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Brunoniana

From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Perelman, S. J.

S. J. (Sidney Joseph) Perelman (1904-1979), humorist, was born in Brooklyn on February 1, 1904, but grew up in Providence, where his father raised chickens (for which his son cherished a life-long hatred), and operated a dry-goods store on Smith Hill. The young Perelman attended the Candace Street Grammar School and Classical High School, and worked at his father’s store, at Shepard’s Department Store in the candy department, and at the Outlet Company where he folded boxes. At Classical he was a finalist in an essay contest, and he always felt that his topic, science vs. religion, lost him the prize. At his father’s store he practiced drawing on the cardboard strips from the bolts of cloth. He came to Brown in the fall of 1921, one of the “carpetbaggers,” who commuted daily to the campus. He had thought of becoming a doctor, but quickly changed his plans because, as he said, “The things that interested me at Brown were the English courses and the Brown Jug. I was a very indifferent student, and did the minimum of work necessary to remain in college.” The minimum was not enough to graduate, as he never mastered trigonometry (although he said he took it four times), but his drawing ability led him to become a cartoonist for the Brown Jug, of which he was editor in his senior year. In this capacity he was brought before Dean Otis Randall and the Cammarian Club for an editorial in the January 1925 issue, which read in part:

“Ah, the college boys, the college boys! I daresay that if all the sub-freshman who are intending to come to Brown could see it for what it is, a fraternity-ridden and lethargic academy of middle-class “boosters,” they would change their minds about starting for Providence next fall. From the dot of 9 o’clock when we rush in to fear God for fifteen minutes every morning till Cap Cameron ^the campus policeman` puts the last blowzy drunk to bed, the spectacle is the same ...”
Although he did not graduate with his class, Perelman’s photograph appeared in the 1925 Liber Brunensis with an accompanying blurb:
“Mr. Perelman is our leading sophisticate, chief rooter for Huxley, and greatest admirer of Ezra Pound. He was a quiet and ingenious lower classman; but he has since fought the good fight against Babbettism (sic), Sham, Hypocricy (sic), and Mediocrity. All are supposed to quail before the vicious shakes of his pen and pencil. If we can judge from his ability to extract cigarettes from one and all, he will be a success in the world along with Mencken and Nathan.”
After leaving Brown he was a cartoonist and later writer for Judge magazine from 1925 to 1929, and for College Humor magazine from 1929 to 1930. In the early 1930s he worked as a script writer for the Marx Brothers motion pictures, “Horsefeathers” and “Monkey Business.” He began writing for the New Yorker in 1934. His many humorous books included Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge, which was published anonymously in 1929, Parlor, Bedlam and Bath in 1930, Crazy Like a Fox in 1944, The Swiss Family Perelman in 1950, and The Road to Miltown in 1957. He wrote a play, “The Beauty Part,” and with Ogden Nash wrote “One Touch of Venus.” He also wrote the screen play for “Around the World in Eighty Days.” In October 1970 Perelman left the United States to live in London “forever” as a “resident alien.” His 91-acre farm near Erwinna, Pennsylvania, was sold and its contents auctioned. He was quoted as saying in explanation of his decision, “I’ve had all of the rural splendor that I can use, and each time I get to New York is seems more pestilential than before.” He returned to New York in 1972, having concluded that “English life, while very pleasant, is rather bland. I expected kindness and gentility and I found it, but there is such a thing as too much couth.” When Perelman died in New York City on October 17, 1979, William Shawn, then editor of the New Yorker, said of him, “He was utterly serious, but his medium was humor.”

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.


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