And then there were eight.
The field has been cut in half, some of history’s finest boozers have fallen to the wayside like so many winos, and a few long shots have heroically double-shotted their way into the quarter finals. Last month we witnessed William Faulkner strike out Babe Ruth with his corn liquor fastball, while Humphrey Bogart cruelly ousted fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin.
This month we pit dark horse Dorothy Parker against booze juggernaut Ernest Hemingway, and feature a monolithic clash between hooch titans Jackie Gleason and W.C. Fields.
Table Side Announcers: Howard Cosell and Sir Laurence Olivier
Ref: Bill “The Fox” Foster
“Who’s Your Papa?”
“The Algonquin Assassin”
(Odds: 8 to 1 in favor of Hemingway)
Tale of the Tab
No one was shocked when Ernest crushed his first opponent, Edgar Allen Poe. The phrase “unstoppable steamroller” pops up a lot when his name is mentioned, and unless someone mounts a truly heroic effort, Hemingway will continue to steamroll right into the finals.
The tournament wags have been buzzing since Parker dispatched an overconfident Orson Welles in the first round. Though weighing in at a slight 120 pounds, she possesses a disorientating wit and keen eye for weakness. If her opponent has a soft spot, she will find and attack it without mercy.
The Build Up
Howard Cosell: This is interesting: Hemingway has eschewed the older incarnation that allowed him to lay Poe so low and has shown up as a dashing 22 year old. Perhaps he intends to charm his way past the lady.
Laurence Olivier: I’m as surprised as you are, Howard. The fifty-year-old, much heavier, much more experienced version is practically invincable, yet he has given up those advantages for a more attractive facade. Is it vanity that spurred his decision, or are his motives more devious?
HC: I don’t know, but I do know a groan went up among the bettors when he showed up. They seem to think it was a poor decision. Let’s see how it works out for him.
LO: Yes, let’s.
(Parker wins the coin toss.)
Parker orders Beefeater Gin martinis
LO: Parker comes out with her tried and true gin jab. They clink glasses and Hem turns on a boyish smile. I do believe he is attempting to charm the lady.
HC: They casually sip and exchange pleasantries. Hem may be onto something, when it comes to attractive men, Parker is known as pushover.
Hemingway orders Gordon’s Gin and tonics with a splash of bitters
HC: No surprises from Hem, either. These two have drank together before, in New York, and I don’t think they’re going to need to feel each other out.
LO: I sit here wondering what manner of trick Parker is going to pull. She cannot attack his palette, as she did so effectively with Welles, and she surely cannot outdrink him. I just had a rather odd thought.
HC: So did I. Bitters, isn’t that thought to have aphrodisiac qualities?
LO: We are of like minds. Then again, he did enjoy bitters in many of his cocktails. Perhaps we’re reading too much into it. They drink these a bit faster and continue their polite conversation.
Parker orders Beefeater Gin martinis
HC: I’m at a loss. Parker should be playing every wild card in her deck, it’s her only chance.
LO: Instead she remains conservative in her choice of drink. If you recall, Poe was somewhat successful with his “shotgun attack” on Hemingway’s psyche.
HC: I get the feeling if the older Hemingway was sitting across the table from her, she would have picked up where Poe left off. Her corner was very excited when the younger Ernest showed up, but they’re frowning now.
LO: Parker seemed very excited too, but for apparently different reasons.
HC: I agree. Instead of attacking his psyche, she’s assaulting his jokes with girlish giggles.
Hemingway orders shots of Fernet-Branca.
LO: Our suspicions are confirmed!
HC: I would say. Fernet Branca has a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac. His game is plain now.
LO: He raises his glass, his eyes twinkling, and says, “Here’s to a night of new experiences.”
HC: They clink glasses and down them and did that charming sonuvabitch just proposition the lady?
LO: It sounded like a proposition to me. And by her girlish smile, I think she bought it. Amazing!
Rounds Five Through Ten
Parker orders three rounds of Beefeater martinis, Hemingway orders three rounds of Fernet-Branca.
HC: They’re having a swell time.
LO: You’d think they were drinking brandy on a romantic picnic. She is positively glowing with amour.
HC: Hemingway is glowing a little himself. This younger Ernest seems a tad drunk where the older Ernest would have just started warming up. Hem winks at her slyly and says, “I believe you once said that after four martinis you’re under the host. Well, you’ve had five.”
