Sally Benson Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Sally Benson 1900–1972

(Born Sara Mahala Redway Smith; also wrote under the name Esther Evarts) American short story writer, novelist, playwright, nonfiction writer, screenwriter, and critic.

Throughout her career Benson's most characteristic attributes remained her wit and concise style. She began by writing short stories for the New Yorker magazine which were subsequently published as People are Fascinating and Emily. In these works she showed an elegant sarcasm in her sketches of a certain type of upper-middle-class woman. These stories are as bitingly accurate now as then, but they do not exhibit much of the sympathy evident in her later work.

Junior Miss signaled a change. It was another collection of New Yorker stories, but in relating the events in the life of her 12-year-old heroine Judy Graves, Benson instilled the humor inherent to her subject with new warmth. Judy is charming and infuriating, a puzzle to the adults in her world who are equally a puzzle to her. The book proved very popular: it was later dramatized and became a long-running radio play and a successful film. Benson's skill in portraying young people was again displayed in the autobiographical novel Meet Me in St. Louis. Six-year-old Tootie Smith was based on Benson herself at that age; her memories were aided by her sister's diary documenting their family's activities during the World's Fair in St. Louis. The novel, a loving picture of her family, appealed to critics and readers alike. Its adaptations for the stage and screen also contributed to her fame.

Although Benson never adapted any of her own work, from the mid-1940s to the end of her career she worked steadily writing screenplays and dramatizations. The stage plays, Seventeen and The Young and Beautiful, each of which describe a different facet of the torments of adolescent love, were much more highly esteemed by critics than movies for which she wrote screenplays. The general public, however, did enjoy these movies, which included National Velvet, Anna and the King of Siam, and The Singing Nun. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20, obituary, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1, and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)