Waldo Lydecker is primarily an esthete, blessed with an impeccable taste. Every detail underlines his strong sense of beauty: his immaculate dressing, his “lavish” apartment, his art collection, his grooming of Laura. His meticulous, clipped phrasing, his erect bearing relate to his intention of presenting himself in the best possible light. The outrageously vain Waldo is a living work of art, a great showman who enjoys himself immensely at the expense of others.
Dandies are his obvious ancestors, but of a quite different culture – men avid to raise scandals, which Waldo would find vulgar. We have to look at more recent times and places to make a valid comparison. Let’s remember the famous group of New York wits and snobs who gathered weekly in the Algonquin Hotel to exchange bon mots, barbs, gossip. The Algonquin Round Table saw such people as Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. All pretty gifted people, quick at repartee and some of them were notorious drunkards. Woollcott is an interesting case. He probably inspired Kaufman to write his famous comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, which Monty Woolley created on stage in 1939 and on film in 1943. (Incidentally, Woollcott occasionally played the part of this obnoxious haughty “Sheridan Whiteside”, an incorrigible social parasite who delighted in insulting his hosts with great finesse.)
Waldo choosing the Algonquin as his restaurant many years after the Round Table had disappeared can’t be quite be fortuitous, but the main “link” is his sharing of the professional occupations of these writers and chroniclers, who favored short stories, humorous sketches or poems over novel writing. Parker has remained the famous member of the Round Table for that. Waldo is equally eclectic : he reads on radio, craves poetry, has a column. He “breezes” New York, he knows every corner of it.
His curiosity borders on voyeurism, as evidenced by the night scene where he stands for hours under Laura’s windows, observing her in tête-à-tête with her lover, painter Jacoby. At Ann Treadwell’s soirée, he immediately perceives Shelby as a potential rival, and tries to “floor” him with two of his wittiest barbs. You sense that he’s watching all the time for people to err or make fools of themselves. He is merciless at these times. The mediocre Jacoby will never recover from his viciously funny attack. He will stoop quite low, by investigating Shelby and catching him at Ann’s apartment, thereby causing his temporary disgrace.
A discreet, more appealing side of him is his love for poetry. Here the romantic Waldo is in full bloom. Besides reading his columns to a captivated Laura, you guess he’s giving her books of verses in order to make her more receptive to his forever untold love. Significantly, he selects a poem to be heard at the end his radio show at the very moment he re-enters Laura’s apartment to kill her and himself. Romanticism has a pact with death.
(This entry prefaces a long, very detailed approach of Waldo by Despina Veneti)