Alexander Woollcott

American critic (1887-1943)

Alexander Woollcott (January 19, 1887January 23, 1943) was an American critic and journalist known for his involvement in the Algonquin Round Table and his writings in The New Yorker magazine.

All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening.

Woollcott was distinguished by his tireless wit and flamboyant personality, providing the inspiration for the character of Sheridan Whiteside in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Aleck Woollcott garnered recognition for his contributions to The New Yorker, particularly his work as drama critic, and his column "Shouts and Murmurs". Woollcott additionally hosted a weekly radio show, "The Town Crier", 1929–42.

Quotes edit

  • The two oldest professions in the world — ruined by amateurs.
    • On actors and prostitutes, from his column, as republished in Shouts and Murmurs: Echoes of a Thousand and One First Nights (1922), p. 57.
  • Once in pre-war days, when curiously-bonneted women drivers were familiar sights at the taxi-wheels, I cried out to one in my dismay: "Is there no speed limit in this mad city?"
    "Oh, yes, monsieur," she answered sweetly over her shoulder, "but no one has ever succeeded in reaching it."
    • "The Paris Taxi-Driver Considered as an Artist," in Enchanted Aisles (1924).
  • Well, if I were thus rationed in this article and could have but one adjective for George Gershwin, that adjective would be "ingenuous." Ingenuous at and about his piano. Once an occasional composer named Oscar Levant stood beside that piano while those sure, sinewy, catlike Gershwin fingers beat their brilliant drum-fire—the tumultuous cascade of the "Rhapsody In Blue," the amorous languor of "The Man I Love," the impish glee of "Fascinating Rhythm," the fine, jaunty, dust-spurning scorn of "Strike Up the Band." If the performer was familiar with the work of any other composer, he gave no evidence of it. Levant (who, by the way, makes a fleeting appearance in the new Dashlell Hammett book, under the guise of Levi Oscant) could be heard mutterIng under his breath, "An evening with Gershwin Is a Gershwln evening."
    "I wonder," said our young composer dreamily, "if my music will be played a hundred years from now."
    "It certainly will be," said the bitter Levant,"if you are still around."
  • At 83 Shaw's mind was perhaps not quite as good as it used to be, but it was still better than anyone else's.
  • I've never had the impertinence to be sorry for Helen Keller. I'd as soon be sorry for Niagara Falls. But now as I bring the story up to date, I'm shriveled with shame when I recall that at times in my life — my easy life — I've actually been sorry for myself. You too? We've got our nerve, haven't we?
  • I have no need of your God-damned sympathy. I only wish to be entertained by some of your grosser reminiscences.
    • Letter to Rex O'Malley (1942).
  • [You look like] a dishonest Abe Lincoln.
    • Describing Harold Ross, fellow Round Table member and founder of The New Yorker, as quoted in The American Treasury, 1455-1955 (1955) by Clifton Fadiman, Charles Lincoln Van Doren, p. 461; variants of this quote begin "He looks like..." "He looked like..." etc.
  • Alexander Woollcott: What could be rarer than a Woollcott First Edition?
    Franklin Pierce Adams: A Woollcott second edition.
    • At the Algonquin Round Table, as Woollcott was autographing one of his books and enjoying being the center of attention.

Misattributed edit

  • I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.
    • Reported as a misattribution in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 132.

Quotes about Woolcott edit

  • Dorothy Parker and I were standing on the sidewalk during the intermission of a Shubert opening night when the Alexander Woolcott, his rotund figure draped in an inverness cape, came toward us. I say "us" but I mean "her." Woolcott rarely wasted his minutes on anyone less than a potential celebrity, and not being very potential, I had already been introduced to him for at least the tenth time. "Why don't you two come back to my apartment after the curtain comes down, when this mountain of crap is en route to Kane's warehouse? You can have a drink with Junior while I'm writing the obit, and then perhaps a game of anagrams, if this faylow," meaning me, "I never remember his name, can spell." [...] It was the beginning of an attentive friendship, as I could judge by the number and caliber of clever insults launched in my direction. I became a regular at his Sunday breakfasts where I met the by-liners of the city and its theatrical stars. For Woolcott it was always a command performance. He worked at his friendships, and despaired when any one of his chosen group misinterpreted his abuse. Au fond sentimental as Shirley Temple underneath that biting exterior, he refused to be criticized himself.

External links edit