Agata Stanford

Dorothy Parker Mysteries

Mr. Benchley

It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Braun’s byline
in The World


Dear Mr. Benchley,

Today is your birthday, and I really am sad to have missed the chance to meet you in person, to shake your hand, if you know what I mean?   But, you see, you left the stage long before my entrance.  I am glad that there are forty-eight short subject films and 38 major motion pictures you appeared in, twelve books of your slightly (?) warped humor, numerous posthumously published anthologies, and a score of theatrical and literary biographies where you are sometimes the prime suspect, or are mentioned and explained (your brand of humor prefigured the comedy of so many comedians and humor writers of the past century that people have to explain a phenomenon like you), so I’ve gotten to know you, in a way.

You really were a unique character, from all I’ve seen and read.  Quite complex, a combination of the dark and light sides of life.  Oh, you were a bad boy.  They used to call men like you Boulevardiers:  Always looking for a good time, a party, a pretty woman, a stiff drink, carousing, staying up all hours of the night, spending more than you earned . . . .  But you were the most loyal of friends and you never failed to support your wife and sons in spite of those distractions, and you were much loved by most everyone who ever had the pleasure of your company.  Oh, you were a bit of a scoundrel, if the truth be known.   And it may be oxymoronic to say this, but you were an honorable scoundrel, Mr. Benchley, and that was your saving grace.  Yes grace.  You had grace.  Why, although you were a famous actor and screenwriter whose levity relieved the dramatic tension in the most serious of film stories,  and your reviews for Life Magazine and The New Yorker were sometimes sharp at times, you never went after the players directly; you were kind to them.  Hey, they were working, and it wasn’t their fault the material they were performing was crap.  Of course, there was Abie’s Irish Rose, prejudice in the guise of stage comedy, running on Broadway for nearly five god-forsaken years—see the Benchley page to read selections of his comments in Life about that show at:—but weren’t you a clever fellow, if misguided into thinking it would close on its own.  Why, your weekly one-line reviews during the run of the show expressed your protest and disgust through humor, while people kept flocking to make the curtain every night!

Although you had success, it wasn’t the success you had hoped to achieve.  To quote you:  “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”  You never did get to write that serious biography about Queen Anne that you had been researching for most of your life, and you never were taken seriously in literary fiction.  I can understand your frustration.  Like Dorothy Parker, the friend who adored you, there never was published the “serious” work, the novel.

But, what a whirlwind life you did have.   And I have to say that you left quite a legacy.  It’s a wonderful thing to make people laugh, to lighten their load, and for a time, help divert them from the problems that plague them.  Why, you didn’t just leave us an old biography gathering inches of dust on a bookshelf about a queen whose legacy is best known as a period in which was produced some rather uncomfortable furniture.  No!  There are movies!  There are funny stories and observations that bring wit and joy into our lives so many years after your death.


Until next time,


At the Gonk with our waiters Chuck and George

It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World

The famous Algonquin Hotel has undergone a renovation since purchased by the Marriott Hotels last year.  And aside from the poor choice of glitzy 1980’s style sconces and chandeliers around the Edwardian lobby–thank God, they didn’t paint the glorious dark oak  paneling and stately columns white!–,  and in spite of the addition of a “Breakfast Nook”  in the space that was once the historic Oak Room, and the Blue Bar all snazzed-up with, ah, blue lights–it looks great, really, the dining room’s food and service was exemplary.  In other words, last Thursday, when once again my High School of Performing Arts Graduating Class of, gulp, “67,  met for our tri-annual luncheon in the Round Table Room off the hotel lobby, we had a grand time!  In spite of the fact that most of us lingered for more than six hours, nursing our pricey cocktails after lunch, we were treated like royalty by the staff.  Our waiters, 30 year veteran, Chuck, and former thespian, George, were terrific, friendly and patient.

There is something wonderful about the place.  The furniture has been replaced, as has the carpeting, but the lobby and restaurant still retain the ambiance, the warmth, we have come to love.  No more the feline Matilda holding court in the lobby, thanks to the misguided rules of the Health Department, but all good things must pass, I suppose. . . . .  Matilda, the tenth or eleventh generation of the original cat who wandered into the lobby some time during the 1930s,  is now relegated to prowling the upper regions of the hotel.  She was not very social on our visit.  At least, on a search, Jane couldn’t find her.

