I love Dorothy Parker. That quick wit. Her great one liners.
I quote Parker quite often. (These days when telemarketers have been bugging me all day on the phone and it rings yet again.)
What fresh hell is this? She would ask when her doorbell rang, irritated.
Ah, Dorothy, what fresh hell indeed. Did Jehovah’s Witnesses visit you on Saturday mornings, too? Nothing against Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it is Saturday morning for Christ’s sake! To which they reply, “Exactly!”
Of her morning routine, Parker said, “I brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
And what a sharp tongue it was. When the American columnist and wit, Franklin P. Adams, during a word game challenged her to make a sentence with the word horticulture, she didn’t hesitate. You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.
That kills me every time!
The first time I read that little story, I thought, “Now, there’s a woman after my own heart!”
I was hooked.
I was also jealous. How wonderful to never have to listen to a conversation replay on a loop in your head. What you should’a, could’a, would’a said. (Y’all know what I mean.) A great comeback delivered without a beat, every time. Bam!
When some of her witticisms were attributed to Oscar Wilde, Parker addresses the issue in a poem:
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
A Pig’s Eye View of Literature, 1937
Oscar Wilde was long dead by the time Parker sat at the Algonquin Round Table trading jabs with fellow writers. Had Wilde been alive, he probably would have had no qualms about taking credit for saying the famous quip. He had few qualms about anything. And let’s face it, he could stand his ground with the wittiest.
Oscar Wilde’s last words as he lay on his death bed: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
Okay, so he technically said it a couple of weeks before he died, but still. As the Irish proverb goes, Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
But back to Dorothy Parker. She was funny. She was brutal. She lead a difficult life. She was blacklisted as a Communist in Hollywood during the McCarthy hearings. She had difficult personal relationships. Her husband died of a drug overdose. She struggled with alcoholism. She attempted suicide three times which is possibly why I appreciate her poem Resume. I love the duplicity of the title. Is she picking up where she left off or listing her qualifications for writing the poem? Either way, it’s a damn good poem.
Here she is reading Resume. Note her nonchalant, unemotional rendition.
A few of my favorite Dorothy Parker quotes:
When asked if she was thinking about joining Alcoholics Anonymous: Certainly not. They want me to stop now.
Commenting on the Yale Prom: If all the girls who attended the prom where laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
On money: If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gave it to.
On seeing a young Katherine Hepburn in a play: She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.
One of my personal favorites: I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.
A suggested epitaph: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment. Taken from a 1929 short story she wrote for The New Yorker.
When being bugged by an editor about a deadline: Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.
Parker was the one who brought us: Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. And: Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.
My copy of The Best of Dorothy Parker.
Dorothy Parker lives on in American culture. You have probably quoted her on occasion.
A great activist for civil rights, she left her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when she died in 1967. On his death a year later, the estate went to the NAACP.
For 17 years, her ashes sat in her lawyer’s filing cabinet. (You can’t make this up, folks.)
Finally, the NAACP acquired her ashes and placed them in a memorial park outside their Baltimore office. And just as she had wished, they installed a plaque that reads: Excuse my dust.
Another suggested epitaph: “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” Taken from a 1929 short story she wrote for The New Yorker.
Dorothy Parker, always leaving us laughing.
More info on Dorothy Parker:
An in-depth article about Parker:
A great movie about Parker and her times:
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