Robert Benchley: “YOU!”


Knoebels went and did it, and really did open their Flying Turns ride, and now I’m just so torn about whether I should start hitchhiking my way there I just have to turn over the place today to the late Robert Benchley, and Love Conquers All, and a review of one of those silly little success books that we’re still getting all those years later.

In the window of the grocery store to which I used to be sent after a pound of Mocha and Java mixed and a dozen of your best oranges, there was a cardboard figure of a clerk in a white coat pointing his finger at the passers-by. As I remember, he was accusing you of not taking home a bottle of Moxie, and pretty guilty it made you feel too.

This man was, I believe, the pioneer in what has since become a great literary movement. He founded the “You, Mr. Business-Man!” school of direct appeal. It is strictly an advertising property and has long been used to sell merchandise to people who never can resist the flattery of being addressed personally. When used as an advertisement it is usually accompanied by an illustration built along the lines of the pioneer grocery-clerk, pointing a virile finger at you from the page of the magazine, and putting the whole thing on a personal basis by addressing you as “You, Mr. Rider-in-the-Open-Cars!” or “You, Mr. Wearer-of-14½-Shirts!” The appeal is instantaneous.

In straight reading-matter, bound in book form and sold as literature, this Moxie talk becomes a volume of inspirational sermonizing, and instead of selling cooling drinks or warming applications, it throws dynamic paragraph after dynamic paragraph into the fight for efficiency, concentration, self-confidence and personality on the part of our body politic. A homely virtue such as was taught us at our mother’s knee (or across our mother’s knees) at the age of four, in a dozen or so simple words, is taken and blown up into a book in which it is stated very impressively in a series of short, snappy sentences, all saying the same thing.

Such a book is called, for instance You, written by Irving R. Allen.

You takes 275 pages to divulge a secret of success. It would not be fair to Mr. Allen to give it away here after he has spent so much time concealing it. But it might be possible to give some idea of the importance of Mr. Allen’s discovery by stating one of my own, somewhat in the manner in which he has stated his. I will give my little contribution to the world’s inspiration the title of

HEY, YOU!

You and I are alone.

No, don’t try to get away. That door is locked. I won’t hurt you—much.

What I want to do is make you see yourself. I want you, when you put down this book, to say, “I know myself!” I want you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say: “Why, certainly I remember you, Mr. Addington Simms of Seattle, you old Rotary Club dog! How’s your merger?”

And the only way that you can ever be able to do this is to read this book through.

Then read it through again.

Then read it through again.

Then ring Dougherty’s bell and ask for “Chester.”

Now let’s get down to business.

I knew a man once who had made a million dollars. If he hadn’t been arrested he would have made another million.

Do you see what I mean?

If not, go back and read that over a second time. It’s worth it. I wrote it for you to read. You, do you hear me? You!

If you want to know the secret of this man’s success, of the success of hundreds of other men just like him, if you want to make his success your success, you must first learn the rule.

What is this rule? you may ask.

Go ahead and ask it.

Very well, since you ask.

It is a rule which has kept J.P. Morgan what he is. It is a rule which gives John D. Rockefeller the right to be known as the Baptist man alive. It is a rule which is responsible for the continued existence of every successful man of today.

And now I am going to tell it to you.

You, the you that you know, the real you, are going to learn the secret.

Can you bear it?

Here it is:

You can’t win if you breathe under water.

Read that again.

Read it backward.

It may sound simple to you now. You may say to yourself, “What do you take me for, a baby boy?”

Well, you paid good money for this book, didn’t you?

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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