“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 10, 1922, New York City, New York

Last night New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, 35, saw the premier of The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill, 33, at the Provincetown Playhouse on McDougal Street in Greenwich Village, and his review runs in the paper today:

Provincetown Playhouse, Greenwich Village

A bitter, brutal, wildly fantastic play of nightmare hue and nightmare distortion…[The auditorium was] packed to the doors with astonishment…as scene after scene unfolded…[Although the script was] uneven, it seems rather absurd to fret overmuch about the undisciplined imagination of a young playwright towering so conspicuously above the milling mumbling crowd of playwrights who have no imagination at all…A turbulent and tremendous play, so full of blemishes that the merest fledgling among the critics could point out a dozen, yet so vital and interesting and teeming with life that those playgoers who let it escape them will be missing one of the real events of the year.”

O’Neill is already established as a playwright, with two Pulitzer Prizes under his belt—for Beyond the Horizon and Anna Christie. And his play The First Man just opened a few days ago at The Neighborhood Playhouse in Midtown. When the company, which O’Neill has been associated with for the past five years or so, did its first reading of The Hairy Ape, he proudly proclaimed,

This is one the bastards [uptown on Broadway] can’t do!”

Last night the auditorium was packed and the audience enthusiastic. The lead actor, Louis Wolheim, almost 42, got a standing ovation, and there were cries of “Author!”

But O’Neill wasn’t in the theatre.

The Hairy Ape

His mother had died while on a trip to the West Coast about a week ago, from a brain tumor at the age of 64. The opening night of The Hairy Ape coincided with the arrival of her body at Grand Central Station. A friend went looking for O’Neill to bring the good news of the play’s success. But the hit author was too depressed to be interested.

The two friends spent the night walking around Central Park.

“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 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, 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, July 2, 1921, Boyle’s Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey; and Tony Soma’s, West 49th Street, New York City, New York

Boxing promoter George “Tex” Rickard, 51, knew that bringing his client, world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, 26, into the ring to defend his title against world light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier, 27, would draw a big crowd.

Tex Rickard

So big, in fact, that, rather than hold the bout in his usual venue, Madison Square Garden, Rickard has built this new facility, Boyle’s Thirty Acres, across the river in Jersey City, New Jersey, to hold 90,000. Besides, he’s been having a bit of trouble recently with the New York State Boxing Commission and Tammany Hall.

Dempsey has an almost 20-pound weight advantage over the Frenchman. But Rickard has spun the story for the newspapers so that this is seen as a fight between the handsome French war hero, Carpentier, and the American draft dodger [in reality, Dempsey received an exemption for family reasons] who recently divorced his wife. As a result, Tex has more women buying tickets for a boxing match than ever before.

Program from Dempsey Carpentier fight

The winner gets $300,000. The loser, $200,000.

Rickard is hoping that this will be the first million-dollar gate in boxing history. It is the first fight to be sanctioned by the newly organized National Boxing Association. And the first sporting event to be broadcast live in more than 60 cities across the country.

*****

In a Midtown brownstone on West 49th Street, past an iron grille and a locked wooden door with a peephole in it, a group of revellers are drinking illegal booze out of big white coffee cups at tables covered with red checkered cloths.

Tony Soma’s is the speakeasy of choice for the Manhattan writers and editors who lunch regularly a few blocks away at the Algonquin Hotel.

Dorothy Parker, 27, Robert Benchley, 31, and Robert Sherwood, 25, met when they worked together on Vanity Fair magazine. But since a bit of a tiff with management at the beginning of last year, Dottie has been free-lancing, and Benchley and Sherwood are editing the humor magazine, Life.

On this Saturday of a long Fourth of July weekend, they are joined by friends just returned from their first holiday in Europe, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 24, and his pregnant wife, Zelda, 20.

In the New York Evening World, Parker and Benchley’s friend, magazine illustrator Neysa McMein, 33, has sketched Carpentier, calling him “The Pride of Paris,” commenting that Michelangelo “would have fainted for joy with the beauty of his profile.”

Tonight they are all here to listen to the radio broadcast of the “Fight of the Century.” As they always do, Benchley’s friends are urging the teetotaler to at least try some alcohol. How can he be so against something that he’s never tried? Benchley has taken the pledge to not drink, and even voted for Prohibition.

But tonight, he figures, What the hey. He orders an Orange Blossom.

Benchley takes a few sips. He turns to Parker and says,

This place should be closed down by the police.”

Then he orders another.

By the end of the evening, Dempsey has defeated Carpentier in the fourth round. And Orange Blossoms have defeated Robert Benchley.

Recipe for an Orange Blossom:

1 ounce gin

1 ounce fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Orange peel

Shake gin, orange juice, and sugar over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange peel.

This recipe from the Robert Benchley Society appears in Under the Table:  A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick [Guilford, CT:  Lyons Press, 2013]

Orange Blossom cocktail

“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 summer I am talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at the University of Pittsburgh. In the fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London before the Great War in the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with 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, end of April, 1921, Scribner’s, 153-157 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 24, has just brought the manuscript of his latest novel to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, 36, in his office at Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Charles Scribner’s Sons, Fifth Avenue

Scott has been working on this book since last summer when he and his new bride Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, 20, were living in Westport, Connecticut, supporting the local bootlegger.

Then it was called The Flight of the Rocket. He has changed the title to The Beautiful and Damned.

Perkins is pleased to finally have the manuscript in hand. Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a huge hit for the publisher last year, and Max is proud of his discovery. He had to fight the editorial board to publish Scott’s story of young people partying after the end of the Great War.

The Beautiful and Damned has been an easier sell inside the company.

Fitzgerald has only had a few short stories published so far this year. Back in January, Perkins had gotten him $1,600 cash from part of his royalties on the first novel.

Now Scott is asking his editor for another $600. He and his pregnant wife want to buy steamship tickets to sail to Europe.

After he leaves the office, Perkins notices that Fitzgerald has left behind his copy of his Scribner’s contract.

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

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with 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.