Alexander Humphreys Woollcott (January 19, 1887 – January 23, 1943) was an American drama critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an occasional actor and playwright, and a prominent radio personality.
Alexander Humphreys Woollcott (January 19, 1887 – January 23, 1943) was an American the stage critic and affix for The New Yorker magazine, a devotee of the Algonquin Round Table, an occasional actor and playwright, and a prominent radio personality.
Woollcott was the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside, the main atmosphere in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, and for the far away less likable air Waldo Lydecker in the film Laura (1944). Woollcott was convinced he was the inspiration for his buddy Rex Stout’s brilliant, eccentric detective Nero Wolfe, an idea that Stout denied.
Alexander Woollcott was born in an 85-room house, a huge ramshackle building in Colts Neck Township, New Jersey. Known as “the North American Phalanx”, it had later than been a commune where many social experiments were carried upon in the mid-19th century, some more rich than others. When the Phalanx fell apart after a blaze in 1854, it was taken over by the Bucklin family, Woollcott’s maternal grandparents. Woollcott spent large portions of his childhood there in the course of his extended family. His daddy was a ne’er-do-well Cockney who drifted through various jobs, sometimes spending long periods away from his wife and children. Poverty was always close at hand. The Bucklins and Woollcotts were greedy readers, giving youthful Aleck (his nickname) a lifelong love of literature, especially the works of Charles Dickens. He next resided afterward his relations in Philadelphia, where he attended Central High School (110th Class), where a teacher, Sophie Rosenberger, reportedly “inspired him to theoretical effort” and with whom he “kept in touch whatever her life.”
With the put going on to of a relatives friend, he made his quirk through college, graduating from Hamilton College, New York, in 1909. Despite a rather destitute reputation (his nickname was “Putrid”), he founded a performing arts group, edited the student bookish magazine, and was all the rage by a fraternity (Theta Delta Chi).
Reportedly, in his early twenties he approved the mumps, which left him mostly, if not completely, impotent. He never married or had children, although he had some notable female friends, including Dorothy Parker and Neysa McMein, to whom he reportedly proposed the hours of daylight after she had just wed her other husband, Jack Baragwanath. Woollcott taking into account told McMein that “I’m thinking of writing the explanation of our enthusiasm together. The title is already settled.” McMein: “What is it?” Woollcott: “Under Separate Cover.”)
Woollcott joined the staff of The New York Times as a cub reporter in 1909. In 1914, he was named substitute critic and held the herald until 1922, with a break for encouragement during World War I. In April 1917, the daylight after lawsuit was declared, Woollcott volunteered as a private in the medical corps. Posted overseas, Woollcott was a sergeant following the shrewdness section of the American Expeditionary Forces chosen him and a half-dozen extra newspaper men to create the Stars and Stripes, an certified newspaper to foster troop morale. As chief reporter for the Stars and Stripes, Woollcott was a enthusiast of the team that formed its editorial board. These included Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine; Cyrus Baldridge, multifaceted illustrator, author and writer; and the later columnist and radio personality, Franklin P. Adams. Going beyond easy propaganda, Woollcott and his colleagues reported the horrors of the Great War from the lessening of view of the common soldier. After the lawsuit he returned to The New York Times, then transferred to the New York Herald in 1922 and to The World in 1923. He remained there until 1928.
One of New York’s most prolific performing critics, he was banned for a time from reviewing certain Broadway theater shows due to his florid and often acerbic prose. He sued the Shubert theater management for violation of the New York Civil Rights Act, but lost in the state’s highest court in 1916 on the grounds that unaided discrimination upon the basis of race, creed or color was unlawful. From 1929 to 1934, he wrote a column called “Shouts and Murmurs” for The New Yorker. His book, While Rome Burns, published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1934, was named twenty years innovative by critic Vincent Starrett as one of the 52 “Best Loved Books of the Twentieth Century”. He was interested in crime writing, promoting the act out of US and British inscrutability authors in his newspaper articles and upon the radio as capably as writing on true crime, and became in force in the proceedings of Stanford University Press employee David Lamson, who was accused of murdering his wife (prosecutors eventually dropped the case).
Woollcott’s review of the Marx Brothers’ Broadway debut, I’ll Say She Is, helped the group’s career inflate from mere triumph to superstardom and started a lifelong friendship following Harpo Marx. Harpo’s two adopted sons, Alexander Marx and William (Bill) Woollcott Marx, were named after Woollcott and his brother, Billy Woollcott.