Parker, Dorothy (Rothchild) (22 August 1893 - 7 June 1967)
The witty Parker once wrote, “I went to a convent in New York and was fired finally for my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was a spontaneous combustion.”
She was drama critic for Vanity Fair (1916–1917) and book critic for The New Yorker (1927). Her bons mots were legendary:
- • Men seldom make passes
- At girls that wear glasses.
- • The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live
- as one of the prettiest love stories in all literature.
- • Look at him, a rhinestone in the rough.
- • His body has gone to his head.
- • If all the girls in attendance (at the Yale prom) were laid end to end . . .
- I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
- • I was the toast of two continents: Greenland and Australia.
- • (Asked to use the word horticulture) You can lead a horticulture,
- but you can’t make her think.
- • (Told that Clare Boothe Luce was kind to her inferiors):
- And where does she find them?
- • (Informed that President Calvin Coolidge was dead): How could they tell?
- • (A 1933 review of The Lake, starring Katharine Hepburn):
- Miss Hepburn runs the gamut of motions from A to B.
- • (At a party): One more drink and I’ll be under the host.
- • All I want is a little room where I can lay my hat and a few friends.
- • Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
- • This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown
- with great force.
- • “The House Beautiful” is the play lousy.
- • Tonstant Weader fwowed up. (in a review of The House at Pooh Corner)
- • Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.
Critic Brendan Gill calls her “a blatant homophobe.” However, Parker is often cited for her humanistic sentiment:
- The man she had was kind and clean
- And well enough for every day,
- But, oh, dear friends, you should have seen
- The one that got away!
Parker, one of the better-known wits who were members in New York City of the Algonquin Round Table (Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, Irving Berlin, George S. Kaufman were others), once described her bisexual husband and screenwriting partner, Alan Campbell, as “the wickedest woman in Paris.” Although one of the founders of the Algonquin Round Table, she later disliked the group. When the circle broke up, she moved to Hollywood and received two Academy Award nominations for her screenwriting. When placed on the Hollywood blacklist because of her left-wing politics,
The daughter of Jacob Henry and Eliza Annie Rothschild (née Marston), she was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, where her parents had a summer beach cottage. When five, her mother who was of Scottish descent, died. Her father of German-Jewish descent married Eleanor Francis Lewis. According to Dorothy Herrmann's With Malice Toward All: The Quips, Lives and Loves of Some Celebrated 20th-Century American Wits (1982), Parker detested both - she accused her father of being physically abusive and calling her stepmother "the housekeeper." She attended a Roman Catholic elementary school at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, although her father was Jewish and her stepmother was Protestant. She went to Miss Dana's School, a finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey, and at the age of 13 dropped out, ending her formal education.
In 1916 she married Edwin Pond Parker III, and they were divorced in 1928. She married the bisexual Alan Campbell in 1933, divorcing him in 1947, marrying him again in 1950).
An alcoholic who was unhappy in love affairs with Charles MacArthur and others and who had three marriages, she made at least four attempts at suicide, once by swallowing a bottle of shoe polish. Not unsurprisingly, she suggested EXCUSE MY DUST as the epitaph for her gravestone.
Her final death “was anti-climactic and painfully lonely,” Stephen M. Silverman wrote (Where’s There’s a Will, 1991). “She became a drunk in later years, and increasingly reclusive. She had settled into the Volney Hotel on Manhattan’s East 74th Street, inhabited principally by widows and divorcees. . . . [One night] she got drunk with an old friend, returned home to the Volney, and telephoned the friend to say goodnight once more in a slurred and sentimental speech. They found her the next morning in a pile on the floor, C’est Tout [her dog] whimpering in a corner.”
She left an estate worth about $90,000 in 1990 dollars. After expenses, the remaining $20,000 was given to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which she had directed although they had never met. The money went to his organization, the NAACP, and within a year King was murdered.
Parker’s will had stated that no service of any kind should be held, but Lillian Hellman took charge and 150 attended. Parker was cremated in a yellow satin gown that had been given to her by Gloria Vanderbilt. At Manhattan’s Frank E. Campbell Chapel, where the body lay, Kate Mostel stayed overnight, saying she felt a body should not be left alone. Her husband, actor Zero Mostel, gave a eulogy, suggesting that the last thing Parker would have wanted was this formal ceremony. “If she had her way,” he added to everyone’s amusement, “I suspect she would not be here at all.” Hellman’s eulogy included “She was part of nothing and nobody except herself.” Her ashes were scattered at the NAACP Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
Afterwards it was found that Parker owed the Volney $385., a drug store $24., a newspaper delivery service $95., and the Internal Revenue Service $65. In her apartment was $350. worth of uncashed royalty checks, some of them seven years old. Also lying around was a $10,000 check from Hellman, which represented the sum obtained from selling a Picasso gouache Parker once had given Hellman and which she had sold upon hearing in 1965 that Parker was destitute.
Parker, according to Christopher Hitchens (Vanity Fair, October 1999), “had never been very affirmatively Jewish—she disliked her father’s piety and always insisted that her hatred of Hitler and fascism was, so to say, secular.”
- Enough Rope (1926, poetry)
- Sunset Gun (1928)
- Laments for the Living (1930, short stories)
- Death and Taxes (1932)
- After Such Pleasures (1933, short stories)
- Collected Poems, Not So Deep as a Well (1936, poetry)
- Here Lies (1939, short stories)
- The Ladies of the Corridor (1952, with Arnaud d'Usseau)