S. J. Perelman Essay - Perelman, S(idney) J(oseph)

Perelman, S(idney) J(oseph)

Introduction

S(idney) J(oseph) Perelman 1904-1979

American short story writer, essayist, dramatist, and scriptwriter.

Perelman is among the most esteemed and influential humorists in twentieth-century American literature, a group that includes such writers as James Thurber, Ring Lardner, and Robert Benchley. His essays, sketches, and stories, most of which were originally published in the New Yorker, display his sophisticated prose style, whimsical imagination, and talent for parody, wordplay, and social satire. Among his topics of ridicule were the entertainment and advertising industries, popular fiction and film, rural life, and foreign culture. Frequently, however, Perelman fashioned himself as the object of humor by revealing his personal foibles, which rendered him the hapless victim of a complex, turbulent society.

Biographical Information

Perelman was born on February 1, 1904, in Brooklyn, New York, to a machinist, who had immigrated to the United States in 1892. He spent his early years in Providence, Rhode Island, and read with alacrity. His youthful interest in the written word, however, temporarily gave way to drawing while in college. He began his literary career at Brown University, where he first worked as a cartoonist and later as an editor of the Brown Jug, the campus humor magazine. After leaving Brown in 1925, Perelman was employed for four years as a cartoonist for the popular weekly journal Judge before joining the editorial staff of College Humor. During his stay at College Humor and his early years with the New Yorker, to which he began contributing sketches in 1930, Perelman developed the two-thousand-word format and extravagant prose style for which he was to become famous. His first collection, Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge appeared in 1929, and included forty-nine comic stories, parodies, and witty sketches. This book Perelman followed with twenty-three more volumes, all featuring his decades of work for the New Yorker and other publications. Also a noted dramatist and scriptwriter, Perelman began to create his spirited works for the stage in the early 1930s, often as part of a collaborative team. Such was the case with All Good Americans (1933) and The Night before Christmas (1941), both written with his wife, Laura Perelman; Sweet Bye and Bye (1946), with popular caricaturist Al Hirschfield; and One Touch of Venus (1943) and The Beauty Part (1962), with Ogden Nash. Perelman also authored two screenplays for the Marx Brothers early in his career—Monkey Business (1931), in collaboration with Will B. Johnstone and Arthur Sheekman, and Horse Feathers (1932), with Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby—and cowrote a film adaptation of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), for which he and coauthors James Poe and John Farrow received an Academy Award. Perelman died in 1979 while working on the stories and essays that appear in The Last Laugh, published posthumously in 1981.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Perelman's writings offer an eclectic blend of imagination, literary allusion, pun, droll humor, non sequitur, Yiddishism, satire, and wordplay. His sketches for the New Yorker and other popular magazines were collected in numerous volumes, including Strictly from Hunger (1937), The Dream Department (1943), The Ill-Tempered Clavichord (1952), The Rising Gorge (1961), Baby, It's Cold Inside (1970), and Vinegar Puss (1975). These and Perelman's other comic collections offer scores of inane, satirical, and parodic pieces. They poke fun at the popular figures of entertainment and literature—on many occasions ridiculing the purple prose of Perelman's contemporaries. Strictly from Hunger, for example, includes the sketch "Waiting for Santy," a parody of Clifford Odets's writing, and "Scenario," a send-up filled with Hollywood B-movie clichés. Perelman aimed "Counter-Revolution," a piece in The Dream Department, at the worlds of advertising and merchandising, in an attempt to humorously deflate this slick industry that daily bombards the American consumer with its products and slogans. Perelman also frequently approached the problems of everyday life in his sketches, such as "To Sleep, Perchance to Steam," a brief meditation on insomnia that showcases Perelman's trademark punning and self-mockery. In Acres and Pains (1947), Perelman turned his satire on rural life. Its thrust is apparent in Perelman's definition of a farm as "an irregular patch of nettles . . . containing a fool and his wife who didn't know enough to stay in the city." Further elements of Perelman's mocking and allusive sense of humor are apparent in the titles of his sketches, like "Dial 'H' for Heartburn" and "Methinks the Lady Doth Propel too Much" among countless others. In response to critics, who were eager to see Perelman's work on a larger scale, he produced several full-length humorous works containing stories and anecdotes from his travels in the United States and abroad. These books include Westward Ha! or, Around the World in Eighty Clichés (1947), The Swiss Family Perelman (1950), and Eastward Ha! (1977).