LO: They raise their glasses and this time it’s Parker who offers a toast: “By the time you swear you’re his, shivering and sighing, And he vows his passion is infinite, undying; Lady, make a note of this: one of you is lying.”
HC: Good God! Suddenly our giggling teenager has transformed into a hard-hearted harpy! Hemingway is shocked!
LO: Examine her countenance! Pathos has assassinated pleasure!
HC: I believe she is about to spring a trap.
LO: Parker slings her Fernet toward her liver then brings the glass down with a resounding clunk! Hemingway stares at her for an instant, then sinks his. He sets it down quietly. His romantic house of cards has collapsed!
Parker orders double shots of Cynar Liqueur
LO: A bitter pill indeed, Cynar. Dorothy wraps her hand around her glass and stares at it morosely, unwilling to meet her opponent’s eyes. Hemingway leans back in his chair and gazes at her, his face inscrutable.
HC: Now I’m wondering this: was this a premeditated trap, or did Hemingway’s “under the host” comment sour her disposition?
LO: I would say neither, Howard. What we are witnessing is an encapsulation of Parker’s entire love life. It’s said she subconsciously sabotaged every relationship she was ever in.
HC: Parker murmurs, “They sicken of the calm who know the storm,” and breaks the calm by suddenly snatching up her double and downing it.
LO: Taking his time, Hemingway leans forward and drinks his slowly, finishing on the eight count.
Hemingway orders Isle of Skye Scotch on the rocks
LO: A mellow, melancholy choice. The picnic has turned into a wake and a pall has fallen over the pair. Hemingway appears nearly as depressed as Parker.
HC: He should be. He gambled one hell of a lot on charming his way to the finish line, and now he finds himself trapped in an inferior machine.
LO: Parker’s corner seems to think so too. They know her moods, when she’s under the black cloud she can drink all night. Stripped of facades and stratagems, it’s anybody’s game now.
Parker orders absinthe cockails
LO: Don’t know what she’s after here–Hemingway can drink those all day.
HC: She seems to be in her own world, she’s looking right through him.
LO: She seems rather misty. A darkness has settled in. If she indeed has sickened of the calm, the high-proof absinthe will certainly hasten the storm.
Hemingway orders banana daiquiris
HC: With umbrellas in them! “To shield us from the storm,” Hemingway tells her.
LO: He’s obviously attempting to brighten the mood.
HC: Parker eyes the the gaily appointed cocktail and laughs darkly. “Only you would invite a clown to a funeral,” she says, having a taste.
LO: And Hem responds, “Guns aren’t lawful; nooses give; gas smells awful, so you might as well live.” I do believe that’s one of Dorothy’s quotes.
HC: They clink and drink, both smiling a little. And, as expected, Parker’s corner grimaces.
Parker orders Blue Hawaiis
LO: Good heavens! With all the foliage in that glass, Hemingway will think he’s back in the jungles of Africa.
HC: He seems happy to be there. Parker’s mood has taken a 360 degree turn. She is giggling again and —
LO: Hemingway sinks his Hawaii, fishes out the large piece of pineapple, puts it in his mouth and says, “Guess who I am?”
HC: Laughing, Parker says, “Let me guess — you’re the poet Wallace Stevens after you knocked his teeth out!”
LO: “No,” he says. “I’m Ernest Hemingway with a pineapple in his mouth.”
HC: Parker laughs uproariously. She stands up and pounds on the table, quaking with laughter, and —
LO: The referee counts seven! Eight!
HC: She suddenly snaps out of her reverie and stares at a grinning Hemingway. “You tricky son of a bitch!” she says.
LO: — and ten! She’s been counted out!
HC: Hemingway grins wider and Parker starts laughing again.
LO: That’s as pleasant an ending as we could have expected.
HC: She’s taking it extremely well. Hemingway tilts his head, and she comes around the table and takes his extended arm. And off they go.
Hemingway wins by TPO.
Post Fight Interview:
Hemingway: “We’re going back to her hotel to finish up the match. If she’s under the host at four, who knows what she’s capable of after ten?”
Parker: “I hope that’s not the only trick he knows.”
(Odds: Dead Even)
Tale of the Tab
Jackie is akin to a beer truck driven by a hyperactive child: while he possesses an immense amount of drinking power, his steering can be extremely erratic. If he can stay on course, he is very nearly unbeatable.
