Thought of the Day 8.22.12 Dorothy Parker


“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone”

–Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Rothschild was born on this day in West End, New Jersey in 1893. Today is the 119th anniversary of her birth.

She said she was “a late unexpected arrival in a loveless family.” Dottie’s mother, Annie, died when the little girl was only five. Her father, Jacob, remarried two years later. But Dottie hated his new wife, Eleanor. Instead of calling Eleanor ‘Mother’ or ‘Stepmother’ Dorothy would refer to her as ‘the housekeeper.’  Annie was Protestant and Jacob was Jewish, but Eleanor was a strict Roman Catholic, and little Dottie thought she was a religious fantastic. Dottie was sent to elementary school at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, something else she loathed. She got into trouble when she refered to the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion.” Of her education there she later remarked…

…as for helping me in the outside world, the Convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser, it will erase ink.

She went to Miss Dana’s School for Young Ladies, a private boarding and finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey.  Shortly after graduating finishing school she learned that her brother, Henry, died aboard the Titanic. A year later her father passed away.

Dorothy moved to New York where she wrote during the day and played piano at a dancing school at night until her career took off. In 1914 she sold her poem “Any Porch” to Vanity Fair for $12.  She worked for Vogue (a sister Conde Nast publication) writing fashion captions including such quips as “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” Later she moved over to Vanity Fair where her managing editor, Frank Crowinshield said she had

 “the quickest tongue imaginable, and I need not to say the keenest sense of mockery.” [Poetry Hunter.com]

In 1917 she married a wall street stockbroker, Edwin Pond Parker II.  Edwin went off to serve in World War I. He was wounded in the War and came back an alcoholic and morphine addict. The marriage didn’t last long, but she kept his name for the rest of her life.

Dorothy took over as Theatre Critic for P.G. Woodhouse. She was the only female drama critic in New York at the time.  Her acerbic wit was evident in such reviews as “if you don’t knit, bring a book.” Parker was

“a firecracker who was aggressively proud of being tough, quirky, fiesty…and she managed to carry it off with style and humor.” [ Marion Meade, What Fresh Hell Is This]

the readers loved her, but the theater owners and producers were less than pleased. She crossed the line once too often and when she panned a big production she got fired from the drama desk.

The Algonquin Round Table in caricature by Al ...

The Algonquin Round Table in caricature by Al Hirschfeld. Seated at the table, clockwise from left: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood. In back from left to right: frequent Algonquin guests Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1920’s Dorothy was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of  — mostly male — writers and friends known for their quick-witted quips. During this period she wrote her poem “News Item” which contains the iconic Parker line “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”  She worked for various publications most notably The New Yorker. At the New Yorker she wrote book reviews (just as funny and acerbic as her drama reviews) from 1927-1933 under the pseudonym the “Constant Reader.” She continued to write poetry and short stories,a nd in 1929 her story “The Big Blonde” won the prestigious O. Henry award.

Also in 1929 she began to write screenplays. She was hired by MGM and moved to Hollywood.  In 1933 Parker met husband #2, Alan Campbell, another screenwriter and the two became both professional and romantic partners. They signed on with Paramount Pictures in 1935 and Parker got an Academy Award nomination as part of the screenwriting team that penned “A Star Is Born.”

George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943. [ courtesy Dorothy Parker’s World Online. ]

Parker used her pen to fight for social justice. She championed feminism, racial equity, and the fight against Fascism. She supported the International Brigade (along with Earnest Hemingway) in their fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 she helped found the Anti Nazi League. She also joined the Communist Party, an act that got her black listed in the 1950’s.Starting in 1957 she wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine, and in 1959 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Parker had a dark side. She was an alcoholic and she attempted suicide on several occasions. In her poem Resume she wrote about suicide:

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.

On June 7, 1967 Parker died of a heart attack in New York City.

————————————————————-

The Portable Dorothy Parker is available on Amazon.com.

Here are some more Dorothy Parker quotes: 

“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

The only ‘-ism’ Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.

Time wounds all heels.

I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.

Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion.

(In 1955) “Hollywood money isn’t money. It’s congealed snow, melts in your hand, and there you are.”

The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.

One more drink and I’ll be under the the table, two more drinks and I’ll be under the host.

Scratch an actor – and you’ll find an actress.

Upon being told that former US President Calvin Coolidge (known as “Silent Cal” for being very tight-lipped) had died, she quipped, “How can they tell?”

He and I had an office so tiny that an inch smaller and it would have been adultery.

Excuse me, I have to use the toilet. Actually, I have to use the telephone, but I’m too embarrassed to say so.

People ought to be one of two things, young or dead.

On truth: Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

“You can drag a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

“Look at him, a rhinestone in the rough.”

“They sicken of the calm, who know the storm”

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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