In Saint-Nazaire, Brittany, late June, 1917…

…newlywed New Yorkers Heywood Broun, 28, and Ruth Hale, 30, have just arrived on their honeymoon. He’s reporting on the war for the New York Tribune, and she’s covering it for the Chicago Tribune. They have landed with the first convoy of American troops.

Broun manages to get a great quote from the first soldier off the ship:

Do they allow enlisted men in the saloons in this town?”

But the big brass are sitting on it. Journalists aren’t allowed to report any negative news or comments from the war. Heywood is working out how to make a case to the boss that his interview adds human interest.

Hale wrote for the New York Times and Vogue back in New York; in order to follow her new husband to the front, she wangled this post from the Chicago Trib. But she has made it clear to them—and Broun—that she is Ruth Hale. The only ‘Mrs. Broun’ who will ever be in their household will be the dog.

They’re both looking forward to the adventure of war reporting, and moving on to Paris, but want to start a family. Well, Broun does. Hale has told him, in no uncertain terms, one. Just one.

Journalist Ruth Hale

Journalist Ruth Hale

Journalist Heywood Broun

Journalist Heywood Broun

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

In Manhattan in mid-summer of 1915…

…New York Tribune writer FPA [Franklin P. Adams, 33] is searching for material for his daily column, “The Conning Tower.”

It appears that his loyal readers stuck with him after he got kicked off The Evening Mail last year—after a decade of building up one of the largest audiences in New York–when it was bought by a pro-German syndicate. The new owners managed to get rid of most of their Jewish writers, including one of FPA’s proteges, George S Kaufman, 25. So he’d brought Kaufman with him to the Trib.

Now FPA’s thinking of giving one of his other young writer friends a mention, Heywood Broun, 27. He has just moved from sports reporter to drama critic at the Trib. And has told FPA that he’s fallen madly in love with a Russian ballerina, Lydia Lopokova, 23, and is determined to marry her. FPA writes for tomorrow’s issue,

Heywood Broun, the critic, I hear hath become engaged to Mistress Lydia Lopokova, the pretty play actress and dancer. He did introduce her to me last night and she seemed a merry elf.’

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

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

In Manhattan, November, 1918…

…novice playwright George S Kaufman, born 29 years ago in Pittsburgh, PA, is thrilled to see a good review of his Broadway debut play, Some One in the House, in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine.

Unfortunately, the play closed last month. After only 32 performances.

Kaufman and his collaborator had written it as a melodrama, based on a magazine story. But their first venture into legitimate theatre had the misfortune to premier during the outbreak of the flu epidemic in New York, severely limiting the number of people going out for the evening. The authorities were advising people to stay away from large groups. So Kaufman had taken an ad,

Avoid the Crowds…See Some One in the House.’

And now, here is a good review. In Vanity Fair, no less…

Somehow, I have heard very little excitement about Some One in the House. It slipped unobtrusively into the Knickerbocker Theatre…All I knew about it was what I could glean from the billboards—that it was a “melodramatic comedy”—whatever that might be…And then I went to see the thing, they completely sold me on it. It wasn’t so much the melodramatic part that intrigued me…No, it’s the comedy that got me. It’s the best time I have had in, lo, these many weeks—ever since the current theatrical season opened, to be perfectly accurate. And the thing is done so perfectly, too….Lynn Fontanne [30], in a part that is a perfect dramatization of [New York columnist FPA’s, 36, character Dulcinea, does] the best bits of characterization that have been seen in these parts in many a day…You could go right down the cast that way and never find an error.’

Kaufman is encouraged. Vanity Fair is known for its usually acerbic reviews, by the only woman theatre critic in New York City, Dorothy Parker, 25. He decides he’d like to meet her some day and thank her.

Vanity Fair, November 1918

Vanity Fair, November 1918

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

In San Francisco, August 17, 1915…

Call & Post reporter Harold Ross, 22, is reading about the lynching of Jewish businessman Leo Frank, 31, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ross had covered the story of Frank’s trial back at the Atlanta Journal in the hot summer of 1913. The Journal was in fierce competition with the Atlanta Georgian, owned by the Hearst syndicate.

But Ross had managed to be with Frank when the police took him to the morgue to see the body of the victim, one of his employees, 14-year old Mary Phagan, and he had interviewed the accused afterwards. Ross wrote later,

Without making the assertion that Frank is innocent, it may be said that his conduct from the outset was that of an innocent man.

After Frank was convicted, Ross had moved on to New York City, back home to Salt Lake City, and then back here to San Francisco where he is in his old job at Hearst’s Call & Post.  He has also returned to his addictive hobbies of poker and cribbage and is now enjoying driving around in a Stutz roadster.

1915_Stutz_H.C.S._Roadster

This past June, when the outgoing Georgia governor commuted Frank’s sentence, Ross had written an article for the Call, “The Leo M. Frank Case by a Reporter Who Covered the Tragedy”:

If juries convict men upon [such] evidence…and judges uphold them, no man is absolutely safe from paying the penalty for a crime he did not commit…The police did what they always do in Georgia—arrested a Negro…But this time the public—always excitable in the South—was not satisfied…So they arrested more Negros. But this did not stop the clamor…The murder of Mary Phagan must be paid for with blood. And a Negro’s blood would not suffice …There was a strong religious prejudice against [Jewish] Frank. The atmosphere in the courtroom was obviously hostile.

And now, a few months later, a lynching. A group of more than 20 prominent Atlanta businessmen, calling themselves The Knights of Mary Phagan, kidnapped Frank from prison, drove him to a town near where Phagan grew up, and hung him. The crowd that gathered took pictures to turn into postcards. Some popular publications cheered the lynching, saying that the voice of the people had been heard.

The Leo Frank lynching as reported by the Atlanta Journal

The Leo Frank lynching as reported by the Atlanta Journal

Ross can see what is coming. Some members of the lynch mob were also charter members of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan and now would be encouraged to revive their old club…

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

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.