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||Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) - original surname Rothschild|
American short story writer, poet, and critic, a legendary figure in the New York literary scene. Dorothy Parker wrote sketches and short stories, many of them published in The New Yorker. Her column, 'Constant Reader,' was highly popular. Parker was especially famous for her instant wit and cruel humour.
Razors pain you;
Dorothy Parker was born in West End, New Jersey, the fourth and last child of Jacob (Henry) Rothschild, a garment manufacturer, and Annie Eliza (née Marston) Rothschild, the daughter of a machinist at Phoenix Armour. Her paternal grandparents came from Russia. Parker's mother died in 1898. Jacob married in 1900 Eleanor Frances Lewis, a Roman Catholic; Parker never liked her stepmother. Eleanor Frances died of a heart attack three years after the wedding. Martin Rothschild, her uncle, perished on the Titanic in 1912. Her father died when she was twenty.
Parker attended a Catholic grammar school, and a finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey. "But as for helping me in the outside world, the convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase in," Parker said in 1956 in an interview by the journalist Marion Capron. (The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker, edited by Rhonda S. Pettit, 2005, p. 358) Parker's formal education ended at the fourteen. She moved to New York City, whe she wrote during the day and earned money at night playing the piano in a dancing school.
Her first poem Parker sold to Vanity Fair in 1914 and a few years later she was
given an editorial position on the magazine. There she took over for
P.G. Wodehouse as a drama critic, being the first female critic
on Broadway. In 1917 she
married Edwin Pond Parker II, a stockbroker, whom she divorced
officially in 1928.
Edwin was wounded in World War I, he was an alcoholic, and during the
war he became addicted to morphine.
Crowinshield, the managing editor of Vanity Fair, recalled that Parker
had "the quickest tongue imaginable . . . the keenest
sense of mockery." (Poets for Young Adults: Their Lives and Works by Mary Loving Blanchard and Cara Falcetti, 2007, p. 202) With two other writers Robert Benchley and Robert
Sherwood, Parker formed the nucleus of the Algonquin Round Table, an
informal luncheon club held at New York City's Algonquin Hotel on
Forty-Fourth Street. Other members included Ring Lardner and James
Thurber. Parker was usually the only woman in the group. During the Prohibition, the hotel didn't serve alcohol.
After comparing actress Billie Burke, wife of the influential Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, with vaudeville performer Eva Tanguay, Parker was fired as Vanity Fair's theater critic. While writing for Life and Ainslee's she had free hands to lampoon Ziegfeld and his Follies.
Between the years 1927 and 1933, Parker wrote book reviews for The New Yorker.
Her texts continued appear in the magazine at irregular intervals until
1955. Parker always claimed that he wrote for the money, but her
earnings were relatively unchanged until she moved to Hollywood and
started to to make some serious money.
A great part of Parker's reading in her teens and twenties consisted of nineteenth-century poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron, and others. There are modernist and sentimentalist traits in her own poems, she relied on rhyme and meter, and occasionally mocked "modernist verse". Her first collection, Enough Rope, was published in 1926. It contained the often-quoted 'Résumé' on suicide, and 'News Item.' Enough Rope was a bestseller and was followed by Sunset Guns (1928) and Death and Taxes (1931), which were collected in Collected Poems: Not So Deep As a Well (1936). Parker's poems were sardonic, usually dry, elegant commentaries on love, or shallowness of modern life: "Why is it no one sent me yet / One perfect limousine, do you suppose? / Ah no, it's always just my luck to get / One perfect rose." (1926) The poem 'Day-Dreams' mocked domestic married life, which she associated in the short story 'Such a Pretty Little Picture' with death and entrapment. However, later in life she took up knitting, tried to conceive a child, and wrote in a letter: "I love having a house, I love its being pretty whenever you look, I love a big yard full of dogs." (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade, 1989, p. 245) She also bought a farm in Buck Country, Pennsylvania.
The short story collections After Such Pleasures (1932) and Here Lies (1939, proved sharp understanding of human nature. Like Hemingway, whose work she admired, Parker relied rather on dialogue than on description. Among her best-known pieces are 'A Big Blonde,' which won her O. Henry Memorial Award, and the soliloquies 'A Telephone Call' and 'The Waltz.'
During the 1920s Parker had extra-marital affairs, she drank heavily and attempted suicide three times, but maintained the high quality of her literary output. Her brief affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald while he was married to the unstable Zelda was motivated, according to the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, by compassion on her part and despair on his. In Enough Rope Parker wrote: "Four be the things I am wiser to know: / Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe." Dashiell Hammett never fell under her spell. His aversion toward her increased until he refused to attend occasions where she might be.
