Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Winners of the Devastating Riposte Contest

They are Jim Leahy, exec of the Republican Assembly of Illinois and Bill Pascoe, conservative political consultant. Rehashing the scene: In the House of Commons one day, Gladstone shouted to Disraeli, “Sir, you will die either by hanging or from a loathsome social disease.”

To which Disraeli replied: “That depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

Now the next devastating reply quiz. Dorothy Parker, the brilliant New Yorker writer, was hired by the magazine when she was only 23. A mannish person, she was not exactly the most stunning of lookers, but even at that tender age she was honing a rapier-sharp wit. Robert Benchley, her superior at the magazine, didn’t know that when he first met her. He decided to take her as his guest to a luncheon meeting at the Algonquin Hotel. The Algonquin Round Table was composed of a group of bright intellects: Oscar Levant; Franklin P. Adams, who was the ranking humor columnist of the Herald-Tribune; Benchley and Walter Kiernan of the Times—but it was presided over by Alexander Woolcott, legendary wit, playright, critic and all-round genius (about whom the play “The Man Who Came to Dinner” was written). Needless to say the group, which met in the 1920s was composed of male chauvinists when Parker became the first woman to attend.

Before Benchley took Parker to the Algonquin, he prepped her: “Dorothy, Alexander Woolcott makes a habit of insulting every new guest. He insulted me, Kiernan, Adams and Levant. He is so brilliant an insulter that no one can effectively respond to his insult. My advice to you is this: when he meets you and insults you, just take it. If you try to top him, he will then counter with such brilliance that you’ll fall flat on your face.”

She nodded. When they approached the Roundtable, the Great Man arose, extended his hand and said, “My dear Miss Parker, you look almost like a man!”

Her devastating reply so sorely wounded him that she was immediately accepted as a full member. What was her reply?

1 comment:

  1. The reply was, "So do you."

    However, it is my understanding that this particular Algonquin Roundtable exchange was actually between Edna Ferber and Noel Coward.