ALGONQUIN ROUND TABLE. (1922.)
THE FOUNDATION DOCUMENT OF THE VICIOUS CIRCLE
An Anonymous Entertainment by the Vicious Circle of the Hotel Algonquin.
Original playbill measuring approximately 590 by 140mm. Old folds, a little toning, but very good. Framed and glazed. New York, Golden Ptg Service, April,
The sole recorded copy of one of the few printed artifacts of the Algonquin Round Table.
Ethan Mordden writes of the formation of the Algonquin Round Table: "The whole thing got started by accident, in late 1919 or early 1920, at a celebratory lunch more or less devoted to Alexander Woollcott. There were speeches, toasts, and insults both teasing and cutting, and everyone had a wonderful time" (Mordden, 16) The core group were as follows: Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchlet, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Franklin P. Adams and Heywood Broun. "Members of the circle dined together, played all manner of games together, wrote together, attended the theatre together, and practically lived together for nearly ten years, between 1919 and 1929" (Malarcher, 148).
It was only a matter of time before someone challenged them to put their talent where their mouths were. In the even it was J.M. Kerringan who asked, or rather, dared: "You fellow are so smart. If you don't like the plays you go to see, why don't you put on a show yourselves?" This prompted the one-night only performance of No Sirree! on 30 April, 1922 at the 49th Street Theater.
The Vicious Circle "took over on a Sunday evening, when the regular tenant, the Russian potpourri Chauve-Souris, wasn't playing. Some 750 guests and their guests - no critics were asked - sat through the usual revue of spoofs and specialties, but what a cast!" (Mordden, 17). It was, of course, a who's who of New York literati and society including Franklin P. Adams, Tallulah Bankhead (though professional actors were limited to minor roles only), Robert C. Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Jane Grant, Helen Hayes, Jascha Heifetz, George S. Kaufman, Neysa McMein, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, Robert E. Sherwood, and Donald Ogden Stewart. Rehearsals were held at the studio of table-member, Neysa McMein.
It's hardly surprising that it "led to a full-fledged Broadway production, The '49ers, this time with sets, salaries, and critics. But it was still an amateur night, however full of personality" (ibid). The show bombed, but it did lead to Broadway careers for Kaufman, Connelly, and Benchley. No Sirree! featured Benchley's first performance of his "Treasurer's Report" which was later part of Irving Berlin's Music Box Review earning him a tidy $500 per week.
Anything to do with this performance is rare. Of other printed ephemera concerning the show, Malarcher adds, "Tickets were printed, but the cast bought them all and distributed them to friends ..." Not listed in auction records, not in OCLC, not in NYPL, not in Morgan, not at Columbia, not at NYU.
Provenance: From the library of author and playwright, Julian Street (1879-1947), who presumably attended the performance. It was folded in one of his books.
Malarcher, J., in Gewirtz, A. et al, Art , Glitter, and Glitz ... (Praeger, 2004) pp.147-158; Mordden, E, The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication - from the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote's Ball (New York, 2010).
Stock Code: 243096