Curious about Dorothy Parker

7 Jun

I’ll admit it: I don’t know as much about Dorothy Parker as I wish I did and I’ve not read as much of her work as I would like to.

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know this: In the roaring twenties, Dorothy Parker was a lioness among literary men. A quintessentially American writer, she brought wit to her poetry, short fiction, and review essays. She penned a few screenplays, includeing Saboteur for Alfred Hitchock.

Parker was an independent woman in an era that did not like strong, independent women. She not only forged her way in the largely male-oriented world of New York journalism; she did so without compromising her own sense of humor or her womanhood.  Parker did not shrink from criticizing the fashionable society in which she lived. Rather, she was forever curious, often acerbic, and, it seems, timeless.

The only cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ~Dorothy Parker

She wrote for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and perhaps most famously, The New Yorker. And, along with fellow writer Robert Benchley and Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Robert Sherwood, she convened the now-infamous “Round Table” at the Algonquin Hotel, a literary salon of sorts where the best and brightest held literary debates. These conversations often grew sufficiently catty and sarcastic that the group was also called “the Vicious Circle.”

The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue. –Dorothy Parker

Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Parker’s wit, sensuality, and glamour in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (d. Alan Rudolph). The film simply dripped with glamour and sex. And, Leigh’s lines at times seemed to all be one-liners culled from “The Quotable Dorothy Parker.” It made me, as a graduate student, long for a literary salon of my own.

All this I knew. What I didn’t know until this morning’s lovely piece on NPR’s Morning Edition was that Dorothy Parker also lived a politically active life and was particularly supportive of the civil rights movement. She left her estate to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and upon his death, the estate passed to the NAACP. Parker didn’t know Dr. King.  It’s a rather extraordinary story of how this American writer, whose life and work couldn’t seem further apart from King’s and his mission, felt the import and change of her times.(See the link to the WNYC story below.)

I’ll leave it for Pursuit of Styleness to discuss Parker’s glorious dissections of fashion. It’s definitely worth following the link below.

“I hate writing, I love having written.”   ~ Dorothy Parker

After hearing this morning’s story, I dug a bit into Parker’s biography. Like Parker, I lived in NJ for half of my life (Yes, she was born there, I was not, but NJ is NJ). Like Parker, I worked for Vanity Fair (No, I didn’t write for the magazine, but I did work there in just after the magazine was reincarnated in the late 1980s).  And, like Parker I’m an inveterate bookworm. Her book review column for The New Yorker and the anthology of reviews were called Constant Reader. (Mine is “just another WordPress.com Site!)

Sad to say, the similarities end there (though I’ve been told I am funny and do crack the occasional snort-worthy wisecrack).  But, in reading her poems I recognize a sensibility that I share, or shared depending on the poem’s subject. And, like so many, I nod at the truth that lies under so many of her quips.

Mrs. Parker died 45 years ago today. She left a rich literary legacy that I intend to add to my summer reading list. What could be better on the beach than anthology of Dorothy Parker fiction?! And, perhaps I’ll cultivate my wit and my own literary salon, too!

Compilation of Hirschfeld's work, showing cari...

Compilation of Hirschfeld’s work, showing caricatures of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams and other members of the Algonquin Round Table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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2 Responses to “Curious about Dorothy Parker”

  1. Colleen June 8, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    See? I am ever your student! Thanks for the lesson, teach…she’s been floating vaguely in my subconcious for years and I’ve been too lazy to investigate. Now, my interest is peaked.

    • Culture Bean June 8, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      Thanks, Colleen! From what I know, I think you’ll like her, especially the acerbic with and social commentary. Rent the film I mentioned. You’ll appreciate it!

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