Alexander Woollcott : biography
Alexander Humphreys Woollcott (January 19, 1887 – January 23, 1943) was an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine and a member of the Algonquin Round Table.
He was the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside, the main character in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart,Oscar Levant, The Unimportance of Being Oscar, Pocket Books 1969 (reprint of G.P. Putnam 1968), p. 81. ISBN 0-671-77104-3. and for the far less likable character Waldo Lydecker in the 1944 film Laura (1944). He was convinced he was the inspiration for Rex Stout's brilliant detective Nero Wolfe, but Stout, although he was friendly to Woollcott, said there was nothing to that idea.McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977, ISBN 0-316-55340-9 page 247. "In September 1935 Woollcott phoned Rex and invited him to dinner at the Lambs' Club. Until then the two men had never met. Woollcott wanted to meet Rex because he had just read The League of Frightened Men and was convinced the character of Wolfe was modeled on himself." Woollcott refused to accept Stout's denials, and as their friendship grew he settled into the legend.
Woollcott was portrayed by the actor Earl Montgomery in the 1962 film Act One, by the actor Jock Livingston in the 1968 musical film Star!, and by the actor Tom McGowan in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Actors who played Woollcott in films, at Internet Movie Data Base
He was one of the most quoted men of his generation. Among Woollcott's classics is his description of the Los Angeles area as "Seven suburbs in search of a city" — a quip often attributed to his friend Dorothy Parker. Describing The New Yorker editor Harold Ross, he said: "He looks like a dishonest Abe Lincoln." He claimed the Brandy Alexander cocktail was named for him.
Woollcott was renowned for his savage tongue. He dismissed a notable wit and pianist: "There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can't fix." He greeted friends: "Hello, Repulsive." When a waiter asked him to repeat his order, he demanded "muffins filled with pus."
His judgments were frequently eccentric. Dorothy Parker once said: "I remember hearing Woollcott say reading Proust is like lying in someone else's dirty bath water. And then he'd go into ecstasy about something called, Valiant Is the Word for Carrie, and I knew I had enough of the Round Table." http://www.dorothyparker.com/nytobit.html.
Wolcott Gibbs, who often edited Woollcott's work at The New Yorker, was quoted in James Thurber's The Years with Ross on Woollcott's writing:
- "Shouts and Murmurs" was about the strangest copy I ever edited. You could take every other sentence out without changing the sense a particle. Whole department [sic], in fact, often had no more substance than a "Talk [of the Town]" anecdote. I guess he was one of the most dreadful writers who ever existed.
After being kicked out of the apartment he shared with The New Yorker founders Harold Ross and his wife Jane Grant, Woollcott moved first into the Hotel des Artistes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, then to an apartment at the far end of East 52nd Street. The members of the Algonquin Round Table had a debate as to what to call his new home. Franklin P. Adams suggested that he name it after the Indian word "Ocowoica", meaning "The-Little-Apartment-On-The-East-River-That-It-Is-Difficult-To-Find-A-Taxicab-Near". But Dorothy Parker came up with the definitive name: Wit's End.
Woollcott yearned to be as creative as the people with whom he surrounded himself. Among many other endeavors, he tried his hand at acting and co-wrote two Broadway shows with playwright George S. Kaufman, while appearing in two others. He also starred as Sheridan Whiteside, for whom he was the inspiration, in the traveling production of The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1940. He also appeared in several cameos in films in the late 1930s and 1940s. He was caricatured twice in Warner Brothers cartoons in 1937: as "Owl Kott" in The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos, and as the town crier in Have You Got Any Castles?, playing almost identical roles in each.
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