A while back, I presented a book proposal on the deaths of famous writers. An editor suggested it for me and I sketched out some rough outlines of Poe, Hemingway and my favorite, Dorothy Parker. Since I’m terribly late in posting my latest story, I’m filling in with this chestnut, complete now with visuals. I hope you enjoy it. — Hat
Dorothy Parker: “I do not care what is written about me so long as it is not true.”
When Dorothy Parker died on June 7, 1967, her death surprised many people. After reading her obituary in the New York Times, they shook their heads in disbelief. They thought she had died years ago. Indeed, death came much too late in life for Mrs. Parker. The famed literary wit of the 1920’s had, after all, attempted suicide on at least three different occasions. After her second attempt, her friend, the humorist Robert Benchley warned her that if she wasn’t careful she was “likely to make herself sick.” On her 70th birthday, she said if she had any manners, she “should be dead by now. All of my friends are.”
Mrs. Parker and Mr. Benchley
Alone and forgotten at her death, Dottie had lived the last years of her life in her beloved New York, where she had made her biggest contribution. She was the darling of the Algonquin Round Table, whose ranks included the most famous drama critic of the day Alexander Woollcott; widely read newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams (from whose poetry style of light verse Dottie borrowed heavily); award-winning playwright George S. Kaufman; and the New Yorker founder Harold Ross. Ironically, she outlived all but two of its members.
The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld
Dottie was one of the original staffers at Ross’ new magazine, the New Yorker, where she is credited with creating the prototypical “New Yorker Short Story,” that is a story under 7000 words, urbane, witty and well-written. But her biggest success came from her poetry; short, humorous poems, usually about suicide or failed relationships, that she called “trifles,” never taking it seriously, but nonetheless knowing its popularity among her readers. In the early days of the struggling magazine, Ross scolded her for turning in an article late. “Sorry,” she said, “someone else was using the pencil.”
The New Yorker’s first issue, 1925
Mrs. Parker, Benchley and Woollcott were all on the “advisory” staff
“I hate writing. I love having written.”
She published seven books during her lifetime, collections of her short stories and poetry, including Enough Rope (1926), Sunset Gun (1927), Death and Taxes (1931) and After Such Pleasures (1933). She won the O. Henry Prize for “Outstanding Short Story” in 1939 for her story, Big Blonde. A collection from her entire body of work, The Portable Dorothy Parker, was first published in 1944 and remains in print today, bringing thousands of new readers every year. As she grew older, she and her then-husband Alan Campbell moved to Hollywood, where they worked on screenplays. Dottie, Alan and Robert Carson were nominated for an Academy Award for their screenplay for the 1937 film, A Star is Born.
Always a champion for social causes, upon her death Mrs. Parker left her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Upon his assassination, the rights reverted to the NAACP. Author Lillian Hellman was the executor of Dottie’s estate, but never claimed her ashes for burial, after finding out, and getting angry, that Dottie hadn’t left her the rights to her literary works. Mrs. Parker’s ashes languished in a box in an attorney’s office for over fifteen years before the NAACP took Dottie’s remains and interred them in a memorial garden at their national headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. Dorothy had her own suggestion for her epitaph:
“Excuse my dust.”
The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp with her likeness, as part of the Literary Arts series on August 22, 1992, on what would have been Mrs. Parker’s 99th birthday.
Mrs. Parker isn’t the only Round Table member to be commemorated on a postage stamp. Others include:
Artist Neysa McMein
Author Edna Ferber
Playwright Moss Hart
A film of her life, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, directed by Alan Rudolph and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, was released in 1994 and released on DVD in 2006.
See the trailer here: