If I were to ask you where The Oak Room was…you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me. Or, rather, if I asked many of the people I deal with day to day where The Oak room used to be…they still wouldn’t be able to tell me.
And I think that’s a damn bloody disgrace. Please, head on back to your English teacher and tell him/her that they’ve done you a great disservice. In fact, I’m going to tell BOTH nephews to go say exactly that to Mister Donald Frisk of Odessa, New York. You sir, while teaching me most everything else I know, missed one very important thing…
The Oak Room, The Round Table, The Vicious Circle, The Algonquin Hotel, early 1920s- mid 1930s.
The Oak Room: a dining room in
The Algonquin Hotel: wherein there was a
(The) Round Table: at which routinely sat
The Vicious Circle: also known as many authors, playwrights, poets, journalists, actors and theatrical masters of the 1920s.
Lemme know if any of these names ring-a-ding a brain bell: Franklin Adams, Harpo Marx, Frank Case, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Tallulah Bankhead, Harold Ross, Ruth Hale, George Kaufman, Peggy Wood, and on, and on, and on…
The Vicious Circle began as a boomtime joke and became an early twenty-first century monu-moment to modern educated authors, playwrights, and entertainers. The hotel itself has become a historical landmark in Manhattan simply because of the presence of these artists. Sure, they weren’t the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds of their era… But am I? Are you? No… we’re just people who dabble in art and like getting together with our friends to tell stories and jokes and poetry and prose.
Their respected contemporary, journalist H.L. Mencken, once described them by saying that “their ideals were those of a vaudeville actor, one who is extremely ‘in the know’ and inordinately trashy.”
Um. SIGN. ME. UP.
Oh, my friends, how else do I describe them? Okay…hmmm. Let me put it in terms that most of you can quickly and easily understand: the Starbuck’s in the local Barnes & Noble? The authors that used to be painted on the walls? That’s an artistic homage to the Algonquin Round Table. Got it? Good.
Now… Now the owners of the hotel are shutting down the room that started as a salon and became a cabaret. The table is no longer there and the want of money, and more money, and even more money, has put a burned-out bullet-hole in the paper history of artistic expression in America.
Admittedly, I do not (yet) have the knowledge or experience to speak more on the subject. So, I will leave it to Wolfgang Nebmaier, the gracious surviving husband of Greta Keller (the woman who navigated the opening of The Oak Room) to explain why, as a nation, we shouldn’t be closing up and killing off the old avenues of our rich literary and theatrical history…
“The main reason to sign this [petition] and address the issue is the fact that what made this country (the US) great isn’t corporate bottom lines but the courage and authenticity to get up and do something – without a safety net.
Authenticity, courage, heart, that is what cabaret means, any of it, be it the vaudeville revues or the European caustic political cabaret or the true night club live performing artistry. You never know, night after night.
Another reason for me to sign this petition is because the Oak Room isn’t in Juno, Alaska but in New York City. Cabaret is theatre, and theatre is New York City… Let’s put it this way: Without New York, there wouldn’t be a “Chicago” (which I experienced previewing, ironically, in Philadelphia).
Frankly, without New York, there would be no Hollywood(land) either.
And it’s all about the love for an audience that makes a performer go through hell, stage fright, make-up, night after night, not to mention the mere factual troubles, it is love, not a bottom line.”
Mr. Nebmaier makes a grand point, my friends. At one point in early American history New York City was the capital of the entire nation. Toronto and Montreal will both have it out for me when I say that it still IS the home of North American theatre… I must point out that our theatre, as well as our cinematic adventures, more often than not come from books and plays and some of them came from these people. In this place.
This place was a temporary home and safe resting place for the writers you don’t even know that you know… If you even passingly understand modern pop-culture, you’ve heard or seen references to these people without realizing it.
I’m begging you (and, as some of you know, I am a maven of ‘The-Beg-And-Plead’), to sign the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/algonquin-hotel-dont-close-the-oak-room
Now, to be entirely honest, an internet petition really isn’t going to do much… They’ve already labeled the venue as being “CLOSED”. So, no, frantically typing your name in the little boxes just because I asked you to will, probably, not do anything.
But, BE ON RECORD. Publicly declare that you don’t respect money more than art.
Even if it’s only because you think than I’ll think you’re sexier because of it. Because I will, I promise.
Then you can come sit next to me and we’ll make our own inordinately trashy Vicious (Half) Circle, mmmkay?