Algonquin Round Table Wit's End by James R. Gaines

An excerpt from the book Wit's End by James R. Gaines a look at the Algonquin Round Table in the roaring twenties.

WIT'S END by James R. Gaines. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.

About the Book: As the subtitle says, this is a book about the "Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table." The time: the roaring Twenties. The place: New York City's Algonquin Hotel. Dramatis personae: some of America's noted celebrities in the arts. Wit's End demands two run-throughs. The first is for simply looking at the photographs. What a crew: critic Alexander Woollcott at the center, surrounded by the likes of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, Irving Berlin, George S. Kaufman, and others. A delightful look at the personalities that dominated the Jazz Age.

From the Book:

Despite Woollcott's more methodical approach to social life, Harpo outdistanced him socially all summer, usually in a tuxedo made of pool-table felt with large brass buttons and on at least two occasions in nothing at all. The first of these was at Somerset Maugham's villa, where Harpo interrupted Maugham's guide tour of the house by stripping and diving into the fountain-fed pool through the master-bedroom window. Woollcott was appalled, but Maugham was delighted; he unsuited and dove in himself. Later in the summer, on the day Woollcott had finally got Bernard Shaw to come to lunch and busied himself frantically to make sure everything was just so, Harpo went swimming nude. When the Shaws drove up, Harpo managed to throw on a towel as Shaw bellowed, "Who the hell are you?" After they exchanged introductions, Shaw snatched off Harpo's towel and said, "This is Mrs. Shaw." To Woollcott's great chagrin, Harpo became the Shaws' companion-cum-chauffeur for the rest of the summer....

The season's most exclusive party was held at the Eden Roc in August, and only Woollcott was invited from Villa Galanon. [Ruth] Gordon and Marx decided to gatecrash and thus sparked one of their only rifts of the summer. Marx led Gordon into the party through the kitchen, and they took up a table adjacent to Woollcott's on the terrace. When the main course--a whole salmon--was served to their table, Marx grabbed it off the platter and flipped it off the terrace and onto the beach. "Don't think I care for the fish," he told the astonished waiter. "What's on the Blue Plate tonight?" Everyone laughed but Woollcott, who glared. Harpo heard him tell the woman to his left, "I don't know. I've never seen that vulgar person before in my life."

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