POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Not a Laughing Matter

by David Trumbull

October 3, 2008

“Streets flooded. Please advise”.
(telegram from humorist Robert Benchley to his editor upon arrival in Venice)

This week-end Mary and I are off to New York for the 6th Annual Gathering and Humor Award Dinner of the Robert Benchley Society. We’ll have to pick up our celebration of Italian-American History Month in Massachusetts when we return.

Actually, aside from quips about aquatic Adriatic avenues, Mr. Benchley (1889-1945), Worcester-born American of English and Welsh descent, played a small but note-worthy part in Massachusetts Italian-American history.

Benchley was one of the platoon of out-of-state writers and intellectuals who came to Boston the mid-1920s to protest the perceived prejudices and injustices of the Sacco-Vanzetti case. His good friend and Algonquin Round Table wit, Dorothy Parker, was arrested in front of the State House protesting against the treatment of the Italian immigrants convicted of robbery and murder.

From Time magazine of Monday, Jul. 25, 1927—

Yet last week, at least, Massachusetts legal machinery moved with an accelerated rate. In rooms on opposite sides of a corridor in the State House sat Governor Fuller and the Advisory Committee. Many witnesses told their stories of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, stepping from the Governor's office to the Committee room (or vice versa) and making each recital a twice-told tale.

Among those interviewed last week were Robert C. Benchley, humorist, dramatic editor of Life; Judge Webster Thayer; onetime District Attorney Frederick G. Katzmann, and the Misses Minnie E. Kennedy and Louise Kelley, who were employees of the Slater & Morrill Shoe Co. at the time (April 15, 1920) of the South Braintree murder of which Messrs. Sacco & Vanzetti were found guilty.

Mr. Benchley was summoned to repeat statements first made in an affidavit last spring (TIME, May 16). In his affidavit Mr. Benchley said that Mr. Loring Goes, Worcester manufacturer, had told him of various remarks made by Judge Thayer to Mr. Goes concerning Messrs. Sacco & Vanzetti. The most striking portion of these remarks was a reference to the two Italians as "those bastards down there." Later Mr. Goes denied that he had made the remarks credited to him by Mr. Benchley. Judge Thayer was the trial judge and Mr. Katzmann the prosecutor at the Sacco-Vanzetti trial.

With but a month to go before the election I suppose I must end with a political observation or admonition. Her goes—learn about the candidates and the ballot questions so you’ll be prepared to vote wisely on November 4th. And as you consider the candidates…

" must bear constantly in mind the fact that there are two separate and distinct parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. The trick comes in telling which is which. As a general rule, the Republicans are more blonde than Democrats."Robert C. Benchley

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]