Thursday, February 01, 2007

S.J. Perelman

Sidney Joseph Perelman -- better known as "S.J." -- was born on this day in 1904 in Brooklyn, New York.

A graduate of Brown University, Perelman wrote comic vignettes for magazines but was little appreciated until the publication of a collection of his articles, Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge (1929). Despite the fact that his name was left off the title page of the first edition (unintentionally), Perelman gained a national readership for his outrageous wordplay, non sequitirs and puns. Shortly thereafter he moved to Hollywood, where he wrote for the Marx Brothers (Monkey Business, 1931; Horse Feathers, 1932) and continued writing magazine pieces, showing an increasingly angry and nihilist comic persona, while contributing to other Hollywood scripts. He won an Oscar for his work on the script for Around the World in 80 Days (1956, with David Niven).

Once asked by an earnest interviewer how many drafts he wrote of his stories, Perelman replied, in typical wise-ass fashion, "Thirty-seven. I once tried doing 33, but something was lacking, a certain -- how shall I say? -- je ne sais quoi. On another occasion, I tried 42 versions, but the final effect was too lapidary -- you know what I mean, Jack? What the hell are you trying to extort -- my trade secrets?"

Perelman died on October 17, 1979 in New York City.

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