Dorothy Parker reads “One Perfect Rose”

18 September 2015

Dorothy Parker Slices and Dices

23 March 2015

From The Daily Beast:

You may know Dorothy Parker as the acid-tongued wit who once said a performance by Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B,” and who reviewed a Broadway play with the line, “The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”

. . . .

[S]he was The New Yorker’s book reviewer from 1927-1933, writing under the pseudonym Constant Reader, and held a similar post at Esquire decades later. Of all her literary eviscerations, perhaps the most famous is the slicing she gave to A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, making it clear Mrs. Parker had no taste for whimsy. Here’s an excerpt:

“ ‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins.The more it snows, tiddely-pom—’

“ ‘Tiddely what?’ said Piglet.” (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.)

“ ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more hummy.’ ”

And it is that word “hummy,” my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.

. . . .

Dorothy Parker was a big fan of Dashiell Hammett’s work, calling him “as American as a sawed-off shotgun.” And while she explains that he doesn’t have Hemingway’s scope or beauty, she says it’s true that “he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn. And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the words of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and—if I may filch a word from the booksy ones—pulsing.”

. . . .

Parker’s negative reviews can go on for pages, outlining the sheer torture of the reading experience. Her praise, on the other hand, is often succinct. Here is her entire review of this book: “There is still sunshine for us. The miracle is wrought by Shirley Jackson. God bless her, as ever unparalleled, more than ever in her latest book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders. This novel brings back my faith in terror and death. I can say no higher of it and her.”

. . . .

Mr. Capote has three speeds, of each of which, I think, he is a master. He is a novelist, a writer of short stories, and a reporter of murderous accuracy.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Dorothy Parker Reads Resume

20 October 2013

You might as well.  Barb Morgenroth

Dorothy Parker Speaks Up

21 June 2012

From Paris Review–The Art of Fiction 1956


What was it about the twenties that inspired people like yourself and Broun?


Gertrude Stein did us the most harm when she said, “You’re all a lost generation.” That got around to certain people and we all said, Whee! We’re lost. Perhaps it suddenly brought to us the sense of change. Or irresponsibility. But don’t forget that, though the people in the twenties seemed like flops, they weren’t. Fitzgerald, the rest of them, reckless as they were, drinkers as they were, they worked damn hard and all the time.


Did the “lost generation” attitude you speak of have a detrimental effect on your own work?


Silly of me to blame it on dates, but so it happened to be. Dammit, it was the twenties and we had to be smarty. I wanted to be cute. That’s the terrible thing. I should have had more sense.


And during this time you were writing poems?


My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody was then, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated—as anything once fashionable is dreadful now. I gave it up, knowing it wasn’t getting any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.

Dorothy Parker


As they say read it all

guest poster–Barbara Morgenroth

Dorothy Parker’s Ashes

23 September 2011

From the Dorothy Parker Society:

If you think your best friend will look out for your best interests after you check out of this life, then listen to the tale of what happened to Dorothy Parker’s ashes after she died in 1967. We all know Parker had a deep affection for death-inspired imagery. She was asked once to compose her epitaph: “Excuse My Dust,” she wrote. Later, she penned another: “This Is On Me.”

Her ashes are in Baltimore, Maryland. What is the true Parker epitaph? Read on…

Four suicide attempts never succeeded for Dorothy Parker. When she turned 70, she told an interviewer who asked what she was going to do next, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” But death waited until she was 73, and a fatal coronary came on June 7, 1967. She was living in the Volney; a residential hotel located at 23 East 74th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues on New York’s fashionable Upper East Side.

Her will was plain and simple. With no heirs, she left her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She’d never met the civil rights activist, but always felt strongly for social justice. She named the acerbic author Lillian Hellman as her executor.

Parker didn’t want a funeral, but Hellman held one anyway, and made herself the star attraction. Her memorial ceremony was held at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home, on the corner of East 81st Street and Madison Avenue, just seven blocks from the Volney.