So, Shelley and I played around with possible names for our luncheon parties, names relating to the Parker-Benchley-Woollcott  Round Table years:

What’s-a-chap-gotta-do-to-get-a-drink around here? Society?

Or, The I Can Sing and Dance and Play the Kazoo Association?

Or, You Can’t Stick Us Square Pegs in a Round Table Luncheon Club?

Or, Round Table Square Pants?  

Or, Shelley’s final suggestion when she had enough of my nonsense:
We’ve Come for the Davenport and Inside Straight Club?
Shall I go on?  What do you suggest?
Until Next time,



It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World.


Well, it’s here!  A Moveable Feast of Murder is published and available around the world in print and in all the various e-book formats!

What fun it has been crossing the Atlantic with Dorothy, Mr. Benchley and Ernest Hemingway.  I’ve had good times in Paris with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Gerald and Sara Murphy couldn’t have been more hospitable, showing us around town and taking us to all the hot spots in Paris of 1926.  There was a bit of murder and mayhem, but when is there not in a mystery novel?

I am fortunate to have had the expert technical and artist skills of Shelley Flannery and Eric Conover who work as a team with me to bring the stories I write to my readers.  Thank you Shelley for suggesting the title of this book. Thank you, Jeannette Sinibaldi for “pardoning my French”, correcting my French spelling, applying the appropriate accents where required, answering my questions, and helping me to map out a parade route through the streets of Paris.  Any errors in French are entirely my own. Also, to Gina Grant for additional assistance on the Paris section of this book.  I send heartfelt thanks to architect and artist Benedetto Puccio for photographing the Paris landmarks featured in this book,  and to author Anatole Konstantin (A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin) for sharing his insights and knowledge of the Soviet Union and communist activity in Europe in the 1920s. Thank you Michael Alan Mayer, author of Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table for passing on to me so many details about France in the 1920s, and to Les Dean of the National Railroad Historical Society for details of 1920s European rail travel.  I appreciate Facebook’s Virtual Ocean Liner page, and its anonymous patron who has answered all my questions about Steamship crossings.  Thank you, Frank Pelkey at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, New York for assisting me in my research, and friends and members of The Robert Benchley Society who are continually educating me about all things Benchley.

Read and enjoy Dorothy’s Paris adventure!

Until next time,


Onyx with parents Marnie and Jak Orton

It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s column
in The World 

Although I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Dorothy Parker to better understand the complex nature of her personality, I have pretty much read, and then deliberately set aside her later years, because writing about her in the 1920s, it was not so good for me to be reminded of her fate. As she once told a Hollywood producer when he wanted a happy ending tagged onto a screenplay she was working on, “There are no happy endings”, I could not depict her with that sentiment in my head, even if it flowed like an undercurrent in hers.  But now, after five Dorothy Parker Mysteries under my belt, I am not so sensitive, and as the forty-fifth anniversary of her death is June 7th, I’d like to share with you a little knowledge I’ve acquired from my friend Onyx about her Godmother, Dorothy Parker, during those last years of her life.

I met Onyx when we were fourteen years old and attended the High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street in Manhattan, and she initially struck me as a confident teenager, very sharp and savvy. She was clever and outspoken and the sweetest young woman you’d ever want to know.  She, like me and many others, found the High School of Performing Arts to be not just a school, but our other home.  What was true for most of us kids was that our family home lives were very much separated from our school experiences.  We left our family lives at the door when we entered the school each morning.  It was as if we assumed other, chosen identities.  We were all so fully engrossed in our studio classes—drama, music and dance.  Onyx echoes my feelings when she said to me recently, “Going there (to Performing Arts) was an affirmation of everything that I was, and would grow to be as an individual.  It was my own home.”

But, then, who she was as a teenager, and who she was to become as a woman had already been greatly influenced by her father, Jak Orton and three famous women—one of them, her godmother, Dorothy Parker.

Jak Orton grew up in the South and came to New York at 17 to pursue a career in the theatre.  He very quickly got work on stage in choruses and walk-on roles, and met the stars of Broadway.  His friends, actor Ralph Meeker, and Liz Montgomery of the theatre design team known as the Motleys, introduced him to the Broadway elite.  During a tryout in Boston, Liz Montgomery arranged for friends, Onyx’s grandmother and her daughter, Marney, an aspiring actress, to see the show.  Sparks flew between Jak and the girl from Boston and the two instantly fell in love and married. In 1949 Marney gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Onyx.  The couple separated when Onyx was ten years old, and by that time, Jak had changed career course to become a sought after interior designer.

When Dorothy Parker met the handsome Jak she said to him, “You look like a fawn.”  Dorothy loved good-looking men; she was drawn to clever people.  And to enjoy a platonic, long-lasting relationship with any fair-faced fellow, he had to be smart, too.  Jak was all that, and witty, creative, and genuine. “She adored my father,” said Onyx.

What flashed in my mind while talking with Onyx about Dorothy Parker, and the two other women that were to influenced her life, was the marvelous book Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis.  Just exchange the prepubescent  Patrick with the young Onyx, and multiply the character of Mame by three: three female drinking buddies.  Her father would be the voice of reason in a wild and frenetic play whose curtain would rise at dinner time three or four times a week in the Ortons’ apartment on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side.  The real-life cast of multiple Mames was a trio including actress June Walker, Broadway’s first Lorelei Lee, playwright and screenwriter, Donald Ogden Stewart’s first wife, Bee, a great party hostess. (Onyx corrected my spelling.  Although she was formally “Beatrice”, Stewart spelled her name “Bee”.) Add to the mix the venerable Dorothy Parker.

“June was a dear heart, and she adored children; Bee was nuts; Dorothy was quiet, but never shy.  She was amazing, and so easily tossed-off hysterical remarks across the dinner table. “She always said what she thought.”  Often, dinner would be held at Bee’s apartment, prepared by her cook, or ordered in from The Colony.

The three women and her father would laugh at Onyx’s retorts, and encourage her to join in the conversation. June Walker, the movie star and mother of actor John Kerr, “always brought champagne and caviar and tons of cherries, and was so flamboyantly Hollywood that she even had her stockings pressed.”

“I played bartender, mixing their cocktails.  That’s how I learned to drink and smoke.  Back then, it was no big deal,” said Onyx with a chuckle.

Again I was reminded of little Patrick Dennis shaking up cocktails for Mame’s eccentric guests.

“But being with them, listening to their conversations, I learned so much about art and literature and theatre,” said Onyx.  “I was an only child, and I was included in everything that was discussed in our living room.”

When I asked about their conversations—were they politically bent? Onyx said, “My father wouldn’t have that; he always directed the dinner conversation towards theatre and art and literature.  He found politics boring.”  Knowing Dorothy Parker’s political leanings and activities, and the 50’s HUAC investigations and her blacklisting, I figured she kept her views close to her chest.  And of course, I had to ask Onyx if she remembers her discussing her Round Table years.  “No, never,” she said.  As the 60s rolled on, the teenage Onyx watched her godmother “become more introspective.”

“Bee Stewart?” I asked. “Her name always pops up when I read about Sara and Gerald Murphy and Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds in Paris and Antibes during the 1920s, but other than the fact that she later married Tolstoy’s grandson, I know little about the woman. What was she like?”

“She gave parties.  That’s all she knew how to do—and drink!  Bee was crazy!  Wild, but wonderful!  I loved her very much and I spent lots of time with her.  You know, I kind of think Dorothy’s story, Big Blonde was modeled after Bee.  Parts of it, anyway.  I see her in my head whenever I read it.  She died in the 1970s.”

“Did you get gifts from your godmother?” I asked.

“Once.  A tin box, decorated, but when I opened it, expecting a gift inside, it was empty.”  We had a good laugh about that.

“I remember my christening,” said Onyx.  “Really!  I was two years old, and there were lots of roses and champagne, and everybody was celebrating, but no gifts for the baby!”

