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.’
Pen Portraits-Alexander Woolcott
February 22, 2011 by bennythomas
Alexander Woolcott (1887-1943)