A really wonderful 5-star review was posted by writer-playwright Greg Hatfield of Dorothy Parker Complete Broadway, 1918-1923, which is out now. Mr. Hatfield shared the review on his blog and on Amazon:
One of the best books on New York theater in the early 1920’s. Mrs. Parker’s wit is evident in each review.
This is a marvelous book about a time in New York and on Broadway, in particular, which just doesn’t exist anymore. Back in the halcyon days of the theater, dozens of plays, musicals and revues were opening in the Spring and Fall, with many Summer shows filling in the gap, and long-running shows were still on the boards.
Mrs. Parker wrote as the primary theater critic for Vanity Fair and Ainslee’s, monthly publications, which meant that sometimes the shows would close before her reviews were published, but she provided a stunning overview of the theater scene.
Of course, it’s no exaggeration to say each review contains the trademarked Parker wit and I laughed out loud many times at her remarks about certain shows, actors, writers and scenarios.
She wrote of one play: “I know who wrote those lyrics and I know the names of the people in the cast, but I’m not going to tell on them.”
The musical comedy “Go Easy, Mabel” was billed on the program as “The Musical Comedy Different”. Mrs. Parker suggested it be called “The Musical Comedy Terrible”.
During WWI, Mrs. Parker was worried that with all plays about men going to war, she was “unpatriotic. I simply cannot get all worked up at the sight of a company of chorus men clad in Schneider-Anderson uniforms, even though they march right up to the very footlights with a do or die expression in their eyes. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
After the war she lamented that fact that plays were now about men returning home from war.
Mrs. Parker writes glowingly about the Barrymores, especially John Barrymore’s now legendary portrayal of Hamlet. She recognizes the talent of Eugene O’Neill, Nazimova, Helen Hayes and Laurette Taylor. She writes of the revues of Belasco, Ziegfeld and George White.
She criticizes the lack of decent parts for African-American actors. In 1921, she wrote: “In no way are our producers more wasteful of genius than in their disregard of Negro actors.” She championed the small downtown theater where The Negro Players performed in roles that weren’t demeaning. She also singled out Bert Williams, one of the stars of the Follies.
She disliked children on stage and frequently noticed the dogs in the show. “The cast over-acted their parts, all, that is, except for a small, slightly soiled white puppy named Imogene, who played her scenes with admirable repression.”
The editor of Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway 1918-1923 is Kevin C Fitzpatrick, one of the leading experts on Mrs. Parker and the Algonquin Round Table and the head of the Dorothy Parker Society. He is also the author of Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide, A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, and The Lost Algonquin Round Table.
There are now three books that any fan of theater in the 1920’s should have:
Enchanted Aisles by Alexander Woollcott;
Benchley at the Theatre: Dramatic Criticism, 1920-1940 by Robert Benchley; and
Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway 1918-1923.
This is the kind of book I love reading by one of my favorite authors. Mr. Fitzpatrick will have a book out in November called The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide. I’m looking forward to it.