‘Such Friends’: American writers in 1919

France, May, 1919

In Paris, leaders of the allied countries from the Great War are meeting to carve up their defeated adversary, Germany.

Paris Peace Conference in Versailles

Paris Peace Conference in the Palace of Versailles

On the Left Bank, near the Luxembourg Gardens, Gertrude Stein, 45, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, just turned 42, are settling back in to their home at 27 rue de Fleurus. They hope to re-start the Saturday evening salons they held to display and discuss the latest artworks they have been buying from their artist friends such as Pablo Picasso, 37, and Henri Matisse, 49. But it’s a different Paris than the one they left. As their friend, English art critic Clive Bell, 37, remarked,

They say that an awful lot of people were killed in the war but it seems to me that an extraordinarily large number of grown men and women have suddenly been born.’

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Stein and Toklas with their paintings at 27 rue de Fleurus

American vicar’s daughter Sylvia Beach, 32, is finishing up her field work with the Red Cross and writing to her Paris friend about starting a bookstore. Her mother will advance her the money. Beach wants to sell the latest American books, but can’t decide whether to open in New York or London.

Sylvia Beach 1919

Sylvia Beach

In another part of Paris, the US Army newspaper The Stars and Stripes, by American servicemen for American servicemen, is winding down. A big farewell banquet has been held, with Alexander Woollcott, 32, who will be going back to his job as New York Times drama critic, and Franklin Pierce Adams [FPA], 37, who will be returning to his must-read column, ‘The Conning Tower’ in the New York Tribune. Stars and Stripes editor Harold Ross, 26, is waiting in Marseilles to sail home to Manhattan, hoping to meet up again with the New York Times’ Jane Grant, just turning 27, whom he has been courting in Paris.

Stars and Stripes montage 1918

 

America, June, 1919

In St. Paul, Minnesota, on Summit Avenue, recently discharged serviceman F. Scott Fitzgerald, 22, is back home. He’s quit his job at the New York advertising agency Barron Collier, determined to finish his first novel, now called The Education of a Personage. Fitzgerald has received excellent advice, in letters and in person, from Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 34, and really wants to be published before the end of the year. He feels that will help him win back his ex-fiancee, Zelda Sayre, 18, of Montgomery, Alabama.

Fitz as soldier

Scott Fitzgerald in the Army

In a cabin near Ephraim, Wisconsin, Sherwood Anderson, 42, who has spent most of his life working in advertising, is camping with his wife Tennessee, 45. Anderson has been pleasantly surprised by the success of his third novel, Winesburg, Ohio, published last month. But the pressure of writing it, and now starting another, has been too much, and he feels he has to get away.

anderson

Sherwood Anderson

Farther south, in Oak Park, Illinois, another would-be writer home from the war, Ernest Hemingway, 19, has also been dumped by his fiancée, Agnes von Karowsky, 27. She was his nurse when he was injured as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy, and he was convinced they would marry back in the States. Von Karowsky has told him that she is now engaged to someone else, but he is writing to her again anyway, ever hopeful. Mostly he’s looking forward to going fishing for the first time in two years.

hemingway ambulance driver

Ernest Hemingway as an ambulance driver

In New York’s Greenwich Village, Margaret Anderson, 32, and Jane Heap, 36, publishers of The Little Review, are ignoring the censors and continuing to publish excerpts from Ulysses, the latest work by Irish writer James Joyce, 37, living in Zurich. They feel it is important literature, and are confident that their attorney, John Quinn, 48, will win their case in court.

littlereview Ulysses announcement

Initial announcement of Ulysses in The Little Review

In midtown, Vanity Fair’s publishers, Conde Nast, 46, and Frank Crowninshield, turning 47, on an extended fact-finding trip to Europe, have left new managing editor Robert Benchley, 29, in charge. He has been publishing parodies of regular Vanity Fair articles, and awarding bonuses to his colleagues, theatre critic Dorothy Parker, 25, and movie critic Robert Sherwood, 23.

Vanity Fair June 1919

Vanity Fair cover, June 1919

Parker has been invited to a luncheon at the nearby Algonquin Hotel. A press agent, to promote his client, new playwright Eugene O’Neill, 30, has asked the most important writers in Manhattan to lunch to welcome the Times drama critic, Woollcott, back from the war, and Parker has insisted that her new co-workers come along.

At lunch, Woollcott, who weighs only 195 for the last time in his life, has no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his exploits in the ‘theatre of war,’ of which he is inordinately proud.