Within a year of her death, Dr. King was assassinated, and the Parker estate rolled over to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. To this day, the NAACP benefits from the royalty of all Parker publications and productions.

She was cremated, and this is where the story takes a sharp right turn. Parker was cremated June 9, 1967, at Ferncliff Crematory in Hartsdale, New York. Hellman, who made all the funeral arrangements, never told the crematory what to do with the ashes. So they sat on a shelf in Hartsdale. Six years later, on July 16, 1973, the ashes were mailed to Mrs. Parker’s lawyer’s offices, O’Dwyer and Bernstein, 99 Wall Street. Paul O’Dwyer, her attorney, didn’t know what to do with the little box of ashes. It sat on a shelf, on a desk, and for 15 years, in a filing cabinet.

Hellman went to court to fight the NAACP over Parker’s literary estate. Hellman lost in 1972 when a judge ruled that she should be removed from executorship. Hellman was adamant that she get Parker’s money, and came out of the mess painted as a racist. She was sure the will was supposed to give her a huge sum. Hellman said, “she must have been drunk when she did it.”

And from The Baltimore Sun:

Excuse her dust — again. The NAACP’s desire to move its headquarters from Baltimore to the nation’s capital not only surprised city officials earlier this month, but it also seized the attention of writer Dorothy Parker’s admirers. Through an unlikely set of circumstances, Parker’s ashes are buried in a memorial garden at the civil rights organization’s Northwest Baltimore headquarters.

Fans of Parker, the oft-quoted, quintessential New York writer, wondered if she would make the trip to D.C. with the civil rights group.

“I hope things turn out well for her,” says Kevin Fitzpatrick, president of the 3,000-member Dorothy Parker Society in New York.

How Parker’s ashes came to be buried in Baltimore — under a plaque that includes the epitaph she wrote for herself, “Excuse my dust” — is a something of a twisted tale. In life, the famed wit of the Algonquin Round Table was not particularly fond of the city.

In the early 1920s, Parker traveled here to see her play, Close Harmony, open and close in two weeks. She took the opportunity to visit another writer and social commentator of the day, H. L. Mencken, whose work she respected and who had published many of her short stories. But the social call did not go well, according to Marion Meade’s biography, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This?

“On this particular evening, she was disappointed to find him coarse and insensitive,” Meade wrote. “When he began to tell jokes about blacks, Dorothy bristled and decided to leave. She refused to spend the night in Baltimore.”

It is unclear whether Parker visited the city again.

Parker bequeathed her estate to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Meade wrote that a “puzzled” King graciously accepted the $20,000 estate, but “he had no idea who Parker was.” King died 10 months after Parker’s death in 1967. Over executor Lillian Hellman’s protests, Parker’s estate then passed on to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (as Parker had requested in the event of King’s death), which inherited and still holds the copyrights to Parker’s collected works.

“This sounds crass,” Meade says, “but she is their property.”

In her will, Parker did not say where she wanted to be buried. While researching Parker’s life, Meade interviewed the writer’s attorney, Paul O’Dwyer. He nonchalantly opened a filing cabinet in his New York office to show her the box of Parker’s ashes, which remained there for 15 years because O’Dwyer had no idea what to do with them. Meade says suggestions for a final resting place included painting Parker’s ashes into a mural at New York’s Algonquin Hotel, where she and a band of New York literati held court in the 1920s.

The mural idea died, mercifully. In the meantime, the NAACP, which was based in New York, moved to Baltimore in 1986. Executive Director the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks heard about the unceremoniously filed ashes and thought Parker’s remains deserved a more distinguished resting place. A $10,000 memorial garden was created at the group’s headquarters on Mount Hope Drive in 1988.

“It was,” says Fitzpatrick, “one of the nicest things … that any group has done for an author.” Parker, beyond her reputation for acerbic book reviews and quotable one-liners, was also a champion of social justice who wrote about race relations in the 1920s, Fitzpatrick says.

. . . .

