Thoughts Too Short

 

The following question was raised by Marketing/Research guru Josh Jordan on Twitter recently: “What person (celebrity, politician, writer, etc) from pre-Twitter days would’ve been an insanely great follow had they been able to tweet?”

The one name that kept popping up was Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), the acid-tongued lady of the Algonquin Round Table fame. Parker, whose most famous quip was probably “What fresh hell is this?” was once asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence and she replied, “You can lead a ‘horticulture’ but you can’t make her think.”

Of one woman whose sexual appetite was legendary she said, “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.” If that isn’t worthy of modern Twitter I don’t know what is.

Parker’s biggest shortcoming was her politics. She embraced Communism in the 1930s and eventually found herself on the Hollywood studios blacklist. Hollywood has been in love with her ever since.

Other names that I came up with were her Vicious Circle compatriots, Robert Benchley (whose grandson Peter would go on to write Jaws), playwright Charles MacArthur (The Front Page), and Franklin P. Adams (The Conning Tower). I also included radio satirist Fred Allen, sports columnist John Kieran and pianist Oscar Levant.*

Levant will be in the news sometime in the next couple of years when Doris Day, now age 96, passes away. It was he who infamously said, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

I thought maybe Bob Hope would be good at it, and most definitely all of Bob Hope’s writers. (I mean, Tweets are nothing more than really, really small cue cards, right?)

Who would you throw on to the list?

*Levant, Adams and Kieran would form the cornerstone of the classic radio quiz show Information Please for over a decade. Episodes can be found here.

There are 54 comments.

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  1. Judge Mental Member

    I answered this one over in he PIT. Caligula, for the crazy. Ben Franklin, for the escapades. And Churchill, for the pithy.

    • #1
    • October 11, 2018, at 8:40 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. danys Thatcher

    Oscar Wilde.

    • #2
    • October 11, 2018, at 8:42 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Judge Mental: I answered this one over in (t)he PIT.

    I try to stay out of there.

    • #3
    • October 11, 2018, at 8:44 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    danys: Oscar Wilde.

    I thought Stephen Fry was already on Twitter.

    • #4
    • October 11, 2018, at 8:46 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. RightAngles Member

    I loved Robert Benchley, and he’d be on my list. Once when he arrived in Venice, he sent a telegram to David Niven:

    STREETS FULL OF WATER. ADVISE.

    • #5
    • October 11, 2018, at 8:59 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  6. Judge Mental Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I loved Robert Benchley, and he’d be on my list. Once when he arrived in Venice, he sent a telegram to David Niven:

    STREETS FULL OF WATER. ADVISE.

    My favorite ever telegram exchange. And I already picked Churchill, so it’s fair:

    George Bernard Shaw: Two tickets for you at box office for opening night of my new play Pygmalion. Bring a friend, if you have one.

    Churchill: Unable to attend opening night. Will attend second night, if you have one.

    • #6
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:03 PM PDT
    • 22 likes
  7. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    Will Rogers, of course. Also, Abraham Lincoln, for his wit.

    • #7
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Groucho Marx, maybe Harpo?

    • #8
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

     Churchill once told the story of an English diplomat whose mother-in-law passed away. The Foreign Office sent him a telegram: 

    MOTHER-IN-LAW DEAD. PLEASE ADVISE.

    The diplomat replied most undiplomatically:

    EMBALM. CREMATE. BURY. TAKE NO CHANCES.

    • #9
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:11 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  10. Judge Mental Member

    Telegrams are actually a great model for Twitter. Paying by the word, you’re trying to be as concise as possible. Most were far less than 140 characters.

    • #10
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:14 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  11. Keith SF Member

    Ambrose Bierce.

    and, Mark Twain tweeting in real-time about Virginia City & the Comstock Lode would have been pretty entertaining.

    • #11
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:19 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  12. The Reticulator Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Telegrams are actually a great model for Twitter. Paying by the word, you’re trying to be as concise as possible. Most were far less than 140 characters.