June Walker died in 1966, and on June 7, 1967 Dorothy died three weeks before our graduation ceremony from Performing Arts.  I asked Onyx about how she coped during those days.

“They were terrible, horrible days.  My father got the call from the Volney Hotel where Dorothy resided, and he went over to the apartment to identify her body.  He brought home Dorothy’s dog, Trois—the dog from hell!  Of course, the poodle wasn’t house broken; Dorothy never walked the dog, so it made its deposits all over the place.  And my father and Bee were very angry with Lillian Hellman, whom Dorothy had named as executor of her will, for going against her wishes.  Dorothy didn’t want a funeral service, but Hellman arranged one anyway. Dorothy and Lillian had had a falling out before she died. My father couldn’t stand Hellman.”

The service was just the first of Hellman’s cruel insults against Dorothy, who had not left her small estate of twenty thousand dollars and literary rights to Lillian, but rather to Martin Luther King.   After Hellman’s death, Dorothy Parker’s papers, that had been entrusted to her, were nowhere to be found and were suspected to have been destroyed.

“It was the first funeral I ever went to, and it was for someone I loved so much.  I was devastated.  We were all miserable about it. Dorothy had been kind and gentle with me, always.  She was sweet, but I could see she was unhappy.”

I thank Onyx for sharing with me those personal rememberances of her days with Dorothy Parker.

Until next time,


Dorothy's present to Onyx


It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s column in The World.

I finished writing my new Dorothy Parker Mystery, A Moveable Feast of Murder, the other day, and I have to admit that I feel a little bit let down after the intense surge these past weeks in completing the text.  Of course there’s a lot left to do, but the book is in the hands of my copyeditor, Shelley, now, and my designer, Eric, is working on the cover art before he gets the edited text for typesetting.  He takes the final steps in the production of the softcover version and the creation of e-book files for all the various e-reading devises out there, so I am sort of hanging around like a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy. Just waiting around.

So I do the little bits, like writing the captions for the photos that will enhance the book, and thinking about where they will be placed in the book, and I have to write a blurb to use on the back cover and in the press releases and for promotional purposes.  I re-write the afterword and the acknowledgements pages, too.  And yes, my blog, which I have neglected because I’ve been so wrapped up in my novel that I can’t think about the distraction of writing a blog.

And then I think: Oh, maybe I should go back and add this or that, or re-write that or this, but I know that if I were to keep doing that I would drive myself crazy and eventually ruin the book that was such fun—really a joy—to write.  Understand that I take pains to get everything right, and I rewrite constantly, but there is a point where you can lose the spontaneity that makes my books fun for the reader.

I think what happens is that when I am writing I become so involved in the story and my characters and what they are experiencing that by the time I get half-way through, I am in that world with them, and by the end I am loath to leave them behind.

Writers don’t just sit and write all day.  I spend the majority of my “writing” walking around, doing errands, continuing research, reading, thinking, thinking and doing more thinking.  Then I sit down, write what is bursting to come out of my head, and then, like Hemingway used to do, I walk away from the keyboard knowing that I have left a little bit of what’s in me unwritten; I never leave the well completely dry.  I am primed to have a reserve in my head, so that the next day, after more walking around, doing errands, and thinking, I will be overflowing, and the urge to empty what’s in my mind onto the paper will return yet again.  Where Hemingway walked the quai de Montebello and the Luxembourg Gardens and stopped for a café crème at La Closerie des Lilas after a good morning of writing, I walk down the main street of my nineteenth century small town, U.S.A., stop for coffee and a chat with friends at Rockhill Café, and walk through Sheppard’s Park along Lake George.

But for now my characters are silent, at least until I decide to make them move and talk and inhale and exhale a new story in next book in the Dorothy Parker Mystery series.  It sounds crazy, I know, but I miss them a little, the real-life people I write about as well as the ones who materialize on the page.  I had such a grand time with them on the ship crossing to France, and so much adventure and laughter and mayhem in Paris while there in 1926—me and Dorothy and Mr. Benchley and Hemingway (He lets me call him Hem) and Scott and his nutty and sad wife, Zelda, and the Murphys, Sara and Gerald (God! How I love that couple!) and of course Aleck Woollcott and Harpo Marx . . . . Anyway, I was there, with them in the Paris in my head back in 1926.  I lived with them there for many months of research, planning, plotting and the best part, the two and a half months of writing what they said and did.  Read what I did with them all in June.

