November 13, 1915 – December 14, 1981
A painter (and writer) from a family of writers, Benchley lived on Baxter Avenue,
Siasconset. He wrote “The Off-Islanders” (filmed as “The Russians Are
Coming, The Russians Are Coming”) and many young-adult books. He was
the son of writer and humorist Robert Benchley and the father of
“Jaws” author Peter Benchley. Benchley showed at the Lobster Pot
Gallery as well as at AAN.
Born in Newton, Massachusetts to a literary family, he was the son of Gertrude Darling and Robert Benchley (1889–1945), the noted American writer, humorist, critic, actor, and one of the founders of the Algonquin Round Table in New York City. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and served as a public relations officer and on convoy duty in the Atlantic on destroyers and patrol craft. He was transferred to the Pacific in 1945. He later worked for Newsweek magazine as an assistant drama editor.
Benchley was the highly-respected author of many children’s/juvenile books that provided learning for the youthful readers with stories of various animals or through the book’s historical settings. Benchley dealt with diverse locales and topics such as “Bright Candles”, which recounts the experiences of a 16-year-old Danish boy during the German occupation of his country in World War II; and “Small Wolf”, a story about a Native American boy who meets white men on the island of Manhattan and learns that their ideas about land are different from those of his own people.
He wrote a biography of his father Robert in 1955. His first novel Sail a Crooked Ship (1960) was filmed by Columbia Pictures in 1961. Film director/producer, Norman Jewison made Benchley’s 1961 novel The Off-Islanders into a motion picture titled The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming for which he received the nomination for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. He was a close friend of actor Humphrey Bogart and wrote his biography in 1975.
Benchley’s novel Welcome to Xanadu was made into the 1975 motion picture Sweet Hostage.
His elder son, Peter Benchley (1940–2006), was a writer best known for writing the novel Jaws and the screenplay of the 1975 Steven Spielberg film made from it. His younger son, Nat Benchley, is a writer and actor who has portrayed his grandfather, Robert Benchley, in a one-man, semi-biographical stage show, “Benchley Despite Himself”. The show was a compilation of Robert Benchley’s best monologues, short films, radio rantings and pithy pieces as recalled, edited, and acted by his grandson Nat, and combined with family reminiscences and friends’ perspectives.”
Nathaniel Benchley died in 1981 in Boston, Massachusetts and was interred in the family plot at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Nantucket.