Women and Adversity: Dorothy Parker
Journalist, Writer, Poet
I’ve never known a professional writer who was a devoted fan of Dorothy Parker. It isn’t that this founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table at that hotel in Manhattan didn’t have the talent, but she was a feminist before feminism, an activist when the concept was disparaged and a woman with a legendary acerbic wit. As an example, when asked to use “horticulture” in a sentence, she said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” For her epitaph she suggested, “Excuse my dust.”
She was born Dorothy Rothschild of affluent parents in 1893 in New Jersey. Her mother died in 1897, and her father remarried two years later, but she wasn’t close to her stepmother. She loved to read and attended Blessed Sacrament Academy in Manhattan, a finishing school in Morristown, NJ and the Art Students League in Manhattan. There’s no record of her attending high school.
Her stepmother died in 1903, and her father’s resources declined so when he died in 1913, he was penniless. Dorothy was able to sell the poem “Any Porch” to Vanity Fair, which started her career writing reviews and articles for magazines including Vogue, The New Yorker, Life and others.
She married Edwin “Eddie” Pond Parker II in 1917, but he was called to war, and she developed close relationships with fellow writers, among whom were Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood. Parker returned but Dorothy was not happy. She attempted suicide in 1923 after having an abortion then attempted suicide again in 1925. In 1926 her book of poems, Enough Rope, was a success. She followed that with several other successful books of poems and stories, primarily about heartbreak.
She and Eddie divorced in 1928, but Dorothy continued to earn money writing. “Big Blond,” her story about an aging kept woman, won the O. Henry Prize in 1929.
In 1934 she married Alan Campbell, another writer 11 years younger than she. The couple moved to Hollywood and wrote screenplays together, including credits in A Star is Born in 1937. They divorced in 1947, remarried in 1950 and were on-again-off-again until Campbell died in 1963.
Dorothy died alone of a heart attack in her room at the Hotel Varney in New York in 1967. She willed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the NAACP in case King died. She was cremated, but it wasn’t until 1988 for the NAACP to claim her ashes. She is interred in a memorial garden named for her at NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.
More about Dorothy Parker:
www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/dorothy-rothschild-parker www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/dorothy-parker#tab-poems \ http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parker-dorothy