To get back at him for monopolizing this meeting, and get more publicity, the PR flack invites other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the Hotel. There are 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn. When 35 people show up, the hotel manager puts them at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Tribune drama critic Heywood Broun, 30, and his wife, journalist Ruth Hale, 32, who had honeymooned by covering the war in France, are there. Tribune columnist FPA is invited as a personal friend of Woollcott.

In the next few weeks, their Stars and Stripes editor, Ross, joins the regular lunches. George S. Kaufman, 29, who works under Woollcott at the Times, comes and brings his playwriting partner Marc Connelly, 28.

When lunch is over, somebody says,

Why don’t we do this every day?’

And they do, for the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

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‘Such Friends’: Woolf Works

When the Royal Ballet premiered Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works last year, I left it too late, and by the time I tried to book it was sold out. Bummer.

So when it came around again, I was determined to get in early. Got tickets for the first matinee, first day. Off to London.

Having never been to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, I allowed plenty of time to get there. And it’s a good thing because the refurbishment construction leads to signs and arrows pointing you to the main entrance, outside Covent Garden.

Once I found it, the search for lunch began. It’s usually best to head away from the theatre, but right next door was a lovely French-looking restaurant, La Ballerina, with a set price menu that included salmon. Sold.

Lunch doesn’t usually start until 1 pm over here, so when I poked my head in ten minutes before noon, I had the place all to myself. But the closer it got to show time, the more it filled up.

After a lovely light but filling lunch, I joined the queue to find my way to my seats up in peanut heaven. Thank God there was a lift.

Part of the attraction of this trip was a chance to see the Royal Opera House for the first time. I can report that it looks exactly like a very royal opera house. More surprisingly, my cheap seats turned out to be relatively comfortable, and gave a clear view of the ornate ceiling, the filled seats and, most important, the stage.

royal-opera-house

The Royal Opera House from the other side

Although about half the audience was the usual stale, pale and female arts matinee crowd—including me—I was thrilled to see so many who didn’t fit any of those demographics. On either side of me were Asian university-age students. A quick scan of the house showed a younger average-age crowd than I had expected. Was the attraction Virginia Woolf’s works? Or the original score by Max Richter? Or was this the usual Royal Ballet Saturday afternoon audience?

Although everywhere I had been on this London weekend was freezing cold, inside and out, here, settling in for a three-hour ballet with two long intervals, the theatre was a bit warm. And you who know me know, I’m never too warm.

The first piece—I Now, I Then—was based on Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, one of my favorites. As in the novel and film The Hours, Clarissa and Virginia were merged into one. The movement between the younger and older versions of Virginia in print dresses and her husband Leonard in tweedy suits visually echoed the novel.

leonard-and-va-woolf-works

I now, I then, Act One of Woolf Works

During the 30-minute interval—intermission to my fellow Americans—I tried to read the detailed program [£7; you can order ahead with your tickets]. Was the tiny type another way to attract a younger audience? Because anyone over 40 wouldn’t be able to read that in any light.

The middle piece—Becomings—based on Orlando, Virginia’s 1928 tribute to her lover, Vita Sackville West, started off quite darkly. And stayed that way. I could see the dancers who were downstage in spotlight, but there were others back in the shadows. Not waiting to come on dancing, but dancing. Why, if we can’t see them? This was contrasted with the amazing laser effect at the very end. Could have spread that illumination out a bit more, if you ask me.

Between the warmth and the darkness, I could feel my eyelids doing that dip they do when you’ve been driving too long. The second interval allows 30 minutes to get up and walk around. A chance to see the building and have a shot of that standard British theatre-accompaniment, a yummy, tiny tub of ice cream.

Back in our seats a half hour later, the young ones around me were pulling up reviews of the ballet on their phones. Thank God they haven’t been looking at them during the show.

The final section—Tuesday—based on The Waves, opens with a huge video mural across the length of the stage of…waves. It’s quite effective, but the waves seem to stop waving after the first few minutes.

the-waves-woolf-works-dance-009

Tuesday, Act Three of Woolf Works

In this piece, the dancers are much better lit. And the voice of Gillian Anderson gives an emotional reading of Woolf’s last writing, the note she left behind for Leonard before walking into the River Ouse in Sussex:

…You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came…’

But if you are that happy, why take your own life? Why? I’m sure Leonard asked the universe this same question when he read that note. Now we can understand this as an indication of how mental illness is indeed a ‘terrible disease.’

As the dance ends, the audience bursts into applause. Unlike the earlier pieces, the finale includes bows from all involved. First the young kids. Bow. Then the members of the company. Bow. Then the principals. Bow some more. Then everybody! More bowing. More clapping. A bit more bowing. Did we forget anyone? More bowing.

