Free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 29, is worrying about how to handle the regular book club that she is hosting this evening here at her apartment.
Sixth Avenue and West 57th Street
They all will have heard; she lunches at the Algonquin Hotel most days with one of the regulars, New York Times reporter Jane Grant, 30, and her husband American Legion Weekly editor Harold Ross, also 30. Parker knows the writers who congregate there have been spreading rumors and trying to figure out why she did it.
Dottie is thinking it will be best to take the direct approach. She’ll greet each guest saying,
I slashed my wrists.”
That should get over some of the awkwardness.
That Sunday she had arrived back here at her apartment feeling really hungry. She called down and ordered delivery from that vile—but convenient—restaurant downstairs, the Swiss Alps.
When she went into the bathroom Parker saw the razor left behind by her estranged husband Edwin Pond Parker III, 29, when he took off to his family back in Connecticut last summer. She hadn’t noticed it before.
Parker took the blade and cut along the vein in her left wrist. Blood spurted all over the room. Her hand was so slippery she had a hard time slitting the other wrist.
And then the delivery boy arrived with dinner.
Call a doctor!”
Dottie shouted. The ambulance took her to Presbyterian Hospital.
Some of her friends’ comments around the lunch table have gotten back to her.
Playwright Marc Connelly, 32, thinks it was “just a bit of theatre.” A few feel Parker was looking for attention, or to have Eddie come back. Jane Grant is suspicious of the fortuitous arrival of the delivery boy.
Dorothy and Eddie Parker
Her family and some of her lunch friends came to visit Parker in the hospital. Dean of the New York columnists Franklin Pierce Adams (FPA), 41, stayed away. Connelly came; as did theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, about to turn 36. Most important of all was the visit from her best friend, Life magazine editor Robert Benchley, 33.
Eddie didn’t even keep his razors sharp,”
she told him.
In the hospital Parker had tied pale blue ribbons into little bows around the scars on her wrists. For the bridge club tonight, Dottie decides to use black velvet ribbons.
Next month I will be talking about the literary 1920s in Paris and New York City in 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.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
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.
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?
The apartment that free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 27, is planning to rent at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 57th Street on the Upper West Side, is not great.
But Parker feels that she and her husband, Eddie, also 27, a veteran of the Great War, really need a change.
Currently they are living farther uptown on 71st and West End Avenue. Eddie seems to have his morphine addiction under control, but still drinks. He has started back to work at Paine Webber, and she is selling lots of stories, articles and poems to magazines like Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal.
But the Parkers definitely need a change, and this could be it.
Dorothy has been looking around midtown and hasn’t come up with any better alternatives. One place an agent had shown her was much too big. She told him,
All I need is room enough to lay a hat and a few friends.”
This dusty three-story building, right near the rattling, noisy Sixth Avenue El, has a tiny place available on the top floor.
The Sixth Avenue El
The studios are designed for artists to use, not necessarily live in. One of the illustrators here is Neysa McMein, 32, whose apartment is used as a drinking hangout by many of their mutual friends, writers who lunch regularly at the Algonquin Hotel, right off Sixth Avenue on West 44th Street, a short walk away.
Another advantage is the Swiss Alps restaurant, on the ground floor of the building. They deliver.
So Parker is determined to sign a lease and move in with her seed-spilling canary, Onan, her not yet housebroken Scottish terrier, Woodrow Wilson, and her still traumatized husband.
If that doesn’t save this marriage, nothing will.
“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.
Read about Dorothy Parker’s ashes being re-interred in New York City here.
My “Such Friends” presentations, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and The Founding of the Abbey Theatre, are available to view on the website of PICT Classic Theatre.