Mention you’re joining the new Algonquin Round Table in some circles and you may get asked: Where are you going to find a 12th century suit of armor?
If you are asked such a question, I recommend you remain within that circle and begin dealing the cards. You’ve got yourself some live ones, as they say.
So what exactly are we writers breathing life back into after more than 80 years? A group who dubbed themselves “The Vicious Circle,” a party of writers, critics, actors, and just good old-fashion ball-breakers who gathered together daily at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to eat, drink, be merry, and play with amongst themselves.
The Algonquin Round Table began as a practical joke (and now that I think about it, I may be taking part in one just by posting this). But anyway, it was 1919, when wisecracks weren’t just another symptom of passive-aggressiveness, but a national pastime. This group of Round Tablers got together to engage in discussions (which invariably included wisecracks, wordplay, and witticisms) that would ultimately be disseminated across the United States in the form of newspaper columns. Over a span of ten years, some of the finest and funniest people would appear at that table.
Charter members included the famed writer Dorothy Parker, humorist and actor Robert Benchley, columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, playwright and director George S. Kaufman, publicist John Peter Toohey, editor of The New Yorker Harold Ross, sportswriter Heywood Broun and his wife the feminist Ruth Hale, journalist Alexander Woollcott, and author Robert E. Sherwood.
Members of the Algonquin Round Table were known not only for their distinguished literary contributions, but for their sparkling wit. Long after the party ended in 1929, people continued to talk about how wonderful and/or god awful the Round Tablers were.
One regular member of the Algonquin Round Table was the comedian Harpo Marx. His brother Groucho, after a number of tries at the table, was known to be uncomfortable with all the viciousness. Groucho claimed that “the price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.”
My kind of place.
Of course, the group had its detractors. Some accused them of “logrolling” (disgusting, I know), asserting that the Round Table was just a bunch of self-serving artists exchanging praise for each others’ works and damning everyone and everything else. Today, that’s what blurbs are for.
The Round Tablers played charades, which may present a problem for us – at least until I learn how to Skype. They also played the “I can give you a sentence” game. Dorothy Parker was once given the word “horticulture.” Her sentence: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”
We don’t know where the 2012 Algonquin Round Table will lead us. With any luck, to 2013 and beyond. What we can promise each other and our readers is that we’ll do everything we can to amuse you with our words (and possibly some stolen videos). Daily, we will attempt to make you smile, maybe even make you laugh. Because there was a time when even the greatest writers didn’t take themselves as seriously as the weekend novelist does today. And we think it would be cathartic for all of us – writers and readers alike – to visit that time and place at least once a day.
So again, welcome to the Table. Price of admission: a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto. Ladies get in free.