There were times when she got tired of everything but if you talked like that, people usually wanted to know what was wrong. Didn’t she feel well? So she once put it into verse – “This living, this living, this living / Was never a project of mine” – and handed the poem to her friend Frank Adams at the World, who published it in his column.3 Later, “Coda” would be collected in a volume of verse and made readers smile, she was told, so she supposed it was decent. Poetry hadn’t changed the feelings, though, except that she was better at pretending now.
For many years Dorothy Parker had lived in a Midtown Manhattan hotel, home of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, going out each night to shows or clubs or cocktail parties, ending up at her favorite speakeasy, Tony Soma’s, where she held court in a cloud of cigarette smoke and downed copious amounts of Scotch, toddling home bleary-eyed in the predawn hours and waking up with historic hangovers that belonged, she said, in the goddamn Smithsonian under glass.
By this time the Round Table where she had gathered with her great friends Alexander Woollcott and Robert Benchley was gone, their ten-year lunch fading into myth and memory. But to the general public, she continued to be America’s sweetheart, a poet and short-story writer with a finely tuned ear and a cheeky wit, loved for indelicate confessional verses, for tortuous romances and cynical wisecracks. Because she was one-of-a-kind, fan mail addressed to “Mrs. Dorothy Parker, New York City” could be sure of delivery. Who, besides the post office, did not know that she published in the New Yorker, just as she lived at the Algonquin Hotel in Times Square? Or that her love life was in chaos as usual, her beaux being legion in quantity, low in quality, as she continued to wait for Prince Charming.
Rather surprisingly, only a portion of her work demonstrated the signature humor for which she had become famous, but instead many verses showed how she had shaped her obsession with loss and death into deceptively plain commentary. “Observation,” published in Enough Rope, 1926, was a love poem to freedom that disregarded the boundary between recklessness and self-destruction:
If I don’t drive around the park, I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
If I’m in bed each night by ten, I may get back my looks again.
If I abstain from fun and such, I’ll probably amount to much; But I shall stay the way I am, Because I do not give a damn.4
Of course she didn’t. Because she was being Dorothy Parker. At the age of 39, it was she (and Edna St. Vincent Millay) who personified the postwar woman: smart, glamorous, and sexually liberated, one of those tough cookies who did as she pleased. “And if you do not like me so, / To hell, my love, with you!” she wrote.5 (Loc.119)
Two years into the Depression the country had fallen on hard times. Yet Dottie’s difficulties had little to do with the wider world and its crazy pileups of lost jobs, bank closures, and breadlines. Most of her worries were personal – overdue rent, deadlines, memorable hangovers, missed periods, not necessarily in that order – and she would remember 1932 quite clearly as “this year of hell” when life was a ghastly mess.8 Tragedies don’t kill you, she decided, “it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smart-cracker. You know I’m not when you meet me – don’t you, honey?”9 (Loc.138)
Before the relationship collapsed, there were awful screaming matches. Just so everybody would know, she called him, publicly, a male whore because it was a fact. He, ungentlemanly, called her a rotten lay, which was an absolute lie. ( Loc.154)
She had a habit of joking that all she required in a man was good looks and stupidity, the type of fellow who might get lost in an elevator. Alan was no numbskull, but neither was he macho competitive. Eager to please, he was willing to stand behind the superstar and hold her coat.(Loc.220)
With hindsight, Dottie would recognize Hollywood money as not money at all. Like a snowball, it melted in your hand before you knew it. (Loc.274)
Dorothy Parker (1893-1976) was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist based in New York; she was known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
It is a fun book to read.
WE&P by: EZorrillaMc.