“Bunk Banquets” (E65)

  • Originally printed:  Liberty Magazine – issue not identified/year not known
  • First reprinted in: The Best of Robert Benchley (1983)
  • Original Byline: Unknown



Benchley anatomizes and anathematizes the machinations behind the plague of banquets afflicting the American social scene. As in “Accustomed As I Am–” (E3), our hero knows he is a voice crying unheard beneath the din of clinking glasses and cleared throats, but he can’t resist getting up to say a few words. Our intrepid reporter takes us step by step through an exposé outlining the hypothetical conception, promotion, and successful realization of a sham event hosted by the American Academy of Natural and Applied Arts, an organization invented for the sole purpose of giving this very banquet.

Not a single attendee suspects there is anything amiss with the proceedings; and, in fact, Benchley concludes, perhaps there isn’t. As with so much else that transpires at the executive level of American business culture, sheer spuriousness spurs the whole corrupt enterprise along. We can hardly condemn good ol’ H. G. Wamsley for skimming a little profit off the top hats when his marks are so eager to co-sign the grift.

RB is past caring about the ethical implications of such consensual chicanery. In fact, he is far more concerned about the thousands of “good faith” banquets clogging halls across the country. “Cui bono?” our detective asks himself. And comes up with: “no one.” Not the organizers. Not the guests. And certainly not Benchley, who must live with this knowledge. Ultimately, he leaves us with the chilling suggestion that most of these abominations occur for no reason whatsoever.

Favorite Moment:

There are certain banquets which it is probably hopeless to try to forestall. Trade conventions, associated college clubs, visiting conventions, all more or less demand a culminating celebration of some sort, and a banquet is the only thing that our national imagination seems capable of devising. But there are banquets which have not even the justification of camaraderie or the brotherhood of selling the same line of goods.

Reprint Notes:

  • Unable to compare text with original Liberty piece.

“Around the World Backward” (E20)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, March 12, 1932
  • First reprinted in: The Best of Robert Benchley
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown


A touch of proto-gonzo journalism from Benchley, who describes life on the sensation-seeking trail with swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and director Lewis Milestone. With a well-earned reputation for sedentary living, RB makes a fine foil for the determinedly vigorous silent icon. By all biographical accounts, this fit of truncated globe trotting was no Joe Doakes daydream. The trio really did set forth for Paris, Russia, Manchuria, Japan, and points beyond, as part of the research phase of a travelogue picture project Fairbanks aimed to finance. They don’t appear to have gotten very far, and our calorie conserving author gives us a pretty good understanding of the dysfunctional group dynamics involved. Benchley probably never took refuge in the dresser drawer of a fellow ship passenger, but the rest of the events here recounted verge on the veridical.

Milestone’s role in all of this emerges as the most mysterious aspect of the abortive adventure. He does not appear to have been any more hell bent on ship deck hurdling than Benchley was, and one is tempted to conclude that he suckered the writer into joining the party as a means of deflecting the ring leader’s roughhouse demands.

Unusual in drawing material from RB’s actual celebrity associations, rather than from his reading or his sitcom-style suburban side, the piece also references the author’s famed knee injury (sustained during Donald Ogden Stewart’s wedding festivities) and his genuine admiration for Milestone’s masterful film treatments of All Quiet on the Western Front and The Front Page.

Favourite Moment:
“I used to stand in front of an open window and breathe deeply – oh, well, pretty deeply – and cheat a little on some bicep flexing, and, when I was young and offensive, I used to bang a tennis ball against the side of the house…”