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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Woody Allen on how S. J. Perelman influenced his writing

When asked recently by The Browser for five books that “resonated with him,” Woody Allen came up with a surprising mix: two novels, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner; one memoir, Really the Blues by jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow (with Bernard Wolfe); one biography, Elia Kazan by Richard Schickel; but only one book of humor: The World of S. J. Perelman. In the accompanying interview Allen discussed Perelman’s pervasive influence:
The funniest human being in my lifetime, in any medium–whether it’s stand-up, television, theatre, prose, or movies–is S. J. Perelman. There is nobody funnier than S. J. Perelman. . . 
Those of us who grew up with Perelman found it impossible to avoid his influence. In music, if you grow up listening to Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk or Louis Armstrong and you listen to their recordings over and over, then you start to play their kind of riffs and rhythms naturally. I’m sure an actor who adores Marlon Brando—worships him and sees every movie he’s made—starts to play a scene and a little bit of Brando creeps into it. It’s the same with Perelman: you read him over and over again—as I did and many of my contemporaries did when we were growing up—and then when you write, it’s hard to escape his influence. He had such a strong, inventive style.
Adam Gopnik offers a thumbnail sketch of the humorist in his introduction to Perelman’s contribution to the Library of America anthology Americans in Paris:
S. J. Perelman (1904–1979) was the matchless rococo stylist and poet of Hollywood vulgarity and New York neuroses; his great subject was always the mismatch between the romantic images of the world he had absorbed as a boy . . . and the messy and venal reality those images turned out to conceal.
Remind you of anyone?

Related LOA works: The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner (includes "Waiting for Santy," Perelman’s sendup of Clifford Odets); American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes (includes Perelman’s “Avocado, or the Future of Eating,” about lunch in a Los Angeles drugstore); Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology (includes Perelman’s “The Saucier’s Apprentice”); and Reporting World War II: Part Two: American Journalism 1944-1946 (includes “Take Two Parts Sand, One Part Girl, and Stir,” on wartime advertising)

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