The Queen Of The ‘Algonquin Round Table’
By Tom Morrow
One of America’s greatest writers and poets known for her wit, sardonic, and satirical wisecracks was Dorothy Rothschild Parker. Known to most of her friends and admirers as “Miss Parker,” she was born Aug. 22, 1893, and was a founding member of the Hotel Algonquin’s “Round Table.”
In 1917, she met and married Edwin Pond Parker II, but they were soon separated by his World War II service. She had ambivalent feelings about her Jewish heritage and later joked that married to escape her name.
Parker’s career took off in 1918, while she was writing theatre criticism for Vanity Fair. At the magazine, she met Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood. The trio began lunching at the Algonquin Hotel on a near-daily basis and became founding members of what became known as the “Algonquin Round Table.” Parker began developing a national reputation as a wit. Here’s an example of her dry sense of humor: When she heard of the passing of famously “silent” former president Calvin Coolidge, Parker remarked, “How could they tell?”
Parker became noted for her short, viciously humorous poems, many highlighting ludicrous aspects of her many (largely unsuccessful) romantic affairs. Some of Parker’s most popular work was published in The New Yorker in the form of acerbic book reviews under the byline “Constant Reader.” Her response to the whimsy of A. A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner” was “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”
She had a number of affairs; her lovers including reporter-turned-playwright Charles MacArthur (who later was married to actress Helen Hayes). That relationship resulted in a pregnancy. Parker is alleged to have said, “… how like me to put all my eggs into one bastard.”
In 1932, Parker met Alan Campbell, whom she married two years later. They moved to Hollywood and would eventually earn $2,000 per week, and in some instances upwards of $5,000 per week as freelancers for various studios. She and Campbell worked on more than 15 films.
With Campbell and Robert Carson, Parker wrote the script for the 1937 Academy Award-winning film “A Star Is Born,” starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. The team was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing of a Screenplay. Parker wrote additional dialogue for “The Little Foxes” in 1941, starring Bette Davis. She received a nomination for an Oscar for the screenplay of “Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman” (1947), starring Susan Hayward.
During the Great Depression, Parker was among numerous American intellectuals and artists who became involved in related social movements. In 1937, she was a reporter for the Loyalist cause in Spain in the Communist magazine, The New Masses. Parker helped to found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936, which the FBI suspected of being a Communist Party front. The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League’s membership eventually grew to some 4,000 strong, later becoming a target for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
The FBI compiled a 1,000-page dossier on Parker because of her suspected involvement in communism during the early fifties when Senator Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisconsin) was raising alarms about communists in government and Hollywood. As a result, movie studio bosses placed her on the Hollywood blacklist. Her final screenplay was “The Fan,” a 1949 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” directed by Otto Preminger.
Back in New York, Parker occasionally participated in radio programs, including “Information Please.” Both Ilka Chase and Tallulah Bankhead used her material for radio monologues.
Parker died on June 7, 1967, of a heart attack at the age of 73. Her executor, author and friend was Lillian Hellman, but her ashes remained unclaimed in her attorney Paul O’ Dwyer’s filing cabinet for 17 years.
Parker would have had some great observations about life in 2019.
“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.'”
“One more drink and I’ll be under the host.”
“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
“To cut on my tombstone: ‘Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.’”
And, an example of her poetry:
“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.”
“Excuse my dust” for her epitaph — and it was