Thursday, January 20, 2011

Algonquin Hotel

Ellis and I have long-standing plans to meet at The Algonquin Hotel this evening. I knew vaguely that The Algonquin, New York's oldest operating hotel, was a literary hangout of the twenties and that they give out New Yorkers and ipods stocked with audiobooks to guests. I am quickly realizing just how juicy its history is. Unlike (I'm assuming) its neighbors on "club row" as its called because of the nearby Harvard and University clubs, the Algonquin's history is chalk full of wit and hilarity. I get the feeling the club was at its prime in a lighthearted time for literature, pre-World War I. Its most famous patrons were the staff of Vanity Fair, the inner circle of which founded in 1919 the Round Table or "The Vicious Circle" as it was nicknamed by Dorothy Parker. The Round Table counted all of New York's most feared critics among its members whose respective wikipedia pages are to this day full of cross references and witicisms at each other's expense. Here are a few of the crew's best:

Franklin P. Adams

The so-called "comma-hunter of Park Row," F.P.A. is the formidable hero of E.B. White and many writers of the generation after him. He edited a gossip column in the New York Tribune called "Conning Towers," gathering much of his dirt from conversations at the Round Table.

Quotable: "There are plenty of good five cent cigars in the country. The trouble is they cost a quarter."

Harold Ross

You might recognize his name as the founder of the New Yorker (1925). He used his Round Table friends as his first staff writers in his goal to create a magazine of sophistication and metropolitan sensibilities, though he himself was raised in Aspen and never finished high school.

Quotable: The first issue of the New Yorker states it is "not edited for the old lady in Dubuque"

Alexander Woollcott

My favorite Round Tabler. Born into a childhood of illness and poverty in an artist commune, after moving to New York, Woolcott quickly established a reputation as a notorious grouch and the cruelest theater critic in history, famous for slamming the most beloved entertainers of his generation. ("There is nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can't fix"). He was banned from The Shubert and lost his law suit of protest against them. He would, however, just as enthusiastically support his tastes; his rave review of the Marx Brothers' first show propelled them into fame and began a lifelong friendship between he and the brothers.

Woollcott founded the "Shouts and Murmurs" column in the New Yorker, where he would write (often incomprehensible) satirical pieces in the flowery style of his favorite writer, Dickens. He famously said of his frenemy, Harold Ross, that he "looked like a dishonest Abe Lincoln."

Another quotable:
"The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm"

Dorothy Parker

The founding member and heart of the Round Table, she is known for her short and sweet, hilarious poems. She eventually gave up The Round Table for Hollywood and she actually cites Woolcott's difficult humor as the reason for her disillusionment. She said, "I remember hearing Woollcott say 'reading Proust is like lying in someone else's dirty bath water.' And then he'd go into ecstasy about something called, Valiant Is the Word for Carrie, and I knew I had enough of the Round Table."

So many of her little poems are so quotable. She has a devoted fan base to this day and apparently many fan sites where I've been perusing her work all morning. I think this one is a good way to end this (way too comprehensive) post. It's called "Bohemia:"

Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses' necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I can not wait to go! Also
    this is the movie Dorothy Parker won the Oscar for in Hollywood. I want to see it.