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S. J. Perelman Papers

Brown University Library

Box A, John Hay Library
Providence, RI 02912
Tel: 401-863-2146
E-mail: hay@brown.edu

Scope & content

The S. J. Perelman papers offer the researcher a diversity of manuscript and printed material relating to the author and his work. Insights into the creative thought process of this popular American humorist abound in the copious annotations and revisions found in drafts of his writings. Perelman's unique treatment of newspaper clippings as quarries of potential humor awaiting his transformation and refinement is well documented in his working files of clippings, notes, and drafts. The collection presents a good balance of Perelman's writing in all stages from raw material to finished product. Interesting to note is the fact that, while the collection reveals much about Perelman the writer, it tells us relatively little about Perelman the personal man.

Series 1. CORRESPONDENCE includes a letter from Perelman and his wife to S. D. Cohen describing their experience working in Hollywood at Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Other correspondence sheds light on his author/publisher relations. Correspondence is also found in other areas of the collection, particularly in the working files. For more letters written by Perelman, the researcher is encouraged to consult the I. J. Kapstein Papers, Ms. 89.5 (also in the John Hay Library).

Series 2. WRITINGS contains holograph and typewritten manuscripts as well as typescripts with handwritten annotations. Included here is Perelman's earliest known manuscript, "Science and Religion", written 1921 Apr 28 for the Anthony Medal award at the Classical High School in Providence. Also included are the play, All Good Americansa comedy by S. J. and Laura West Perelman, written around 1933; "The White Rhino", an early draft of Perelman's proposed collaboration with Ogden Nash; the unpublished typewritten manuscript of Even Stephen, a play written by Perelman with his brother-in-law, Nathanael West, but never produced. Speech material found in this section includes Perelman's preparation for a talk at the Overseas Press Club in 1958. Writing by others includes David Maurer's The Big Con in typescript form presented by the author to his friend Perelman.

Series 3. includes Perelman's WORKING FILES as well as some work in progress. Organized in seven sections, as originally numbered by the author, the series contains clippings (both with and without notes attached or written in the margins); miscellaneous notes; drafts; correspondence; lead notes; typescripts; proofs; tear sheets; etc. An amusing example is found in Box 5/Folder 20, where the author writes (under a section he calls, "New Yorker Best Possibilities"): Between you and me an the cat-o-nine tails, I think I have a rather exceptional talent for self-castigation." In Box 3/Folder 10, under the heading, "Ideas to Incorporate", one finds Perelman's clipping about a seven-year queue to climb Mount Everest and a cardboard clipping from a cake mix box, specifically from Betty Crocker's Fudge Brownie Mix Supreme.

Series 4. CONTRACTS includes two for Westward, Ha!, signed by Perelman and Al Hirschfeld, documenting their collaboration as writer/cartoonist respectively.

Series 5. AWARDS includes the Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture, given to Perelman by the City of New York, and signed by Edward Koch on 1979 Nov 5.

Series 6. MISCELLANEOUS PRINTED includes a picture postcard with "The Chicken Inspector #23", the inspiration for his book of the same name.

Series 7. PHOTOGRAPHS includes a striking photograph of Perelman and his wife, Laura, from their student years at Brown University. Also included are pictures of the Perelman children, of Nathanael West, and of some family pets.

Series 8. BOOKS AND JOURNALS reflects the literary and artistic tastes of the author and his wife as it includes printed material from their personal library. One finds here signed presentation copies of Perelman's own work, a copy of the Hite Report, given and inscribed by Lillian Hellman, and selections on the art of Ben Shahn. In all there are ninety-four items.

Series 9. includes WRITINGS AND DOCUMENTS OF NATHANAEL WEST among which the author's typewritten draft, with handwritten revisions, of his short story, L'Affaire Beano.

Series 10. SUPPLEMENTS includes a variety of material obtained from different sources and added later to the main body of the collection. Included here is a Saul Steinberg original pen and pencil sketch label attached to a wine bottle, given the author by the artist around 1950.