Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table – more fun facts:   Leave a comment

The Algonquin Round Table or The Vicious Circle:

The Algonquin Round Table was one of the brightest spots of American culture in the 1920’s and seldom has so much talent and wit been concentrated in one place, perhaps save Paris, during the same era. Largely forgotten today, the group of newspaper columnists, theater critics, playwrights, humorists, composers, actors and Broadway  stars who met casually for lunch at the elegant Algonquin Hotel daily were the leading lights of the New York cultural scene, becoming world famous for their incomparable wit, trading jibes and comments on each others work, their words often published in the next day’s newspaper columns. Harold Ross, a regular member, started the New Yorker magazine in 1925 with contributions from Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and others of the group and today the New Yorker carries on the Round Table’s tradition of sophisticated wit, as stated in the first issue, not for little old ladies from Dubuque.

Starting casually in 1919, the group soon grew big enough  that Frank Case the manager, provided them with their own large round table, free popovers and celery, finding it good for business to have so many famous people as regulars.

While I can not possibly do it justice here, here is the first of a brief summary of some of the people who participated:

Dorothy Parker:

One of the key characters in my book she was a poet with a dark, caustic, satiric and iconoclastic sense of humor. Queen of the putdown and the one-liner, she was unquestionably THE leading wit of the Algonquin Round Table. She crossed swords with the sharpest wits of the day, and held her own in a man’s world. She was a modern woman, a sophisticated free spirit, living and loving as she pleased, doing her best to flout the prohibition laws, self described as a ‘functioning alcoholic.’ A simple poem captured her style best – she said that “I love Martinis, Two at the most; Three I’m under the table, Four I’m under the host.

She started at Vanity Fair writing poetry in 1915, later becoming a popular theater critic. Vanity Fair was the magazine for the sophisticated ‘smart set,’ setting a high tone. As theater critic, her caustic and humorous reviews were very popular, until it began to offend producers, culminating with her scathing review of Billy Burke’s performance, the wife of the biggest Broadway producer, Flo Zieglfeld, and pressure from him got her reluctantly fired in 1920.

Dorothy Parker in 1922 sitting between Charles MacArthur (playwright and ex-lover), and Round Table regulars: Harpo Marx (standing) and Alexander Woollcott (right)

Her best friend was Robert Benchley, a humorist and bon vivant with his unique deadpan humor of the absurd. He was managing editor at Vanity Fair when she got fired and in protest, he and Robert Sherwood, another Round Tabler quit. Dottie and Benchley, whom she always addressed as “Mr. Benchley,” which was humorous for its exaggerated politeness, briefly formed their own freelance magazine – the Park Bench until she started contributing to the New Yorker, and Dottie dubbed their enterprise ‘The Utica Drop Forge and Tool Company,’ and hanging the sign on their miniscule office door. At other times she addressed Mr. Benchley as Fred. They were really just friends. She was friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and other leading lights of the day, traveled to France twice in the ’20’s, in 1926 and 1929, hanging out with Fitzgerald and Hemingway among others of the ‘Lost Generation.’ To get a rough idea of their Paris scene see Woody Allen’s wonderful movie: ‘Midnight in Paris.’

Her writing style combined a refined, dainty prose with the occasional crude remark, especially in her criticisms. A classic example of that style is in this excerpt from one book review as the New Yorker’s ‘Constant Reader:

  • “It reminds me, though the sequence may seem a bit hazy, of a time when I was lunching at the Capd’Antibes (oh, I get around). I remarked, for I have never set up any claim to being a snappy luncheon companion, that somewhere ahead of us in the Mediterranean lay the island where the Man in the Iron Mask had been imprisoned.  “And who,” asked my neighbor at the table, “was the Man in the Iron Mask?” My only answer was a prettily crossed right to the jaw. How expect one who had had a nasty time of it getting through grammer school to explain to him an identity that the big boys had never succeeded in satisfactorily working out.

Her dark and satirical poems have an almost Addams Family quality, such as her cynical take on suicide – ‘Resume:’

Razors pain you,

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you,

Drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful,

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful,

You might as well live.

She was especially famous for a number of quotes, such as:

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” (when she was at Vanity Fair 1915-1919)

“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

“A girl’s best friend is her mutter.”

“Look at him, he’s a rhinestone in the rough.”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force.”

Playing word games at lunch when asked to use ‘Horticulture’ in a sentence she replied: “You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.”

These are only a very few of her innumerable quotes, again, I can’t possibly do her justice here, but to learn more please read:

Kevin Fitzpatrick’s: ‘A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York,’  http://www.amazon.com/Journey-into-Dorothy-Parkers-ArtPlace/dp/0976670607/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336598435&sr=1-10

Marion Meade’s: ‘Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties,’ http://www.amazon.com/Bobbed-Hair-Bathtub-Gin-Twenties/dp/B004J8HWYG/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_5

And Meade’s: ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker,’ http://www.amazon.com/Portable-Dorothy-Penguin-Classics-Edition/dp/0143039539/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

Also for a great fictional romp with Dorothy (Dottie) and others of the Round Table, please read the series:

Agata Stanford’s: Dorothy Parker mystery series – see all on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_tc_2_0?rh=i%3Astripbooks%2Ck%3AAgata+Stanford&keywords=Agata+Stanford&ie=UTF8&qid=1336599000&sr=1-2-ent&field-contributor_id=B003VHWJXK

To find out more, and have some fun along the way, take a walk back in time with us to the last week of September, 1927 to see Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking 60th home run. Hang out with the incomparably witty Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Harpo Marx. Meet Dorothy’s friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald; run into a young and as yet unknown James Cagney, Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a certain Japanese Navy midshipman and many others.
If you liked ‘Midnight in Paris’ or ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and enjoy Jack Finney’s ‘Time and Again,’ then you might like this book too! Enjoy! Available on Amazon both Paperback and Kindle editions!

Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table Amazon Page

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Posted May 9, 2012 by mikeile51 in The Books

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