Tag: Alexander Woollcott

Crazy for Games, Sports, and Puzzles

Woollcott and Ferber
Alexander Woollcott and Edna Ferber, at the home of Margaret Leech and Ralph Pulitzer (Photo courtesy of Kate Pulitzer Freedberg)

Sports and leisure were important to the Round Table. They loved professional sports—with baseball and boxing being the chief attractions. F.P.A. was an amateur tennis star. Their leisure time was taken up with parlor games, mind-benders, word play, and gambling. Their poker games were soul-crushing feats of gambling (Broun won and lost his house at a poker table). Charades and croquet consumed them.

Neysa McMein was credited with “inventing”—or at least popularizing—Scavenger Hunts. F.P.A. wrote about it in “The Conning Tower” on July 28, 1925:

“To Jane Grant’s, where was a party for Alice Miller’s birthday, and had a merry time of it, save for a silly treasure hunt, a craze that hath become widespread while I was not here to crusade against it.”

While playing I Can Give You A Sentence, Dorothy Parker was tasked to use “horticulture” which led to the oft quoted, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Baseball was a passion, especially New York Giants games at the Polo Grounds. F.P.A. wrote “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” one of the most famous baseball poems of all time following a Giants game. Broun is in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s sportswriters wing in Cooperstown.

The friends were crazy for crossword puzzles; they even wrote a book of them together. On January 4, 1925, the first Intercollegiate Cross Word Puzzle Tournament was held in the auditorium of the Hotel Roosevelt, 45 East 45th Street. With hundreds of cheering fans in the audience, Yale edged out Harvard, Princeton and the City College of New York. On the Harvard team were Broun (who never really graduated) and Robert E. Sherwood. Poet Stephen Vincent Benet and Jack Thomas made up the Yale team. The contest was held in rounds and each word was tackled individually. First Broun won a round by correctly guessing the name of a German poet with five letters (Heine). Then Sherwood backed him up with a seven-letter word meaning “honest in intention” (sincere). However, a foul play was called when the judge, Ruth Hale, sat beside her spouse, Broun.

The Vermont Alexander Woollcott Painting

Woollcott
The Vermont Painting.
Now that my book is out, I am looking at what went right and what went wrong with The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide. Today I was in a file of letters, and I came across one that I never got a response to.

In 2010, I wrote to the director of the Castleton Free Library, in Castleton, Vermont. This is not far from where Alexander Woollcott and his friends had a vacation house on an island in nearby Lake Bomoseen. From what I learned, Woollcott, the egomaniac that he was, gifted to the little library a large oil painting of himself. It is the work of John Decker, a close Hollywood friend of John Barrymore and W. C. Fields. It’s based on a photo of Woollcott wearing his favorite vest, embroidered by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt II.

At the time of the letter I was working like crazy to collect as many photos, rare and unseen, as possible. I loved this lost little piece of art, and wanted a photo of it for the book. At the most, someone just needed to get on a ladder and snap a photo for me. (The one in this blog post is from this site).

Here is my letter from Nov. 3, 2010:

I’m an author currently completing a book about New York City authors in the 1920s and one of my subjects is Alexander Woollcott. I was delighted to learn that there is a fantastic painting of Mr. Woollcott hanging in the Castleton Free Library.

I’m writing to humbly request if you could ask someone to send me a photo of the painting as it hangs in the library. Because of Mr. Woollcott’s lifelong association with literature, I’d like to include a photo of your library and the painting in my book.

If you would be so kind as to let me know if you can assist me, I’d appreciate it very much. I have until the end of the year to track down photographs, and having this addition would be a real asset to the book.

Sincerely,

Kevin C. Fitzpatrick

And… I never got a reply. One day I hope to go to Vermont and visit the lake house and I’m going to the library to see the painting.