The Algonquin Round Table Goes Hollywood - 9/12 (Daytime)
Their union was simple, and yet it influenced a monumental body of work in the literature, theater and cinema of the 20th century. The Algonquin Round Table, like King Arthur's knights centuries earlier, were a group of friends and confidants who drew great pleasure and strength from their close association.
For some 10 years beginning in June 1919, this collection of some of New York's wittiest and most prestigious writers, editors, critics and performers met regularly at New York's Algonquin Hotel for lunches and late-night poker games. Together they traded quips, witticisms and ideas that permeated their work.
TCM salutes this rowdy Round Table with a day of films and shorts written, produced or adapted from works created by members of the group. Below are the participants we celebrate.
Robert Benchley (1889-1945) was a humorist, writer and actor best known for his essays in such publications as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and for his appearances in movies including some 50 short films that he also wrote or co-wrote. One of these shorts, How to Sleep (1935), won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Comedy). Shorts in the TCM presentation include How to Start the Day (1937), A Night at the Movies (1937), An Hour for Lunch (1939) and That Inferior Feeling (1940).
Benchley wrote the screenplay for the RKO feature film Murder on a Honeymoon (1935), starring Edna Mae Oliver as schoolteacher/sleuth Hildegarde Withers, who uncovers a murder while on vacation in California. Among Benchley's many appearances as an actor in feature films is Live, Love and Learn (1937), a romantic comedy in which he plays the best friend of a couple (Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell) whose lives change when the husband finds success as an artist.
George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) was a legendary playwright, director, producer, humorist and critic who won Pulitzer Prizes throughout the 1930s for co-writing the stage musical Of Thee I Sing and the comedy You Can't Take It with You, co-written by Round Table friend Moss Hart. Kaufman also won a Tony award for directing the original production of Guys and Dolls in 1951.
Beginning with silent films, there are numerous examples of movies adapted from plays that Kaufman wrote or co-wrote. Make Me a Star (1932), a comedy-drama starring Stuart Erwin and Joan Blondell, is set in the world of Hollywood moviemaking. Actress and socialite Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) was a frequent attendee at the Round Table meetings, and she has cameo as herself in Make Me Star. It is based on the play Merton of the Movies by Kaufman and fellow Round Table member Marc Connelly, with uncredited contributions by that other Algonquin chum, Moss Hart. Connelly (1890-1980) was a playwright, director, producer, performer and a key member of the Round Table. He won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Green Pastures
Kaufman and Hart co-authored the play that formed the basis for the all-star comedy film classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). Monty Woolley stars as Sheridan Whiteside, an overbearing radio personality from New York who terrorizes a home in small-town Ohio. Whiteside was based on Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943), a critic and commentator for The New Yorker who was a charter member of the Round Table. Other characters in the play and film were based on frequent Round Table visitors Noël Coward (1899-1973) and Harpo Marx (1888-1964).
Kaufman also co-wrote the screenplay for A Night at the Opera (1935), a vehicle for Harpo and the other Marx Brothers that is considered by many to be the peak of their movie career.
Robert E. Sherwood (1896-1955), the playwright, screenwriter, editor and producer who helped establish the Round Table, was the author of some of the most popular plays and movies of the 1930s and '40s. He won Pulitzers for his plays Idiot's Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois and There Shall Be No Night; and an Oscar® for his screenplay The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
Sherwood is represented on TCM by the film version of Idiot's Delight (1939), adapted for the screen by Sherwood. It stars Norma Shearer and Clark Gable as travelers in a group that gets trapped in an Alpine hotel as borders are closed at the start of World War II.
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), one of the most famous wits of her era, was a poet, writer, critic and satirist who rose to fame for her writing in such publications as The New Yorker, and as a founding member of the Round Table. She worked for a time as a screenwriter in Hollywood, collecting Oscar® nominations for her contributions to A Star Is Born (1937) and Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947). Her TCM film is Weekend for Three (1941), a comedy co-written with her husband, Alan Campbell, from a story by Budd Schulberg. The plot concerns a married couple (Dennis O'Keefe and Jane Wyatt) forced to deal with a boorish houseguest (Phillip Reed).
by Roger Fristoe