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Perelman, Sidney Joseph


PERELMAN, SIDNEY JOSEPH (1904–1979), U.S. humorist. Perelman was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and studied at Brown University, where he edited a humorous magazine. He began his professional career in 1925 as a contributor to the humor magazines Judge and College Humor and began to write for the movies in 1930. From 1934 he published amusing or satirical pieces in the New Yorker, to which he contributed steadily for more than 30 years.

Perelman's versatility as a humorist extended to the theater. Among his better known comedies are One Touch of Venus (1943), written in collaboration with Ogden Nash, and The Beauty Part (1963). His work for the movies included scripts for the *Marx Brothers, and his screenplay for the movie Around the World in Eighty Days won him the New York Critics' Award as the Best Screen Writer of 1956. He also wrote three amusing travel books: Westward Ha! (1948), The Swiss Family Perelman (1950), and Eastward Ha! (1977). Other works include Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge (1929); Strictly from Hunger (1937); Look Who's Talking (1940); Crazy Like a Fox (1944); The Best of S.J. Perelman (1947); Listen to the Mocking Bird (1949); The Road to Miltown; or, Under the Spreading Atrophy (1957); The Rising Gorge (1961); Chicken Inspector No. 23 (1966); Baby, It's Cold Inside (1970); Vinegar Puss (1975); The Last Laugh (1981); and That Old Gang O'Mine: The Early and Essential S.J. Perelman (1984).

The bulk of Perelman's work was made up of the relatively brief New Yorker pieces. A continuous sparkle of fantastic wit animates his writing, whether it be burlesque, parody, or satire. Perelman exploited all the possibilities of the English language for comic effects, especially through the devices of pun and anticlimax. With mingled compassion and mockery, he pointed up the weakness and folly of the individual as a puppet and victim of 20th-century society and its mass media. In a 1975 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Perelman commented on the demise of the light satiric essay as well as the tempering of his own comic tone in his later years: "It is not easy to satirize the absurd when the absurd has become official."


N.W. Yates, American Humorist (1964), 331–50; Paris Review, Writers at Work, second series (1963), 241–56; S.J. Kunitz, Twentieth Century Authors, first supplement (1955), incl. bibl. add. bibliography: T. Teicholz (ed.), Conversations with S.J. Perelman (1995).

[Israel J. Kapstein /

Robert L. DelBane (2nd ed.)]

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