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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;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smell awful;
You might as well live.
(from Enough Rope, 1926)

Dorothy Parker was born in West End, New Jersey, the fourth and last child of Jacob (Henry) Rothschild, a garment manufacturer, and Annie Eliza (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. Parker's father died when she was twenty.

Parker was educated at a Catholic school. "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 later in an interview. She moved to New York City, whe she wrote during the day and earned money at night playing the piano in a dancing school.

In 1916 Parker sold some of her poetry to the editor of Vogue, and was given an editorial position on the magazine. In 1917 she married Edwin Pond Parker II, a stockbroker, whom she divorced in 1919. Edwin was wounded in World War I, he was an alcoholic, and during the war he became addicted to morphine.

From 1917 to 1920 Parker worked for Vanity Fair. Frank Crowinshield, the managing editor of the magazine, recalled that she had "the quickest tongue imaginable, and I need not to say the keenest sense of mockery." 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.

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. Her first collection of poems, 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." 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."

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."

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." Edmund Wilson remarked in his review of The Portable Dorothy Parker (1944) that her political work durin 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. Later Preminger admitted that "it was one of the few pictures I disliked while I was working on it." 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." 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 the 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." 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).

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) - 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.

Selected works:

  • Men Im Not Married To, 1922
  • Enough Rope: Poems, 1926
  • Sunset Gun: Poems, 1927
  • Close Harmony; or, The Lady Next Door: A Play in Three Acts, 1929
  • Laments for the Living, 1930 (include 'The Sexes,' 'Mr Durant,' 'Just a Little One,' 'New To Detroit,' 'The Wonderful Old Gentleman,' 'The Mantle of Whistler,' 'You Were Perfectly Fine,' 'A Telephone Call,' 'Big Blonde')
    - films: De Nova York para Detroit (1952), based ''New To Detroit,' episode  in Grande Theatro Tupi, prod. TV Tupi (Brazil); Olit aivan mainio (1960), based on the short story 'You Were Perfectly Fine,' episode in Pakinateatteri, prod. Mainostelevisio (Finland), dir. by Kaarlo Hiltunen, starring Tea Ista and Sakari Jurkka; Big Blonde; Nainen, Jumala ja puhelin, TV film (1966), episode in Teatterituokio, prod. Mainostelevisio (Finland) dir. Ville Salminen; Big Blonde, TV film (1980), dir. Kirk Browning, starring Sally Kellerman, Victor Griffin and Harris Laskawy 
  • Death and Taxes, 1931
  • After Such Pleasures ..., 1933 (contains 'Horsie,' 'Here We Are,' 'Too Bad,' 'From the Diary of a New York Lady,' 'The Waltz,' 'Dusk Before Fireworks,' 'The Little Hours,' 'Sentiment,' 'A Young Woman in Green Lace,' 'Lady With a Lamp,' and 'Glory in the Daytime')
    - Hyvästi rakkaus (suom. Kyllikki Graae, 1946)
    - films: Queen for a Day (1951), based on the short story, 'Horsie,' dir. by Arthur Lubin;  A Valsa (1952), based on 'The Waltz,' episode  in Grande Theatro Tupi, prod. TV Tupi (Brazil); Dusk Before Fireworks, TV film (1990), in Women and Men: Stories of Seduction
  • Collected Poems: Not So Deep As a Well, 1936 (decorated by Valenti Angelo)
  • Here Lies: The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker, 1939
  • The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker, 1942 (with a foreword by Franklin P. Adams)
  • The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker, 1944
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker, 1944 (with an introduction by W. Somerset Maugham)
  • The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1945 (selected by Dorothy Parker, introduction by John OHara)
  • The Best of Dorothy Parker, 1952
  • The Ladies of the Corrodor: A Drama in Two Acts, 1953 (play, with Arnaud d'Usseau) 
    - films: TV film (1960), in ITV Play of the Week, dir. by Henry Kaplan, adaptation by John Glennon; TV movie (1975), in Hollywood Television Theatre, dir. Robert Stevens
  • Candide: A Comic Pperetta Based on Voltaires Satire, 1957 (book by Lillian Hellman, lyrics by Richard Wilbur, other lyrics by John Latouche and Dorothy Parker)
  • Short Story: A Thematic Anthology, 1965 (edited by Dorothy Parker and Frederick B. Shroyer)
  • Constant Reader, 1970
  • A Month of Saturdays:  Thirty-One Famous Pieces by "Constant Reader", 1971 (with an introduction by Lillian Hellman)
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker, 1973 (rev. and enl. ed., with a new introd. by Brendan Gill; 2nd rev. ed., 2006 )
  • The Coast of Illyria: A Play in Three Acts, 1990 (with Ross Evans, introduction by Arthur F. Kinney)
  • The Sayings of Dorothy Parker, 1992 (edited by S.T. Brownlow, with an introduction by Antony Rouse)
  • Complete stories, 1995 (edited by Colleen Breese, with an introduction by Regina Barreca)
  • Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker, 1996 (compiled and with an introduction by Stuart Y. Silverstein)
  • Complete Poems, 1999 (Penguin Books, introduction by Colleen Breese)
  • Dorothy Parker in Her Own Words, 2004 (edited by Barry Day)
  • Complete Poems, 2010 (introduction by Marion Meade)