Fields is the full package. He can wear down his opponents with his fabled marathon drinking ability, or he can score a quick knockout with a flurry of double rums, as evidenced in his brutal four-round demolition of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Build Up
LO: Do you notice how hushed the room is? The audience appears to be in complete awe. The tension is palpable.
HC: It’s like watching two locomotives facing each other on the same track, both getting up to steam. Both can booze until the sun comes up, then order a gallon of whiskey for breakfast. On the other hand, they’re both supreme tricksters, and I’m sure they each brought a full bag.
LO: Jackie’s clowning around nearly cost him the match against Byron, but that was because he didn’t take the nobleman seriously. Certainly he has to take Fields seriously.
HC: He’d better. Fields is as crafty as the Great One and he’s likely to turn any ruse right back on him.
(Gleason wins the coin toss.)
Gleason orders Stoli screwdrivers
HC: And so it begins. Nothing tricky about that drink.
LO: Gleason showed up hungover for his last match. He certainly seems bushy-tailed today.
HC: He knows who he’s up against. Gleason drains his cocktail, Fields follows on the five count.
Fields orders Rosso de Torgiano Wine
HC: “A wonderful drink, wine,” Fields says, examining his glass. “Did you ever hear of an Italian grape crusher with athlete’s foot?”
LO: Jackie has a taste and retorts, “Yes, and apparently he’s employed by this winery.” Jackie tips his down and Fields follows suit.
Gleason orders double well scotches, neat
LO: This time Jackie comes out of his corner swinging.
HC: But it’s like beating on a brick wall.
LO: “Mmmmmmm boy!” Gleason exclaims, knocking the awful stuff back. He bugs his eyes with mock horror and gasps, “Mmmmm, that’s good booze!”
HC: “Only an outright dipsomaniac would savor such a drink,” Fields says, downing his. “Let’s have another.”
Fields orders double well scotches, neat
HC: If Jackie is intimidated by Field’s legendary prowess, he isn’t letting on.
LO: So far Gleason certainly is dictating the pace of the contest, and Fields seems content to follow his lead. One gets the feeling Fields is laying in the weeds, waiting for Gleason to start goofing around.
HC: Once again, Jackie downs his first. Fields imitates.
Gleason orders double Glenfiddich Scotches on the rocks
HC: Gleason says, “Hey, Rudolph, how’d that gig with Santa go? Get through the storm okay?”
LO: Fields rubs his famous red nose and says, “You got your new dolly, didn’t you?”
HC: “With that honker Santa must’ve thought he was delivering presents on the sun,” Jackie fires back.
LO: “Drink up, kid, you bother me,” Fields says, downing his.
HC: Gleason knocks his back, grinning like a shark. He’s starting to get under Fields’ skin and he knows it.
Fields orders double Bacardi Rums, neat
HC: Fields comes out strong, bringing his famous double-rum flurry to bear. It was only a matter of time.
LO: I believe he is getting impatient with Gleason. Jackie’s kidding seems to have lured him out of the weeds.
HC: After a few flurries, Gleason may wish he left him there. Both men, pinkies extended, knock them back.
LO: “Excelsior!” Fields exclaims.
HC: “Ambulance!” Jackie clowns, grabbing his heart.
Gleason orders triple Glen Moray Scotches, neat
HC: “I see your double and raise you a triple,” Jackie trumpets.
LO: “Are we hooching here or playing hop-scotch?” Fields says in reference to Jackie’s shifting preference of scotch.
HC: “If you don’t like the tune that’s playing,” Jackie retorts, “Try tipping the band.”
LO: “Here,” Fields says, tossing Jackie a nickel. “Play ‘Far, Far Away.’ In fact, the farther the better.”
HC: “How peat it is!” Gleason says, laying back his single-malt. Scowling, Fields follows.
Rounds Eight Through Fifteen
Fields orders four double Bacardi Rums, neat, Gleason orders four double J&B Scotches, neat
HC: “One of these rounds, Fields,” Gleason shouts. “Bang! Zoom! Right under the table!”
LO: “Are you still here?” Fields replies. “I thought you left with the band.”
HC: Gleason appears to be at the top of his game. He’s weathered Fields’ rum assault and responded with a few flurries of his own.