In the 1930s, Parker moved with her second husband, Alan Campbell, who was twelve years her junior, to Hollywood. She worked there as a screenwriter, including on the film A Star Is Born (1937), directed by William Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, and Adolphe Menjou. The film received an Oscar for Best Original Story. In Alfred Hitchcock's film Saboteur (1940) Parker collaborated with Peter Vierter and Joan Harrison. Her contribution is mainly visible in some of the bizarre details of the circus milieu where the hero (Robert Cummings) takes refuge in, with its squabbling Siamese twins, its bearded lady in curlers and a malevolent dwarf who acts and dresses a bit like Hitler. Parker and Hitchcock appeared in the film together in a cameo bit. Otherwise the film bored her.
Temptations of Hollywood did not make Parker any softer, which a
number of film stars had to face. When Joan Crawford was married to
Franchot Tone, she became obsessed with self-improvement. Parker said:
"You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think." (The Algonquin Wits by Robert E. Drennan, 1968, p. 121)
Parker had taken an early stand against Fascism and Nazism and she declared herself a Communist, for which she was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. However, she was never a member of the Communist Party. Lillian Hellman wrote in her memoir of Parker that she "believed in socialism but seldom, except in the sticky sentimental minutes, could stand the sight of a working radical." (A Gendered Collision: Sentimentalism and Modernism in Dorothy Parker's Poetry and Fiction by Rhonda S. Pettit, 2000, p. 64) Edmund Wilson remarked in his review of The Portable Dorothy Parker (1944) that her political work during her Hollywood years was a waste of time.
With Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, Parker helped found the Screen Writers' Guild. She also was active in raising money for Loyalist Spain, China, and the Scottsboro defendants, and helped Hemingway and Hellman finance the film The Spanish Earth. FBI kept a file on Parker. Due to her activities, she was denied during World War II a passport, when she wanted to work as a correspondent abroad.
Parker's last major film project was The Fan (1949), directed by Otto Preminger. The director had spent with Parker a period in 1939 working on a play script called The Happiest Man. Parker turned with her partner, Ross Evans, a revision of Walter Reisch's script, which Preminger shot in 32 days instead of the scheduled 42. The Fan was based on Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan, but Wilde's witty comments on society and Parker's less funny updating did not amuse the audience. Preminger later called The Fan "a mistake I made on my own," adding "whatever I did to that film was wrong. It is one of the few pictures I already disliked while making it." (The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger by Chris Fujiwara, 2008, p. 105) Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Time, pronounced it "strangely uninspired."
Parker's play Ladies of the Corridor (1953), written with Arnaud d'Usseau, was about rich and lonely women in a New York hotel. When it was first staged on Broadway at New York's Longcare Theatre, starring Betty Field, June Walker, Walter Matthau, Edna Best, and Sheppard Strudwick, it did not do well. Arnaud d'Usseau considered the television production from 1975, directed by Robert Stevens, superior to the original.
Alan Campbell died in 1963, according to the coroner's report "of acute barbiturate poisoning due to an ingestion of overdose." (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade, 1989, p. 393) Parker died alone on June 7, 1967, in the New York hotel that had chosen as her final home. A chambermaid discovered the body. Parker left her estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1972 the executorship of Parker's estate passed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Lillian Helman criticed in 'Arrangement in Black and White' her decision by saying that, "It's one thing to have real feeling for Black people, but to have the kind of blind sentimentality about the N.A.A.C.P., a group so conservative that even many Blacks don't have respect for, is something else." ('Dorothy Parker' by Christopher Hitchens, in Vanity Fair's Writers on Writers, edited by Graydon Carter, with an Introduction by David Friend, 2016, p. 7) Parker's ashes were transferred in 1998 to a memorial garden of NAACP's Baltimore headquarters. Alan Rudolph's film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker, depicted the life of the author and her friends around the famous Algonquin Round Table. In addition, Parker has been portrayed by Dolores Sutton in the TV movie F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (1976) and Rosemary Harris in Julia (1977). Plenty of coctails have been named after her; there is even Dorothy Parker American Gin.
For further reading: Dorothy Parker, Revised by Arthur F. Kinney (1998); The Rhetoric of Rage by Sondra Melzer (1997); Dorothy Parker by Randall Calhoun (1992); Women of the Twenties by George H. Douglas (1989); Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? by Marion Meade (1987); The Late Mrs. Dorothy Parker by Leslie Frewin (1986); Dorothy Parker: A Bio-Bibliography by Randall Calhoun (1992); Dorothy Parker, Revised by Arthur F. Kinley (1998); A Journey Into Dorothy Parker's New York by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, Marion Meade (2005); A Gender Collision: Sentimentalism and Modernism in Dorothy Parker's Poetry and Fiction by Rhonda S. Pettit (2009); Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, foreword by Allen Katz (2013); 'Dorothy Parker' by Christopher Hitchens, in Vanity Fair's Writers on Writers, edited by Graydon Carter, with an Introduction by David Friend (2016) - Writers in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Daniel Fuchs, Horace McCoy, Clifford Odets, Maxwell Anderson, Dorothy Parker, John Don Passos, Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Films (as screenwriter in collaboration or uncredited):