“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, mid-November, 1922, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York

At the Sam H. Harris Theatre on West 42nd Street, Hamlet, starring the legendary John Barrymore, 40, has just opened. The New York Herald says that his performance “will be memorable in the history of the American theatre.”

The Times predicts,

We have a new and a lasting Hamlet.”

And Brooklyn Life says that Barrymore has “won the right to be called the greatest living American tragedian.”

John Barrymore as Hamlet


Farther up Fifth Avenue, the Cort Theatre on 48th Street is hosting a different type of theatrical success, Merton of the Movies, by Algonquin Hotel lunch buddies Marc Connelly, 31, and George S Kaufman, just turning 33. Like their previous Broadway hit Dulcy, Merton is based on a suggestion from another regular at the Algonquin, top World columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, just turning 41, known to all as FPA.

The Times calls it “a delight in every way,” and their other lunch regular, Heywood Broun, 33, also in the World, calls it “the most amusing show of the season.”

Cast of Merton of the Movies


But, around the corner at the much smaller Punch and Judy Theatre on 49th Street, Connelly and Kaufman have financed a comedy review, The ‘49ers, written by their friends.

The gang put on a show back in April, No Sirree!, which was only performed one night for an invited audience of their friends and fans, who loved it.

So they figured they’d do it right this time—hire a producer, director and professional actors. Besides Connelly, Kaufman, FPA and Broun, the sketches were written by their talented friends, including Dorothy Parker, 29, Robert Benchley, 33, and Ring Lardner, 37.

What could go wrong?!

It wasn’t funny.

On opening night, the Mistress of Ceremonies, legendary vaudevillian Miss May Irwin, 60, was soooo bad, Connelly decided to take on the role himself, over Kaufman’s objections.

The whole disaster just closed after only 15 performances.

May Irwin


One block away, at Tony Soma’s speakeasy, Parker is sharing the horror story of her recent abortion with anyone who will listen. Few want to.

She’d felt sick when her friend, magazine illustrator Neysa McMein, 34, was painting her portrait recently. Neysa gave her a glass of gin and immediately got her to a west side hospital.

Dorothy Parker by Neysa McMein

They both knew who the father was:  That cad, would-be playwright Charles MacArthur, 27.

When Dotty told Charlie that she had had an abortion, he slipped her 30 bucks, which did not cover the cost, and promptly disappeared from her life. Parker said,

It was like Judas making a refund.”

To make it worse, due to her sloppy timekeeping, Parker had passed her first trimester, and “Dr. Sunshine” (one of many so-called in Manhattan) was angry that her pregnancy was farther along than she had claimed.

After one week in the hospital, Parker is back to her usual writing, reviewing and drinking. She has poems regularly in the Saturday Evening Post, and her first short story, “Such a Pretty Little Picture” will be in next month’s Smart Set.

But this whole experience has truly depressed her. Her pal Benchley is supportive, but he warned her about MacArthur, who has become one of Benchley’s best friends.

She tells him,

Serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

Charles MacArthur

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

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.