S. J. (Sidney Joseph) Perelman, essayist, humorist, and screenwriter (co-writer of the Marx Brothers films Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, and of Around the World in Eighty Days, among others), died at 75 on this date in 1979. Perelman, writes Joel Schechter in our magazine, “wrote mostly in English, but he was a polyglot who would insert untranslated Yiddish into his casual essays as if everyone knew — or should have known — exactly what he meant, as if Yiddish is part of any educated person’s vocabulary. A brilliant social satirist, he parodied popular detective novels, films, the argot of gossip columns and racy advertisements in his feuilletons,” which appeared most frequently in the New Yorker. “He also wrote humorous travelogues, screenplays, and a series of books with titles such as Chicken Inspector No. 23, The Ill-Tempered Clavichord, and Vinegar Puss (the latter a self-chosen appellation for the dour-looking author). . . . His 1936 parody of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty features a sweatshop of elves exploited by Santa Claus, rather than Odets’ crew of underpaid taxi cab drivers. But one elf in love with the boss’s daughter, Stella, seems to have a Jewish cabbie’s knowledge of New York; he compares Stella to ‘a double malted with two scoops of whipped cream… the moon over Mosholu Parkway… a two weeks’ vacation at Camp Nitgedaiget.’” To see him interviewed, look below. To read Joel Schechter’s “Radical Yiddish” article, click here.
“Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin — it’s the triumphant twang of a bedspring.” –S.J. Perelman