“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, June 8, 1922, Life magazine, New York City, New York

The theatre critic for humor magazine Life had no trouble writing the review which appears today. The play Abie’s Irish Rose, about a Jewish man in love with an Irish woman, just opened at the Fulton Theatre.

In “Drama:  A Pair of Little Rascals,” Robert Benchley, 32, makes it clear that he feels Abie’s is “one of the season’s worst,” stating that

The Rotters [which he also hated] is no longer the worst play in town!”

Abie’s Irish Rose original cast from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Benchley compared the humor to that of a 19th century magazine: 

Any further information, if such could possibly be necessary, will be furnished at the old offices of Puck, the comic weekly which flourished in the 1890’s. Although that paper is no longer in existence, there must be some old retainer still about the premises who could tell you everything that is in Abie’s Irish Rose.”

Bob is not alone. One of his lunch buddies from the Algonquin Hotel, Heywood Broun, 33, in the New York World, calls it,

a synthetic farce…There is not so much as a single line of honest writing in it…No author has ever expressed her contempt for the audiences in such flagrant fashion as Miss Anne Nichols…[The play] seems designed to attract the attention of Irish and Jewish theatregoers but is likely to offend such patrons even a little more than any others…So cheap and offensive that it might serve to unite all the races in the world in a common hymn of hate.”

Anne Nichols

One of their other lunch buddies, the dean of New York columnists, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams], 40, also in the World, deems it the worst play he has ever seen. And he’s seen a lot.

But, true to form, another Algonquin lunch regular, Alexander Woollcott, 35, drama critic of the New York Times, loves it:  

Abie’s Irish Rose is funny…A highly sophisticated Summer audience…[laughed] uproariously at [the play’s] juggling with some fundamental things in human life, and at some others, not so fundamental, but deeply cherished, as lifelong feelings are wont to be.”  

Woollcott predicts it will run for years.

Benchley is more optimistic. He gives it a month. He dreads having to come up with a little capsule review of this turkey each week.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This month I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after The Great War at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University.

In the fall, I will be talking about the centenary of The Waste Land in the Osher programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.