At the Globe Theatre in Manhattan, September 30th, 1916…

Marc Connelly, 25, is angry.

The producers have just announced that The Amber Empress, the operetta for which he has been credited with both books and lyrics, will close tonight. After just 15 performances.

Connelly had been working on the musical since last year, but actually a lot of his hard work hadn’t made it into the final production. The Amber Empress, about a Hollywood movie crew filming in Italy, hadn’t gotten many good reviews; some singled out the score:

The music of the piece…has little to commend it, few of the numbers rising above mediocrity.

When Connelly had first moved to New York from Pittsburgh in 1915, he had worked on some additional lyrics for a musical revue, Hip! Hip! Hooray! and that had run more than eight months at the Hippodrome.

Hippodrome Theatre, New York City, 1915

Hippodrome Theatre, New York City, 1915

But it might be time to reconsider. Connelly’s widowed mom is struggling back in Pennsylvania, and maybe he isn’t cut out for this writing stuff anyway.

He has been selling some short pieces to Life magazine, and the Morning Telegraph just told him that he could have a Broadway column. Besides–he doesn’t have the bus fare back to Pittsburgh.

Connelly decides to stay.

Marc Connelly

Marc Connelly

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

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.

In Tiffin, Ohio, 145 years ago, on April 24, 1870…

…John Quinn was born, the first son of two Irish immigrants. He grew up in middle-class Fostoria, Ohio, and went to the University of Michigan. While working full-time in a government job in Washington, DC, he went to Georgetown University law school at night. After receiving his law degree, he earned an advanced degree in international relations from Harvard. Not bad for the son of a shanty-Irish baker.

Quinn then moved to New York City, which was to be his home for the rest of his life, so he was there when the Algonquin Round Table wits were in the newspapers every day. He predictably landed a job with a major New York law firm and worked on high profile corporate cases. During a two-year period there were quite a few deaths in his family—parents, sisters, etc.—and he began to explore his Irish roots by going back to ‘the old sod.’ While attending a Gaelic language festival in the west of Ireland, he met Lady Augusta Gregory and other friends of W B Yeats involved in the Irish Literary Renaissance. While helping them found the Abbey Theatre, he started his own law firm in 1906.

John Quinn, 1870-1924

John Quinn, 1870-1924

Quinn became involved in New York’s Tammany Hall politics, but when his candidate didn’t get the nomination at the 1912 Democratic Party convention, he became disgusted with the whole system (go figure). After that he turned his considerable energies to art and literature.

During the first two decades of the 20th century he managed to:

  • Help organize the Armory Show, securing paintings from Roger Fry’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit in London, and Leo and Gertrude Stein’s collection at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris,
  • Fight Congress to have the tariff on contemporary art changed,
  • Bail out the Abbey Theatre after they were arrested for performing The Playboy of the Western World in Philadelphia,
  • Have an affair with Lady Gregory and a number of other much younger women,
  • Support Yeats’ father in New York City by buying his paintings,
  • Argue the original case to have excerpts of Ulysses published in the United States,
  • Support James Joyce in Paris by buying his manuscripts of Ulysses as he wrote them,
  • Fund the transatlantic review where Ernest Hemingway worked when he first came to Paris, and
  • Amass an incredible collection of modern art, stashed around his Manhattan apartment, focused primarily on European painters and sculptors.

During that time he kept up a detailed correspondence with all of the above as well as Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, Augustus John and other cultural luminaries of the early 20th century. When I did my research, Quinn kept popping up, Zelig-like, in photos such as this one:

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

Quite a guy. I get tired just thinking about all he accomplished.

Quinn died of intestinal cancer at the age of 54, and, having no heirs, willed that his art collection be sold off and dispersed among museums and collectors around the world. And it was.

This summer I’m planning to visit the States—including Ohio, where he grew up, and New York City, where his papers are. And [you read it here first], on this date, five years from now, 2020, his 150th birthday, I plan to publish an autobiography of this amazing man.

So happy birthday, John Quinn!

In New York City, in the winter of 1919…

…freelance writer Robert Benchley, 29, is considering the offer of a full-time job, as associate editor of Collier’s magazine.

It’s certainly more attractive than what he’s been doing. Freelance work is fine, but intermittent.

Benchley has tried working as a reporter—couldn’t bring himself to ask hard questions. Or any questions.

