Friday, November 18, 2011

Dorothy Parker: the smart ass

I saved Dorothy Parker for last, because she's kind of my hero. I discovered her work in college, and her sharp wit and biting sarcasm paralleled my own writing style. I felt I had found a kindred spirit.

I highly suggest you purchase a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker. It's kind of the most awesome collection of writing in the world.

Dorothy Parker was born in 1893 to a very unhappy home life in New York City. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and Dorothy grew up despising her abusive father and distant new step-mother, who she referred to as "the housekeeper."

Her formal education ended when she was 13. Seven years later her father passed away. Dorothy worked as a pianist in a dance school to earn a living, while writing poetry and prose in her spare time.

In 1917, she married a Wall Street stockbroker and she started gaining national popularity as the theater critic for Vanity Fair magazine.

She also started having regular lunches with her new journalism friends at a nearby hotel, unwittingly founding the famous Algonquin Round Table, which would grow to include actors, feminists, and comedians throughout the 1920s. Every witticism uttered at the luncheon would be splashed about in papers throughout the nation, causing each member to gain a celebrity status.

The group of friends were so tight, that when Dorothy was fired from Vanity Fair in 1920, two members of the Round Table promptly quit writing for the magazine as well, in protest.

The Round Table also helped introduce Dorothy to someone who was going to change the literary journalism scene forever: Harold Ross. He had just started publishing an unimpressive little booklet filled with short stories and human interest features. Although Dorothy figured the magazine wasn't gong anywhere, she agreed to join the staff. Harold's meager little magazine was called The New Yorker.

As the 20s went by, Dorothy attempted suicide several times. Although her career was carrying on nicely, she was depressed. Her marriage was in tatters and her life in general didn't really felt quite right. The couple eventually separated.

She laughed off her suicide attempts in her first book of poetry, Enough Rope, in 1925. It was the beginning of a fantastic literary career. Her hilarious poems about her unsuccessful romantic episodes were highly in demand. Her heart-felt short stories were published in almost every single respectable magazine. Her biting one-liners (or, tweets, as we call them today) were quoted all over the world.

By the late 1920s, Dorothy was heavily involved with political left-wing causes, such as women's rights and civil rights. She is also rumored to have had a few abortions.

In 1934, she married the bisexual screenwriter, Alan Campbell, and the pair relocated to Hollywood. They co-wrote several films together.

During World War II, she helped to co-found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and participated in numerous non-profit organizations which helped relocate refugees from war-struck countries.

Unfortunately, her hard work and dedication didn't pay off. During the McCarthy Era of the 1950s, the FBI labeled Dorothy a Communist because of her volunteer work for those organizations.

As a result, she was blacklisted from Hollywood. She went back to New York to write Broadway plays and book reviews for Esquire, but she had also started heavily drinking, which prevented true success from ever being hers again.

In 1963, Dorothy came home to find her husband dead from a drug-overdose. Dorothy died four years later, from a heart attack, at the age of 73.

She bequeathed her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. When he was assassinated, her estate was passed on to the NAACP.

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