‘Such Friends’: 1919, Summer, Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan

In the past few weeks I have been posting vignettes about how each of the four writers’ salons came together. This is the beginning of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, 100 years ago this past summer:

Alexander Woollcott arrived home from France on June 3rd and resumed his pre-war job as the New York Times drama critic. Soon after, a press agent, searching for a way to promote his young client, playwright Eugene O’Neill, called on a mutual friend to set up a lunch with Woollcott at the convenient Algonquin Hotel. At lunch, Woollcott, who weighed only 195 pounds for the last time in his life, had no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his recent exploits in the “theatre of war,” of which he was inordinately proud.

algonquin hotel

The Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street

To get back at Woollcott for monopolizing this meeting, and to get more publicity, the public relations flacks decided to invite other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the hotel. There were 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn at the time. When 35 people showed up, the hotel manager put them at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Dorothy Parker was invited as the drama critic at Vanity Fair, and she insisted that her new co-worker Robert Benchley come. Heywood Broun and his wife were there. Parker had met him, a vague acquaintance of her sister, one summer a few years before. FPA [Franklin P. Adams] was invited because he was a personal friend of Woollcott. Marc Connelly and George S Kaufman, who were already writing partners, were not there the first day, but started coming by soon after. Harold Ross was also a later “founder.”

However, many things about that inaugural lunch are vague. When it was over, either the PR people or somebody said,

“Why don’t we do this every day?”

And so they did, for the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld How many can you recognize?

Next year, I will be teaching a class in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute [OLLI], ‘Such Friends’:  Scribner’s Editor Max Perkins and His Authors:  Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Others

In Carnegie-Mellon University’s OLLI program I will be doing talks about Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

To read more about American writers, 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.

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‘Such Friends’: American writers in 1919

France, May, 1919

In Paris, leaders of the allied countries from the Great War are meeting to carve up their defeated adversary, Germany.

Paris Peace Conference in Versailles

Paris Peace Conference in the Palace of Versailles

On the Left Bank, near the Luxembourg Gardens, Gertrude Stein, 45, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, just turned 42, are settling back in to their home at 27 rue de Fleurus. They hope to re-start the Saturday evening salons they held to display and discuss the latest artworks they have been buying from their artist friends such as Pablo Picasso, 37, and Henri Matisse, 49. But it’s a different Paris than the one they left. As their friend, English art critic Clive Bell, 37, remarked,

They say that an awful lot of people were killed in the war but it seems to me that an extraordinarily large number of grown men and women have suddenly been born.’

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Stein and Toklas with their paintings at 27 rue de Fleurus

American vicar’s daughter Sylvia Beach, 32, is finishing up her field work with the Red Cross and writing to her Paris friend about starting a bookstore. Her mother will advance her the money. Beach wants to sell the latest American books, but can’t decide whether to open in New York or London.

Sylvia Beach 1919

Sylvia Beach

In another part of Paris, the US Army newspaper The Stars and Stripes, by American servicemen for American servicemen, is winding down. A big farewell banquet has been held, with Alexander Woollcott, 32, who will be going back to his job as New York Times drama critic, and Franklin Pierce Adams [FPA], 37, who will be returning to his must-read column, ‘The Conning Tower’ in the New York Tribune. Stars and Stripes editor Harold Ross, 26, is waiting in Marseilles to sail home to Manhattan, hoping to meet up again with the New York Times’ Jane Grant, just turning 27, whom he has been courting in Paris.

Stars and Stripes montage 1918

 

America, June, 1919

In St. Paul, Minnesota, on Summit Avenue, recently discharged serviceman F. Scott Fitzgerald, 22, is back home. He’s quit his job at the New York advertising agency Barron Collier, determined to finish his first novel, now called The Education of a Personage. Fitzgerald has received excellent advice, in letters and in person, from Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 34, and really wants to be published before the end of the year. He feels that will help him win back his ex-fiancee, Zelda Sayre, 18, of Montgomery, Alabama.

