In 1934, the American humorist Robert Benchley (1889-1945) was cornered by Elmer Adler (1884-1962) to write a piece for Adler’s magazine The Colophon. This was one of twenty essays Adler commissioned by successful authors telling how they first got published. Benchley titled his “Why Does Nobody Collect Me?” and had his friend from the New Yorker, William Steig (1907-2003), illustrate it.
In 1937, Adler brought all the essays together in Breaking into print: being a compilation of papers wherein each of a select group of authors tells of the difficulties of authorship & how such trials are met (GA 2009-0083N). For the book, he added the answers to a series of questions about how each author wrote, how many drafts they made, and so on.
Benchley replied “Dear Adler: I hope that I am not too late to contribute the following priceless items to your Natural History of Belles Lettres: I can not write more than three or four lines of longhand without fainting. Even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to compose on anything but a typewriter, probably a bad habit from newspaper days.”
…”For Harper’s I get a set of galleys, which I am unable to read through, being so sick of the stuff already. I answer the queries, and that’s all. As a result, in my last book, there was a whole line misplaced, giving the paragraph no sense at all. I hadn’t caught it in the proof, because I hadn’t read it, and evidently the proof-reader at Harper’s didn’t notice the different.”
Happily, Adler saved the original art, which now resides in the graphic arts collection. William Steig (1907-2003), Untitled pen drawings for Robert Benchley’s “Why Does Nobody Collect Me?” in The Colophon, Part 18, 1934. Graphic Arts GC051 The Colophon Collection.