You might say Dorothy Parker had a way with words,
but you wouldn't say it as well as she could!
Many readers today have never heard of Dorothy Parker, but they're missing a lot. She was one of the great wits of the 20th century, a successful woman in a field dominated by men, and a devoted advocate for social justice.
Dorothy Parker was born on Aug. 22, 1893. Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, her childhood was an unhappy one. Both her mother and step-mother died when she was young; her uncle, Martin Rothschild, went down on the Titanic in 1912; and her father died the following year. Young Dorothy attended a Catholic grammar school, then a finishing school in Morristown, NJ. Her formal education abruptly ended when she was 14.
In 1914, Dorothy sold her first poem to Vanity Fair. At age 22, she took an editorial job at Vogue. She continued to write poems for newspapers and magazines, and in 1917 she joined Vanity Fair, taking over for P.G. Wodehouse as drama critic. At the time she was the first female critic on Broadway. At the magazine, she met Robert Benchley, who became a close friend, and Robert E. Sherwood. The trio began lunching at the Algonquin Hotel almost daily and became founding members of what became known as the Algonquin Round Table. The Round Table numbered among its members the newspaper columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Alexander Woollcott. Through their publication of Parker's lunchtime remarks and short verses, particularly in Adams' column The Conning Tower, Dorothy began developing a national reputation as a wit. When the group was informed that famously taciturn former president Calvin Coolidge had died, Parker remarked, "How could they tell?"
Parker's caustic wit as a critic initially proved popular, but she was eventually dismissed by Vanity Fair in 1920 after her criticisms too often offended powerful producers. She soon started working for Ainslee's Magazine, which had a higher circulation. She also published pieces in Vanity Fair, which was happier to publish her than employ her, The Smart Set, and The American Mercury, but also in the popular Ladies’ Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, and Life.
When The New Yorker debuted in 1925, Parker was listed on the faux editorial board. Over the years, she contributed poetry, fiction and book reviews as the “Constant Reader.” Parker’s first collection of poetry, "Enough Rope," was published in 1926, and was a bestseller. Her two subsequent collections were "Sunset Gun" in 1928 and "Death and Taxes" in 1931. Her collected fiction came out in 1930 as "Laments for the Living."
During the 1920s, Parker traveled to Europe several times. She befriended Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy, and contributed articles to The New Yorker and Life. While her work was successful and she was well-regarded for her wit and conversational abilities, she suffered from depression and alcoholism and attempted suicide.
In 1929, she won the O. Henry Award for her autobiographical short story “Big Blonde.” She produced short fiction in the early 1930s, and also began writing drama reviews for The New Yorker. In 1934, Parker married actor-writer Alan Campbell in New Mexico; the couple relocated to Los Angeles and became a highly paid screenwriting team. They labored for MGM and Paramount on mostly forgettable features, the highlight being an Academy Award nomination for A Star Is Born in 1937. They divorced in 1947, and remarried in 1950.
Parker was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959 and was a visiting professor at California State College in Los Angeles in 1963. That same year, her husband died of an overdose.
On June 6, 1967, Parker was found dead of heart disease in her apartment at age 73. A firm believer in civil rights, she bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Upon his assassination some months later, the estate was turned over to the NAACP. (Source: The Dorothy Parker Society)
Although she was adept at short stories, poetry, drama reviews and screenwriting, she is best remembered for her quips, and we offer a few of our favorites here:
"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
"There's a hell of a difference between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it. Wisecracking is merely calisthenics with words."
"The best way to keep children at home is to make the atmosphere pleasant and to let the air out of the tires."
"Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician."
"If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me."
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."
"That woman speaks 18 languages and can't say 'no' in any of them."
"He is a writer for the ages, the ages of four to eight."
"This must be a gift book. That is to say a book you would not take under any other terms."
"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."
"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”
"I like to have a martini/Two at the very most/After three I'm under the table/After four I'm under my host."
"A hangover is the wrath of grapes."
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of 'The Elements of Style.' The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses."