Alexander Woolcott (1887-1943)
He was one of the most quoted men of his generation. Woolcott dismissed Los Angeles area as “Seven suburbs in search of a city” — a quip often attributed to his friend Dorothy Parker: Of Harold Ross the editor of The New Yorker, “He looks like a dishonest Abe Lincoln.”
Woollcott was renowned for his savage tongue. He dismissed a notable wit and pianist: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can’t fix.” He greeted friends: “Hello, Repulsive.” He submitted the shortest theatrical review in history: in his review of the Broadway show Wham!, he simply wrote “Ouch.” When a waiter asked him to repeat his order, he demanded “Muffin filled with pus.”
His judgments were frequently eccentric. Rating emotions over balanced judgment, he figuratively tossed hat in air over favored plays and performers. Catherine Cornell the actress for instance always received favorable notices. He was wrong about Proust (Dorothy Parker once said: “I remember hearing Woollcott say reading Proust is like lying in someone else’s dirty bath water. ) Wolcott Gibbs , who often edited Woollcott’s work at The New Yorker, was quoted by James Thurber in his book The years with Ross on Woollcott’s writing:
“Shouts and Murmurs” was about the strangest copy I ever edited. You could take every other sentence out without changing the sense a particle. …I guess he was one of the most dreadful writers who ever existed.
He tried his hand at acting and was spoofed by George S.Kaufman and Moss Hart (1904-1961) in their play, ‘The Man who came to Dinner’ and also starred as Sheridan Whiteside (1940)
Alexander Woolcott once asked Moss Hart to drive him to Newark to fulfill a lecture date.
‘I’ll do it.’ The playwright agreed,’ if you will let me sit on audience. I was once an assistant in a bookshop in Newark and I’d like to show them I am a big shot now.
Alexander delivered his lecture without making the slightest reference to Hart who fidgeted in his chair behind the rostrum, then said he in conclusion, ‘Tonight I’ll dispense with my usual question period. I am sure you all want to know the same thing: ‘Who is this foolish looking young man here on the platform.’
With that he retired leaving Hart to get out of that hall as best as he could.’ (ack: Bennet Cerf)
Alexnder Woolcott went to France during WWI as a sergeant in a medical corps unit and then moved a dismal camp near Le Mans. The men lived in leaky tents with mud and puddles of rain under their rickety camp beds. Woolcott luckily was moved the Paris office of the US army newspaper. ‘Stars ad Stripes.’ Sgt.Woolcott spent rest of the war in luxurious living, dining nightly at the Ritz entertaining friends. When the armistice came he sailed for home on a troop transport where he met a comrade from the old medical camp at Le Mans.
‘You made an awful mistake leaving our unit when you did.’the soldier said.
‘Why?’ Woolcott asked.
‘The week after you left,’ the soldier said, ‘they put wooden floors in our tents.’
Alexander Woolcott carried drama criticisms to the masses and appeared regularly in NBC radio shows and his wild enthusiasm made theatre as exciting as baseball to great many Americans of his generation.
Admirers at the Algonquin Round Table dubbed him as ‘the smartest of the Alecs.’
Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Parker’
Posted in personalities, tagged Algonquin Round Table set, anecdotes, critic, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, NBC radio star, Sheridan Whiteside, The Man who came to Dinner on February 22, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
Alexander Woolcott (1887-1943)
Once at the Algonquin round table, Dorothy Parker reported sadly,”My old cat, that I’ve loved so dearly has grown so feeble and helpless that I’m going to have him put away.”She added she was wondering the most humane way to do it. It elicited this comment from Playwright George S. Kaufman: “Have you thought of curiosity?”
“I understand your grandfather was a Negro, monsieur” a nobleman once asked Alexandre Dumas,”May I enquire what your great grandfather was?”
“An ape, sir,”replied Dumas,”My pedigree commences where your terminates.”
WH Russel of the Times once approached Bismarck and reminded him,”Your Excellency, you’ll have to admit that I am one newspaperman who has respected yor confidence. You have conversed with me on all sorts of subjects and never once I repeated a word you said.”
