DOROTHY PARKER, American writer born (d. 1967) Parker became famous for her short, viciously humorous poems, many about the perceived ludicrousness of her many (largely unsuccessful) romantic affairs and others wistfully considering the appeal of suicide. She never considered these poems as her most important works.
Her greatest period of productivity and success came in the next fifteen years. She published seven volumes of short stories and poetry: Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, Laments for the Living, Death and Taxes, After Such Pleasures, Not So Deep as a Well (collected poems) and Here Lies. After her death, the critic Brendan Gill noted that these titles “amounted to a capsule autobiography.” Some of this work was originally published in The New Yorker, to which she also contributed acerbic book reviews, under the byline “Constant Reader”; these were widely read and later published in a collection under that name. (Her response to a moment of whimsy in A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner: “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”) She wrote or co-wrote several plays as well, some well-reviewed, though none of lasting note.
Her best-known story, published in Bookman Magazine under the title “Big Blonde,” was awarded the O. Henry Award as the most outstanding short story of 1929. Her short stories, though often witty, were also spare and incisive, and more bittersweet than comic. She eventually separated from her husband, and had affairs with reporter-turned-playwright Charles MacArthur, and with the publisher Seward Collins.
In 1934, she married Alan Campbell, an actor with hopes to be a screenwriter. He was reputed to be bisexual — indeed, Parker did some of the reputing by claiming in public that he was “queer as a billy goat” — but there is no substantial evidence for this. Though Campbell’s screenwriting ability soon proved ephemeral at best, Parker had a natural aptitude for the work, and she soon began earning a serious living as a freelance screenwriter for various Hollywood film studios. She and Campbell moved to Hollywood and worked on more than 15 films (on a salary of $5200 a week, an enormous sum during the Depression.
Parker died of a heart attack at the age of 73 in 1967 at the Volney residential hotel in New York City. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. Following King’s death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP. Her executrix, Lillian Hellman, bitterly but unsuccessfully contested this disposition. Her ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her attorney Paul O’Dwyer’s filing cabinet, for approximately seventeen years. The NAACP eventually claimed Parker’s remains and designed a memorial garden for them outside their Baltimore headquarters. The plaque reads:
“Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, ‘Excuse my dust’. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988.