Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dorothy Parker: the smart ass

I saved Dorothy Parker for last, because she's kind of my hero. I discovered her work in college, and her sharp wit and biting sarcasm paralleled my own writing style. I felt I had found a kindred spirit.

I highly suggest you purchase a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker. It's kind of the most awesome collection of writing in the world.

Dorothy Parker was born in 1893 to a very unhappy home life in New York City. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and Dorothy grew up despising her abusive father and distant new step-mother, who she referred to as "the housekeeper."

Her formal education ended when she was 13. Seven years later her father passed away. Dorothy worked as a pianist in a dance school to earn a living, while writing poetry and prose in her spare time.

In 1917, she married a Wall Street stockbroker and she started gaining national popularity as the theater critic for Vanity Fair magazine.

She also started having regular lunches with her new journalism friends at a nearby hotel, unwittingly founding the famous Algonquin Round Table, which would grow to include actors, feminists, and comedians throughout the 1920s. Every witticism uttered at the luncheon would be splashed about in papers throughout the nation, causing each member to gain a celebrity status.

The group of friends were so tight, that when Dorothy was fired from Vanity Fair in 1920, two members of the Round Table promptly quit writing for the magazine as well, in protest.

The Round Table also helped introduce Dorothy to someone who was going to change the literary journalism scene forever: Harold Ross. He had just started publishing an unimpressive little booklet filled with short stories and human interest features. Although Dorothy figured the magazine wasn't gong anywhere, she agreed to join the staff. Harold's meager little magazine was called The New Yorker.

As the 20s went by, Dorothy attempted suicide several times. Although her career was carrying on nicely, she was depressed. Her marriage was in tatters and her life in general didn't really felt quite right. The couple eventually separated.

She laughed off her suicide attempts in her first book of poetry, Enough Rope, in 1925. It was the beginning of a fantastic literary career. Her hilarious poems about her unsuccessful romantic episodes were highly in demand. Her heart-felt short stories were published in almost every single respectable magazine. Her biting one-liners (or, tweets, as we call them today) were quoted all over the world.

By the late 1920s, Dorothy was heavily involved with political left-wing causes, such as women's rights and civil rights. She is also rumored to have had a few abortions.

In 1934, she married the bisexual screenwriter, Alan Campbell, and the pair relocated to Hollywood. They co-wrote several films together.

During World War II, she helped to co-found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and participated in numerous non-profit organizations which helped relocate refugees from war-struck countries.

Unfortunately, her hard work and dedication didn't pay off. During the McCarthy Era of the 1950s, the FBI labeled Dorothy a Communist because of her volunteer work for those organizations.

As a result, she was blacklisted from Hollywood. She went back to New York to write Broadway plays and book reviews for Esquire, but she had also started heavily drinking, which prevented true success from ever being hers again.

In 1963, Dorothy came home to find her husband dead from a drug-overdose. Dorothy died four years later, from a heart attack, at the age of 73.

She bequeathed her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. When he was assassinated, her estate was passed on to the NAACP.


azu said...

Dorothy seemed like a genuinely good person. It's a shame her life was so tragic. But it says a lot about her character when she just kept going on with her life and kept writing.

Thank you for sharing, Jennifer! I really enjoyed reading this :) Have you ever participated in poetry slams or seen one? I've only been to a few and I loved it.

xoxo Azu

Gayatri said...

You saved the best for last!

I discovered Dorothy Parker in college too. But I was so busy studying, that I didn't have time to 'learn'. I'm going to start by buying that book :)


Sarah said...

I love reading these!

Josie said...

I LOVE Dorothy Parker. So fabulous and sassy. I adore her satire.
xo Josie

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an inspiration she is!

Lots of love, B
Tweet me: Viva_La_Breee

Miksu said...

Interesting post once again! :)

Fashion.MakeUp.LifeStyle said...

I'm definitely picking up the book. You left me very intrigued to know a lot more from this wonderful woman. What a shame her life was so tragic :(

<3 Marina

indianmakeupways said...

I have never read her works. Her life sure seems fascinating. Too bad that she couldn't shine in the later part of her life though. nice post

Shybiker said...

Great bio. Parker appealed to me from a young age. She had confidence and sass.

David L Macaulay said...

nice post Jen - how come all of the best writers had crap childhoods -remind me to slap my parents around the chops for not making my childhood miserable enough.

Shalini said...

You know, I've never read Dorothy Parker. I think it was one of those things where everyone gushed so much about her I put her in my "to not read" list. I will take her off that list.

Meri said...

She sounds like my kind of woman! I didn't know much about her, but the more I learn the more I like :)

Anonymous said...

It's totally amazing to me that pedophiles are so criminal to hide the can't just have quick feel and go off on your " merry way" , fuck that..right?
You're a star...even if you can't act, can't have an orgasm, , can't even fake 're a star.
Well, hate to burst your RED BUBBLE, but BIBBITY BOBBITY BOO is DEDST.
And so is DISNEY.
And they got that way with GICAR- CROUSKS.
And HEASTES gave the load about the ads with MEESE.
CANGE- BANGI- HY--DICA....everything no longer

Sherin said...

Wow, looks like she did a lot of good with her life. It's good to see someone using their name for good.
And The Round Table sounds like an amazing thing!

Nicole✗✗ said...

This was a great read! I'm definitely going to give her stuff a read. She sounds like an amazing woman who essentially rose above the negative in her life. Yeah a suicide attempt but she still survived and was successful long after.

Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

Love your tribute posts - always interesting to read and always makes me learn something new. Makes me sad her life seemed to had been mostly troubled... I do hope she knew happiness. said...

I'm slightly embarrassed to say I don't know her work. So many great talents were blacklisted, it's outrageous. I have great respect for her now, having read this. Thanks for this post, Jennifer. Another job very well done.

SassyUptownChic said...

What an extraordinary woman! I enjoyed reading her story because she always stood up for causes no matter how others felt about it. Thanks for sharing this Jennifer. Excellent! :D

Chyrel Gomez said...

Read some of her works when I was in college. Great writing and she is such an incredible woman in history. Gone through a lot and without those, she wouldn't have written those great pieces of literature.

Esmeralda said...

What an interesting life she had and at the same time how miserable she must have felt. I enjoyed reading your post Jennifer!

Vix said...

I love Dorothy Parker's style and wit. Such a fab post and a great lady. x

yiqin; said...

love your posts :)

Kavery said...

You saved the best for last. D Parker rocks!

Arielle said...

That picture of her smoking with the dog is odd to see. What a life she lived. It's cool to find out about all these different people's personal lives.