Bismarck cried angrily: “The more fool you are! Do you suppose I’d ever say a word to a man in your profession that I didn’t want to see in print?”
Noel Coward was once approached by a reporter for the London Star, who asked,” Mr. Coward, would you like to say something to the Star?”
“Certainly,”replied the playwright,”Twinkle.”
The first US Presidential Press Conference was granted by John Quincy Adams, but unwillingly. The President was swimming in the Potomac river when a newspaper woman Anne Royall surprised him. She sat on his clothes and vowed that she wouldn’t budge until he gave her an interview.
The Potomac was chilly and Adams finally granted her request.
As a rookie reporter for the New York World, young Heywood Brown was told to interview Utah senator Reed Smart.
“I have nothing to say,”Smart told him.
“I know,”replied Brown,”Now let’s get down to the interview.”
• Heywood Brown, one of the kindliest newspaperman ever, wasn’t much of an executive. While running a publication called The Connecticut Nutmeg, its managing board gave him discretionary powers to hire hands at $35 a week. He could go up to $50 maximum.
On the appointed day the job- seekers were called in and Brown queried,”Which would you prefer- $35 a week or $50?”
Posted in anecdotes, tagged battle of the sexes, Cleopatra, Dorothy Parker, Eleonara Duse, Helen Hayes, Herbert Spencer, Lalande, Laurette Taylor, Mark Antony, Mrs. Fiske Mme.de Stael, Napoleon on May 4, 2008 | Leave a Comment »
Mark Antony had done his best to entertain Cleopatra and was peeved by her taunts as to the quality of his table. He was perplexed too. When she remarked that she would in one supper spend ten million sesterii Antony laid a wager that it was impossible.
When she laid out her table Mark Antony checked each item against the bill and he had to laugh at her presumption. But she promised that not only she will keep her promise but that the supper would cost 60m.Sesterii.
For the second course a goblet of vinegar of special quality, strong enough to dissolve pearls was brought in. For the occasion she was wearing two most precious pearls in the world. Before his eyes she took off one and dropped into the vinegar. Making sure it was dissolved she downed her goblet. She would have done the same with her second pearl had not Plancus the referee stopped her from it. He pronouncedher to have already won the wager.
Turning to a crest-fallen Antony she murmured,”No soldier is a match for a woman.”
In the German state of Würtemberg, the town of Weinsbeg crowns a hill overlooking surrounding vineyards. In the Romanesque church over there one may see a tablet dedicated to the memory of faithful wives. In the vicinity are the ruins of Weibertreu castle or Castle of the Faithful Wives.
Who were these women?
In 1140, Emperor Conrad III seized the town and had surrounded the castle where the townsfolk had sought refuge. Only the women were allowed to leave carrying whatever they considered most precious of their possessions. At that each woman loaded her husband onto her back.(L’echo de la Mode. France.)
Empress Josephine wife of Napoleon was once giving a party to which she heard that a woman she detested also would be present. Having been informed that the guest would, for the occasion wear a dress of deep green she hastily redecorated her drawing room in a shade of blue that would make her dress seem vulgar and gaudy.( E.A Rheinhardt-“Josephine, the wife of Napoleon.)
Philospher Herbert Spenser (1820-1903)remained a bachelor by default: he could not find one suitable. His well meaning friends for long tried to pair him off with their candidates without success. At last one woman who they described as having not only beauty but a great mind was introduced to the great man. After spending several hours in her company the philosopher informed his matchmaker that she was undoubtedly beautiful. As for her great mind he found it was ‘a small mind in constant activity.’
During rehearsal Laurette Taylor (1884-1946) was told by the director,”This is your scene, Miss Taylor and I feel you should have the centre of the stage for it.”
She replied with her characteristic hesistant tone,”You know, this may seem odd to you but I always thought where I was- that was the centre of the stage.”( Guthrie Meclintic(?)- Me and Kit-Little, Brown)
When Helen Hayes, the actress addressed the Senate on a bill to admit refugee children to the U.S.A one senator heckled her,”Do you mean to say you’d adopt a child unseen?”