Tried being a Broadway press agent—hated it.

Moved the family to Washington, DC, last year to do publicity for the Aircraft Production Board—crashed.

Came back to work at the New York Tribune Magazine. Got fired just before he was going to quit.

Benchley doesn’t think Collier’s is much of a magazine. But he has a wife and a three-year-old son in the suburbs—and just found out there is another one on the way—looking at houses in Scarsdale.

Before he tells Collier’s yes, he thinks he should mention this offer to Frank Crowninshield, 46, editor of Vanity Fair. Crownie had published Benchley’s first piece in the magazine five years before:

 No Matter from What Angle You Looked at it, Alice Brookhansen Was a Girl You Would Hesitate to Invite Into Your Own Home,”

but had changed the title to “Hints on Writing a Book.”  Recently Crowninshield had mentioned something about a full-time position. Maybe he can get an interview with the publisher, Conde Nast, 46. Worth a shot…

Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley

 

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

In Midtown Manhattan, Spring, 1919…

Dorothy Parker, 25, is pleased with her new job as theatre critic for Vanity Fair. She’d started last year as a fill in when P. G. Wodehouse, 37, left, but now she has settled in with popular reviews such as ‘The Dramas That Gloom in the Spring”:

Sometimes I think it can’t be true…There couldn’t be plays as bad as these. In the first place, no one would write them, and in the second place, no one would produce them.”

Parker had started with Conde Nast Publications back in 1915 after submitting a poem to Vanity Fair. The editor, Frank Crowninshield, then 43, had hired her—but for Vogue. She had spent the next four years writing captions such as,

From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

The war ended last November, but her husband of almost two years, former Paine Webber stockbroker Eddie Pond Parker II, 26, has been assigned to the Rhineland, and won’t be back Stateside any time soon.

So for right now, Parker feels writing for Vanity Fair is fine. But she’s heard that Crownie has hired a managing editor, Robert Benchley, 29, some newspaperman from Boston. She’s not looking forward to sharing an office with him…

Vanity Fair magazine, May 1919

Vanity Fair magazine, May 1919

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

 

In Paris, December, 1918…

…Pvt. Harold Ross, just turned 26, is working on the weekly newspaper for the American Expeditionary Forces [AEF] in France, The Stars & Stripes.

The Armistice was declared last month, but the American troops are still here, preparing to go home, so the paper will continue to be published every Friday for a few more months. But Ross is feeling a rumbling among the service men who work on the paper, against the current managing editor. There is talk that they want to overthrow him and put Ross in charge.

Ross has gathered quite an interesting group of writers around him. Sgt. Alexander Woollcott, 31, showed up a few months ago. He’d left his division to come to Paris and work on the paper. When this short, round, silly soldier had presented himself and announced that he was the drama critic for the New York Times, Ross had laughed hysterically. Turns out it was true.

Another New York newspaperman showed up shortly after, Franklin Pierce Adams, just turned 37, the most popular Manhattan columnist of the time, known as FPA. Ross had let him try out a similar column in Stars & Stripes, but FPA’s cosmopolitan humour just hadn’t worked with enlisted men in the trenches.

But now that the ‘War to End All Wars’ is over, what next? Serving as Stars & Stripes editor for even a few months would help when he got stateside. But what could he do back in New York City in the coming decade? All the other vets would be there too, looking for jobs. And a drink, if Prohibition passes. What Ross would really like to do is start his own magazine.

Stars and Stripes montage 1918

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

At the Grantwood artist colony, in Ridgefield, NJ, autumn, 1915…

…American artist Emmanuel Radnitzky, 25, who signs his paintings Man Ray and lives here with his wife, Belgian poet Adon, 28, sees two men walking towards him.

The older man he recognizes as Pittsburgh-born modern art collector Walter Arensberg, 37. Ray has been supplementing his income by documenting the collections of wealthy New Yorkers like Arensberg and Ohio-born John Quinn, 45. Arensberg has helped his artsy friends in Grantwood start an avant-garde magazine, Others, just this past summer.

The other man, tall, nattily dressed, and definitely French, is surreal artist Marcel Duchamp, 28, who has been given a studio in Arensberg’s 67th Street apartment just across the Hudson River in New York City. Duchamp caused quite a stir two years ago at the Armory Show with his painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, described as an explosion in a shingle factory.

Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp

 

Duchamp approaches Ray, but speaks little English. Ray speaks little French. They each instantly pick up tennis racquets and proceed to play a game. With no net. As Ray described it later in his autobiography,

In order to have a conversation I would give a name to each pass […] and each time Duchamp would reply in English with a single word, “Yes”…’

They become life-long friends.

 

 

 

 

Rutherford, NJ, one year later, 1916

Rutherfor NJ 1916Front row, L-R: Alison Hartpence, Afred Kreymborg, WCW, Skip Cannell; Back row, L-R: Jean Crotti, Marcel Duchamp, Walter Arensberg, Man Ray, R.A. Sanborn, Maxwell BodenheimThis year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Cleveland, Ohio, at a drugstore on East 152nd Street, on Sunday, December 1st, 1912…

Sherwood Anderson, 36, founder and president of the successful American Merchants Company in nearby Elyria, Ohio, hands the pharmacist his address book and asks the startled man to help him figure out who he is. Anderson’s business suit is splattered with mud; he is unshaven and confused.

The pharmacist finds the number of an Elyria businessman, who comes to get Anderson and checks him into the Huron Road Hospital.

His wife, Cornelia, 35, rushes to the hospital to see him. For the past four days, no one has known where Anderson was. His secretary said that last Thursday he was dictating a letter to her, stopped, wrote a note to Cornelia, stood up, said:

‘I feel as though my feet were wet, and they keep getting wetter,’

and walked out of the office.

The note Anderson wrote to his wife said,

‘Cornelia:  There is a bridge over a river with cross-ties before it. When I come to that I’ll be all right. I’ll write all day in the sun and the wind will blow thru my hair. —Sherwood’

Lying in the Cleveland hospital, Anderson slowly starts to remember his wife, his children, his life in Elyria. He still doesn’t know why he is here.  But he knows one, specific, thing. He knows he is going to be a writer.

 

Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson

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

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard University, in 1924…

…recent composition graduate, Virgil Thomson, 27, is fondly remembering his time spent in Paris. He’d had the opportunity to study with Nadia Boulanger, 36, although he didn’t go along with all of her teaching methods, the way the other American ‘Boulangeries,’ as he called them, did.

And Virgil had also met one of his heroes, composer Erik Satie, 58. He’d hung out with fellow composer Darius Milhaud, 31, at a funky bistro near Place Vendome, Le boeuf sur la toit, named after one of Milhaud’s recent pieces.

Having returned to the States two years ago, Virgil is earning a little bit of money by writing music criticism for magazines like Vanity Fair, and working as an organist near Boston. He’d even spent a year in New York, playing and conducting. Both places seem cold and sterile to him.

And now, here he is, back at Harvard. As a teaching assistant.

But Virgil has had offers. He’s considering becoming the director of the music program at the University of South Carolina. Or taking a major organist post back home in Kansas.

No. He won’t. The time has come. Back to Paris.

“I said to my friends that if I was going to starve, I might as well starve where the food is good”

Virgil Thomson, composer and music critic, in 1921

Virgil Thomson, composer and music critic, in 1921

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

In New York City, on Valentine’s Day, 1921…

…aspiring writer Robert McAlmon, 24, cannot believe his luck.

He is marrying…today…right after tea…the most fascinating woman he has ever met. Annie Ellerman, 26. British. Smart. Witty. Also a writer. And she has told him that her father, Sir John, one of the richest men in England, has promised she can have her inheritance, the equivalent of $30 million, once she is married and he meets her new husband.

So the newlyweds plan to sail to Liverpool at the end of the month. But, after meeting the family, they want to set off for Paris. McAlmon has read that a lot of American writers, including one of his favorites, Sherwood Anderson, 44, are living there on the Left Bank. He could use some of this ‘dowry’ to set up a publishing company, extending the Contact press that he has been trying to establish here in New York.

Annie also mentions that she prefers to be known by her pen name, Bryher. Oh, and when they go to Paris, she will bring along her close friend, poet Hilda Doolittle [known by her pen name HD], 34, and her daughter.

McAlmon feels that it will all work out fine…

Bryher and McAlmon in the year of their marriage, 1921

Bryher and McAlmon in the year of their marriage, 1921

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