“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.

“Anatol Revisited: The Devious Ways of a Man With a Maid, in the Present Servant Market” (E15)

  • Originally Published: Vanity Fair, November 1919
  • First Reprinted: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley, with a slight nod to Mr. Schnitzler


A spoof of Arthur Schnitzler’s Anatol, transplanting the Viennese play’s vexed quest for perfectly reciprocated love under patriarchy into the more prosaic (but equally impossible, by definition) task of attracting unalientated help around the kitchen. In the original, Schnitzler’s callow lothario heads off his own hedonism at every turn by faint-heartedly fixating on questions that he does not really want answered – i.e. do the objects of his feeble flirtations feel an all-consuming passion for him?

Frustrated by an unprecedentedly tight New York servant market, Benchley’s Anatol doesn’t even get that far in his financialized philandering, failing to get a single domestic conquest across the threshhold of his country estate. Unaccustomed to the short end of the negotiating stick, the would-be employer finds himself unable to satisfy any of his prospective pick-ups, despite eventually going so far as to suggest that he will explore the possibility of rearranging the solar system as part of the benefits package.

Brilliant in conception, the piece doesn’t quite live up to its potential on the page, but thought-provoking stuff, nevertheless.

Favourite Moment:
“Why should you face the east? And even if it [the servant’s room] did, we could easily change it… I mean the sun doesn’t have to rise in the east, does it? … I know it always has, – but, my God, Agnes, I can’t lose you now!… Something can be done… Something must be done!”

“America’s Greatest Movement: The Jaw Movement” (E14)

“America’s Greatest Movement: The Jaw Movement” (E14)
Originally Published: World Outlook, October 1916
First Reprinted: Never reprinted
Byline: Robert C. Benchley


A true oddity in the Benchley canon, in that it seems to be almost entirely about what it purports to be about, earnestly chewing over a set of facts filtered through the quaint, by 1916, lens of Victorian liberal free trade philosophy. There are glimmers of the author’s sense of humour in the introductory and concluding sections, but for the majority of its length, this article really does aim to communicate historical and economic information about chicle, the basic ingredient in chewing gum (until it was replaced by cheaper, synthetic materials during the middle of the century).

Printed soon after Wilson-Villa era tensions along America’s southern border reached their boiling point (US army “punitive raids” occurred throughout the spring and summer of 1916), the piece warns against any actions that might disarrange the “entente cordiale” between central American chicle gatherers, U.S. manufacturers and their millions of peacefully masticating customers. Most of this sincere tone is undoubtedly an artifact of the unusual publication venue – World Outlook was a typeset creature of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church – however, as every Benchley aficionado knows, there was an extremely earnest side to this genial exponent of absurdity and apostle of fair play in facetiousness. Presumably, the same impulse which led RCB to consider devoting his life to social work also allowed his journalistic muse to vibrate in tune with a magazine written by and for progressive clergymen; if only, thankfully, this once.

Favourite Moment:
“Thus it is that Mexico and the United States are joined by ties that transcend diplomacy, and woe to the Administration or the Opposition through whose machinations the supply of chewing-gum is cut off and the bulwark of our Democracy shattered.”