“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”

“Bobby Goes A-Bicycling” (E50)

  • Originally printed: Life Magazine, December 23, 1926
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



A rather lackluster entry in the Benchley family phantasmagoria. Throughout his career, RB showed a decided fondness for the depiction of barbed interactions between grade schoolers and their guardians. This could sometimes generate real hilarity (see “Another Uncle Edith Christmas Yarn” – E18); but, in this case, we get an unfunny filial fizzle.  Purportedly written by young Bobby Benchley Jr. (aged 7 in 1926), the piece announces itself as the chronicle of Benchley père et fils’ efforts to join in the then-current race to the North Pole, with the dubious help of some kibitzing crony called Lieutenant Commander Connelly. From the start, however, the author is more interested in establishing his portrait of Young Mister Benchley as a precocious practitioner of dire dad jokes at his own pop’s expense.

As you might expect from such a trio (or however many people there are in this two-wheeled caravan), they don’t get very far, stalling out somewhere near White Plains, New York. Along the way, the son-persona jabs mercilessly at the patriarch’s pet peeves, triggers, and insecurities, without occasioning much mirth. Benchley deprecating himself is generally a delight – but Benchley delegating that task to a prepubescent print golem of his own flesh and blood forces the author’s sense of guilt over his increasingly absentee parenting a little too palpably onto the page.

Favourite Moment:

Four days out from Scarsdale, the expedition is now somewhere around North White Plains, N.Y. If things go on at this rate, we’ll need a new map before long.