“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, Spring, 1920, offices of Life magazine, New York City, New York

New drama critic Robert Benchley, 30, is rested from his recent family vacation and ready to start his latest job.

For the past year or so, Benchley was managing editor of Vanity Fair magazine. But when his two friends and critics, Dorothy Parker, 26, and Robert Sherwood, just turned 24, were let go earlier this year, he decided that the job wasn’t worth having. Benchley was replaced by nervous Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 24, whom he considered to be a scab. But he has agreed to train him anyway.

Robert Sherwood

Robert Sherwood

Parker and Benchley had jumped right into free-lancing, and even rented a tiny office together for $30 a month, above the Metropolitan Opera House at Broadway and 39th Street.

One cubic foot less of space and it would have constituted adultery,”

Parker said.

The free-lance offers have come pouring in, for both of them. Benchley is still doing his “Books and Other Things” column three times a week for the New York World, for the same money as his full-time Vanity Fair job paid.

But Benchley has a wife and two sons—aged 5 and 1—up in Scarsdale. So when Sherwood  recently became associate editor of humor magazine Life, circulation 250,000, and offered Benchley a full-time drama critic position, he jumped at it. $100 a week—great!

Life mag May 6 1920

Life, May 6, 1920

And his wife understands that he will have to stay in town with Parker and Sherwood most nights to see plays. He is keeping his formal clothes in the office.

Back in their old office, Dottie has put a sign on the door that says “MEN.”

“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@gpysyteacher.com.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, 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.

 

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, early April, 1920, Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, New York City, New York

Well, this should be interesting, thinks free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 26.

Her friend and former co-worker at Vanity Fair, Robert Sherwood, just turned 24, now managing editor at Life magazine, has invited her and one of her many escorts, Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 24, for a special lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. He wants them all to meet mutual friends, first-time novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 23, and his new wife Zelda, 19.

algonquin hotel

The Algonquin Hotel

Instead of the Rose Room, where Parker and Sherwood regularly lunch with their fellow New York writers these days, today they are in the smaller Oak Room, just off the lobby, to avoid the crowds. All five are squeezed into a banquette, lined up against the wall. The food is identical to that in the main dining room. $1.65 for the Blue Plate Special—broiled chicken, cauliflower with hollandaise, beets with butter, fried potatoes, and the same free popovers.

They have all run into each other a few times before. But this is the first chance Parker has to size up Zelda, this Southern belle Scott has been talking about endlessly. Except when he’s talking about the fabulous sales of his first novel, This Side of Paradise.

Apparently, he hasn’t yet read the latest review by one of Parker’s other writer-friends, Heywood Broun, 31, in the New York Tribune, which called Fitzgerald’s writing:

complacent…pretentious…self-conscious…[and the main characters] male flappers.”

Their other lunch-buddy, FPA, 38, has made a game in his Tribune column of spotting typos throughout the novel.

Dottie tunes out Scott’s youthful enthusiasm to focus on his new bride. Not quite as frivolous as Parker expected. Zelda sports the latest, fashionable bobbed hair, chews gum, and speaks in a predictable southern drawl. Parker has seen that Kewpie-doll face many times before.

Zelda young

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

And Zelda is sizing up Mrs. Parker, professional writer. Long hair. Big hat. Condescending.

Boring, Zelda decides.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker, nee Rothschild

 

“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@gpysyteacher.com.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in the University of Pittsburgh Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe 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.

“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago, January 25, 1920, New York City

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 cover Jan 1920

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.

Ha.

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.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker, nee Rothschild

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.

Robert_C_Benchley young

Robert Benchley

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 kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

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.

‘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 49th Street Theatre, mid-town Manhattan, April 30th, 1922…

…writer Robert Benchley, 32, is relieved.

He’s just come off stage after performing his one-man skit, “The Treasurer’s Report,” in his friends’ one-off revue, No Sirree! That went well, he thinks.

Preceding Benchley on stage was a chorus line of short women, including Tallulah Bankhead, 20, and Helen Hayes, 21, dancing around his friend, 6 feet 8 inches tall Robert Sherwood, just turned 26, singing “The Everlastin’ Ingenue Blues,” written by their drinking buddy and former co-worker when they all worked at Vanity Fair, Dorothy Parker, 28.

We’ve got the blues, we’ve got the blues,

We believe we said before we’ve got the blues.

We are little flappers, never growing up,

And we’ve all of us been flapping since Belasco was a pup.

We’ve got the blues, we mean the blues,

You’re the first to hear the devastating news.

We’d like to take a crack at playing Lady Macbeth,

But we’ll whisper girlish nothings with our dying breath.

As far as we’re concerned, there is no sting in death

We’ve got those everlasting ingénue blues.”

The show is for an invited audience and going well, but thank God they decided to do it as a joke for just one night. They named it after one of the hottest revues currently on Broadway, La Chauve-Souris.

Expected to contribute something, Benchley had finished off writing his part in the taxi on the way over. He thought it was pretty funny; the audience liked it. Right now, he’s just really glad he won’t have to do it again.

Bench Treas Report

Robert Benchley filmed doing The Treasurer’s Report

Here is a link to the short film, The Treasurer’s Report, for Fox Movietone (1928): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edlpn3CnqaQ

In the film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), there is a scene showing parts of No Sirree!, including a short piece of “The Everlastin’ Ingenue Blues”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMX6BubBwmM

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.’