On January 11th, 1920, Dorothy Parker—then the theater critic at Vanity Fair—met her editor, Frank Crowninshield, at the tea room of the Plaza Hotel. Crowninshield (what a name) ordered a bouquet of roses to the table, and proceeded to tell Parker that he’d been in touch with the magazine’s old theater critic, P.G. Wodehouse, who wanted his job back. She was fired, but he hoped she would freelance in the future. In response, Parker, writes Jonathan Goldman at The Public Domain Review, “promptly ordered the most expensive dessert on the menu and left.”
Parker might not have been exactly surprised by her dismissal—which definitely did not have anything to do with P.G. Wodehouse. Now famous for her caustic wit and willingness to dole out a good pan, Parker had always toed the line of what was considered acceptable to print, and she had finally gone too far. In her latest column, she had written that David Belasco’s The Son-Daughter was “almost exactly” the same as his previous play, East Is West, and Belasco had threatened publisher Condé Nast with a libel suit. A little further down, reviewing Somerset Maugham’s Caesar’s Wife, she’d compared actress Billie Burke to the vaudeville performer Eva Tanguay—which irritated Burke’s producer and husband Florenz Ziegfeld, who happened to be a big advertiser in Vanity Fair. Both Belasco and Ziegfeld complained to Condé Nast (we’re talking about the actual human named Condé Nast here), who sent Crowninshield to the Plaza with the axe.
The next morning, Parker’s friend and coworker Peter Benchley quit in protest of Parker’s firing, and the two of them went for drinks at—you guessed it—the Algonquin, which they had recently begun frequenting with a few of their friends. “After repeated recountings, the Round Table wits, who had long heard the complaints about Nast and Crowninshield, sprang into action,” writes Goldman. “Alexander Woollcott persuaded his editors at the New York Times that the paper should cover the story . . . A few days later, another writer from the table, Frank Adams, publicly shamed Vanity Fair: he described the kerfuffle in his column “The Conning Tower” running in the New-York Tribune. The incident helped make the Algonquin Round Table a thing.”
Besides, after her dismissal, Parker never had a full time job again—she made it as a freelancer, under her own steam. Talk about silver linings!