Until next time,



WHO???, Fitzgerald, man in cap standing, Hemingway, Harold Loeb???, Hadley

It  Seems To Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World.

What I have to do, before, during and after for writing Dorothy’s Paris Adventure

Re-read The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast and the early years of Hemingway bios. Why not, A Paris Wife? The wonderful Sara and Gerald Murphy biography, Everybody Was So Young, and then the book that was modeled after them, Fitzgerald’s, Tender is the Night. And there are the other books about Paris in the 20s like, The Crazy Years. If I have to, I’ll even read Gertrude Stein’s stuff—if I have to. Oh, and very important, talk to author Anatole Konstantin (A Red Boyhood,, and re-read his lecture series, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire.

Write the chapter.

As I have collected many little books over the years, including tourist city guides to Paris printed in 1926, study map of 5th and 6th Arrondissement to see the relation and distances between landmarks my characters will walk.

Check astronomical websites for moon and star conjunctions during SS Roosevelt’s February  crossing to France.

Email the wonderfully helpful Virtual Ocean Liner Facebook page for more info on SS Roosevelt. Email request from SSHSA (Steam Ship Historical Society of America) about particulars of ship.

Go to tai chi class

Email requests to NRHS (National Railroad Historical Society) for detailed info on Cherbourg boat train to Paris.

Email my writer friend, Michael Mayer (Time Trippers, check him out at, for more info through his sources on train schedules, hotel prices, exchange rates, etc. Thank you, Michael! And thanks for the Benchley articles for my book, too.

As on-line research can be limited, go to the library to research the captain of the SS Roosevelt, and hope to make certain connections, and wow! A discovery! While there, research poisons.

Research Paris fashion for 1926. Café life, economy, nightlife and sanitation, Paris sewer system.

Write the chapter.

Cross-check where real-life characters actually were, or could have been, on certain dates.

Find detailed info on the ritual methods of Absinthe drink preparation.

Spend a few hours looking through thousands of public domain photograph jpegs to include in my book, and try to trace to a source those which are ambiguously attributed.

Try to identify the face—“who the hell is that man sitting next to Hemingway?” second from right—by writing to people who might actually know!  Now, I believe the caption on this photo was incorrect.  I believe it is Harold Loeb  sitting between Hemingway and his wife,  Hadley.  So then, WHO IS THE MAN SEATED FAR LEFT ?  This is Maddening! Please comment below with your anwers or guesses. I need a facial recognition program, the kind the police use.

Go to tai chi class.  I really need it!

I’m not finished yet, because research is ongoing. And the Paris sequence has to be reviewed by my friend Jeannette, who will deal with interpreting my English into colloquial French where needed. Thank God for her help!

On my end, before going off to my editor, Shelley, I must check usage to make sure no modern terms slip into the manuscript.

Write the chapter!

Go to tai chi class.

Until next time,



It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World

I enjoy checking out antique and thrift shops, and some time ago I purchased a box of handkerchiefs for a dollar.   There were a variety of lovely Madeira linens in the box, a real collection from days gone by, some with hand crochet edging, embroidered embellishments and bright colorful prints.  It brought to mind the exquisite silk one I carried decades ago on my wedding day: an elaborately embroidered white crane in flight against an ecru field.  I found that lovely piece of art in a thrift shop, too, and carried it on my son’s wedding day to catch my tears.  After all, tissues just don’t cut it alongside formalwear.

Back in the 1920s, Dorothy Parker, too, carried handkerchiefs, and if she didn’t have one conveniently tucked in her sleeve, Mr. Benchley would have provided one of his own, thank goodness, because although she was a very funny person who made people laugh, she was a real crier.  Such is the case with humorist types.  Laughing through her tears.   Men weren’t dressed without one handy in their trouser pocket.  One rarely sees them anymore, except the decorative triangle peeking out of a gentleman’s suit jacket, or hidden in the depths of a nonagenarian’s handbag.