If no memorial garden setting can be found, Fitzpatrick and Meade say a more appropriate location for Parker’s remains would be New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where Parker’s parents are buried. Parker, who was blacklisted by Hollywood studio bosses in the 1950s for allegedly being a Communist Party member, would probably have recoiled at the thought of relocating to the nation’s capital, says her biographer.

In a grove of pine trees on Mount Hope Drive, walkways lead to a small, circular brick memorial behind an office building. The bricks have bowed a bit at the Dorothy Parker Memorial Gardens, but the centerpiece urn and epitaph are unmoved.

“Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker. Humorist, Writer, Critic. Defender of Human and Civil Rights,” reads the NAACP’s 1988 inscription, which included the writer’s suggested epitaph. “Excuse my dust” is a quintessential Parkerism.

Link to the rest at The Dorothy Parker Society here and here. Thanks to Kris Rusch for the tip on Dorothy’s estate.

Passive Guy has written about What Happens When an Author Dies and Yet Another Reason to Die as an Indie Author.

Authors can take several lessons from Dorothy Parker’s postmortem experiences.

Sometimes people suggest you should specify your funeral arrangements in your will. PG disagrees.

During the few days (usually) between someone’s death and burial, there’s a mad scramble among family and friends to travel, get the funeral put together, etc. Sometimes nobody thinks to look at the will until the funeral is over and sometimes nobody is quite certain where the will is.

A better practical approach is to send a letter to several family members who are likely to survive you saying what you want the funeral and burial arrangements to be.

If you’re done moving from place to place and want to make advance plans with a mortuary, you can do that. The mortician will mention lots of decisions you never thought about. The mortuary will recommend that you pay for your funeral in advance. If you do so, that will pretty well lock in the arrangements, but you don’t need to go the prepaid route to decide how you want your funeral to happen. Most states have insurance regulations to prevent mortuaries from taking advance payments then disappearing with the money. (Yes, it is a species of insurance.)

Per Dorothy’s experience, specify things like burial or cremation and what should happen with your remains. PG doesn’t think many laws will interfere with spreading ashes, but if you opt for burial, your heirs can’t hire a guy with a backhoe and plant you in the backyard.

If you die a long distance from your anticipated burial location, transport of a body in a temporary coffin can be expensive and both a sending and receiving mortician will probably be involved and charge for their services. By all means, retire to Costa Rica, but to spare your heirs, keep some money set aside to get yourself back to Anchorage for burial in case you pass on watching the sun set over the Pacific.

Choose someone dull and reliable to be your executor.

One of the advantages of a well-written will and/or trust is that it will lock down the question of who gets what and make fights a losing proposition. Plus, there is also the in terrorem clause.

What is an in terrorem clause? It’s a provision that says anyone who contests your will is automatically disinherited and receives nothing from your estate. Enforceability varies from state to state.

Don’t try to write your own will.

PG knows you are an author, but if you want to leave inspirational or humorous last words, do so in a letter or a separate document, not your will. Like your executor, your will should be dull and reliable, so it looks like most of the other wills that pass through probate court without hitting any speed bumps.

If decide to modify your will, don’t cross out some words and write new provisions in the margin. Scribbled changes were the basis for a 17-year will contest PG managed to wind up a long time ago. Think Bleak House.

Instead, go back to your attorney and have him/her either revise the will or prepare a codicil – lawyer talk for an amendment to your will. In the age of word processing, PG usually prefers a new will to prevent the codicil from being separated from the original will.

If you get a new will, don’t keep the old one around for sentimental reasons. Destroy it as soon as you’ve signed the new one. If you’ve sent a copy of the old will to anyone, tell them to do the same thing when you send them a new copy.

There is a very practical reason for only having one version of your will in existence. When you die 50 years from now, someone or several someones will start looking for your will. The tendency of searchers is to stop looking when they find a will. If the will they find first is one of your old ones, the searchers will be glad to get down out of the attic and things won’t go the way you want them to go.