Critical Reception

During his lifetime Perelman grew to be one of the most recognized and popular figures in American humor. Because his writing appeared almost entirely in the form of short sketches and journalistic essays, however, his works have been relatively neglected by scholars, who have often expressed regret that Perelman never endeavored to write full-length satire. While some extensive studies of his works do exist, most are summary examinations or contain relatively informal interviews. Still, the overall response of reviewers and critics of Perelman's works has been enthusiastic, tempered by occasional observations that have faulted him for failing to underscore his humor with insightful observations. Most commentators, however, disregard such criticism and instead focus on the brilliance of Perelman's wit, which has made him one of the most beloved humorists in the American literary tradition.

Principal Works

*Major Works of Short Fiction

Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge 1929

Parlor, Bedlam and Bath [with Quentin J. Reynolds] 1930

Strictly from Hunger 1937

Look Who's Talking! 1940

The Dream Department 1943

The Best of S. J. Perelman [republished as Crazy Like a

Fox, 1947] 1944

Keep It Crisp 1946

Acres and Pains 1947

Westward Ha! or, Around the World in Eighty Clichés 1947

Listen to the Mocking Bird 1949

The Swiss Family Perelman 1950

A Child's Garden of Curses 1951

The Ill-Tempered Clavichord 1952

Hold That Christmas Tiger! 1954

Perelman's Home Companion: A Collector's Item (the Collector Being S. J. Perelman) of 36 Otherwise Unavailable Pieces by Himself 1955

The Road to Miltown; or, Under the Spreading Atrophy 1957

The Most of S. J. Perelman 1958

The Rising Gorge 1961

Chicken Inspector No. 23 1966

Baby, It's Cold Inside 1970

Vinegar Puss 1975

Eastward Ha! 1977

The Last Laugh 1981

That Old Gang O' Mine: The Early and Essential S. J.

Perelman 1984

Other Major Works

Monkey Business [with Will B. Johnstone and Arthur Sheekman] (screenplay) 1931

Horse Feathers [with Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby] (screenplay) 1932

All Good Americans [with Laura Perelman] (drama) 1933

Sitting Pretty [with Jack McGowan and Lou Breslow] (screenplay) 1933

Paris Interlude [with Laura Perelman] (screenplay) 1934

Florida Special [with Laura Perelman, David Boehm, and Marguerite Roberts] (screenplay) 1936

Ambush [with Laura Perelman] (screenplay) 1939

Boy Trouble [with Laura Perelman] (screenplay) 1939

The Golden Fleecing [with Laura Perelman and Marion Parsonnet] (screenplay) 1940

The Night Before Christmas [with Laura Perelman] (drama) 1941

One Touch of Venus [with Ogden Nash] (drama) 1943

Sweet Bye and Bye [with Al Hirschfield] (drama) 1946

Around the World in Eighty Days [with James Poe and John Farrow; adapted from the novel by Jules Verne] (screenplay) 1956

"The Changing Ways of Love" (television script) 1957

The Beauty Part [with Ogden Nash] (drama) 1961

"Elizabeth Taylor's London" (television script) 1963

Don't Tread on Me: The Selected Letters of S. J. Perelman (letters) 1987

*A11 works include various short stories, sketches, anecdotes, and short essays.

†Includes Crazy Like a Fox, Keep It Crisp, and Acres and Pains.

Criticism

The Saturday Review of Literature (review date 1937)

SOURCE: Review of Strictly from Hunger, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 16, No. 14, July 31, 1937, p. 21.

[In the following review, the critic notes Perelman's wit, and places him among the top of American humorists.]

Few people would question Robert Benchley's position as the funniest man writing today. He would be the last to hold himself up as an authority on humor, but when he yields his own place in the field of humorous writing to another, it is important. If Benchley is anything (which we will assume for the sake of argument), he is honest. Therefore his tribute to S. J. Perelman deserves serious consideration.

Benchley...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Beatrice Sherman (review date 1943)

SOURCE: "S. J. Perelman's Unlikely Statements," in The New York Times Book Review, January 31, 1943, p. 3.

[In the following review, Sherman discusses the subject matter of The Dream Department, and describes the volume as "lunatic and delightful."]

S. J. Perelman is no Peter Bell. A primrose by a river's brim would never be just a yellow primrose to him. It would always be something more. Likely enough in no time at all it would become a gigantic yellow sunflower, malevolently gnashing its teeth at him, and you too. Anyway Mr. Perelman is not a nature lover—nature faker would be more like it. His particular brand of jittery and joyful madness seems to be the...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Time (review date 1943)

SOURCE: Review of The Dream Department, in Time, Vol. XLI, No. 5, February 1, 1943, pp. 84, 86-7.

