Robert Benchley? Arthur Loeb Mayer? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The popular humorist and actor Robert Benchley has been credited with the following response to a colleague who desired company during exercise:
Go jogging? What, and get hit by a meteor?
Benchley died in 1945; hence, this scenario appears anachronistic. Would you please help determine what Benchley said?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no evidence that Robert Benchley made a comical remark about jogging. Instead, QI conjectures that the quip was derived from an anecdote published in 1952 which is listed further below.
A meteor is a piece of matter then enters earth’s atmosphere from space and produces a streak of light in the sky when it incandesces via friction. A mass of stone or metal that reaches the earth is called a meteorite. The two closely related terms are often confused, and in 1935 Robert Benchley joked about them in his syndicated newspaper column: 1
Next month will be a bad one for those people who bruise easily, as meteor showers are predicted. It will be well for everyone to travel by subway as much as possible, or, at any rate, to hug up close to the buildings while walking along the street. Those meteors can hurt!
To forestall indignant letters from astronomers and ex-meteors let me say that I know the difference between meteors and meteorites, and that meteorites are the only one that could hurt if they hit you.
In 1953 Arthur Loeb Mayer, a prominent motion-picture distributor, published “Merely Colossal” which included a tale about Benchley: 2
I called on Benchley once in Hollywood at his bungalow at the sun-drenched Garden of Allah and found him in his shorts sitting inside under a sun lamp. I pointed out that with a few steps he could be out of doors and under nature’s sun. “I don’t trust nature,” he shuddered. “Out there things can fall on you. Like meteors. Or manna.”
The story above caught the eye of a newspaper columnist in Minnesota who saw a pre-publication copy of the book and reprinted the anecdote in December 1952 before the official publication date. 3
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1935 February 11, Cumberland Evening Times, Duck, Brothers! by Robert Benchley (King Feature Syndicate), Quote Page 4, Column 3 and 4, Cumberland, Maryland. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1953, Merely Colossal: The Story of the Movies from the Long Chase to the Chaise Longue by Arthur Mayer, Chapter 8, Quote Page 124, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1952 December 3, Minneapolis Morning Tribune (Star Tribune), After Last Night: ‘Annnnnnd…’ Is a TV Crutch, by Will Jones, Quote Page 31, Column 2 and 3, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com) ↩