In Manhattan, in early 1917,…

…they finally caved. New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, just turned 30, has been banned from any theatre owned by the all-powerful Shubert organization for the past two years. Woollcott’s punishment was retaliation for his bad review of the Shubert production, Taking Chances, calling it:

Tedious [and] not vastly amusing…Not much energy and ingenuity…quite absurd and little more than that.

Woollcott had defied the ban by showing up at Shubert theatres with orchestra tickets, ‘flanked on either side by lawyers in silk hats,’ as he later described it. When he was turned away, the Times sued under the New York State Civil Rights Act and won.

Shubert Theatre entrance, 221 West 44th Street, New York City, 1917.

Shubert Theatre entrance, 221 West 44th Street, New York City, 1917.

But on appeal the Court decided that, as Woollcott had not been discriminated against because of his race, color or creed, the Shuberts could legally keep him out of their theatres. Rather than continue to fight in court, the Times took a different approach: They banned the Shuberts. Nothing relating to their productions would appear in their newspaper: No reviews, no mentions in gossip columns, not even their highly lucrative advertising. So there. But now, two years later, the Shuberts have caved. The banning has made Woollcott a celebrity and now they want him back. As he wrote later,

Yes, they threw me out, and now I’m basking in the fierce white light that beats upon the thrown.’

So he and the Times have won. But who cares? Woollcott has decided to enlist in the Army anyway. That’ll show ‘em. Off to Europe!

Alexander Woollcott and Times reporter Jane Grant in France during World War I

Alexander Woollcott and Times reporter Jane Grant in France during World War I

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s