Known for her great wit and acerbic writing style, Dorothy Parker is remembered as one of the greatest female literary writers in history. Her career ran the gamut from magazine to poetry to short story to screen writing, leaving behind a body of work that is still often quoted today.
Dorothy Rothschild was born August 22, 1893 in West End, New Jersey. She lost both parents at a young age, her mother when she was four and her father when she was sixteen. Her only sibling, brother Henry, died in 1912 aboard the Titanic with his wife Lissie. She was educated at private and Catholic schools in New York and New Jersey, but her formal education ended abruptly at the age of fourteen.
By the age of 21, she began submitting her poems and short stories magazines and newspapers. In 1914, Vanity Fair picked up one of her poems, "Any Porch", for publication. By 1915 she had scored a job at Vanity Fair's sister publication Vogue on the editorial staff. In 1917 she switched over to become a staff writer at Vanity Fair. Later that year, she married her first husband, Eddie Parker, whom she promptly divorced within a year.
While working as the drama critic for Vanity Fair, Dorothy and several of her colleagues formed the famous Algonquin Round Table. Meeting regularly for luncheons at the Algonquin Hotel in New York beginning in 1919, the group featured the creme de la creme of New York's literary elite, including Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, James Thurber, George Kaufman, and Alexander Woolcott. Dorothy, along with Edna Ferber, were among the group's only female members. In 1924, Parker made her home at the hotel until moving to France in 1926.
Parker's closest friend and colleague at Vanity Fair was write Robert Benchley. When she was fired from the magazine in 1921, he resigned in protest and the two later formed the writing team of "Park-Bench". She began freelancing for magazine such as Ainslee's, Life, Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies Home Journal. Her first book Women I'm not Married To; Men I'm not Married to was published in 1922. By 1927, she landed a regular gig as the book reviewer for The New Yorker, a magazine she made contributions to until her death.
Throughout the 1920's and 30's, several books of her collected poems and short stories were published, including Enough Rope(1926), Sunset Gun(1928), Laments for the Living(1930), Death and Taxes(1931), and After Such Pleasures(1933). Many were bestsellers and remain in print today. In 1929, her most famous short story "The Big Blonde", won the O. Henry Award as the year's best short story.
In 1934, she met and married her second husband, Alan Campbell, and the two formed a screenwriting partnership. The two collaborated on several screenplays and were nominated for Academy Awards for the original version of "A Star is Born" (1937) and "Smash-Up: The Story of A Woman" (1947). Parker was also one of the founding member of the Screenwriters Guild.
Parker a Campbell had a tumultuous relationship over the years, he was 11 years younger than she and rumored to be bisexual, but the two had a productive partnership together. They divorced in 1947, but them remarried again in 1950. Parker stayed with him until his death in 1963 of an apparent suicide. Upon his death, a friend asked Parker what she could do to help. "Get me a new husband", Parker replied. The shocked friend said it was the most tasteless thing she'd ever heard. "Then run down to the corner and get me a ham and cheese on rye. And tell them to hold the mayo." Indeed, this was a woman who could make a joke in even the most inappropriate situations.
She battled depression and alcoholism for most of her adult life, but never let it affect her productivity. She survived four suicide attempts and ended up outliving many of her literary colleagues. Her most famous poem, "Resume", is an obvious reflection of her state of mind for most of her adult life...
Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp
Guns aren't lawful; nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.
Parker was also a lifelong political activist and socialist, protesting the Sacco and Vanzetti executions in 1927 and getting arrested for it. In the 1950's, she was called before the House on Un-American Activities and pleaded the fifth amendment, refusing to name names. Upon her death of a heart attack in 1967 at the age of seventy-three, she bequeathed her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with write Lillian Hellman as her will's executor. Upon his death a year later, the estate rolled over to the NAACP, who still benefit from the royalties of all Parker publications today. Parkers ashes went unclaimed for over 21 years until 1988, when the NAACP built a memorial garden for her at their national headquarters in Baltimore.
Parker's writings and lifestyle have had a huge influence on my life. She was a woman who could hold her own with the guys, but always maintained a sense of femininity. She is known for her wit and humor in a society that paints women as unfunny. She lived her life the way she wanted to without answering to others. She embodied feminist ideals without calling herself a feminist. I've even named my youngest dog, "Parker" after her and my Adult Backwash nom de plume, "Big Blonde", comes from her most famous short story.
Parker is often remembered for some of her famous one-liners. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites-
"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks."
"You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."
I don't care what is written about me as long as it isn't true."
If I had any decency I'd be dead. All my friends are"
"Scratch a lover, and find a foe."
"I shall stay the way I am because I do not give a damn."