Sidney Joseph Perelman (PEHR-uhl-muhn), one of the most original humorists in American literature and the acknowledged master of the genre in the twentieth century, was born to Russian Jews who had come to the United States during the 1930’s. While Perelman was young the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Perelman’s first ambition was to become a cartoonist, and even after he entered Brown University in 1921 the bulk of his work for the college humor magazine, Brown Jug, was in the form of humorous drawings and illustrations for jokes. It was only over a period of time that his genius for comic prose emerged. When it did, it was quickly recognized, and he was elected editor of the magazine in 1924. Perelman left Brown one year later and that same year, he began working as a cartoonist for the humor magazine Judge. Soon he began to contribute written pieces to it as well, and by 1929 he had enough material to publish his first collection, Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, to favorable reviews but modest sales. Despite his precarious financial situation, Perelman on June 20, 1929, married Laura Weinstein, the sister of Nathan Weinstein, whom Perelman had known well at Brown University and who achieved his own literary fame as Nathanael West, the author of Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939).
Perelman preferred to write short fiction; the only exceptions were his stage plays and work for the motion pictures, most notably with the Marx Brothers. Perelman met the Marx Brothers in 1928, and two years later he was hired to write for them in Hollywood. Like many other authors of the period, including F. Scott Fizgerald and William Faulkner, Perelman found the monetary rewards of Hollywood irresistible, even while he loathed the philistine nature of the film colony. Despite the fact that Perelman worked on only two films for the Marx Brothers, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, many viewers and critics have seen undeniable traces of his antic verbal humor in their movies, especially in the characters...
(The entire section is 857 words.)