The Algonquin Round Table was literally a big round table in the restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel at 59 West 44th Street in New York. But its legend goes much further than furniture. A little over 100 years ago, the literati of New York began lunching together. It began as a welcome home to theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, returning from WWI. They pushed together two square tables to roast him. They had so much fun, they continued to lunch almost daily until the 1930s. (The actual round table came in 1920.)
The group varied, but almost always included Woollcott, who postured as presiding over the unruly and noncompliant group. Joining him were Pittsburgh-born playwright George S. Kaufman, writer Dorothy Parker, founders of The New Yorker Harold Ross and Jane Grant, writer/humorist Robert Benchley, playwrights Robert E. Sherwood, Edna Ferber (who referred to this group as “the Poison Squad”), Charlie MacArthur, Ben Hecht, and (McKeesport native) Marc Connelly, comedian Harpo Marx, composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, critic Heywood Broun, journalist Ruth Hale, columnist Franklin P. Adams, journalist Donald Ogden Stewart, writer Alice Duer Miller, artist Neysa McMein, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, reporter Herbert Bayard Swope, Harper’s Bazaar editor Art Samuels, and miscellaneous visitors such as Tallulah Bankhead and Noel Coward. And they were tough, wielding whetted wit against one another and upon the targets of their scrutiny – the latest play, the latest book, the latest column, the latest act of war.
But to the question at hand, not so many of them were Jewish. Your correspondent suspects the question comes out of the perceived Jewish flavor of the wit of then-current New York City, which nearly all of them demonstrated.
Outstanding Jews among them were George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber, Ben Hecht, Harpo Marx, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Herman Mankiewicz.
Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild – Jewish father, Scottish mother) lost her mother when she was five years old, and her father remarried. The rest of her life was not easy; she lived by her wits and her wit. Working at Vogue magazine, she wrote the photo caption “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” She wrote much, much more. Most memorable is the line “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” She would become a defender of equality, and left her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Foundation.
Jewish George S. Kaufman once said, “I can trace my ancestors all the way to the Crusades – Sir Roderick Kaufman. He went as a spy, of course.”
Non-Jew Marc Connelly later said of the group, “We all lived rather excitedly and passionately.”