Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan, August 1996 and 1919

1996, August, Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan

As part of my research, I’m in New York to see the Lincoln Center production of Four Saints in Three Acts by two of my writers, Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, and stay at the Algonquin Hotel, knocking off two salons with one tax-deductible trip.

When I worked in Manhattan, right out of university, I would walk through the Algonquin lobby on my lunch hour. My mother had told me stories about the writers who lunched there.

But now I’m here to do serious research for my dissertation. I’ve booked a single, eaten dinner in the Rose Room while gazing at the large round table in the center, and had a drink in the lobby. Work, work, work.

Mindful of its illustrious literary history, the hotel’s owners have set up a small gift shop and I stock up on postcards, stationery, and a children’s book about the Algonquin cat, Hamlet.

After carefully making my way down the tiny, almost spiral stairway to the only public ladies’ room, and just as carefully back up again, I ask the concierge for information.

‘Was the bathroom down there in the 1920s? How on earth did Dorothy Parker make it up and down those steps, in high heels and three sheets to the wind?’

‘Yes, it was. So she must have. But did you notice that there is a disabled toilet? The inspectors said we had to make the bathroom accessible to someone in wheelchair.’

Dottie would have appreciated the absurdity.

1919, August, Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan

The war ended the year before, but most of the boys are coming home this summer.

Dorothy Parker, about to turn 26, is welcoming back her husband Eddie, also 26, with mixed feelings. They have been married for two years, but haven’t seen each other in 15 months, and then only on a weekend leave. In the army he acquired a new nickname, Spook, and a new addiction, morphine.

Dorothy has acquired a new career. Instead of writing photo captions for Vogue [’Brevity is the soul of lingerie—as the Petticoat said to the chemise’], she is now writing theatre reviews for Vanity Fair, and going to plays most evenings with her new office mate, Robert Benchley, 29.

Earlier this summer, Parker was included in a welcome home luncheon for the drama reporter of the New York Times, Alexander Woollcott, 32, held at the Algonquin Hotel. Parker had insisted that Benchley be invited, and since that day a regular lunch group has formed of the Vanity Fair writers along with others Woollcott had met during the war, such as Tribune columnists FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams], 37, and Heywood Broun, 30. Playwrights Marc Connelly, 28, and George Kaufman, 29, already writing partners, were not there the first day, but came soon after.

As the first lunch ended, somebody had said, “Why don’t we do this every day?”

Now that Eddie Parker is back, he feels that his wife, Dorothy, spends too much time lunching, particularly with Benchley, whose own wife in the suburbs is about to give birth to their second son.

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2 thoughts on “Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan, August 1996 and 1919

  1. Thank you! I had a great time too. Always happy to talk about ‘my’ writers.
    Interesting comment about the way Parker and Benchley referred to each other. I would defend it on the grounds that they were being funny. But I think you’re right: It was a constant reminder that they belonged to others.
    And when you think of all the sexual tension relieved in TV series [Diane and Sam, Frasier and Roz, etc.] I am SO glad that the movie stayed true to life and didn’t have them sleep together!
    Hope to see you and the others in another day [maybe half day?] school soon!

  2. Hello Kathleen,
    I really enjoyed today’s ‘New York School’ – thanks very much!
    On the way home, I gave some thought to the relationship between Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, especially as, for as long as I can remember, I have had female friends, and very close ones at that, with whom I have not been ‘involved’ knowing this could easily jeopardise the valued and long-term friendship.
    I think it’s interesting how they always addressed each other as ‘Mrs Parker’ and ‘Mr Benchley’. On the surface, and to the unsuspecting, this appears very proper and formal but because they are aware of their situation, and as this is something between just themselves, it conveys its own unique intimacy, far more than if they referred to each other informally as ‘Bob’ and ‘Dottie’.
    I shall look for the Marion Meade biography and certainly dip into the collected edition.
    Here’s looking forward to future Day Schools!
    Sincerely,
    David

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