LO: How about a little traveling music?” Gleason says and takes out, yes, it’s a kazoo. He starts to play. Some sort of Dixieland tune.
HC: Fields promptly slams his double scotch and settles back and Jackie — what the hell?
LO: He sucks down his J&B with the kazoo! As if it were a straw! Then continues to play!
Fields orders double Wellington Gin and tonics with double limes
LO: Fields fishes the limes from his cocktail and inserts them in his ears! Take that Gleason!
HC: Jackie stops playing and acts hurt. “Did I hoit the poor widdle man’s ears?”
LO: “Didn’t you once play a deaf mute in a movie?”
HC: Jackie smiles and says, “Why, yes, in Gigot, I—”
LO: “Encore!” Fields shouts, cutting Jackie off. Now I believe Jackie’s feelings really are hurt.
Gleason orders triple well tequilas
HC: “Maybe this will knock those limes out of your ears!” Jackie yells.
LO: “What’s that?” Fields says, cupping an ear. “Milk thistle mocking mimes are out for our beers?”
HC: “No!” Jackie shouts back. “I said, ‘This triple shot is going to knock you on your rear!’”
LO: “That’s what I thought you said,” Fields says, taking the limes out. He examines his shot. “What’s this? Cat piss?”
HC: “You’re the kind of poet who shouldn’t know it,” Jackie says, knocking his back.
LO: “Hummina, hummina, hummina,” clowns Gleason.
HC: Fields drops his down the hatch and makes a face. “That’ll kill that tapeworm,” he drawls, then pokes at his stomach. “Nope, he’s still kicking.”
Fields orders triple well tequilas
HC: Well, he certainly turned that one around on Gleason.
LO: Evidently. Jackie’s looking at that tapeworm medicine like it’s a tarantula on his birthday cake. Fields takes the lead now, downing his, and it takes Jackie two tries to finish his.
HC: He’s starting to show his rounds, all right. His lids are getting droopy and he’s beginning to sweat badly. He can’t take much more.
LO: Fields, on the other hand, looks as fresh as the moment he strolled in. Could this be Gleason’s tequila Waterloo?
Gleason orders Guinness Stout
LO: “You’re a betting man, right pal?” Jackie asks Fields.
HC: “I make a wager on occasion,” Fields drawls. “So long as the race is fixed.”
LO: “I hear you’re a pretty fair juggler,” Gleason continues. “I’ll bet you can’t juggle six pool balls for ten seconds. Whoever wins the bet walks away the winner of the bout. A gentleman’s agreement.”
HC: “That’s a bet,” Fields immediately replies and sends his corner man to gather the pool balls.
LO: Great God! Surely Jackie must know Fields is perhaps the greatest juggler of all time! He used to tour the world with his act!
HC: Maybe he thinks Fields is deep enough in his cups to flub it. Both men wear confident smiles, but one of them is dead wrong.
LO: Fields is handed the balls. He stands up, asks for some room, then instructs the ref to keep count. He steadies himself — then begins! All six balls are in the air! Look at that graceful arc! Gleason has badly underestimated his opponent!
HC: “We forgot to shake on it,” Jackie says, extending Fields one hand and downing his drink with the other! What brilliant treachery!
LO: Fields is in a fix! He seems torn between shaking Gleason’s hand, juggling the balls and grabbing his drink.
HC: The ref starts the count. One! Two! Three!
LO: Astonishing! With six balls whirling above him, Fields reaches out, quickly shakes Gleason’s hand then snatches up his pint without dropping a ball! I’ve never seen anything like it!
HC: He’s juggling six balls with one hand and drinking with the other! He’s going for the whole ball of wax. Six! Seven! He’s going to make it!
LO: A ball breaks loose from the arc! Fields tosses his half finished pint in the air — I can’t believe this — snatches up the errant ball and puts it back on course! Here comes the pint!
HC: He catches the empty pint, catches the free-falling stout with the glass, and tips it to his mouth! Impossible!
LO: There’s too much foam!
HC: And ten! The ref declares Fields out! He was an instant too late!
Gleason wins by TPO.
Post Fight Interview
Gleason: “Gentlemen’s agreements only count if you’re a gentleman. And I ain’t.”
Fields: “How dare that rat employ such a detestable con. He’s obviously trying to horn in on my racket.”