The actress replied:”I never saw my own child until it was delivered.”(World Digest.)
The range of Eleonara Duse(1858-1924) as a dramatic actress was as astounding as her ability to live and breathe the role she currently played off stage as well. In Trieste she once played Odette and the dramatist Marco Prago found her sitting on the floor of her hotel room, tears running down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?”he asked in alarm.
“Nothing,”she replied between sobs,”But tonight I am playing Odette and if I don’t cry a bit now, I shall weep too much in the fourth act.”
Eleonara Duse admitted no one to her dressing room during a performance except her personal maid. One when she was performing in Stuttgart, the king of Würtemberg wanted to visit her during the interval and sent a message in advance and she politely refused since ‘all visits shatter the illusion I need.’ Undeterred the king went and knocked on her door. Duse was adamant. The next day
She and her troupe were ordered out of the country.
Eleonara Duse was possibly goaded to excel herself by Sarah Bernhardt who was performing in Alexandre Dumas’latest play ’The Princes of Baghdad’ at Turin. She night after night watched her all the while learning from her. The day after the Divine Sarah left town she announced to her producer she shall not appear tomorrow except in the role her rival had triumphed. Finall she had her way and her performance was a success.
These two great divas were once in London drawing crowds and George Bernard Shaw after watching them praised Sarah for her beauty, skill and extra-ordinary personality and wrote thus,”Sarah Bernhardt… is always the same. She does not enter into the leading character, she substitutes herself for it. All this is precisely what does not happen in the case of Duse, whose every part is a separate creation.”
Mrs. Fiske, American actress
Once Margaret Anglin left this message stuck in the mirror in Mrs.Fiske’s dressing room. ’Margaret Anglin says Mrs.Fiske is the best actress in America.” Mrs.Fiske read it,added two commas, stuck it in an envelope and sent it back to Miss Angline. It read, ”Margaret Anglin,says Mrs. Fiske, is the best actress in America.”
Dorothy Parker(1893-1967)critic and humorist once bumped into a lady in the doorway of ’21’. She stepped back and motioned for for Dorothy to exit first, saying,”Age before beauty.” Pat came her retort,”Pearls before swine”as she went out.
Dorothy once owned an isolated country house. Asked if she could describe it in two words she said,”Want it?”
Dorothy Parker was once at a dinner honouring a governor. During the speeches a man next to her let out a belch and showed his embarrassment. She leant over to whisper,”Never mind. I’ll let the governor to pardon you.”
At a party she was asked by a bore if she had her ears pierced. She murmured,”No but I have often had them bored.”
Danseuse Yvette Guilbert(1865-1944) the subject of countless sketches, paintings and posters by Toulose Lautrec, was once savaged by Sarcey a formidable critic of the day and she forced her way into his study. She said,”You are an insolent cad…“.
“I regret,”he said and pointed to a pile of papers that needed to be filled before noon,”and if we have no more to say to each other…”
At this the fiery tempered danseuse seized the brass inkstand and overturned it on the sheets saying,”they were to be dirtied, they are dirtied.”
Germaine Coty, wife of Rene Coty the former president of the French Republic was a warmhearted lady. On the night her husband was elected as the President the hall-porter fell on her neck,”Oh madame! We are so happy…. but also sad to see you leaving us.” “Yes,”Mme Coty sighed,”to think that I have ordered fuel for the whole winter!” That remark endeared her instantly to the French houswives who could count on her as one of them.
Madame de Staël(1766-1817)
Germaine de Staël, the French writer called on Napoleon Bonaparte one day and insisted on seeing him. His orderly told her that the Citizen-General was in his bath. ”That is unimportant,” she exclaimed,”Genius has no sex.”
When Napoleon told Madame.de Staël that women had no business being interested in politics, she replied,”In a country where women have been decapitated, it is only natural for other women to ask why?”
Seated between the beautiful Mme.Recamier and the plain Mme. de Staël, the astronomer Lalande said,”How happy I am to find myself between beauty and wit.”
“And without possessing either,”came her prompt reply.