Picks and Pans Review: Laughter's Gentle Soul

updated 08/25/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Billy Altman

Humorist Robert Benchley was one of the less cynical, more generous-spirited members of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s. Delectably deadpan, he wrote innumerable witty essays, humor pieces and theater reviews for The New Yorker and other leading magazines of the day. He was also a funny movie actor, best known for such shorts as The Sex Life of the Polyp and feature films like The Major and the Minor (in which he asks Ginger Rogers, "Why don't you step out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"). Laughter's Gentle Soul is an earnest, diligent biography—but it's not nearly as much fun as it ought to be. As a result, readers may end up feeling a bit puzzled about what made the granddad of Jaws author Peter Benchley such a stitch. (Norton, $30)

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