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At the table’s other end Charlotte Phillips and Mordechai Shinefield, writers and students at CUNY and Yeshiva University, respectively, stood reciting poetry, both Parker’s and their own, to an increasingly inebriated crowd.
Shinefield, an editor at The Commentator, developed a love for Parker in high school after smuggling an anthology of her writing into the “very anti-literature” religious boarding school he attended. When, for a birthday present, a friend gave him the Parker biography You Might As Well Live, he learned that Parker had gone to Catholic school in Morristown, NJ — the same town where he was currently at school. In fact, Parker’s school had since been sold to an area Yeshiva, which had turned it into a boarding school for religious men — the very one where Shinefield was studying.
“That sealed the obsession-cum-fascination,” he said. “I later wrote a short story about the experience called Dorothy Parker’s Greatest Wit, Reincarnation as a Yeshiva Boy.”
In a laudable bit of ecumenism, Fitzpatrick has tried to plan events with other groups of enthusiasts around town, though, it must be admitted, with only middling success. He was in touch with the Fitzgerald Society, but, he said, “they pretty much blew me off.”
“I tried to work out something with the Art Deco Society, but their president pretty much blew me off, too. I phoned and wrote a letter and nothing happened. If someone contacts me, I always get back to them.”
The one group Fitzpatrick has made common cause with is the Robert Benchley Society.
“He and Parker were best friends, and we mix very well with them,” he said. Benchley aside, though, he’s had trouble finding other crews sympathetic to the Parker agenda.
“There don’t appear to be other literary groups like ours, which is about having fun while promoting the writer, not promoting your academic career on the back of the writer. I’d love to have a joint party with some other groups. It wouldn’t even have to be a literary group. Anyone except Civil War reenactors.”
The evening ended with a tour as Fitzpatrick took what remained of the table through the hotel lobby, pointing out the highlights. Pausing beneath a portrait of the Round Table’s regulars in the back of the lounge, he ticked off the famous names that once comprised the “Vicious Circle.”
“That’s Harold Ross, there’s George Kaufman, that’s Robert Benchley, there’s Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker…”
We stood around Fitzpatrick, taking in the painting. Someone observed that Ross looked frighteningly like Ted Danson. There was a bit of talk about James Thurber and The New Yorker. Then bags were grabbed and tabs were settled and hands were shook all around. And the party left the hotel’s dark, quiet confines and dispersed into the humid June night — everyone off to their subway or after a taxi or down the block towards home. Or, in at least one confirmed case, on in search of a few more rounds.
The hotel keeps postcards of the Round Table portrait under which the party had come to a close, and I grabbed one on my way out to take home. Some 80 years after the fact, this batch of Algonquins still represents a certain ideal version of the writing life in New York. Sharing a drink with their ghosts had been the literary equivalent of sneaking onto Yankee Stadium for a few swings during batting practice or onstage at the Met to warble an off-key note or two. None of us were going to be mistaken for the real thing, but there was a definite fun to it all the same.