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August 22: Dorothy Parker

Lawrence Bush
August 21, 2016

Writer and public wit Dorothy Parker was born in Long Branch, New Jersey on this date in 1893. She was the daughter of a Jewish father, whom she hated, and a Scottish Protestant mother, and she married (for the first time), she said, to escape her Jewish name (Rothschild) — yet the memorial garden dedicated to her outside NAACP headquarters in Baltimore (she left her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was passed along upon his death to the NAACP) is marked by a plaque honoring “her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and . . . the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people.” Parker was a regular contributor to the New Yorker and was one of only two women among the charter members of the famed Algonquin Round Table, a community of writers who met together daily at the Algonquin Hotel for ten years. In the 1920s, Parker published some 300 poems in a variety of national magazines and two books of verse (her first, Enough Rope, sold nearly 50,000 copies), and her 1929 short story, “Big Blonde,” won the O. Henry Award. In the 1930s, she mostly wrote screenplays and lyrics for Hollywood, and won two Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay. She also became deeply involved in radical causes, which led to her being blacklisted in the late 1940s and ’50s. Parker married twice, partnering her second time with Alan Campbell, an actor who, she said, was “queer as a billy goat” and collaborated with her on fifteen film projects. (“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common,” she said.) Parker died of a heart attack in 1967; the epitaph she proposed for herself was “Excuse my dust.” To hear her reading her very short poem, “Resumé,” look below.

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”

“I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.”

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” --Dorothy Parker

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.