Fitz as soldier

Scott Fitzgerald in the Army

In a cabin near Ephraim, Wisconsin, Sherwood Anderson, 42, who has spent most of his life working in advertising, is camping with his wife Tennessee, 45. Anderson has been pleasantly surprised by the success of his third novel, Winesburg, Ohio, published last month. But the pressure of writing it, and now starting another, has been too much, and he feels he has to get away.

anderson

Sherwood Anderson

Farther south, in Oak Park, Illinois, another would-be writer home from the war, Ernest Hemingway, 19, has also been dumped by his fiancée, Agnes von Karowsky, 27. She was his nurse when he was injured as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy, and he was convinced they would marry back in the States. Von Karowsky has told him that she is now engaged to someone else, but he is writing to her again anyway, ever hopeful. Mostly he’s looking forward to going fishing for the first time in two years.

hemingway ambulance driver

Ernest Hemingway as an ambulance driver

In New York’s Greenwich Village, Margaret Anderson, 32, and Jane Heap, 36, publishers of The Little Review, are ignoring the censors and continuing to publish excerpts from Ulysses, the latest work by Irish writer James Joyce, 37, living in Zurich. They feel it is important literature, and are confident that their attorney, John Quinn, 48, will win their case in court.

littlereview Ulysses announcement

Initial announcement of Ulysses in The Little Review

In midtown, Vanity Fair’s publishers, Conde Nast, 46, and Frank Crowninshield, turning 47, on an extended fact-finding trip to Europe, have left new managing editor Robert Benchley, 29, in charge. He has been publishing parodies of regular Vanity Fair articles, and awarding bonuses to his colleagues, theatre critic Dorothy Parker, 25, and movie critic Robert Sherwood, 23.

Vanity Fair June 1919

Vanity Fair cover, June 1919

Parker has been invited to a luncheon at the nearby Algonquin Hotel. A press agent, to promote his client, new playwright Eugene O’Neill, 30, has asked the most important writers in Manhattan to lunch to welcome the Times drama critic, Woollcott, back from the war, and Parker has insisted that her new co-workers come along.

At lunch, Woollcott, who weighs only 195 for the last time in his life, has no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his exploits in the ‘theatre of war,’ of which he is inordinately proud.

To get back at him for monopolizing this meeting, and get more publicity, the PR flack invites other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the Hotel. There are 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn. When 35 people show up, the hotel manager puts them at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Tribune drama critic Heywood Broun, 30, and his wife, journalist Ruth Hale, 32, who had honeymooned by covering the war in France, are there. Tribune columnist FPA is invited as a personal friend of Woollcott.

In the next few weeks, their Stars and Stripes editor, Ross, joins the regular lunches. George S. Kaufman, 29, who works under Woollcott at the Times, comes and brings his playwriting partner Marc Connelly, 28.

When lunch is over, somebody says,

Why don’t we do this every day?’

And they do, for the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with Fitzgerald, 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.

At the Lyric Theatre in the West 40s, Manhattan, November, 1925…

 

…playwright George S Kaufman, about to turn 36, thinks the new song for the musical, The Cocoanuts, he is writing with Morry Ryskind, just turned 30, is silly.

He has brought in Ryskind to help him tame the stars, the Marx Brothers. They are constantly late for rehearsal, and Kaufman has always found them to be totally unpredictable. Groucho, 35, has made it clear that he doesn’t like Kaufman’s wife, Bea, 31, and Chico, 38, is a disgusting compulsive gambler. Kaufman himself is a regular at his Round Table friends’ Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club poker game, but he certainly isn’t addicted to it like Chico.

Now the composer, Irving Berlin, 37, who Kaufman has enjoyed working with in the past, has brought them this song. Kaufman does not want to include it.

I’ll be loving you, always.’

How stupid is that for an opening line? No one is going to believe that lyric, thinks Kaufman. You might as well say,

I’ll be loving you, Thursday…’

The song is out.

marx-brothers-the-cocoanuts

Chico, Groucho, and Harpo Marx in The Cocoanuts

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.’

In mid-town Manhattan, fall, 1924…

Harold Ross, 31, is working on the prospectus for his new project, a weekly magazine for New Yorkers.

For the past year or so, he and his wife, reporter Jane Grant, 32, have been badgering everyone they know with a dummy of their proposed first issue, trying to scare up some funding. Finally, Harold’s friend from The Stars & Stripes newspaper in France during the war, New York World writer Alexander Woollcott, 37, has finally come through with an introduction to Raoul Fleischmann, 38, heir to the yeast fortune.

