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Friday, June 29, 2012

S. J. Perelman

American humourist and author Sidney Joseph Perlman had a well known creative partnership with cartoonist Al Hirschfeld.  Their Westward Ha! (1948) was an early example of an illustrated travelogue, matching a satirical writer with an illustrator of a similar sensibility.  Their globe-trotting trip was paid for by Holiday magazine and initially published as a series in the magazine.





Less known is Perelman's collaboration with Ronald Searle. Like Perelman and Hirschfeld Searle had found success illustrating the satirical travelogues of Alex Atkinson published in Punch then later Holiday.
Punch editor Malcom Muggeridge introduced them in London in the early fifties and it seems they instantly clicked, remaining friends for the rest of their lives. 'Perelman had his irascible side. . . but he had a genuine affection for Ronald, triggered at an early meeting when the Enlishman asked his way to 'the cloakroom', a term which delighted Sid by transporting him instantly to his favourite literary territory, amid the rapiers and intrigues of Baroness Orczy.' (-Russell Davies)

'. . . we all went off to a party at Ronald Searle's. . . oddly enough this was practically a counterpart of an evening at the Hirschfelds', made even more uncanny by Searle's having a beard.  They live in a four-floor modernische house in Bayswater, top floor of which is his studio, like Al's.  It was one of those progressive parties, where waves of people had been piling up since five o'clock and it was now ten-thirty . . . a real bedlam.  Finally, though, Searle and I got a few minutes alone in his studio, inscribed books to each other, and had a short interval of sense.  He's an extremely talented man, as you know, and among other things I learned that he first learned to draw when he was a prisoner on the Burma-Siam frontier in a Japanese camp, being the only man in his company who ever got out alive . . . '
(Letter from Perelman to his wife Laura Dec 23rd 1953)

Peter Harrington Books is selling a 1st Edition copy of Westward Ha! inscribed to Searle by both Perelman and Hirschfeld in 1953. It's likely this is the book signed by Perelman for Searle in his loft studio in 1953. It's nice to see the esteem held by Hirschfeld for his fellow caroonist in this dedication.
Also, a copy of Perelman's 'The Beauty Part' (1963) 'Inscribed by the author to his friend and collaborator Ronald Searle on the front free endpaper, "For Monica and Ronald, this obstreporous [sic] vaudeville with love from its author, Sid. 14 February, 1968". Includes, loosely inserted, an envelope dated Feb 12 1986 to Searle from Perelman containing an autograph letter giving directions to the appropriate bus stop to reach him in his country residence in Frenchtown, New Jersey, and a bus schedule. A charming artefact of a close friendship.'





'Dear Ronnie, I must tell you at once how pleased I was to receive the books you sent us, Take One Toad and The Square Egg.  Take One Toad is a strikingly original job, I was much impressed with the way you handled the period costumes and the whole conception of the book.  This is not to downgradeThe Square Egg in any sense; you have some marvelous drawings in that, it goes without saying.  The first one, naturally, has a unity that the other as a collection doesn't.  At any rate, here's hoping that The Square Egg has more than the modest sale you foresaw in your note to me. . . 
(Letter from Perelman to Ronald Searle December 10th, 1968)

Searle's caricature of Perelman looks like an evolution of Mr. Lemon Hart in turn inspired by lanky Punch theatre columnist Eric Keown.




'My Life In Scotland Yard' Holiday Magazine April 1968
"It was piquant to learn that I resembled Dr. Crippen, the classic poisoner."
"The subject was murdered by renowned ghouls and I rather wanted to lie down"
"The Black Museum piece was tip-top, you caught every sinister possible facet"
(Letter from Perelman to Ronald & Monica Searle April 8th, 1968)


"The law was guilty of an anatomical booboo"

'Room and Bored' in haunted Irish manor Poltrooney
Holiday Magazine September

Following the decline of Holiday magazine Searle and Perelman sustained their collaboration in the pages of Travel & Leisure magazine, probably commissioned by Holiday's ex-Art Director Frank Zachary who had jumped to the new title. Searle provided lavish illustrations to compliment Perlman's equally exotic travel series 'Nostasia in Asia'.  I have the first in the series but if anyone has the rest please contact me at the email address in my Blogger profile.
'Dear Ronnie. . . thank you very much indeed for your drawing of myself being inducted into the Chinese tailor shop in Hong Kong that illustrated the fourth piece in that Travel & Leisure series.  As soon as it's framed, it goes up on the wall. . . it'll make a peachy companion pice to one of Andre (Francois)'s covers for The New Yorker, a cafe scene he did a couple years ago; and it will also be cheek by jowl with that marvelous photograph of Toulouse-Lautrec you once gave me.'
(Letter from Perelman to Ronald Searle November 4th, 1974)


A tropical encounter with W. Somerset Maugham

2. The Egg and Ainu 


3. Paradise-once over lightly


Perelman wrote the introduction to a Searle illustrated  'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen', published in 1969.  The adventures of the mustachioed  weaver of tall tales seems to perfectly portray Perelman himself!










I remember the Searles telling me over lunch of a spooky incident involving Perelman's death-in his biography of Searle, Russell Davies quotes Ronald:

'Suddenly an old friend appeared before, looking like a gently spotlit figure on a stage. . . Only one finger moved, to tap ash from an ashless cigarette. (She always tapped more than she smoked.)  The apparition was Laura West Perelman. . . she had died in 1970.
But here she was, nearly ten years later, very much alive and looking me straight in the eye.  With her usual laconic American drawl, she spoke, coming directly to the point as usual:
'RAHnald, Sid's dead,' she said. Then she was no longer there.
In the morning, before I had even got to my coffee, the telephone rang. My sister-in-law was calling from London.
'Sad news, I'm afraid.  I've just heard on the radio that Sid Perelman has been found dead in his hotel room in New York . . . '
Sid had died at the Gramercy Park Hotel during the night of the 16-17 October.  Searle describes this as 'a very small ghost story: but it certainly impressed me at the time'.  He still awaits Sid's explanation.'

'I Dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls'
Holiday Magazine September 1968


Sources:
Russell Davies' biography of Ronald Searle  
Dorothy Hermann's biography of S. J. Perelman
'Don't Tread On Me' Selected Letters of S. J. Perelman
Holiday Magazine1968
Travel & Leisure Magazine 1973
(Thanks to Josh Lieberman for contributing scans)

Friday, June 22, 2012


The remaining unsold pictures from Chris Beetles' 'Ronald Searle Remembered' exhibition are now on sale at the Leeds Gallery

The Huffington Post picked up on the exhibition

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Catskills


Directly following the Hawaii assignment Searle moved on to the Catskills between 13th-17th March, 1965. Searle spent the time 'guying the clientele at Grossinger's hotel' as biographer Russell Davies put it.   Published in the July 1965 issue of the magazine. Read the accompanying article by Mordecai Richler here