Done.

A lovely afternoon in a beautiful theatre, with enthusiastic companions, and beautiful art.

Woolf Works is going to be broadcast to theatres in the UK later this month. But I highly recommend taking in real, live, theatre.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

woolf-works-poster

Woolf Works poster

 

In mid-town Manhattan, fall, 1924…

Harold Ross, 31, is working on the prospectus for his new project, a weekly magazine for New Yorkers.

For the past year or so, he and his wife, reporter Jane Grant, 32, have been badgering everyone they know with a dummy of their proposed first issue, trying to scare up some funding. Finally, Harold’s friend from The Stars & Stripes newspaper in France during the war, New York World writer Alexander Woollcott, 37, has finally come through with an introduction to Raoul Fleischmann, 38, heir to the yeast fortune.

Now he’s got to pitch the idea. Really pitch it. Ross knows what he wants to say. But to give the project credibility, he has been advised to make use of the writers he lunches with at the Algonquin Hotel almost every day.

He can’t include Robert Benchley, just turned 34, because he is on contract to Life magazine. He really shouldn’t list his other Stars & Stripes buddies, columnist FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, about to turn 43] and sports writer Heywood Broun, 35, because their employer the World newspaper, would not be happy.

Who’s left? Are they really his ‘advisors’? Can he claim that? Ross decides to take a risk:

Announcing a New Weekly Magazine:

The New Yorker:

The New Yorker will be a reflection in word and pictures of metropolitan life.

It will be human. Its general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire,

but it will be more than a jester.

It will not be what is commonly called radical or highbrow.

It will be what is commonly called sophisticated,

in that it will assume a reasonable degree of enlightenment

on the part of its readers.

It will hate bunk…

The New Yorker will appear early in February.

The price will be:  $5 a yr.

15 cents a copy

Address:  25 West 45th Street, New York City

Advisory Editors,

Ralph Barton

George S. Kaufman [34]

Heywood Broun

Alice Duer Miller

Marc Connelly [34]

Dorothy Parker [31]

Edna Ferber

Laurence Stallings

Rea Irvin

Alexander Woollcott

HW Ross, Editor”

Original_New_Yorker_cover

The first cover of The New Yorker

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

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At 412 West 47th Street, ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ in Manhattan, September 1922…

…New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, 35, is looking forward to the big housewarming he has planned with his new roommates, Harold Ross, 29, and his wife, Jane Grant, 30.

Last year, Harold and Jane were going over blueprints for their new home, and Alex had burst in and said,

I’m joining this little intrigue.’

Since then he’s enjoyed the planning and remodelling. He owns 25% of the place, but likes making 100% of the decisions. Except the domestic part. That’s left to Jane.

All involved had agreed with Woollcott’s demand that any of the Algonquin Round Table would be welcome at any time for any meal. Why not?, he thought.

Their ‘Vicious Circle’ friends Dorothy Parker, 29, and Harpo Marx, 33—Alex just loves Harpo—have rented a carousel for the day, to keep the kids happy.

But Alex isn’t happy about some of the people Harold and Jane have included on the guest list. He’s thinking he just might boycott.

412-14_W_47th_Street

412 West 47th Street, which sold for $2.7 million in 2013

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

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the Algonquin Hotel, mid-town Manhattan, June 1919…

…New York City’s top newspaper and magazine writers have all been invited for lunch.

Earlier this month, press agent John Peter Toohey, 39, searching for a way to promote his young client, playwright Eugene O’Neill, 30, had set up a lunch with New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, 32, just returned from France. At lunch, Alex, who weighed only 195 for the last time in his life, had no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his recent exploits in the “theatre of war,” of which he was inordinately proud.

To get back at Woollcott for monopolizing that meeting, and to get more publicity, Toohey had decided to invite all the other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the hotel—all 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn.

Thirty-five have showed up! So hotel manager Frank Case, 49, has put them all at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Dorothy Parker, 25, is here as the drama critic at Vanity Fair, wearing her best suit, and she had insisted that her new co-worker Robert Benchley, 29, come along. Sports writer Heywood Broun, 30, and his wife, Ruth Hale, 32, are here. Parker had met him, a vague acquaintance of her sister, one summer a few years before. The dean of New York columnists, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 37] is here as a personal friend of Woollcott.

When lunch is over, Toohey–or somebody–says, “Why don’t we do this every day?”

And so they did. For the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

 

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld. Left to right at main table, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, FPA. On the other side of the table, left to right, Robert Sherwood, George S Kaufman, and Edna Ferber.

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

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

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 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.