S. J. Perelman

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Sidney Joseph Perelman (February 1, 1904October 17, 1979) was an American humorist and writer for the stage and screen. His sketches for The New Yorker are considered classics of their kind. He co-wrote the screenplays for the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, and for Around the World in Eighty Days.


  • I have Bright's disease and he has mine.
    • A patient confronts his doctor, in a cartoon printed in Judge magazine (November 16, 1929)
  • "Great-grandfather died under strange circumstances. He opened a vein in his bath."
    "I never knew baths had veins," protested Gabrilowitsch."
    "I never knew his great-grandfather had a ba—" began Falcovsky derisively.
    • "The Idol's Eye", The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. 32.
  • "Oh, son, I wish you hadn’t become a scenario writer!" she sniffled.
    "Aw, now, Moms," I comforted her, "it’s no worse than playing the piano in a call house."
    • "Strictly from Hunger", The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. 45
  • The worst disgrace that can befall a producer is an unkind notice from a New York reviewer. When this happens, the producer becomes a pariah in Hollywood. He is shunned by his friends, thrown into bankruptcy, and like a Japanese electing hara-kiri, he commits suttee.
    • "Strictly from Hunger", The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. 47
  • Only the scenario writers are exempt. These are tied between the tails of two spirited Caucasian ponies, which are then driven off in opposite directions. This custom is called "a conference".
    • "Strictly from Hunger", The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) pp. 47-48
  • I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.
    • "Captain Future, Block That Kick!," The New Yorker (20 January 1940) p. 23
    • Published in book form under the same title in The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. 71
  • In pulp fiction it is a rigid convention that the hero’s shoulders and the heroine’s balcon constantly threaten to burst their bonds, a possibility which keeps the audience in a state of tense expectancy. Unfortunately for the fans, however, recent tests reveal that the wisp of chiffon which stands between the publisher and the postal laws has the tensile strength of drop-forged steel.
    • "Captain Future, Block That Kick!", The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. 72
  • Under a forehead roughly comparable to that of the Javanese or the Piltdown man are visible a pair of tiny pig eyes, lit up alternately by greed and concupiscence. His nose, broken in childhood by a self-inflicted blow with a hockey stick, has a prehensile tip, ever quick to smell out an insult; at the least suspicion of an affront, Perelman, who has the pride of a Spanish grandee, has been known to whip out his sword-cane and hide in the nearest closet.
    • The Best of S. J. Perelman, Introduction (1947)
    • The Introduction was written under the name "Sidney Namlerep".
  • Before they made S J Perelman they broke the mold.
    • The Best of S. J. Perelman, Introduction
  • [The waiters'] eyes sparkled and their pencils flew as she proceeded to eviscerate my wallet – paté, Whitstable oysters, a sole, and a favorite salad of the Nizam of Hyderabad made of shredded five-pound notes.
    • The Rising Gorge (1961) p. 13
  • Fate was dealing from the bottom of the deck.
    • The Rising Gorge (1961) p. 183
  • The main obligation is to amuse yourself.
    • As quoted in I Seem to be a Verb (Bantam Books, 1970), p. 62
  • Button-cute, rapier-keen, wafer-thin and pauper-poor is S.J. Perelman, whose tall, stooping figure is better known to the twilit half-world of five continents than to Publishers' Row. That he possesses the power to become invisible to finance companies; that his laboratory is tooled up to manufacture Frankenstein-type monsters on an incredible scale; and that he owns one of the rare mouths in which butter has never melted are legends treasured by every schoolboy.
    • The Most of S. J. Perelman (1992) p. xii.


  • From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.
    • Groucho Marx on Perelman’s Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge (1928), quoted in Dorothy Herrmann S. J. Perelman: A Life (1986) p. 61.
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