By Jonathan Goldman from The Public Domain Review, February 5, 2020

Dorothy Parker’s reputation as one of the premier wits of the 20th century rests firmly on the brilliance of her writing, but the image of her as a plucky, fast-talking, independent woman of her times owes more than a little to her seat at the legendary Algonquin Round Table. Jonathan Goldman explores the beginnings of the famed New York group and how Parker’s determination to speak her mind — even when it angered men in positions of power — gave her pride of place within it.

Dorothy Parker lost her job as Vanity Fair theater critic on January 11, 1920, in the tea room of the Plaza Hotel. Parker must have known there was trouble brewing as she sat down across from editor Frank Crowninshield. She had been in hot water for months. Her latest column had been a particularly biting one. Reviewing The Son-Daughter, Parker contended that David Belasco’s new play followed his old one, East Is West, “almost exactly”, which Belasco made known he considered grounds for a libel suit.1 A couple paragraphs later, writing about the new Somerset Maugham play Caesar’s Wife, Parker zinged actress Billie Burke for performing “as if she were giving an impersonation of Eva Tanguay”.2The comparison to a risqué vaudevillian enraged Florenz Ziegfeld, one of Vanity Fair’s most reliable advertisers, who happened to be Burke’s producer — and husband. Ziegfeld and Belasco both took their umbrage to publisher Condé Nast. It is in dispute which complaint held more weight, but either way, Nast passed the buck to Crowninshield, who met Parker at the Plaza and fired her from the job she had held for two years. Parker promptly ordered the most expensive dessert on the menu and left.

In the days that followed, Parker’s cronies who hung out in the Rose Room of the Algonquin Hotel made the firing and its fallout at Vanity Fair into a media scandal. Parker herself would never again hold a desk job or draw a regular salary, finding success instead as a freelance critic, author of brilliant and acclaimed verse, short fiction, essays, plays, and film scripts. The incident changed her career and stature, and its response helped forge the legend of what would eventually be called the Algonquin Round Table.

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