Now that everyone’s weighed in with the story of the Algonquin Hotel and its famous table of the 1920s, allow me to simultaneously hijack this thread and pee in the metaphorical Cheerios.
The best-known lunchers of the time included Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams, Heywood Broun, Robert Sherwood, and Herbert Bayard Swope. Not exactly names that come tripping off the tongue in 1999.
Harpo Marx and (arguably) Robert Benchley we know today because of their later success in Hollywood. (Only one book of Benchley’s comic essays in currently in print, and it’s a Dover book.) George S. Kaufman’s plays are still being performed, I guess, and Dorothy Parker has that PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER still available. But the biggest names (at that time) were newspaper essayists, whose log-rolling and back-scratching was embarrassing even in their heyday.
I would venture the opinion that these guys were and are decidedly MINOR players in the Fields of Literature. Footnotes, if they’re lucky. Underachievers. 1920s versions of Slackers.
The Americans of the 1920s who had the real writing talent and energy got the hell out to Paris (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Virgil Thompson), or stayed home in Indiana or Vermont (Sinclair Lewis, Thedore Dreiser), well away from the temptation of the NYC procrastinators, the speakeasies, the bright lights of Broadway.
And wrote, and published, books. For which they are remembered today.