I remember those little packets of tissues when they came out.  The kind wrapped in cellophane which was slit along the top.  We still have them, but they always seem to get linty and nasty down there in my purse after getting shifted around for  a couple of years, and not conducive for use anywhere near the face.  And God forbid you forget there’s one lurking in a cardigan pocket  thrown in the wash.  Quell mess!  Of course, tissues are necessary, especially when you have a head cold.  I can’t deal with wet, mucus laden fabric hardening to the consistency of bark in my laundry hamper.  But, on an ordinary day, handkerchiefs are quite nice just to have along during my day.  Gives you a sense of security.  And let’s face it, ladies, if you want to draw the attention of that attractive man you are passing by in the street, I doubt he’d bother to pick up the crumpled tissue you drop on the sidewalk in order to affect an introduction in the same way he’d be encouraged to retrieve a lovely silk handkerchief.  Handkerchiefs were rarely used for nose-blowing, but mostly for wiping away tears, whereas tissues, well, who knows where they’ve been?

Until next time,


It Seems to Me . . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World

I have been a bad girl.  I haven’t posted a blog in weeks!

Well, I’ve been busy, reading, researching and reading and researching some more for my next book in my Dorothy Parker Mystery Series.  Number Five. This should be a wonderful adventure, based on real events in the life of Dorothy Parker during the winter of 1926.  And, I have to say that all the reading and researching has really paid off.  Because I’ve discovered–or you might say, re-discovered, events that have long been forgotten, and were only unveiled by my  accidental trip over one fact that led me to another and another.  So, in this coming book I will be resurrecting a real-life character to join the mix of fun and intrigue, a person never linked to Parker and her partner in crime, Robert Benchley, by any biographer or documentation.  This new person plays perfectly into the dynamics of my main characters, and after eighty-six years, he will  be remembered and acclaimed once again.

Research can be lots of fun, and very seductive.  It’s hard to stop!  I have learned, as many writers can attest for their own methods, that most research is best done while you are writing your book.  But, as Dorothy and Mr. Benchley will be sailing the Atlantic to Paris with their new friend, Ernest Hemingway, I absolutely needed to re-read all of his early books.  Twice.  And, I’m sorry to say, I am not a fan.  But, I better understand the man and his work.  And there are peripheral characters entering into Dorothy’s life, people whom I know and love, and who will be appearing in this new book, as they did in reality, and a lot of re-reading had to be done by and about them!  Even if I don’t use ten percent of what I have learned, the knowledge will bleed through the pages to the reader, because I am invariably transported back in time while I write, and although my mystery plot is fiction, the rest is history, and I have to know what I’m talking about.  Hemingway agreed with me in this in that, what you leave out of a book is as important as what you leave in.  Clarity.  It’s all about clarity.  I do my best to encompass the atmosphere, the reality of my characters’ lives while building my stories.

All I will say now about this new book is that, if you liked Midnight in Paris and The Artist, you’ll probably enjoy the this novel.

So, expect a June, 2012 release of my fifth Dorothy Parker Mystery.

Until next time,


It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World

Season’s Greetings!  

Read a holiday excerpt from Chasing the Devil:

As it was the Saturday of a holiday weekend the stores were mobbed with out-of-towners fromthe suburbs getting a jump on their holiday shopping. The store windows were decorated with fairyland and winter-countryside scenes with mechanically driven figures of ice skaters circling a frozen pond, dogs romping about, horse-drawn sleighs winding along snow-covered lanes, children sledding down hills before forests of snow-blanketed evergreens. There was a wonderful Santa’s Workshop, a window bright with elves at workbenches, hammering and wrenching together the body parts of toy soldiers, jack-in-the-boxes, and life-sized dolls. A family decorating a sparkling lit tree with scores of brightly wrapped presents at its base; the father on a tall ladder, shining star in hand at the tree’s top, mother adding tinsel, daughter placing an ornament on a lower branch, son peeking at a gift box through a tear in the paper (reading American BB gun), small dog pulling the seat of the son’s pants between his teeth, tail wagging. A happy change from the usual fare of slinky manikins draped in fashionable attire.