[In the following review, the unsigned critic recounts Perelman's life and brand of humor.]

S. J. Perelman picks up business where he left off with Look Who's Talking. One passage should suffice to give traffic signals to such readers as remain unfamiliar with Perelman's work. The passage was inspired by a notice to the effect that moving pictures would be used for department-store advertising. The title is Kitchenware, Notions, Lights, Action, Camera!

Scene: The music room in the palatial villa of Mrs. Lafcadio Mifflin at...

(The entire section is 834 words.)

Eudora Welty (review date 1944)

SOURCE: "Strictly Perelman," in The New York Times Book Review, July 2, 1944, p. 6.

[In the following review, Welty positively assesses the satire, parody, and wordplay of Perelman's Crazy Like a Fox.]

This looks like the unholy work of only one man. Reader, S. J. Perelman has struck again.

"Great, fatuous booby that I was"—these are the words of Perelman himself—"I imagined advertising would be destroyed from the outside. It won't; it's going to bubble and heave and finally expire in the arms of two nuns, like Oscar Wilde." Not if S. J. Perelman can help it, it won't. In fact, here lies the body before us now, with a sign left pinned to its...

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Thomas Sugrue (review date 1944)

SOURCE: "Perelman Carries the Nation," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 27, No. 28, July 8, 1944, p. 19.

[In the following review of Crazy Like a Fox, Sugrue characterizes Perelman as "the funniest man in America."]

The publication of a selection of S. J. Perelman's "best" pieces is the most ominous note in American history since the first arrow of the Seminole War whizzed through the Florida night air and found flesh. There is no mistaking the implication of the event. Perelman is turning his eyes to the past, and the future is lost. Secure behind a bastion of twelve million dollars, which he made in Hollywood in six weeks, he has begun to tear up his...

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Russell Maloney (review date 1946)

SOURCE: "From Park Avenue to Opium Den," in The New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1946, pp. 4, 25.

[In the following review, Maloney studies Perelman's Keep It Crisp, calling the book "superb."]

It is the traditional fate of great humorists to be admired and praised by vast hosts of people who misunderstand them. The classic example, of course, is Dean Swift, who hardly intended Gulliver's Travels to be a children's book. Mark Twain, a fairly embittered man in reality, is fondly remembered by his readers (even the readers of Huckleberry Finn) as a kind of forerunner of Bob Hope. And of course everybody remembers Ring Lardner, who wrote those...

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Harry Gilroy (review date 1949)

SOURCE: "Perelman on the Loose Again," in The New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1949, p. 27.

[In the following review of Listen to the Mocking Bird, Gilroy describes Perelman the critic, the world traveler, and the satirist.]

Here is a fine, light book, too light to break the nose of a dozing reader, which unquestionably enriches the recumbent culture season. The subject is the personality of Perelman, split in this collection of pieces from The New Yorker into three parts. There is Perelman, the book critic who deals exclusively in novels of the grand passion after they have ripened to a state of deliquescence; the world traveler who never fails...

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The New York Times Book Review (review date 1950)

SOURCE: Review of Parlor, Bedlam and Bath, in The New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1950, p. 9.

[In the following laudatory review, the unsigned critic examines Perelman's humorous narratives.]

In Parlor, Bedlam and Bath the Messrs. Perelman and [Q. J.] Reynolds have collaborated in an amusing and at times genuinely hilarious burlesque. The bad pun of the novel's title is no index to the nonsense in the bulk of the written matter. With a shaky skeleton of a narrative, the authors have dedicated themselves to the sole purpose of being entertaining and they have succeeded brilliantly.

The story, in its snatches of lucidity,...

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Ted Robinson, Jr. (review date 1952)

SOURCE: "Perelman in Tune," in The New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1952, p. 44.

[In the following review of The Ill-Tempered Clavichord, Robinson mentions the usual targets of Perelman's satirical wit.]

One of the more interesting mysteries of modern letters, to me, is how S. J. Perelman keeps it up. It was quite a number of years ago that he began writing humor, writing it keyed up very high every sentence of the way, and here he is, still sitting on the edge of his chair constantly writing for all he is worth and still being funny a large part of the time.

