The Cast of Dorothy Parker Mysteries
At the table, clockwise from left as seen from above:
Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun,
Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman &
Robert Sherwood. In back, left to right are:
Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Vanity Fair editor
Frank Crowninshield, and Frank Case.
The Algonquin Round Table was the famous assemblage of writers, artists, actors, musicians, newspaper and magazine reporters, columnists and critics who met for luncheon at 1:00 pm, most days, for a period of about ten years, starting in 1919, in the Rose Room of The Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan. The unwritten test for membership was wit, brilliance and likeability. It was an informal gathering ranging from ten to fifteen regulars, although, many peripheral characters who arrived for lunch only once, might later claim they were part of the “Vicious Circle”, broadening the number to thirty, forty, and more. Once taken into the fold, one was expected to indulge in witty repartee and humorous observations during the meal, and then follow along to the Theatre, or Speakeasy, or Harlem for a night of Jazz. Gertrude Stein dubbed the Round Tablers “The Lost Generation”. The joyous, if sardonic ,reply that rose with a laugh from Dorothy Parker was, “Whee! We’re lost!”
Dorothy Parker set the style and attitude for modern women of America to emulate during the 1920s and 30s. Through her pointed poetry, cutting theatrical reviews, brilliant commentary, bittersweet short stories, and much quoted rejoinders, Mrs. Parker was the embodiment and soulful pathos of the “Aint We Got Fun” generation of The Roaring Twenties.
Robert Benchley: writer, humorist, boulevardier, and bon vivant; editor of Vanity Fair; Life Magazine and The New Yorker drama critic, he may have been, accidentally, the very first stand-up comedian. His original and skewered sense of humor made him a star on Broadway, later, a movie star. What man didn’t want to be Bob Benchley?
Alexander Woollcott was the most famous man in America—or so he said. As drama critic for The New York Times he was the star-maker, discovering and promoting the careers of Helen Hayes, Katherine Cornell, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and the Marx Brothers to name but a few. Larger than life and possessing a rapier wit, he was a force to be reckoned with. When someone asked a friend of his to describe Woollcott the answer was, “Improbable.”
Frank Pierce Adams (FPA) was a self-proclaimed modern day Samuel Pepys, whose newspaper column, The Conning Tower, was a widely read daily diary of how, where, and with whom he spent his days while gallivanting about New York City. Every witty retort, clever comment and one-liner uttered by the Round Tablers at luncheon was in print the next day for millions of readers to chuckle over at the breakfast table.
Harold Ross wrote for Stars and Stripes during the War, where he first met fellow newspaper men Woollcott and Adams. The rumpled, “clipped woodchuck”, (as described by Edna Ferber), was one of the most brilliant editors of his time. His magazine, The New Yorker, which he started in 1925, has enriched the lives of anyone who has ever had a subscription. His hypochondria was legendary, and his the-world-is-out-to-get-me outlook was often comical.
Jane Grant married Harold Ross but kept her maiden name, cut her hair shorter than her husband’s and viewed domesticity with distain. A society columnist for The New York Times, Jane was the very chic model of modernity during the 20s. Having worked hard for Women’s Suffrage, Jane continued on her cause, while doling out meals and emptying ashtrays during all-night sessions of the Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club.
Heywood Broun began his career at numerous newspapers throughout the country before landing a spot on The World. Sportswriter, Harlem Renaissance jazz fiend, he was to become the social conscience of America during the 1920s and beyond through his column, It Seems To Me. His insight and commentary made him a champion of the Labor Movement, as did his fight for justice during and after the seven years of the Sacco and Vanzetti trials and execution.
Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, writer, editor and critic of American Literature, he first came to work at Vanity Fair after Mrs. Parker pulled his short story out from under the slush-pile and found it interesting.
Robert E. Sherwood came to work on the editorial staff at Vanity Fair alongside Parker and Benchley. The six-foot-six Sherwood was often tormented by the midgets performing—whatever it was they did—at the Hippodrome on his way to and from work at the magazine’s 44th Street offices, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the Theatre’s great playwrights of the Twentieth Century.
Marc Connelly began his career as a reporter but found his true calling as a playwright. Short and bald, he co-authored his first hit play with George S. Kaufman, tall and pompadoured.
Edna Ferber racked up Pulitzer Prizes by writing bestselling potboilers set against America’s sweeping vistas, most notably, So Big, Showboat, Cimarron and Giant. She, too, found playwright collaboration with George S. for several successful Broadway shows. A spinster, she was a formidable personality and wit, and a much coveted member of the Algonquin Round Table.
John Barrymore was only one member of the First Family of the American Stage which included John Drew and Ethel and Lionel Barrymore. John Barrymore was not only famous for his stage portrayals, but for his majestic profile, which was later captured in all its splendor on celluloid.
The Marx Brothers: First there were five, then there were four, then there were three Marx Brothers… Awww, heck, if you don’t know who these crazy, zany men are, it’s time to hit the video store or tune in to Turner Classic Movies.
Also mentioned: Neysa Mc Mein, artist and illustrator whose studio door was open all hours of the day and night for anyone who wished to pay a call. Grace Moore, Broadway and opera star, and later movie star. Fanny Brice—think Streisand in Funny Girl. Noel Coward, English star and playwright who took America by storm with his classy comedies and bright musical offerings. Conde Naste—publisher of numerous magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair and House and Garden. Florenz Zeigfeld—of “Follies” fame. Big time producer of the extravaganza stage revue. The Lunts—husband and wife stars of the London and Broadway stages, individually known as Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Tallulah Bankhead—irreverent, though beautiful, southern born actress with the foghorn drawl, who later made a successful transition from the Stage to Film. The life of any party, she often perked up the waning festivities performing cartwheels sans bloomers. Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jascha Heifetz—God Bless America and hundreds more hit songs; Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess and many more; and the violin virtuoso, respectively.