Runny noses and sticky fingers pressed against plate glass with wide-eyed wonder as the holiday music played and the sleigh bells jingled along carrying the beat. Shoppers, laden with stacks of boxes, maneuvered through revolving doors, in and out of taxis, onto and off of streetcars, dodging the perils of traffic and the sea of humanity. Furs flying open, hats pushed back, gloves dropped, scarves pocketed, knee socks slipping to ankles. Then, time to take a break at Schrafft’s.

Inside the stores, too, were the wonderlands: thousands of icicles draped down from the ceilings,tinsel-like snowflakes bobbing above the expansive floors; silver and white and gold and sparkle everywhere. The countertops offered an array of glittering goods, jewelry, perfumes, holiday accessories, feathered and bejeweled chapeaus, delectable candies—marzipan stacked into images of Christmas trees—candy canes galore! The stores were glowingly lit, inside and out, lending an atmosphere of warmth and cheer.

Between the two stores, I purchased a bright silk-screened shawl for Neysa, a sky-blue Chinese tunic embroidered with a flying crane for Tallulah, a luxurious cashmere scarf for Mr. Benchley, a Russian Cossack hat of Persian Lamb for Aleck, gloves for FPA, ties for Sherry, Marc, and Bunny Wilson, a deluxe box of Belgium chocolates to be sent off immediately with my note of thanks for Thanksgiving dinner to Edna, and, while she was busy in the hosiery department, a stunning little jet-beaded evening bag for Jane. For Ross, a tortoise-shell-and-silver pocket comb, four pairs of men’s stockings in primary colors embroidered with reindeers for the Marx Brothers, several exquisite, finely embroidered silk handkerchiefs for women friends to keep on hand (excuse the pun) for any lady I may have forgotten, and six boxes of Cuban cigars for any gent I may have overlooked. All in all, I’d done most of my Christmas shopping in one very productive afternoon.

Jane caught up with me as I was just settling the bill at Lord & Taylor’s. She was a sight. Actually, I couldn’t really see her at all, just the tam of her jaunty little red hat and the bow on her pumps, but I recognized the voice that addressed me from behind a stack of precariously balanced boxes. I removed the top two silver-foil-wrapped packages and looked into two very large brown eyes, the color of fine cognac.

“You’ve done no shopping?” she said in amazement.

I thought that if I relieved her of the remainder of the load, she might sink to the floor, for her look of sheer exhaustion.

Au contraire. I’ve had everything sent to the apartment, or I’d have needed a cart to see them


“That I should be so wise,” she said, as I helped her carry her load out onto the street. It was after fiveo’clock, and the chances of getting a cab were growing slimmer by the minute, and as Woodrow Wilson was at home, the odds were really against us.

We decided to walk the seven blocks uptown to my apartment at the Gonk, and to rest with a drink or two before going on to dinner.

I don’t know what made this season bearable, except for the fact that Aleck and Mr. Benchley were unusually attentive. Even Edna did not grate on my nerves when she’d appear at luncheon several times a week, now that her Showboat was finished.  I sought distractions, if only to quell the underlying sense of menace haunting me since Father Michael’s murder.

Jane and I lunched and Tallulah, who also was alone, was always game for an afternoon cocktail or a steak at our favorite speakeasy, Tony Soma’s.  I suppose they remembered the events of last season when Eddie and I parted ways and a failed affair with a newspaper reporter sent me on the skids to land in the hospital by way of my foolish attempt at ending my life. I’d forgotten that an affair is just that, a single event with a start and end time. Silly me.  I didn’t think anybody’d really care if I popped off. I thought they just wanted me around to provide the entertainment, as I’m always good for a fast and clever retort to brighten any conversation. My wit has made me famous; my wit has brought me into the sphere of the geniuses of my generation, but I don’t know that I belong in such a world. I have to work so hard to be witty. Yet, it’s all I know.  My acid tongue has cost me friends, too, because sometimes I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. I almost believe it when I say I don’t care what people think. I don’t know that I’m so very droll, so very sophisticated. It’s hard to be amusing, to keep up the pretense of being anything very special.