Now he’s got to pitch the idea. Really pitch it. Ross knows what he wants to say. But to give the project credibility, he has been advised to make use of the writers he lunches with at the Algonquin Hotel almost every day.

He can’t include Robert Benchley, just turned 34, because he is on contract to Life magazine. He really shouldn’t list his other Stars & Stripes buddies, columnist FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, about to turn 43] and sports writer Heywood Broun, 35, because their employer the World newspaper, would not be happy.

Who’s left? Are they really his ‘advisors’? Can he claim that? Ross decides to take a risk:

Announcing a New Weekly Magazine:

The New Yorker:

The New Yorker will be a reflection in word and pictures of metropolitan life.

It will be human. Its general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire,

but it will be more than a jester.

It will not be what is commonly called radical or highbrow.

It will be what is commonly called sophisticated,

in that it will assume a reasonable degree of enlightenment

on the part of its readers.

It will hate bunk…

The New Yorker will appear early in February.

The price will be:  $5 a yr.

15 cents a copy

Address:  25 West 45th Street, New York City

Advisory Editors,

Ralph Barton

George S. Kaufman [34]

Heywood Broun

Alice Duer Miller

Marc Connelly [34]

Dorothy Parker [31]

Edna Ferber

Laurence Stallings

Rea Irvin

Alexander Woollcott

HW Ross, Editor”

Original_New_Yorker_cover

The first cover of The New Yorker

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.’

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.’

In Manhattan in mid-summer of 1915…

…New York Tribune writer FPA [Franklin P. Adams, 33] is searching for material for his daily column, “The Conning Tower.”

It appears that his loyal readers stuck with him after he got kicked off The Evening Mail last year—after a decade of building up one of the largest audiences in New York–when it was bought by a pro-German syndicate. The new owners managed to get rid of most of their Jewish writers, including one of FPA’s proteges, George S Kaufman, 25. So he’d brought Kaufman with him to the Trib.

Now FPA’s thinking of giving one of his other young writer friends a mention, Heywood Broun, 27. He has just moved from sports reporter to drama critic at the Trib. And has told FPA that he’s fallen madly in love with a Russian ballerina, Lydia Lopokova, 23, and is determined to marry her. FPA writes for tomorrow’s issue,

Heywood Broun, the critic, I hear hath become engaged to Mistress Lydia Lopokova, the pretty play actress and dancer. He did introduce her to me last night and she seemed a merry elf.’

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

Lydia Lopokova, c. 1915

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Manhattan, November, 1918…

…novice playwright George S Kaufman, born 29 years ago in Pittsburgh, PA, is thrilled to see a good review of his Broadway debut play, Some One in the House, in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine.

Unfortunately, the play closed last month. After only 32 performances.

Kaufman and his collaborator had written it as a melodrama, based on a magazine story. But their first venture into legitimate theatre had the misfortune to premier during the outbreak of the flu epidemic in New York, severely limiting the number of people going out for the evening. The authorities were advising people to stay away from large groups. So Kaufman had taken an ad,

Avoid the Crowds…See Some One in the House.’

And now, here is a good review. In Vanity Fair, no less…

Somehow, I have heard very little excitement about Some One in the House. It slipped unobtrusively into the Knickerbocker Theatre…All I knew about it was what I could glean from the billboards—that it was a “melodramatic comedy”—whatever that might be…And then I went to see the thing, they completely sold me on it. It wasn’t so much the melodramatic part that intrigued me…No, it’s the comedy that got me. It’s the best time I have had in, lo, these many weeks—ever since the current theatrical season opened, to be perfectly accurate. And the thing is done so perfectly, too….Lynn Fontanne [30], in a part that is a perfect dramatization of [New York columnist FPA’s, 36, character Dulcinea, does] the best bits of characterization that have been seen in these parts in many a day…You could go right down the cast that way and never find an error.’

Kaufman is encouraged. Vanity Fair is known for its usually acerbic reviews, by the only woman theatre critic in New York City, Dorothy Parker, 25. He decides he’d like to meet her some day and thank her.

Vanity Fair, November 1918

Vanity Fair, November 1918

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.