen poems, five of them to Milady’s ankle, and twenty-nine necking jokes. If we use them all, we are still five whole pages short.

“Back For the Big Game” (E31)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, November 1928
  • First reprinted in: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Or David Copperfield
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (with drawings by Gluyas Williams)


Benchley’s addressee in this anti-nostalgic excursion (“Weekins, 1914”) never makes it anywhere near the big Harvard/Yale game. A lifelong fan of the contest himself, RCB examines the role of the national media in helping to preserve the solidaristic totems of America’s collegiate stratum. As is so often the case with Benchley, the author both buys into and bitterly questions America’s accepted pieties – and during the late 1920s, you weren’t likely to find any piety further up there in the sky than the Ivy League’s autumnal ascendancy.

By no means born to the Crimson, RCB found his way to the Yard through a series of unlikely events kicked off by the death of his beloved older brother Edmund in the Spanish-American War. Reeling from this terrible misfortune, Edmund’s wealthy fiancée Lillian determined to stake the younger Benchley (only 9 at the time) to every advantage that she could, as a feat of Emersonian compensation. (She may also have half-wanted to groom the boy to take his sibling’s place in her romantic plans, although this is strictly a matter of conjecture among his baffled biographers.)

Knowing that he’d reached Harvard – and the incredible social network (I’m not talking about Facebook) it gave him an entrée to – on a tragedy-tainted fluke goes a long way toward explaining the author’s inimitably affable absurdism. Coming of age amongst America’s most favoured citizens – and coming to understand them in their utter ordinariness as human beings – helped to demystify the country’s repressed class arrangements, gifting Benchley with the power to burlesque the bourgeois without resorting to the stridently moralistic critiques offered up by many of his contemporaries. It may also have made him a little too comfortable with the system, or, at any rate, a little too dubious of any possibility of changing it.

What does all of this have to do with three well-to-do old sports page partisans who make tracks back to New England in search of lost homecomings and find themselves ejected from a frat house festooned with irrational numbers? Not much perhaps, except: the fourth estate is a lot more solicitous of its valued customers’ feelings than the fourth dimension is.

Favourite Moment:
“You go to the fraternity house (another concession on my part to my Middle West readers) and announce yourself as “Weekins, 1914.” (My class was 1912, as a matter of fact. I am giving myself a slight break and trying to be mysterious about the whole thing.) … The old place looks about the same, except that an odd-looking banner on the wall says “1930,” there being no such year.”

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted under the title “Back to the Game” in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Or David Copperfield
  • Only one change to the text in the reprint, with slight softening of the language:
  • “I remember you,” says Feemer, “you certainly were an awful ass.” (original text)
  • “I remember you,” says Feemer, “you were an awful pratt.” (reprint)