What probably happened was that he suffered the misfortune at an early age of...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Herbert Kupferberg (review date 1955)

SOURCE: "Thirty-six by Perelman, And All Under One Roof," in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review, Vol. 32, No. 13, November 6, 1955, p. 6.

[In the following review, Kupferberg calls Perelman's Home Companion, "a quintessence of Perelman. "]

The title of this book is a little confusing. Is it a companion for Perelman's home, or Perelman's companion for other people's homes? The safest answer probably would be both. Doubtless you could find a copy, even a couple of copies, around Perelman's home, but it goes equally well elsewhere. As a matter of fact, Perelman probably doesn't have as much fun reading it as most other folks do, for even a man fond of laughing...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Dorothy Parker (review date 1957)

SOURCE: "Humor Takes in Many Things," in The New York Times Book Review, January 20, 1957, pp. 1, 36.

[In the following review of The Road to Miltown, Parker proclaims "Mr. Perelman stands alone in this day of humorists."]

It is a strange force that compels a writer to be a humorist. It is a strange force, if you care to go back farther, that compels anyone to be a writer at all, but this is neither the time nor the place to bring up that matter. The writer's way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning out ferryboats? In all understatement, the author's lot is a hard one, and yet...

(The entire section is 1268 words.)

Walker Gibson (review date 1958)

SOURCE: "'You Mustn't Say Things Like That'," in The Nation, Vol. 187, No. 18, November 29, 1958, pp. 410-12.

[In the following excerpted review, Gibson lauds Perelman as a humorist skilled in the use of language, but not as a great writer.]

The publication last month of The Most of S. J. Perelman, should remind readers that we have in our own country, a comic writer who has been carrying on a consistent and eloquent attack on dead language since about the time Mr. [Kingsley] Amis was born. Perelman has been quoted to the effect that Joyce is the greatest comic writer of our time, and that observation helps to suggest the particular quality of his own...

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Eudora Welty (review dates 1958 and 1970)

SOURCE: "S. J. Perelman's The Most of S. J. Perelman; Baby, It's Cold Inside, " in The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews, Vintage Books, 1979, pp. 235-40.

[In the following reviews of The Most of S. J. Perelman and Baby, It's Cold Inside, originally published in 1958 and 1970 respectively, Welty admires Perelman's wit and cast of humorous characters.]

Give him a cliché and he takes a mile. "The color drained slowly from my face, entered the auricle, shot up the escalator, and issued from the ladies' and misses' section into the housewares department." "I sent him groveling. In ten minutes he was back with a basket of appetizing...

(The entire section is 1800 words.)

Michael Flanders (review date 1962)

SOURCE: "S. J. Perelman, I Presume," The Spectator, No. 7006, October 5, 1962, p. 519.

[In the following review of The Rising Gorge, Flanders comments on the richness of Perelman's humor.]

In a world whose serious side is all too insecurely poised over an abyss of absurdity, the humorist can barely avoid hitting the truth from time to time.

But for the workaday he remains an entertaining liar: entertaining only in so far as we know he lies, and he knows we know he knows. So it was in the great American folk myths; in the dream world of Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and Texas-size; of a simple, peasant people and their tall tales of superhuman...

(The entire section is 770 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 1962)

SOURCE: Review of The Rising Gorge, in The Times Literary Supplement, November 30, 1962, p. 940.

[In the following review, the critic observes that Perelman's jokes, while "imaginative and versatile, " on occasion fail, becoming little more than mechanical gags.]

Most of the sketches in this book have appeared before, in The New Yorker. Mr. Perelman is an accomplished and famous comedian, who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with James Thurber. Peter De Vries and other celebrated contributors to that magazine. In common with them he is high-spirited, imaginative and versatile. Puns, parodies, pratfalls are all in his compass. He is excellent on...

(The entire section is 547 words.)

S. J. Perelman with William Cole and George Plimpton (interview date 1963)

SOURCE: "The Art of Fiction: S. J. Perelman," in S. J. Perelman: Critical Essays, edited by Steven H. Gale, Garland Publishing, 1992, pp. 3-16.

[In the following interview, originally published in 1963, Perelman discusses his influences, association with Hollywood, and the seriousness of his humorous style.]

S. J. Perelman has an eighty-acre farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (where the house is "shingled with secondhand wattles"), a Greenwich Village apartment, and a no-nonsense, one-room office, also in the Village. It was there that the interview took place. The office is furnished like a slightly luxuriant monk's cell: a few simple chairs, a desk, a cot. On the...

