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"Her lifelong reputation as a glittering, annihilating humorist in poetry, essays, short stories and in conversation was compiled and sustained brickbat by brickbat."
Described by her friend Alexander Woollcott as "a blend of Little Nell and Lady MacBeth," Dorothy Parker was a petite, doe-eyed woman whose fragile demeanor masked her sharp wit. A writer of verse, fiction, and criticism, she was best known for her biting satire and witticisms, such as "Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses." With George S. Kaufman she reigned over the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of New York wits, during the 1920s. Dazzling popular and critical audiences alike, Parker's prose included the wickedly incisive Constant Reader column in the New Yorker and Big Blonde, which received the O. Henry Prize for best short story in 1929. In spite of her contempt for Hollywood, Parker collaborated with her husband, Alan Campbell, on at least fifteen screenplays, including the Oscar winner, A Star is Born. This film was nominated an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1937. Parker had a second Academy Award Nomination for Best Writing for the film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, in 1947. In 1992, the US Postal Service issued a Commemorative Dorothy Parker stamp in honor of her legacy.
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), They Are Moving To Bucks County, August 22, 1936. The Daily Intelligencer. Courtesy of the Spruance Collection of the Bucks County Historical Society.
Education and Training
Miss Dana's School, Morristown, New Jersey
Blessed Sacrament Convent, New York, New York
Teachers and Influences
Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, co-founders of the Algonquin Round Table
Alan Campbell, husband and co-author of over 20 screenplays
Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Donald Ogden Stuart, Zero Mostel, S.J. Perelman, Ernest Hemingway
Connection to Bucks County
Between 1936 and 1947, Dorothy Parker and her husband, Alan Campbell, resided in Bucks County, near Pipersville, off Dark Hollow Road, in Tinicum Township. Alienated by Hollywood, where they were writing screenplays, Parker and Campbell wished to set down "roots" in a more rustic locale. Like their friends, S.J. and Laura Perelman, they chose Bucks County. Situated on a 111-acre plot, their early eighteenth-century brownstone home, Fox House Farm, at Mount Airy Road in Tinicum Township, was completely dilapidated; its floor was littered with chicken carcasses, and it lacked plumbing and electricity. After spending $98,000 on repairs and interior design, they achieved a lavish and original effect, dubbed "Pipersville Modern." While residing in Bucks County, Parker hosted parties for her theatrical and literary acquaintances. She supported the founding of the Bucks County Playhouse in 1939 and was chosen to play the title role in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler during its first season, although the production never materialized. She was uncharacteristically happy in Bucks County, declaring to a friend, "I never want to leave this place."
Colleagues and Affiliations
Alan Campbell , S.J. Perelman, John Wexley, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman, Budd Schulberg, Joseph Schrank, Nathanael West, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ruth and Augustus Goetz, Catherine Ann Porter
Novels and Short Stories
High Society, 1920
Men I'm Not Married To; Women I'm Not Married To, 1922
Big Blonde, 1929
After Such Pleasures, 1932
Here Lies, 1939
Collected Stories, 1942
The Best of Dorothy Parker, 1952
Constant Reader, 1970
A Month of Saturdays, 1971
The Portable Dorothy Parker, 1973
Enough Rope, 1926
Sunset Guns, 1928
Death and Taxes, 1931
Collected Poems: Not So Deep as a Well, 1936
(All with husband Alan Campbell)
Here is My Heart, 1934
One Hour Late, 1935
Big Broadcast of 1936, 1935
Mary Burns, Fugitive, 1935
Hands Across the Table, 1935
Paris in Spring, 1935
Three Married Men, 1936
Lady Be Careful, 1936
The Moon's Our Home, 1936
A Star is Born, 1937
Crime Takes a Holiday, 1938
Trade Winds, 1938
Flight into Nowhere, 1938
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, 1939
Weekend for Three, 1941
A Gentle Gangster, 1943
Mr. Skeffington, 1944
Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, 1947
The Fan, 1949
Close Harmony, or The Lady Next Door, 1929
Ladies of the Corridor, 1954
Shoot the Works, 1931
After Such Pleasures, 1934
The Coast of Illyria, 1949
Television plays for the Festival of Performing Arts, WNEW-TV:
The Lonely Leave, 1962
A Telephone Call, 1962
Dusk Before Fireworks, 1962
Lyrics and Music
Round the Town, 1924
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Editorial staff, Vogue, 1916-1917
Drama critic, Vanity Fair, 1917-1920
Constant Reader Book Review Column, The New Yorker, 1925-1933
Book Reviewer, Esquire, 1958
Screenwriter, magazine writer in Hollywood, California, 1930s
Instructor of English, Los Angeles State College, c. 1960
O. Henry Prize for Best Short Story, Big Blonde, 1929
Marjorie Peabody Waite Award, National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1959
US Commemorative Dorothy Parker 24
"A humorist in this world is whistling by the loneliest graveyard... There is nothing funny in the world any more. If you had seen what I saw in Spain, you'd be serious too. And you'd be trying to help those poor people."
The daughter of an affluent sweatshop owner, Dorothy Parker enjoyed the conspicuous consumption of wealth. At the height of the Great Depression, Parker and her husband, Alan Campbell, rented the entire Cuttalossa Inn for four months and drove around Bucks County in their dashing new convertible. Yet, her father's business practices also influenced her political development, awakening in her a sympathy for the underprivileged and the oppressed.
Ever since the summer afternoon in 1925 when Parker was arrested and fined $5 for participating in a Sacco-Vanzetti rally, she actively joined left-wing causes. During the 1930s and 1940s, she helped to organize the Screenwriters' Guild and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Visiting Spain during its Civil War, Parker sent home impassioned articles about the brutality of an emerging fascism in Europe. Even in death, Parker contributed to liberal causes, bequeathing much of her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP.
Inevitably, Joseph McCarthy and his witch hunters blacklisted Parker for "un-American" activities in 1951. The Hollywood organizations she had joined during the 1930s were assumed to be communist fronts. As a result, she and her husband often could not find work in Hollywood. Even so, Parker never regretted her efforts to relieve the suffering of the downtrodden.
"The Round Table was... a kind of obstetrics ward and testing and developmental laboratory for some of the best humor and best humorists the United States has ever produced."
The Algonquin Round Table defined American wit during the Roaring Twenties. Drama critic Alexander Woollcott began the group informally in 1920, gathering a group of his literary friends for lunch and conversation at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. A typical Round Table lunch, attended by perhaps ten members, would consist of outrageous, and often snide, repartee, some of which had been rehearsed beforehand. Because several members of the Round Table, including Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, and George S. Kaufman, were columnists, many of the scintillating remarks cracked at these luncheons appeared shortly afterward in print, persuading readers of their cleverness.
The most prominent woman among the Algonquin wits was Dorothy Parker, who became the Round Table's leading lady. Many of her greatest quips were first uttered there. Informed, for example, that Calvin Coolidge was dead, Parker asked, "How can they tell?" When a female guest boasted of her marriage, "I've kept him for seven years," Parker replied, "Keep him long enough and he'll come back in style."
With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, the Algonquin Round Table disbanded. At that time the glib cynicism of the 1920s gave way to a more profoundly bitter and ironic despair. The 1994 film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, has revived the razor-sharp wit of Dorothy Parker and her cronies for a modern audience.