Films (as screenwriter in collaboration or uncredited):

  • Here Is My Heart, 1934 (uncredited)
  • One Hour Late, 1934 (screenplay with Kathryn Scola and Paul Girard Smith, dir. by Ralph Murphy)
  • The Big Broadcast of 1936, 1935 (co-songs only)
  • Paris in Spring, 1935 (co-songs only)
  • Hands Across the Table, 1935 (uncredited, dir. by Mitchell Leisen)
  • Maryn Burns Fugitive, 1935 (dir. by William K. Howard)
  • The Moon's Our Home, 1936 (co-sc., dir. by William A. Seiter, starring Margaret Sullavan, Henry Fonda and Charles Butterworth)
  • Suzy, 1936 (screenplay with Alan Campbell, Horace Jackson, Lenore Coffee, dir. by George Fitzmaurice, starring Jean Harlow, Cary Grant)
  • Three Married Men, 1936 (screenplay with Alan Campbell, dir. Edward Buzzell, starring Lynne Overman, William Frawley and Roscoe Karns
  • Lady be Careful, 1936 (screenplay with Alan Campbell and Harry Ruskin, dir. Theodore Reed, starring Lew Ayres, Mary Carlisle and Benny Baker)
  • A Star Is Born, 1937 (dir. by William Wellman, academy award to screenwriters Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson, based partly on the film What Price Hollywood?, 1932, dir. George Cukor)
  • Woman Chases Man, 1937 (uncredited, dir. by John G. Blystone)
  • Sweethearts, 1938 (screenplay with Alan Campbell, dir. by W.S. Van Dyke, starring Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan)
  • The  Cowboy and the Lady, 1938 (uncredited, dir. by H.C. Potter)
  • Trade Winds, 1938 (screenplay with Alan Campbell and Frank R. Adams, dir. by Tony Garnett, starring Fredric March, Joan Bennet)
  • The Little Foxes, 1941 (additional scenes and dialogue, dir. by William Wyler, play by Lillian Hellman, starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and Teresa Wright)
  • Weekend for Three, 1941 (story by Budd Sculberg, screenplay by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, dir. by Irving Reis, starring Dennis O'Keefe, Jane Wyatt, Philip Reed)
  • Saboteur, 1942 (screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Priscill Lane, Robert Cummings, Otto Kruger)
  • Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman 1947 (co-story only, dir. by Stuart Heisler, starring Susan Hayward, Lee Bowman and Marsha Hunt)
  • The Fan, 1949 (screenplany with Walter Reisch and Ross Evans, based on Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan, dir. by Otto Preminger, starring Jeanne Crain, George Sanders, Madeleine Carroll. (Remake of Ernst Lubitsch's classic version from 1925)
  • A Star Is Born, 1954 (1937 screenplay with others, sc. by Moss Hart, dir. by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson)

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