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Illustration The Man Who Came to Dinner The Man Who Came to Dinner The Man Who Came to Dinner
Intro Backstage 42nd Street Revival Vicious Circle Cast and Credits
"I wish to say that on my first visit to Moss Hart's house I had one of the most unpleasant evenings I can ever recall having spent."
- Alexander Woollcott


Dorothy Parker
The Thanatopsis Pleasure and Inside Straight Club
(The Round Table's weekly poker club)
Caricature by Will Cotton
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker
Caricature by Peggy Bacon National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
The end of the First World War found Dorothy Parker working as a drama critic for VANITY FAIR Magazine. She wasn't well paid, but she loved her colleagues Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood and they often lunched together at the Algonquin Hotel, a few doors down the street from their office on West 44th Street.

Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Woollcott
Museum of the City
of New York

One June afternoon in 1919, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and a group of their friends were invited to lunch at the Algonquin Hotel by John Toohey, a press agent who wanted revenge on Alexander Woollcott, the drama critic of THE NEW YORK TIMES. Woollcott, an outsized and extravagant egoist, and the most feared critic in New York City, had refused to write a story about the young Eugene O'Neill, one of Toohey's clients. He had also managed to annoy most of the guests with his pompous and tedious war stories. Woollcott's name was purposely misspelled on the invitations and everyone did their best to humiliate him during lunch. But Woollcott was impregnable and he loved the attention. The group -- fueled by free celery, olives and popovers -- had so much fun exchanging witty remarks, jokes, and barbed insults that they continued to gather at the Rose Room at Algonquin Hotel over the next two decades.

George S. Kaufman
George S. Kaufman
Museum of the City
of New York

The Round Table, as the gathering was generally known, attracted many of the leading young journalists, writers, and critics in New York City. Privately, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. Groucho Marx never attended the gatherings. "The admission fee is a viper's tongue and a half-concealed stilletto," he once explained. "It was sort of an intellectual slaughter house." The conversation, whatever it was, was quick and lively. Key members included Dorothy Parker, the author Edna Ferber, writer and comic actor Robert Benchley, playwright George Kaufman, Harold Ross, the founding editor of the NEW YORKER Magazine, newspaper columnist Franklin Adams, and the comedian Harpo Marx. Their quips and gossip were chronicled in the Conning Tower, Adam's daily column in the Herald Tribune, and their gatherings became famous.

Moss Hart
Moss Hart
Museum of the City
of New York

Woollcott was the social and emotional center of the group. When he bought a vacation home in Vermont, members of the group went up to visit during the summers. In 1939, Moss Hart and George Kaufman debuted a satirical play, "The Man Who Came to Dinner." The main character, an impossible and egotistical critic, was based on Woollcott, who had visited Hart at his country house, demanded chocolate cake and a frosted milkshake, and insisted that the heat be turned off. He then wrote in the guest book: "I wish to say that on my first visit to Moss Hart's house I had one of the most unpleasant evenings I can ever recall having spent." Woollcott, far from being offended by the caricature, played the title role himself, until he suffered the first of the series of heart attacks that killed him.

Franklin P. Adams
Franklin P. Adams
Caricature by Will Cotton
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The party began to break up during the 1930s. Several of the key members, including Dorothy Parker, moved to Hollywood, others became involved in their careers, and a few just drifted away. The last meeting of the Round Table occurred a few days after Woollcott's death in 1943. The group gathered at the Rose Room of the Algonquin for a farewell drink, and discovered there was nothing left to say. "It was the last gathering of the Woollcott crowd," Harpo Marx later recalled, "and it was our strangest gathering."

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