Which leads to PG’s last bit of advice – tell someone where your will is. PG always kept a copy of a client’s will in his law office when he handled estate planning (while PG is happy to help estate planning attorneys understand issues involved in publishing contracts and copyrights, he doesn’t write wills any more). If an original will couldn’t be found, with some legal hocus pocus, the probate court would accept PG’s the office copy.

PG didn’t keep a duplicate original in his office because of the first-will-found syndrome described above. A client might have PG write a will, then go to another attorney at a later time to have a new will written.

In submitting PG’s office copy of a will for probate, the executor will have to swear that he/she looked all through the attic and the desk and the safety deposit box, asked every relative, talked to every attorney, etc., but was unable to find the original. The executor submits the copy and the the witnesses to her signature swear the copy is exactly the same as the will she actually signed.

Just a few ideas to help make sure nobody writes the kind of story about you that we’ve read about Dorothy Parker.


Dorothy Parker on Glasses

11 September 2011

For those unfamiliar with her, Dorothy Parker was a writer, journalist and critic who wrote from 1918 to the mid-sixties. She was known for her sarcasm. There is even a Dorothy Parker Society.

One of her most famous quotes:

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses

We’ll have some other Dorothy Parker quotes over the next few days.

The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

8 May 2018

From The Guardian:

In recent years, the group biography has become a spirited mainstay of the publishing landscape: a means both of revisiting and reinterpreting already familiar times, people and places, and of bringing together between hard covers lives that might not be deserving of an individual doorstop. In Sharp, though, Michelle Dean has assembled not so much a group as a small crowd: her book, with its title that brings to mind suddenly puckered lips, has the feeling of a cocktail party at which several people drink too much, nearly everyone talks too loudly, and no one really likes anyone else. Through this gathering, she wanders, ashtray in one hand, dishcloth in the other. Dean relishes her guests’ bad behaviour – you might call her a little starstruck – but only to a degree. As the evening goes on, she will sometimes find herself apologising for them, these women who are so clever and talented, and yet so madly competitive, so stubbornly reluctant to attach the word “feminist” to their neon-bright names.

. . . .

Most began as journalists, making an art, as Dean’s subtitle has it, of “having an opinion”; some then went on to write acclaimed novels, and other kinds of books. Most of their names are well known: Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Mary McCarthy, Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, Rebecca West. Others, at least for British readers, may be less familiar: Janet Malcolm, whose singular, often controversial interviews appeared in the New Yorker; Pauline Kael, once the same magazine’s acerbic film critic; Renata Adler, the reporter whose home was also there until she put the literary equivalent of a bomb under her career. Dean gives each one about the same amount of attention, although it’s clear that she enjoys the company of some more than others. The playwright Lillian Hellman and the novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, however, she collides with so fleetingly, they appear before the reader like gatecrashers or, more likely, additions to the guest list so embarrassingly last minute she can hardly bear to do much more than pour them their first sidecar.

What unites them, besides their trade and their talent? Dean talks, in her preface, of their remarkable achievements in a world that “was not eager to hear women’s opinions about anything”; of the way they roundly defied expectations. But there’s also the adjective of her title: sharp. People did not always respond favourably to the “sting” of their words. What would have seemed daring and deeply smart coming from a man appeared only haughty, inappropriate and unkind when served up by a woman.

. . . .

Didion, in her tiny dresses, her wrists like clay pipes, was just so much surface and “swank”. Dean, a journalist herself, sympathises with all this; her book – though these are my words, not hers – is for any woman who has ever silenced a dinner table by being just a little too quick, too knowing, too mocking. Am I allowed to say that I have more than once done just that? Maybe I am.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Women Intellectuals and the Art of the Withering Quip

24 April 2018

From The Paris Review:

“If one is a woman writer there are certain things one must do,” the British writer and journalist Rebecca West writes to a friend in 1952. “First, not be too good; second, die young, what an edge Katherine Mansfield has on all of us; third, commit suicide like Virginia Woolf. To go on writing and writing well just can’t be forgiven.” West, ignoring her own advice, neither died prematurely nor blunted the fineness of her writing. As a young woman, she made her name with witty, digressive book reviews that were often wonderfully cutting. (On Henry James: “He splits hairs until there are no longer any hairs to split, and the mental gesture becomes merely the making of agitated passes over a complete and disconcerting baldness.”) She also wrote several novels and covered world events for prestigious magazines, including the trial of the English fascist William Joyce and the 1947 lynching of Willie Earle.

