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After Work: Saturday Night At The Bathtub Gin Ball

…Was the burlesque show naughty? Only a little. The performers stripped down to what would these day be modest beach attire but they bumped and twirled away with over-the-top come hither looks and giggles….

The bumps and twirls were, amazingly, in honour of one of America’s finest writers, the acerbic Dorothy Parker, who died in 1967. The Pinchbottom Burlesque was the highlight of the annual Dorothy Parker Bathtub Gin Ball sponsored by the Dorothy Parker Society, of which Dona Gibbs is a member.

To read more of Dona’s sparkling columns click on After Work in the menu on this page.

One recent Saturday night I saw my first (and probably last) burlesque show.

Actually Pinchbottom Burlesque is more of a burlesque of a burlesque. Jonny Porkpie, Nasty Canasta, the White Boom-boom, Ruby Valentine and Little Brooklyn were that night’s stars. They can be seen in monthly themed shows in lower Manhattan—more avant-garde arty spaces than down and dirty dives.

On this particular Saturday they were performing at the restaurant in the 1913 Woolworth Building, once the tallest building in the world.

Was there a fan dance? Absolutely. Was there strip tease? Yes. What about a male stripper? Of course. Was there comedy? Yes, see all of the above.

Was it naughty? Only a little. The performers stripped down to what would these day be modest beach attire but they bumped and twirled away with over-the-top come hither looks and giggles.

The Pinchbottom Burlesque was the highlight of the annual Dorothy Parker Bathtub Gin Ball sponsored by the Dorothy Parker Society.

Dorothy would have loved the show.

Dorothy Parker, born in 1893 and died in 1967, was an American author known for her often acerbic poetry and poignant short stories.” Big Blonde” was one of her most notable. While her literary output epitomizes the Jazz Age, she is most famous as a leading wit among the wits that gathered daily at the Algonquin Hotel.

The Dorothy Parker Society is far from academic as you might have guessed. Its aims according to its website are “to promote the work of Dorothy Parker, to introduce new readers to Dorothy Parker, to expand the fan base of Dorothy Parker” and here’s the most important of the aims: “To have as much fun as possible.”

The group celebrates with readings and get togethers. They mark Dorothy Parker’s birthday (August 22) and anniversary of her death (June 7) by raising a glass or three at the Algonquin Hotel. There are no meetings; there are parties.

The big event of the year is the fall Parkerfest, a three-day extravaganza with cocktails, lunches, cocktails, walks, cocktails, shows and readings, cocktails and the Bathtub Gin Ball. People come to the event from all over—even Sweden where it seems there are more Parker fans than might be imagined. Members bedeck themselves in 1920s finery: men in Borsolinos and sharp suits and women in fringe and feathers.

There are no dues for this loosely knit (read motley) social organization although there are officers. The President and organizer of all sort of Parker related activities is Kevin Fitzpatrick. He’s a mild-mannered unflappable editor in real life, the kind of bespectacled man who possesses the boyish enthusiasm of a man who might be 28 and in the next moment the gravity of a 58-year-old, although I’d guess he’s somewhere in his 30s. He always politely refers to Dorothy Parker, the hell-raising wit, as “Mrs. Parker.”

Kevin has immersed himself in Parker lore. He leads walking tours in New York City to show Parker fans where Dorothy Parker lived and worked, including a rather obscure brownstone in Hell’s Kitchen where the famous magazineThe New Yorker was founded.

These tours are so popular that Kevin was approached by the Roaring Forties Press to write a guidebook. His work, Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, has received stellar reviews and is now in its second printing.

Other literary societies celebrating authors of the 1920s have sometimes joined in Parker Society activities. Robert Benchley Society members have made the trip from Boston. According to Kevin Fitzpatrick, the Benchley people got together and played word games. “How appropriate,” he commented.

The far more serious and academic F. Scott Fitzgerald Society has also been invited to participate, Kevin said, but seemed a little wary of the frivolous hijinks.

No one could ever replace Kevin Fitzpatrick as president. Only Kevin could preside over these goings-on. Only one time has he notably lost control.

Before the closing of the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room Bar, the Society met to commemorate Dorothy’s firing there by Frank Crowinshield, editor of Vanity Fair, a popular American magazine.

Crownie and Dorothy had tea on that bitter cold Sunday but the society members swilled down one expensive cocktail after another. They then wobbled out into the night leaving Kevin holding an enormous bar bill. Kevin chuckles about it ruefully.

Dorothy wouldn’t have laughed. She would have thrown a fit, downed a scotch and then penned a vicious verse.


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