Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Benchley on Jeopardy

Robert C. Benchley

On Monday, February 22, 2010, the $800 answer in Double Jeopardy was:
Medium of classic communications like Robert Benchley's from Venice: "Streets full of water. Please advise."
The correct question was "What is a telegram?"

The internet's seas of misinformation are perhaps murkier than the canals of Venice, and finding the origin of this brilliant example of Benchley's wit is fraught with uncertainty. Well, maybe not fraught, but at least heavily tinged with uncertainty. OK, maybe not heavily tinged, but reaking slightly of uncertainty.

Well, I guess it's not all that uncertain. Two possible recipients of Benchley's telegram from Venice are cited in cyberspace: his editor at the New Yorker, Harold Ross, or tablemate at the Alonguin Round Table, Dorothy Parker. Either would have been equally amused by Benchley's telegraphic missive, I'm sure.

I found one version of the telegram which added the sentence "Beautiful city" before "Streets full of water. Please advise." I think that lowers the comic power of the telegram considerably, so I choose to ignore that version.

By the way, I discovered during my Googling of Benchley that The Benchley Roundup, a great collection of his essays, is now available online in Google Books. The online version is limited due to copyright restrictions, but a few essays can be read in their entirety. Also, the full text of the 1936 Benchley book, My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew is avaiable at Project Gutenberg of Australia.

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