. . . .

The literary critic Michelle Dean’s new book of the same name, a cultural history-cum-group biography, examines the lives and careers of ten sharp women, among them Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Dorothy Parker, Renata Adler, Hannah Arendt, and Zora Neale Hurston. What unites this disparate group, Dean claims, is the ability “to write unforgettably.”

. . . .

“The longer I looked at the work these women laid out before me,” Dean writes, “the more puzzling I found it that anyone could look at the literary and intellectual history of the twentieth century and not center women in it.” 

Dean’s centering, or recentering, is both deeply researched and uncommonly engrossing. Indeed, Sharp’s pacing and wealth of anecdote compel one to consume the book like a novel. Many of the book’s satisfactions arise from the depictions of the incestuous, fiercely competitive beau monde these women inhabited. There is a delicious pleasure in reading about the stars and bit players of the fabled “New York intellectuals” of the 1940s—men and women alike—and their petty spats and rivalries that lasted for days or for decades.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review and here’s a link to Sharp by Michelle Dean

That would be a good thing

16 April 2018

That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.

Dorothy Parker

Writing in the Public Eye, These Women Brought the 20th Century Into Focus

16 April 2018
Comments Off on Writing in the Public Eye, These Women Brought the 20th Century Into Focus

From Smithsonian:

“So there you are” read the kicker on Dorothy Parker’s first, somewhat hesitant review as the newly appointed theatre critic for Vanity Fair. An exploration into musical comediesthe article ran 100 years ago this month—a full two years before American women had the right to vote, when female voices in the public sphere were few and far between. It wouldn’t take long, just a few more articles, for Parker’s voice to transform into the confident, piercing wit for which she’s now famous.

In her new book, Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion (April 10, Grove Atlantic), author Michelle Dean mixes biography, history and criticism to examine how female intellects and critics of the 20th century, like Parker, carved out a space for themselves at a time when women’s opinions weren’t entirely welcome in the national conversation. What drew readers to these women, and what sometimes what repelled them, was their sharpness. As Dean described in an interview, it’s a tone that proved “most successful at cutting through a male-dominated atmosphere of public debate.”

Dedicating individual chapters to each of the ten women she profiles, and a few to illustrate their overlap, Dean lays out a constellation of political thinkers and cultural critics. Often, these women are seen as separate from one another, but the book puts them in conversation with each other. After all, several of the women “knew each other or had personal connections, or wrote about the same things at the same times, or often reviewed each other,” Dean said. Parker leads the pack because, as Dean explained, she was “somebody everybody had to define themselves against…the type of writer that they represent wouldn’t exist without her.”

The role of the 20th century public intellectual to shape political discourse, and that of the critic to define and assess the national culture was primarily dominated by men, from Saul Bellow to Dwight MacDonald to Edmund Wilson. The women Dean covers used their intellect to stake out a place for themselves in the conversation and on the pages of major magazines like The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books where the American public first got to know them. These publications offered the women of Sharp a place to explore and defend their ideas, including Hannah Arendt’s “the banality of evil,” inspired by her reporting on the trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann and the concept of “camp” aesthetics, first codified by Susan Sontag in the Partisan Review. They critiqued the merits of each other’s work—in the New York Review of Books, Renata Adler tore apart Pauline Kael’s film criticism—and inspired new writers—a young Kael remembered being struck by the protagonist of Mary McCarthy’s novel, The Company She Keeps. Ultimately, these women influenced the conversation on topics that ranged from politics, film, photography, psychoanalysis to feminism, to name just a few.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian

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