Most of the Round Tablers are alone in this city. It’s a tough place to make a success. Most have no family close by. And the understanding we all possess is that you’re only as good as your last show, or book, or joke. Too soon you can become yesterday’s news, and we all want to forget yesterday in hopes of a better tomorrow. So we live for the moment: fast and furious.

But I do have friends, I learned, and this season they made sure I was not lonely. And as Christmas approached I joined into the spirit of the holidays.

Mr. Benchley arrived at my rooms on Christmas Eve morning carrying a large box covered in red foil and brandishing a huge green satin bow. Woodrow Wilson barked furiously at the foreign object blocking Mr. Benchley’s face, and stopped only when he had placed it down on the edge of my desk.  He bade me turn away and cover my eyes.

“The ones in back of my head?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mrs. Parker,” he said as he pulled off the ribbon and lifted the lid. I admit that I began whining a bit, from impatient excitement, and Woodrow responded to my angst with several whimpers of his own, as we heard Mr. Benchley scuffling around.

“You and the President ought to start a singing act. Vaudeville is dying, and you two can quickly put it out of its misery.”

I’d no time for a comeback for the sound of strange and intermittent screeches that alternated with bars of music and voices. As I turned, Mr. Benchley stood back with a look of satisfaction as the Coon- Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra piped out “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.”

A radio!

“It’s grand!” was all I could say, admiring the cathedral-shaped box. I gave Fred a hug and Woodrow pulled at his cuff.

Mr. Benchley leaned over to pat my pup and then reached into his pocket from where he withdrew a steak bone wrapped in white paper. “You don’t think I’d arrive without your treat?” Woodrow made a fast exit to the bedroom with his treasure.

As it was Christmas Eve, Mr. Benchley would take the train home in an hour to spend the holidays with Gertrude and the children. He was concerned about me and Aleck alone in the city, inviting us to his home for the holiday. But Aleck and I decided  to remain in town.  Aleck has a standing invitation for Christmas Eve dinner with Edna. I’ll spend the eve with Jane and Ross, and on Christmas Day I’ll join Aleck for what always proves to be a sumptuous dinner at George and Bea Kaufman’s. It was decided that we would begin our inquiries once again into the deaths of the priests immediately following Christmas Day.

It had been a smallish group at luncheon these past weeks. George S., Irving, and Harpo and his Brothers were busy with their show, The Cocoanuts;  George Gershwin had an opening on the thirtieth for Song of the Flame, and Ira was busy with lyric writing, too, for next season’s show.  Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were out of town for tryouts, and Ross had a deadline for his failing magazine, The New Yorker . I suspect the tourists were disappointed when popping their heads into the Rose Room hoping to see a Marx Brother or two, or a glamorous Lunt or two. What they got was Aleck, Mr. Benchley, and me along with a scattering of newspapermen they might recognize by their bylines, if not their pictures.

Christmas spent with Aleck, Jane, and Ross warmed the frigid days. Snow fell on Christmas Eve, and by morning several inches lay over the cityscape like a fresh start on canvas.

To all my friends, I hope your lives are happy, healthy and prosperous in the coming New Year!


It Seems to Me . . . was the byline of Heywood Broun’s
column in The World.

So here we all are once again, meeting and lunching in reunion–but this time at The Algonquin!

What a fabulous bunch of old friends.  And the good thing is that our Performing Arts High School Class of ’67 graduates who want to do this are not about to let anyone slip away again for decades.  Nope, whenever possible–because life is never predictable–we intend to continue with our regular luncheons.  To once again be in the company of friends who were so much a part of our lives is a very wonderful thing.  It’s amazing how easy it is to just pick-up where we left off all those years ago, and to discover in  each other the incredible people we have each become.  We were all there and played a part in each other’s development during the unique experience of our very special school years.  I love these people who were once the children of my childhood.  I am lucky to have them back in my life, now.  Don’t we look happy in each other’s company?    Spring.  In the spring we will celebrate forty-five years?  Don’t we look great?

Until next time,