The Algonquin Wits: Charles MacArthur Writes to Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston

“During a period when Benchley roomed with Charles MacArthur at the Shelton Hotel, MacArthur took a temporary job as a public relations counsel for a mausoleum in New Jersey. As his first promotional campaign, MacArthur convinced the firm that it should establish a ‘Poet’s Corner’ and change its name to Fairview Abbey. Next, he decided that the firm should at least try to obtain the bones of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and inter them in its new Corner. To show his sincere intentions he sent a letter to James Michael Curley, mayor of Boston, saying that Boston had forfeited its right to Longfellow’s bones on the ground that a Longfellow poem—lines from which read, ‘Life is real! Life is earnest!/And the grave is not the goal’—obviously proved that that poet did not wish to be buried in an ordinary grave, but rather in a crypt, or, best of all, in a Poet’s Corner—like the one at Fairview Abbey.’

When Curley sent back a sincere reply to the effect that some mistake must have been at the bottom of this action, and that, at any rate, Longfellow was born in Cambridge, under the present jurisdiction of Mayor Flynn, MacArthur got Benchley to team up with him. The two sat down and made out a series of messages to Curley, including such threats as: ‘THE COUNTRY DEMANDS THE BODY OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW; IF YOU VALUE YOUR JOB YOU WILL FORWARD IT TO ME IMMEDIATELY,’ and ‘COME CLEAN WITH THAT BODY’, and ‘ROLL DEM BONES.’ Curley made serious attempts at getting warrants for their arrests in New Jersey.”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

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