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Norris W. Yates (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "The Sane Psychoses of S. J. Perelman," in The American Humorist: Conscience of the Twentieth Century, Iowa State University Press, 1964, pp. 331-50.

[In the following essay, Yates characterizes Perelman's fictional narratorstypes of the literary Little Manas "sane psychotics."]

As if American fiction thrived on impending disaster, 1929, the year of the Great Crash, saw the appearance of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and Sinclair Lewis' Dodsworth. The production of "light" literature was no less interesting than that of "heavy." Three "first" books...

(The entire section is 6989 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 1967)

SOURCE: Review of Chicken Inspector No. 23, in The Times Literary Supplement, November 23, 1967, p. 1101.

[In the following review, the unsigned critic remarks that the pieces in Perelman's Chicken Inspector No. 23 are "as furiously and fluently disenchanted as ever."]

Some people "have" S. J. Perelman in the way that others "have" French, Urdu or Chinook, and the test of their competence is how many and memorable are the chapter titles they can quote. For the list of contents in a book by Mr. Perelman is more precious than the actual texts of most other funny writers. Chicken Inspector No. 23, his first collection in five lean years,...

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Richard Freedman (review date 1970)

SOURCE: "Last of the Classy American Humorists," in The Washington Post Book World, September 6, 1970, p. 9.

[In the following review of Baby, It's Cold Inside, Freedman finds Perelman's humor, though funny, largely reminiscent of a bygone era.]

With Benchley and Thurber long among the archangels, and Frank Sullivan emerging from his Saratoga fastness only at Yuletide, S. J. Perelman is the last of the really classy American humorists.

Not that there aren't lots of very funny chaps around—Tom Wolfe and Marvin Kitman pop into mind—but the short, personal, intentionally humorous feuilleton as practiced by the masters of the Thirties and...

(The entire section is 823 words.)

Roderick Nordell (review date 1970)

SOURCE: Review of Baby, It's Cold Inside, in The Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 1970, p. 11.

[In the following review, Nordell comments on the "verbal vaudeville" of Perelman's writing.]

Publishing this book in 1970 is casting Perelman before swine, to use one of his favorite words. The world has changed more than Perelman has. If I don't laugh out loud at his pages as often as I used to, the deficiency has got to be mine, not his.

For four decades the books have been coming, adding up to a fabulous rococo monument of comic invention. In this first collection of pieces since 1966, the wordmanship remains dazzling.

...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

Stefan Kanfer (review date 1970)

SOURCE: "Meisterzinger," in The Atlantic, Vol. 226, No. 6, December, 1970, pp. 108-10.

[In the following review of Baby, It's Cold Inside, Kanfer comments on Perelman's influences and literary influence, as well as the aim of his humor.]

Thirty-two mind-expanding master-works that make any tripother than to your neighborhood bookstorecompletely unnecessary . . . S. J. Perelman: "Baby, it's Cold Inside " . . . Right on.

—Advertisement in The New York Times

Had you been reading with Holmesian detachment and Moriartic zeal, you would have...

(The entire section is 1633 words.)

Paul Theroux (review date 1976)

SOURCE: "Marxist," in The New Statesman, Vol. 91, No. 2351, April 9, 1976, p. 476.

[In the following review of Vinegar Puss, Theroux calls Perelman "a shaping force of comedy " and offers the book high praise.]

It is amazing, not to say criminal, that these greedy islands, the gula archipelago so to speak, feast so mightily on old Marx Brothers films without even a nod to the chef. A little research on my part has revealed that none of S. J. Perelman's 18 previous books is in print in Britain, though there is a rumour that Crazy Like a Fox is circulating here in an American paperback. So much for his 50 years of conscientiously manufacturing...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Paul Theroux (review date 1977)

SOURCE: "No Buff for the Briefalo," in The New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1977, p. 9.

[In the following review of Eastward Ha!, Theroux examines some of the objects of Perelman's travel satire and calls the humorist "incomparable."]

There are at least two distinct types of laughter that the writing of S. J. Perelman produces in the reader, the Honk and the Yurble. Of these, the Honk is the more frequent. It might be the effect of a line of dialogue ("He opened a vein in his bath." "I never knew baths had veins.") or one of his intricately bizarre openings ("Every so often, when business slackens up in the bowling alley and the other pin boys are hunched...

(The entire section is 1115 words.)

