“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.

“Blurbs” (E48)

  • Originally printed:  The Forum, December 1923
  • First reprinted in:  Never Reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Robert C. Benchley



We discern intimations of Benchley’s Guy Fawkes persona in this piece, which applies the Wayward Press treatment to the unctuously undiscerning literary criticism in vogue during the Fall of Calvin Coolidge’s accession to the Presidency. Benchley begins in a mood of mock amazement, basking in the froth of fiction’s self-styled apotheosis. One recent barrage of ballyhoo heralded the arrival of no less than 38 all-time exemplars upon the literary landscape – just in time for Christmas! A veritable embarrassment of rich exaggeration.

And yet, the author has no pointed quarrel with any of the esteemed works on that year’s publishing schedule. He cites a number of critics for contempt of their own métier, but negs nary a modern masterwork. Doubling back to poke fun at the stuffiness he had exhibited during the opening paragraphs of the piece, Benchley admits there is nothing inherently ludicrous in imagining that some of these “instant classics” of the early 1920s might indeed emerge triumphant from the chrysalis of damnation by attainted praise. In the final analysis, it is the paucity of perspicacity that Benchley abhors in these peripatetic paeans – a defect he would continue to dog in his mass media interventions of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Favourite Moment:

The Boston “Transcript” uses the word “unique” a bit more cagily, in speaking with characteristic New England repression of another book. “A more unique self-revelation,” it says, “has perhaps never been given to the world.” There may have been an equally unique self-revelation. The “Transcript” reviewer does not let himself go to the extent of denying this. But the point to be emphasized is that, since man first began drawing picture-stories on the walls of his cave, there is every reason to believe that the world has never seen a “more unique” personal record than this.

“A Big Edition” (E45)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 21, 1931
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


A big edition indeed! Guy Fawkes covers a lot of ground in this 5-page installment of The Wayward Press. He begins with an expression of pity for American journalists forced to pretend that they understand or care about “international news”. Given a line on a good murder spree or their semi-annual Trial of the Century, those press boys could really kick up some copy, but with nothing much cooking on the domestic front in early November 1931, Fawkes finds them serving up second-hand statecraft scraps. The papers were abuzz that autumn with hearsay concerning French Prime Minister Pierre Laval’s fruitless confab with Herbert Hoover. Fawkes chides the media for churning out placeholder headlines and stories, all claiming to be on the cusp of big balance-of-power altering revelations, when, in fact, not even Laval knew what he was doing on this side of the Atlantic.

The author does a little digging in the London papers and finds them even more at sea in their reportage, with the Daily Express going furthest astray in their accounts of a “shocking” shipboard slip and fall by U.S. dignitary Henry Prince, which was supposed to have upset Monsieur et Madame Laval greatly and augured ill for discussions of a Franco-American Pact. In reality, RB asserts, Prince had the stomach flu and the Lavals weren’t anywhere near him when he took a tumble. This was no mistake on DE’s part – the paper simply understood that beleaguered Britons were eager for a little comedy relief in their foreign correspondence.

Fawkes makes short work of the New York City Aldermanic elections, described by various organs as indicative of a victory for Tammany or for the anti-corruption Seabury commission (definitely seems like the latter, in retrospect, given the imminent fate of Mayor James J. Walker) and the death of Thomas Alva Edison (he’s just happy the sportswriters weren’t asked to pile their purple clichés onto his pyre – if they had any words left in their artless arsenals after emptying them for their encomia to Knute Rockne). In between these segments, RB goes in for some multiple regression data analysis (comparing October 1930 circulation figures to the October 1931 numbers) in order to demonstrate that a sizable portion of the now-defunct World and Evening World readerships wound up falling to the Hearst papers, while a hefty percentage of the populace (188,196 to be exact) appears to have stopped reading entirely.

Things really heat up during the final two pages, as Fawkes holds up his end of two feuds initiated by The Wayward Press – one with The Sun, which has a rather distorted view of the meaning of the term “reading matter”; the other with Times Business Manager Louis Wiley, who pleads innocent to the charge of accepting press coverage payola from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Along the way, we also get an amusing play-by-play of a fall flare-up of nonsense numbering in the New York papers, several of which appeared to be trying to one-up each other by going far beyond the traditional “Three/Four/Five Star Final” formula for identifying their last gasps of the day. Fawkes tracks The Sun, The Post and The World-Telegram through their paces, observing nigh-exponential progress from the usual 5, to 14, to 16, to 118, to a truly preposterous edition number 219 shamelessly put forth by The Post.

Favourite Moment:
Now that we know The Times wasn’t paid for anything [re: stories about the Waldorf-Astoria], the thing is even less understandable than ever. The Herald Tribune at least got a great big advertisement for its pains.

“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.