The high spirits of the 1920′s. A circle of young exuberant wits regaled Dry-Era America from around a hotel table. Nothing quite like them has been seen since….
Conde Nast. Old school ethics meets the twenty-somethings of the Algonquin round table of post World War I America. Vanity Fair with its triple pillar of Robert Sherwood, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker were something of a product of the times, eschewing the European route of the Hemingway, Man Ray, Pound, Berenson et al of the Dry-Era and what they considered drab America, they formed the nucleus of a new kind of east coast American energy. They were young, they doted on pranks and planned them as solemnly as if they had been drafting State of the Union messages. A conquerable thing called “life” lay not only ahead of them but all around them. The roaring twenties.
But little by little, it eventually became clear that they were misfits in the hothouse atmosphere of the Conde Nast organization. Although they were zealous workers when they got to work, they did not believe in their having to be at their desks at 9 a.m. Nast did, as firmly as he believed in salaries constant with their smallness. He was a routineer; they were last minute inspirationists. As an executive, he had ideas about efficiency thet were baffling to them. The frequent ukases issued by his office manager, Francis L. Wurzburg were not for them edicts but invitations to revolt.
One example was the “Policy Memorandum” requiring tardy employees to explain their lateness on cards. It delighted Robert Sherwood to recall the conscientiousness with which Robert Benchley one morning complied with this regulation. His explanation, which covered the card, its margins, and its back with the most minute writing, had to do with his having been detained by rounding up a herd of elephants that had escaped from the Hippodrome, with the result that he was eleven minutes late in getting to the office. This was his last tardy slip.
(see link at end)…Round Tabler Edna Ferber, who called them “The Poison Squad,” wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.” Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent, and very, very tough. Both casual and incisive, they had a certain terrible integrity about their work and boundless ambition. Some of the most notable members of the Round Table came together to work on significant collaborative projects. George Kaufman teamed up with Edna Ferber and Marc Connelly on some of his best stage comedies, including DULCY and THE ROYAL FAMILY. Harold Ross of THE NEW YORKER hired both Dorothy Parker as a book reviewer and Robert Benchley as a drama critic.
By 1925, the Round Table was famous. What had started as a private clique became a public amusement. The country-at-large was now attentive to their every word—people often coming to stare at them during lunch. Some began to tire of the constant publicity. The time they spent entertaining and being entertained took its toll on several of the Algonquin members. Robert Sherwood and Robert Benchley moved out of the hotel in order to concentrate on and accomplish their work. In 1927, the controversial execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, whose case had divided the country and the Round Table for six years, seemed to cast a pall over the group’s unchecked antics. Dorothy Parker believed strongly in the pair’s innocence, and upon their deaths she remarked “I had heard someone say and so I said too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon. Well, now I know that there are things that never have been funny and never will be. And I know that ridicule may be a shield but it is not a weapon.”
As America entered the Depression and the more somber decade of the 1930s, the bonds that had held the group together loosened; many members moved to Hollywood or on to other interestshttp://www.theparisreview.org/blog/tag/robert-benchley/