By Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
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 Eugene O’Neill, called on a mutual friend to set up a lunch with Woollcott at the convenient Algonquin Hotel. At lunch, Alex, who weighed only 195 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.
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 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.
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