    I was hoping this article would have more of this stuff in the comments, but I guess not:

    William Randolph Hearst

    Telegram: You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.

    Tweet: Post pix to ur instagram and Ill take it from there

    Wright Brothers

    Telegram: Successful four flights Thursday morning.

    Tweet: w00t! Successful flight! No pix though, had to turn off phone in the air. 😦

    Bruce Ismay, Officer on the SS Carpathia 

    Telegram: Deeply regret advise your Titanic sunk this morning fifteenth after collision iceberg resulting serious loss life further particulars later. Bruce Ismay.

    Tweet: unsinkable ship sank. #irony

    • #12
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:23 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  13. Keith SF Member

    I’d follow James Thurber if he had a Twitter account. George Orwell too. 

    Stan Freberg. Ken Nordine. 

    Great, I’m going to be up all night thinking about this….

     

    • #13
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:31 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Judge Mental Member

    Edgar Allen Poe. That would be a dark one.

    • #14
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:33 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Reminds me of a joke from the slightly-less-cultured Benny Hill:

    What’s the difference between a vitamin and a hormone?

    You can’t make a vita-min.

    • #15
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:34 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Judge Mental Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    Reminds me of a joke from the slightly-less-cultured Benny Hill:

    What’s the difference between a vitamin and a hormone?

    You can’t make a vita-min.

    He would be a good one to follow though.

    • #16
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. RightAngles Member

    Benjamin Disraeli.

    • #17
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:38 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Judge Mental Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Benjamin Disraeli.

    Milton Berle.

    • #18
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:40 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Kay of MT Member

    EJHill: Parker’s biggest shortcoming was her politics. She embraced Communism in the 1930s and eventually found herself on the Hollywood studios blacklist. Hollywood has been in love with her ever since.

    I didn’t know that. I loved her quips:

    I wish I could drink like a lady, I can have one or two at the most;

    at three I’m under the table, and four I’m under the host.

    • #19
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:42 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  20. Randy Webster Member

    Mae West: Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

    • #20
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:52 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. RightAngles Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mae West: Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

    “I’m pure as the driven slush.”

    • #21
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:54 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. Randy Webster Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mae West: Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

    “I’m pure as the driven slush.”

    Lol. I hadn’t heard that one before, but I’ll remember it.

    • #22
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    I’m one of the few people who know and love Fred Allen. Satire doesn’t wear well throughout the years because the people and the circumstances around the jokes are fleeting. You have to be a historian to appreciate his work.

    He wrote all of his radio shows himself, cranking out 26 episodes a year and almost died doing it because he suffered from hypertension. He is best remembered for his “feud” with Jack Benny, but he should be remembered for his feud with the network vice-presidents. Back then sponsors purchased the time and the ad agencies delivered the programs. If you went over your allotted 29:30 they simply cut you off and went to the next program. Fred’s one big deficiency was being unable to gauge how much laughter his jokes would get and would constantly be cut off. 

    And then he’d roast the network the following week. “NBC has a vice-president in charge of snipping off the ends of programs,” Allen quipped. “When he’s saved up two weeks worth of time they let him take a vacation.” Only America didn’t hear that because the network faded the feed and sent out 35 seconds of dead air. A couple of days later both Bob Hope and Red Skelton added VP jokes to their monologues and they, too, were cut off. For four days this continued on other programs until the network finally threw up its hands in surrender. 

    He wrote two books that are invaluable snapshots of early 20th Century American entertainment and both are available for free download because they have slipped into the public domain. The first, Much Ado About Me, chronicles his days in vaudeville and his experiences in broadcasting are covered in Treadmill to Oblivion.

    • #23
    • October 11, 2018, at 9:58 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  24. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Judge Mental: Milton Berle

    Father of the retweet?

