S. J. Perelman Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207206-Perelman.jpg S. J. Perelman Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sidney Joseph Perelman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 1, 1904, the son of Sophia Charren and Joseph Perelman, a Jewish poultry farmer. He briefly attended Brown University, where he edited the College Humor magazine. After leaving the university in 1925, he began his career as a writer and cartoonist for Judge magazine. Following a brief time at College Humor and his marriage to Laura Weinstein on July 4, 1929, he began writing full time, and in 1931 became a regular contributor to The New Yorker and other major magazines. Their marriage produced a son and a daughter. He worked occasionally in Hollywood, writing motion-picture screenplays, but he spent most of his life in New York City and on his Pennsylvania farm. He collaborated to write several successful plays; his usual collaborator on films as well as plays was his wife, although on One Touch of Venus, he worked with Ogden Nash, and for a television musical, Aladdin, with Cole Porter.

After his wife’s death in 1970, Perelman lived for two years in England but then returned to Manhattan, where he remained until his death on October 17, 1979.