Last week I got a call from someone asking for the address of S. J. Perelman, cartoonist, screenwriter, parodist and all around funny guy, when he was growing up in Providence. I found his father, Joseph S. Perelman, owner of a dry goods business, in the 1919 city directory at 271 Chalkstone Ave., now a parking lot for Rego’s Auto Body. The caller seemed happy with this information as it confirmed for him that the family lived in Smith Hill, then a hub of Jewish immigrant families and businesses.
Today, having decided that something about winter would be appropriate for this week’s blog, I went to the stacks to look for a book- a zine, actually- called How to Stay Warm in the Winter. When Your Place is Drafty and Too Big to Heat and You Wanna Be Outside and You’re Really Cheap, by Dr. Tropical (2008). There in front of me was half a shelf of books by S.J. Perelman, including Baby it’s Cold Inside. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think he was calling me.
Yes, Sidney Joseph Perelman is one of our own. He was born in Brooklyn and died in New York City but for a decade or so in between he was a Rhode Islander. He went to Candace St. Elementary School and attended Brown University from 1921 to 1925 before heading to New York to make a name for himself.
In addition to Baby it’s Cold Inside (1970), the Library’s cache of Perelman includes Keep it Crisp (1946), Westward Ha! (1948), Chicken Inspector No. 23 (1966), and Vinegar Puss (1977.) The titles alone had me in stitches. And choosing a cartoon to go with this post was not an easy task. Each one I looked at became my instant new favorite. I settled on the above, the frontispiece from That Old Gang O’ Mine (1984).
I’ll leave off with another taste of Perelman’s wit:
“Of [Acres and Pains], critics have been gracious enough to say that it is irradiated by a tenderness, a nobility of vision that recall Ella Wheeler Wilcox at her most glutinous. Throughout its pages resound the cheep of the junco, the croak of bullfrogs, and the wail of the oppidan who has been taken to the cleaners.”
Part II of The Most of S. J. Perelman