The Royalton’s Special Tea Blend
Orson Welles was fond of telling the following story about drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) — a story which is repeated in the recently published My Lunches with Orson, Peter Biskind (ed.). [via the Legends & Rumors Blog]
George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan
Orson Welles: Let me tell you a story about George Jean Nathan, America's greatest drama critic. George Jean Nathan was the tightest man who ever lived, even tighter than Charles Chaplin. And he lived for forty years in the Hotel Royalton, which is across from the Algonquin. […] He never tipped anybody in the Royalton, not even when they brought the breakfast, and not at Christmastime. After about ten years of never getting tipped, the room-service waiter peed slightly in his tea. Everybody in New York knew it but him. The waiters hurried across the street and told the waiters at the Algonquin, who were waiting to see when it would finally dawn on him what he was drinking! And as the years went by, there got to be more and more urine and less and less tea. And it was a great pleasure for us in the theater to look at a leading critic and know that he was full of piss. And I, with my own ears, heard him at the 21 [Club] complaining to a waiter, saying, "Why can't I get tea here as good as it is at The Royalton?" That's when I fell on the floor, you know.
Of course, it's impossible to verify a story like this, and I wouldn't put it past Welles to have made it up. However, a 1962 article by Charles Angoff in The Atlantic did report that Nathan switched from tea to coffee toward the end of his life, supposedly for health reasons, but maybe because he had finally realized what was in the tea!
A few months before he died, I had tea with Nathan at the Algonquin; he was (as far as I knew him) more a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, though toward the end of his life he took to frequent coffee drinking on the ground that his doctor had told him that coffee was better for the circulation than was tea.
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