“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.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, March 15, 1922, New York City, New York

Two playwrights from western Pennsylvania, Marc Connelly, 31, from McKeesport, and George S Kaufman, 32, from Pittsburgh, have a second hit on Broadway. Last year their Dulcy with Lynn Fontanne, 34, did well; this season, their three-act comedy To the Ladies!, starring Helen Hayes, 21, has been doing even better for the past month at the Liberty Theatre on West 42nd Street.

Helen Hayes and Otto Kruger in To the Ladies!

Truth is, Connelly and Kaufman finished writing the play just the day before rehearsals started. On opening night, when there were calls for “Author!,” they wheeled a mannequin out on to the stage.

The reviews have been good, with most critics preferring it over Dulcy. Their Algonquin Hotel lunch buddy Alexander Woollcott, 35, wrote in the New York Times that To the Ladies! provided “an occasion of genuine and quite uproarious jollification.”

*****

A 10-minute walk away, the first show presented in the Shubert organization’s new 49th Street Theatre, the revue Chauve Souris is Connelly and Kaufman’s main competition.

Produced by a troupe originally from Moscow, the evening of songs and sketches is hosted by the Turkish-Russian Nikita Balieff, 49, an émigré from the Bolshevik Revolution, like a lot of the members of his company.

Nikita Balieff

On stage Balieff speaks a combination of broken English, French and Russian while wildly gesticulating, but off stage the theatre world knows that he speaks perfectly good English.

Chauve Souris, or the “flying bat,” named for the original variety company Balieff put together back in Russia, has been a touring hit—Paris, London, South Africa. The tune in the show that sends the audience home humming is The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.

Connelly, Kaufman, and the other writers they lunch with regularly at the Algonquin are thinking that Chauve Souris is ripe for parody.

*****

Today, Woollcott has sent a note to Kaufman and his wife, publicist Bea Kaufman, 27, on the occasion of their 5th wedding anniversary: 

I have been looking around for an appropriate wooden gift, and am pleased hereby to present you with Elsie Ferguson’s performance in her new play.”

Elsie Ferguson

“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.

In June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning 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.

“Such Friends”:  100 years ago, November 24, 1921, Life magazine, New York City, New York

A poem by free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 28, is published in the humor magazine Life, edited by her Algonquin Hotel lunch buddies, Robert Benchley, 32, and Robert Sherwood, 25. She praises the new hot Broadway star, Lynn Fontanne, 33, appearing as the ditzy title character in Dulcy, written by two of Parker’s other lunch buddies, Marc Connelly, 30, and George S. Kaufman, 32, based on a character by another one of their friends, columnist FPA [Franklin P. Adams], 40.

Lynn Fontanne as Dulcy

Lynn Fontanne

By Dorothy Parker

Dulcy, take our gratitude,

All your words are gold ones.

Mistress of the platitude,

Queen of all the old ones.

You, at last, are something new

‘Neath the theatre’s dome. I’d

Mention to the cosmos, you

Swing a wicked bromide.”

“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, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

At the end of February I will be talking about the Publication of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute 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 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.

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, end of summer, 1921, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York

It’s been an interesting summer in New York.

The Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 opened at Broadway’s Globe Theatre, with music once again by Victor Herbert, 62. The leads are Fanny Brice, 29, coming back to the Follies after ten years, singing “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose,” and comedian and juggler W. C. Fields, 41, his fifth time in the Follies.

Ziegfeld Follies of 1921

This was followed two weeks later by the premiere of George White’s Scandals at the Liberty Theatre, a few blocks away from the Globe. The music is by George Gershwin, 22, who hit it big two years ago when Broadway star Al Jolson, 36, heard Gershwin sing his tune “Swanee” at a party and used it in one of his shows.

George White’s Scandals

And just two days after that a new musical, Dulcy, by two young playwrights, both from western Pennsylvania, Marc Connelly, 30, and George S Kaufman, 31, opened just down 42nd Street at the Frazee Theatre. For their first collaboration, Connelly and Kaufman based the lead on a character created by one of their friends they lunch with regularly at the nearby Algonquin Hotel, New York Tribune columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, 39, known to all of New York as FPA.

The duo has already started in on their next musical project, To the Ladies!, set to premiere next year.

*****

One of their other lunch buddies, Robert Benchley, 31, an editor at the humor magazine Life, had finally gotten around to having his first drink while listening to the live broadcast of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight at the midtown speakeasy Tony Soma’s. Soon after, Benchley tried some rye whiskey and realized it smelled just like his Uncle Albert did at family picnics back in Massachusetts.

*****

Benchley’s best friend, and now best drinking buddy, free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, just turned 28, has had another short story in the Saturday Evening Post, “An Apartment House Trilogy,” based mostly on the characters around the flat she and her husband moved to just about a year ago, at 57 West 57th Street. When she sent the piece to the editor, she had warned him that it was “rotten…poisonous.” He didn’t think it was too rotten, but not quite her best. He really wants more of the shorter fluffy things she’s been selling to Benchley over at Life.

Saturday Evening Post, August 20, 1921

Bob has introduced Dottie to one of his other friends, Donald Ogden Stewart, 26, who has had some pieces in Vanity Fair and Smart Set. He’s been hanging out at Parker’s place but doesn’t like joining the others at their Algonquin lunches. They’re vicious. Stewart feels he has to fortify himself with a few drinks before he even gets to the hotel.

*****

Edna Ferber, just turned 36 [but only admits to 34], would love to be invited to one of the Algonquin lunches. Her second novel, The Girls, has just come out and it wasn’t easy to get a national magazine to serialize it. Her story of unmarried Chicago women was too scandalous for most, but finally Women’s Home Companion bought it without any major changes. Not only did FPA praise the way she described his hometown of Chicago, even her own mother conceded that it’s not too bad.

*****

Ferber has asked her friend Alexander Woollcott, 34, the New York Times drama critic, if she could lunch with him at the Algonquin maybe just once?

Alex took a leave of absence from his Times job this summer to go back to his alma mater, Hamilton College in New York state, to finish a book he’s been working on, Mr. Dickens Goes to the Play. He’s written a few chapters about Charles Dickens’ love of theatre and will fill out the rest with sections from Dickens’ novels and essays.

*****

But the biggest news in New York publishing this summer is how the new editor of the New York World, Herbert Bayard Swope, 39, has been poaching columnists from his competitors.

Herbert Bayard Swope

Swope became executive editor of the paper last year and has been making big changes. He thought the page opposite the editorials was a mess, so he cleared out the book reviews and obituaries and now devotes the page to opinion pieces, christening it the “op-ed” page. Swope believes

Nothing is more interesting than opinion when opinion is interesting.”

Those pesky facts can stay where they belong in the rest of the paper.

Swope also stole one of the top columnists at the Tribune, Heywood Broun, 32, another regular Algonquin luncher. Broun was eager to jump. Swope makes clear to him and all his columnists, that they can write whatever they want—within the limits of libel law and good taste. In return, they have to write new copy for each instalment, three times a week. No hoarding a bank of evergreen filler, ready to print any time. Swope wants it all to be fresh.

Heywood Broun

For $25,000 a year, in his column “It Seems to Me” on the op-ed page, Broun can write what he likes—theatre reviews, reports of the most recent football game of his alma mater, Harvard, or campaigns about social issues such as censorship, racial discrimination or academic freedom.

Poaching Broun is a coup. But Swope astounds New York’s literati again by luring the Tribune’s number one columnist, FPA himself, over to the World. Unlike the other writers, FPA is given his own private office to work on his “Conning Tower” columns. One of the first at his new home is about the return to New York of his fellow Algonquin-ite, Alex Woollcott.

Maybe Woollcott will be the next star to jump ship and land on Swope’s World?

There is a recent article about how digital media has affected the “op-ed” page here.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available in print and e-book format on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning 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 available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.

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

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, August 13, 1921, Frazee Theatre, 254 West 42nd Street, New York City, New York

Opening night!

Marc Connelly, 30, and George S Kaufman, 31, are here for the opening of their first major production, the three-act comedy Dulcy.

When they came to New York City from different towns in western Pennsylvania—separately—to start their careers, this is exactly what each of them had in mind.

