Dorothy Parker, 26, is clearing out her desk on her last day as Vanity Fair’s drama critic.
She’d loved this job. She’d spent the past four years with Conde Nast publishing, first at Vogue. She was thrilled when she was moved up to Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair, January 1920
Two weeks ago, the editor-in-chief, Frank Crowninshield, 47, had invited her for tea and scones at the Plaza Hotel. Dottie thought she was going to get that raise she had asked for.
Crownie apologetically explained that the regular drama critic she had replaced, P. G. Wodehouse, 38, was returning, so she’d have to go, of course. He also just mentioned that Mr. Nast, 46, wasn’t happy that so many Broadway producers complained about her negative reviews of their plays. Saying that Billie Burke, 35, the actress-wife of impresario Flo Ziegfeld, 52, had “thick ankles” was hardly theatrical criticism. Ziegfeld was threatening to pull his advertising.
Well, critics are supposed to give bad reviews too. That’s why they are “critics,” she thought. As she ordered the most expensive dessert.
Back at her apartment, her husband, Eddie, 26, still getting over the war, was no help. Parker had called her best friend, Vanity Fair managing editor Robert Benchley, 30, at his home in Scarsdale. He had come right down on the next train.
Adding her firing to that of their colleague, Robert Sherwood, 23, who was replaced by Nast’s children’s piano teacher, showed Parker and Benchley a pattern that they weren’t happy about.
In the office the next morning, Benchley had written his resignation. He had explained to Crownie—who hadn’t expected to lose a good managing editor—that the job wasn’t worth having without his two colleagues.
Parker was astounded. Benchley had a wife and two sons in the suburbs. Gertrude, 30, had said she would support her husband’s decision, but she sure wasn’t happy about it.
It was the greatest act of friendship I’d known,”
Parker said later.
So now, on her last day, taking everything she could with her from the office, leaving nothing but the scent of her favorite perfume, Coty’s Chypre, behind, Dottie was conjuring up all the free-lance ways she could keep writing and earning. Crownie had suggested working from home. But she didn’t even know how to change a typewriter ribbon.
Two of their New York newspaper friends, the Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, just turned 33, and the city’s most-read columnist, FPA, 38, at the Tribune, with whom they lunch almost every day at the nearby Algonquin Hotel, have promised to promote them in their papers. That would get those New York publisher tongues wagging.
Because of his contract, Benchley had to stay on until the end of the month—he plans to go out with a piece, “The Social Life of the Newt.” He is being replaced by Princeton grad Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 24. All Parker remembers about him is that he had hit on her during his job interview.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This spring I will be talking about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others in both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University’s Osher Lifelong Learning programs.
Manager as Muse, about Perkins and his writers, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle 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.