“This Boys’ Camp Business” (E53)

  • Originally printed: Detroit Athletic Club News, January 1927
  • First reprinted in:  The Early Worm (1927)
  • Original Byline:  Robert C. Benchley [with drawings by Rea Irvin]



Concerned that the youth of America are in danger of maturing into a squadron of toothsome, early rising goons, Benchley aims to dissuade this cohort’s fading fathers and mothers from succumbing to the summer camp magazine ads in the slicks. The author propounds a bleary-eyed anti-vision of masculine independence with the strength of character to resist the bugle call of back-slapping, raft-capsizing bonhomie. Admitting that his resistance to the trend owes at least a little to his own loss of prestige on family swimming parties since a filial exile to the great outdoors came home leagues beyond the old man in the nautical arts, RB makes his slouching stand based primarily on principle. Benchley raises the alarm (the only alarm his idealized snoozer will accept) against the coming Hobbesian orgy of citizens pushing each other off rafts and into an abyss of mirthless, muscle-toned laughter.         

Favourite Moment:

In the first place, when your boy comes home from camp he is what is known in the circular as ‘manly and independent’. This means that when you go swimming with him he pushes you off the raft and jumps on your shoulders, holding you under water until you are as good as drowned – better, in fact.

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted in full, with the Irvin drawings replaced by two new Gluyas Williams illustrations.

“Beating Nature at Her Own Game: At Last a Substitute For Snow” (E38)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, November, 1927
  • First reprinted in: The Early Worm
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (Drawings by Rea Irvin)


Here we find Benchley ensconced in an absent-minded/oversharing brand ambassador persona which anticipates the vitamin researcher of E16 (Liberty, 1931); however, this earlier effort yields far more high-spiritedly insightful dividends. Beginning from the supposed premise that modern consumers are eager to embrace any artificial alternative to a naturally occurring substance, so long as the ersatz product requires no assembly or other effort on the part of the purchaser, our speaker hits upon the notion of going for broke as a snow manufacturer. At first, the reader assumes that, somewhere in the back of this person’s frozen brain, there must have been some inkling of the value that might be attributed to on-demand blizzards by Hollywood producers or skiing enthusiasts; but the spiel, as written (and who it is written to is an open question), dwells instead on the myriad ways in which this miserable stuff impinges upon and thwarts humanity’s best efforts to remain warm, dry, and moderately comfortable.

But Benchley takes pains to show us that there’s no mistake here (at least, not at the conceptual level – it’s true their formula doesn’t seem to work).

If they ever figure out how to churn out this cruel commodity, the addled ad man stands ready to mush on to the crux of his pitch. Why be vexed and drenched by real snow, which pours down upon us at the oddest times, prompted by atmospheric conditions so inexplicable that they are almost as annoying as their product, when you can be pelted and bedeviled by new “Sno” any time you want?! Of course, it all sounds insane when you put it this way, especially when you appear to be putting it this way to a room full of business and marketing executives; and it is insane. However, that puts it right in line with the dominant political imperative to manufacture and impose artificial harshness and austerity upon the majority of our world’s citizens, as a way of naturalizing the scramble for security and resources that keeps capitalism humming.

Favourite Moment:
The problem of distribution thus unsatisfactorily met with, the next thing was to decide what other attribute our “Sno” must have that would give it a place in the hearts of millions of snow-lovers throughout the country. Someone suggested “wetness,” and in half a second the cry had been taken up in all corners of the conference room – for we were in conference by now – “Wetness! Wetness! Our ‘Sno’ must be wet!”

Reprint Notes:

  • Drawings in The Early Worm are by Gluyas Williams
  • Title in The Early Worm shortened to: “At Last A Substitute For Snow”
  • Text mainly reprinted verbatim, with one minor excision:
    • Original Text: ‘then indeed might we cry “Eureka!” or even “Huzzah”
    • The Early Worm: ‘then indeed might we cry “Eureka!”
  • No Huzzahs in hardcover?
  • My version of The Early Worm is a Blue Ribbon Books edition re-issued in 1946 and it does contain some typos: “curse” instead of “course” and “snow-show” instead of “snow-shoe”. Uncertain whether these typos appeared in the 1927 printing of the book.