After getting a few things published in the city’s daily newspapers, and working on a few theatre projects, last year Connelly and Kaufman were approached by two of the biggest Broadway producers, George C. Tyler, 53, and Harry Frazee, 41. The latter, owner of the Boston Red Sox, had within a few months last year sold his top player, legendary slugger Babe Ruth, 26, to the New York Yankees, and then bought this theatre.

Harry Frazee

Tyler and Frazee wanted the playwrights to come up with a starring vehicle for a young British actress, Lynn Fontanne, 33, who had appeared in a couple of Broadway shows in the past few years.

The young pair turned to one of their friends in the group of writers they lunch with regularly at the nearby Algonquin Hotel, the most-read columnist in the city, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams], 39. In his New York Tribune column “The Conning Tower,” FPA has created a recurring ditzy character called Dulcy, short for Dulcinea, after the heroine of Don Quixote. Connelly and Kaufman thought they could build something around her and offered FPA a 10% cut of the profits.

Lynn Fontanne in Dulcy

The show has been through try-outs in the Midwest—Indiana, Illinois—with Kaufman becoming ever more nervous as this night approached.

Two of their friends from the Algonquin lunches have said that they will review the play. They think Heywood Broun, 32, in the Tribune will probably like the tricky patter. But Alexander Woollcott, 34, drama critic for the Times and Kaufman’s boss there, has already said their play is probably not good enough for Fontanne.

Curtain going up…

Dulcy

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available in print and e-book format on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning 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 available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.

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

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, January, 1921, Broadway, New York City, New York

Marc Connelly, 30, budding playwright from western Pennsylvania, is pleased with how his Broadway debut play, Erminie, is going.

Erminie in 1921

Connelly came east to New York City from his hometown of McKeesport, just south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about six years ago, working on a play that had been a big hit back home. But it flopped in New York.

Made sense to stay.

Producer George Tyler, 53, asked him to adapt this 19th century comedy opera, Erminie, which has been brought back to life many times in the UK and the US.

Connelly is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Tyler. The cigar smoking, gambling producer from Ohio has built his company by bringing European talent to America, including four tours of Dublin’s Abbey Theater with their founder and director Lady Augusta Gregory, now 68.

Tyler also produced Someone in the House by another western Pennsylvania playwright, George S Kaufman, 31, at the end of the Great War. That play didn’t do so well, only partially because authorities were telling everyone to stay home to protect themselves from the influenza that was roaring through the city. Kaufman paid for ads that said,

Avoid the Crowds! Come See Someone in the House!”

Didn’t help.

George S Kaufman

Connelly’s Erminie is in its third week and Kaufman gave it a good review in the New York Times where he is an assistant to the main drama critic, Alexander Woollcott, about to turn 34.

Connelly and Kaufman met a few years ago and have started collaborating and hanging out in the Times newsroom, waiting for Woollcott to leave so they can use his typewriter. They are working on a play based on a character created by one of the other writers they lunch with regularly at the nearby Algonquin Hotel, Franklin P. Adams, 39, better known as the dean of New York columnists, FPA.

Their first joint project, Dulcy, is due to open in Chicago next month; FPA has been promised 10% of the profits. If there are any.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

My “Such Friends” presentations, The Founding of the Abbey Theatre and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, are available to view for free on the website of PICT Classic Theatre.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. Early this year I will be talking about Perkins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

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

At the Court Theatre in Chicago, February 20, 1921…

…playwright Marc Connelly, 30, is feeling excited.

Dulcy, his first collaboration with George S. Kaufman, 31, also from western Pennsylvania, is about to open in its tryout before Broadway.

They had written it at night, after working their day jobs on Manhattan newspapers, and based it on a character used in the column of their Algonquin Round Table lunch buddy, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 39].

A week ago Dulcy had been a hit in Indianapolis. The lead Lynn Fontanne, 33, has star written all over her.

But his new writing partner, Kaufman, is a wreck. At dinner tonight he said to Connelly,

We’ve been kidding ourselves and might as well admit it.’

If Kaufmann is this nervous when things are going well, Connelly thinks, what is he going to be like to work with when they don’t have a hit?!

dulcy-poster Pgh playwrights co.

Poster for a recent production of Dulcy by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Co.

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.’