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A Thousand Clowns: The Nebbishes

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A Thousand Clowns was nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards in the 1965 season. Martin Balsam won for Best Supporting Actor as Jason Robards’ straight shooter brother Arnold. Well-deserved, great job. We all love Martin Balsam. But Herb Gardner’s screenplay, based on his own play of the same name was truly snubbed (the Academy opted instead for Robert Bolt’s adaptation of Doctor Zhivago…). Witty, sentimental but not too much, clever, funny, charming, etc, etc, Garner’s script steals the show. It’s an opus about one man’s allergy to growing up – something I think we can allrelate to, He  wrote the original play in his twenties after developing many of the themes and ideas in blob form. While still a student at Antioch College, Gardner created a cartoon character that would gain popularity first on merchandise, most famously cocktail napkins, and eventually blossom into a full-fledged comic strip that ran weekly in the New York Examiner for several years in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Nebbishes (in Yiddish, a ‘nebbish’ is a ‘sack sack’) were little blob people with large opinions of themselves and little to back it up. Simultaneously repellant and charming, The Nebbishes featured a little guy who has no problem sweating the small stuff and is quick to dismiss anyone who disagrees with him. Jason Robards’ Murray in A Thousand Clowns is decidedly not a Nebbish (too handsome and spry), his carefree lifestyle and growing disdain for the workforce at large brings him dangerously close to becoming a bum. The following strips (lifted from this enlightening blog post) are of particular interest to us this week: