Many Benchleys—

Feb 28th, 2011 by Nat in Miscellaneous

Al Hirschfeld’s portrait of Robert, Nathaniel, Peter and Nat

Listen to A Complement to “The King’s Speech,” a poetic collaboration between Nat Benchley and Patricia Collinge.

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“Lost” Algonquin Round Table Works Found and Published

-New York: July, 2009: In the 90th anniversary year of the founding of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a new collection of little-known works by some of the group’s most famous members has come to light. Unearthed from private collections, public troves and dark recesses, the works of fiction, poetry, criticism, journalism, humor and silliness sprang from the prolific pens of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun, Ruth Hale, Marc Connelly and several other members and visitors at the renowned literary gathering.

“The Lost Algonquin Round Table” is a rich compendium of the writings which made the group famous, before their japes and bon mots were collected and anthologized. Here, under one cover and behind the droll cover art of New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler, are many of the pieces which brought the members of the famous salon to the public’s attention. Dug out from periodicals and files from the early 20th-Century, these criticisms, parodies, columns, poems, speeches, letters and snippets of journalism offer ample evidence of why the group was so revered.

The group which came to pride itself on being called “The Vicious Wits” first came together at New York’s Algonquin Hotel in 1919, shortly after World War I. The meeting that kicked off “the ten-year lunch” was originally intended as a jab at the wartime boastings of Alexander Woollcott. But they found such mutual affection and such enjoyment in each other’s company that they convened on a regular basis and cohered almost exclusively. Soon, these critics and writers were being written about, as their private tomfoolery garnered public notice. “In today’s celebrity-mad culture, such attention paid to published writers is not unusual,” said co-editor Nat Benchley. “But in 1919 it was a new form of entertainment. For a time, the group was more famous for how they behaved than what they did.

“But the truth of the Algonquin Round Table has always been that they were an immensely talented and productive group of playwrights, authors, poets, critics, journalists and speech writers who just happened to relish each other’s company. Their witticisms have been anthologized for decades, almost to the extent that the original reasons for their fame have been eclipsed.”

To set the record straight, and to offer up some forgotten or never-before-seen evidence of the group’s talents, Co-Editors Nat Benchley and Kevin C. Fitzpatrick have spent years combing through family archives, libraries, public records and secret troves. Not focusing on the humor –but not eschewing it either- they have pulled together a remarkable collection of writings which will highlight the literary skills of the famous quipsters.

“It has been an immense pleasure to collect these pieces for new readers to enjoy,” Fitzpatrick said. “The stories, poems and articles we are presenting capture the essence of the era in which they were written, and are just as interesting today as when they were composed decades ago. It is also an important book for fans of the group that think they know it well, because we have several gems which have never been published before.”

Benchley is the grandson of Round Table member Robert Benchley and has written and performed “Benchley Despite Himself.” Fitzpatrick is the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society and the author of “A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York.”

“The Lost Algonquin Round Table” is available through major book retailers and at iUniverse.com.

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