    • #24
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:00 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  25. RightAngles Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I’m one of the few people who know and love Fred Allen. Satire doesn’t wear well throughout the years because the people and the circumstances around the jokes are fleeting. You have to be a historian to appreciate his work.

    He wrote all of his radio shows himself, cranking out 26 episodes a year and almost died doing it because he suffered from hypertension. He is best remembered for his “feud” with Jack Benny, but he should be remembered for his feud with the network vice-presidents. Back then sponsors purchased the time and the ad agencies delivered the programs. If you went over your allotted 29:30 they simply cut you off and went to the next program. Fred’s one big deficiency was being unable to gauge how much laughter his jokes would get and would constantly be cut off.

    And then he’d roast the network the following week. “NBC has a vice-president in charge of snipping off the ends of programs,” Allen quipped. “When he’s saved up two weeks worth of time they let him take a vacation.” Only America didn’t hear that because the network faded the feed and sent out 35 seconds of dead air. A couple of days later both Bob Hope and Red Skelton added VP jokes to their monologues and they, too, were cut off. For four days this continued on other programs until the network finally threw up its hands in surrender.

    He wrote two books that are invaluable snapshots of early 20th Century American entertainment and both are available for free download because they have slipped into the public domain. The first, Much Ado About Me, chronicles his days in vaudeville and his experiences in broadcasting are covered in Treadmill to Oblivion.

    Here is my dad (don’t know why he’s wearing a blindfold) on his live TV show on ABC in probably 1949 or 1950 (when like three people had a TV). He loved Jack Benny and Fred Allen (didn’t know them personally).

    • #25
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:02 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  26. James Lileks Contributor

    Keith SF (View Comment):

    I’d follow James Thurber if he had a Twitter account. George Orwell too. 

    I think Thurber would have tweeted infrequently, mostly at night, drunk, and subtweeted resentful digs at Elliot Nugent.

    Stan Freberg. Ken Nordine. 

    Ken Nordine (Ken Nordine . . . ) would have had two Twitter account (two?) the second repeating (sometimes repeating . . . ) the first one. 

    • #26
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:07 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  27. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    RightAngles: Here is my dad…

    Ok. Should I know of your father? And is that Harry Von Zell with him?

    • #27
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:07 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. RightAngles Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    RightAngles: Here is my dad…

    Ok. Should I know of your father? And is that Harry Von Zell with him?

    It might be von Zell not sure. It does look like him. There’s no reason you should know my dad. The details of the TV show are hazy for me because it started before I was born. Mom said she would take me to the studio with her, and that famous people had held me. They gave him a show that had something to do with live cartooning/sketching. I don’t even know the name of it. He went on to a career in advertising by the mid-50s.

    • #28
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. tigerlily Member

    H L Mencken

    • #29
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:13 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  30. James Lileks Contributor

    EJHill (View Comment):
    I’m one of the few people who know and love Fred Allen. Satire doesn’t wear well throughout the years because the people and the circumstances around the jokes are fleeting. You have to be a historian to appreciate his work.

    Bad radio voice, spotty delivery, absolutely delightful, and ahead of his time. Died walking his dog, I believe.

    The other day I heard a “Duffy’s Tavern” he did, and wondered if he wrote his part. It has an absolutely filthy joke about his clarinet playing. And as far as your remark about satire and context, I wonder if modern audiences wondered why he got such a laugh when he described his occupation as “gasoline salesman.”

    The one name that kept popping up was Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), the acid-tongued lady of the Algonquin Round Table fame. 

    I agree – she would have had a perky Twitter, but if she were around today it would be drearily political, yelling at the choir. Frankly, the Round Table sounds like hell – everyone burdened with the obligations of snark, Dot all brittle and tipsy, Benchley tired of her stocking-foot brushing his shin, Perelman sneering at the lot of them, FPA thinking “Well, I’m the only one of this lot who’s got a deadline today, best be off.”

    • #30
    • October 11, 2018, at 10:19 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
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