Michael Wood (review date 1978)

SOURCE: "Separating the Chypre from the Ghosts," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXV, No. 5, April 6, 1978, pp. 10-12.

[In the following review of Eastward Ha!, Wood recounts Perelman's skill at pun and wordplay and offers many examples of his wit.]

"If one laughs at a joke really heartily," Freud remarks rather earnestly in his work on that subject, "one is not in precisely the best mood for investigating its technique." Freud is perfectly right, of course, but his tone should not mislead us. He has obviously been laughing heartily himself at his own most recent example, and I picture him as flinging his pen down, wiping his eyes, and all but falling off...

(The entire section is 2472 words.)

Barry Fantoni (review date 1978)

SOURCE: "Perelman Power," in The Listener, Vol. 100, July 20, 1978, p. 94.

[In the following review of The Most of S. J. Perelman and Eastward Ha!, Fantoni writes approvingly of Perelman's humorous use of language.]

Would anyone mind if I take the weight off my dogs for a minute or two, flop down on the chaise-longue and give a brief account of how I first clapped eyes on the printed word of Sid Perelman? It happened this wise. While I was still no taller than a mongoose with backache I enrolled for a course in painting at a South London établissement set up for that kind of thing and went about in a beret, my fragile chin covered by a beard with...

(The entire section is 852 words.)

Marshall Brickman (review date 1981)

SOURCE: "Inimitable Perelman," in The Saturday Review (New York), Vol. 8, No. 7, July, 1981, p. 68.

[In the following review of The Last Laugh, Brickman observes of Perelman, "his genius defies criticism."]

The first time I met S. J. Perelman, the conversation turned to contemporary written humor, which he observed was a craft as obsolete and thankless as the manufacture of whalebone corset-stays. The name of a writer came up, a woman who had gleaned brilliant notices for a collection of rather ordinary pieces. I was searching for the precise phrase to characterize what I felt was the pallid quality of the lady's prose when Perelman leaned over and whispered,...

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Terry Teachout (review date 1981)

SOURCE: "Farewell, Vinegar Puss," in National Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 23, November 27, 1981, p. 1427.

[In the following review of The Last Laugh, Teachout finds Perelman's collection lacking the energy and balance of some of his earlier works.]

S. J. Perelman's new, posthumous collection—titled, with a pleasantly black flourish, The Last Laugh—is chiefly made up of pieces Perelman wrote for The New Yorker during the last five years of his life, padded out with four "fragments" from an unfinished autobiography that was to have been called The Hindsight Saga. These chapters (which deal with the Marx Brothers, Nathanael West,...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

Wilfrid Sheed (review date 1981)

SOURCE: "S. J. Perelman: A Basket of Grovels," in Essays in Disguise, Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, pp. 47-54.

[In the following review of The Last Laugh, originally published in 1981, Sheed examines the ingredients of Perelman's humor, but remarks that this volume lach some of the vigor of Perelman's earlier work.]

Cyril Connolly once observed that even P. G. Wodehouse might have profited from being told which of his books was better than which. But nobody wants to review a humorist. Such notices as the funnymen get are generally either facetious, because the reviewer dreads seeming pompous, or vaguely eulogistic: "Another whatnot by the inimitable . . . need one say...

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Prudence Crowther (review date 1984)

SOURCE: "The First Laugh," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXI, No. 17, November 8, 1984, pp. 37-8.

[In the following review, Crowther surveys the stories of That Old Gang O' Mine: The Early and Essential S. J. Perelman.]

S. J. Perelman in his time moved more book reviewers to confess incontinence than any other author in the West. While not myself finding this appropriate as a measuring stick, I don't mean to sneer. Indeed, I see now why Antony wanted to bury Caesar, but not to praise him. The task is awesome for reasons neatly captured by a friend of mine who said, when it looked as if I might actually meet the man, "Gee, not only does he know S. J....

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Steven H. Gale (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Themes and Techniques," in S. J. Perelman: A Critical Study, Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 175-91

[In the following essay, Gale studies Perelman's subject matter and comic style.]

Take one part American humor tradition, sprinkle in elements from the Yiddish theater, and blend these ingredients thoroughly in a piping hot comic genius' mind, and the result is S. J. Perelman's style. Not surprisingly, that style is unique and recognizable. As Ogden Nash, one of Perelman's collaborators, says in a review of Chicken Inspector No. 23, "Perelman's style is so uniquely his own that his readers in The New Yorker, which long ago established the...

(The entire section is 6556 words.)