In the 1930s, many a writer journeyed to Hollywood in order to make his fortune. The screenwriter’s life didn’t sit well with some of them — just ask F. Scott Fitzgerald or William Faulkner — but a fair few made more than a go of it out West. Take the Baltimore-born Robert Pirosh, whose studies at the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin landed him a job as a copywriter in New York. This work seems to have proven less than satisfactory, as evidenced by the piece of correspondence that, still in his early twenties, he wrote and sent to “as many directors, producers and studio executives as he could find.” It wasn’t just a request for work; it was what Letters Live today calls “the best cover letter ever written.”
Pirosh’s impressive missive, which you can hear read aloud by favorite Letters Live performer Benedict Cumberbatch in the video above, runs, in full, as follows:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
Though not known as an unsubtle actor, Cumberbatch seizes the opportunity to deliver each and every one of these choice words with its own variety of exaggerated relish. Though none of these terms is especially recherché on its own, they must collectively have given the impression of a formidable mastery of the English language, especially to the ear of the average Hollywood big-shot. One way or another, Pirosh’s letter did the trick: according to Letters of Note, it “secured him three interviews, one of which led to his job as a junior writer at MGM. Fifteen years later,” he “won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on the war film Battleground.”
A World War II picture, Battleground was written at least in part from Pirosh’s own experience: a few years into his Hollywood career, he enlisted and made a return to Europe, this time as a Master Sergeant in the 320th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, seeing action in France and Germany. After the war he went right back to writing and producing, remaining active in the entertainment industry until at least the 1970s (and in fact, his writing credits include contributions to such programs that defined that decade as Mannix, Barnaby Jones, and Hawaii Five-O). Pirosh’s was an enviable 20th-century career, and one that began with a suitably brazen — and still convincing — 20th-century advertisement for himself.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.