Today in Literary History – June 7, 1967 – Dorothy Parker dies

Dorothy Parker, poet, short story writer, screenwriter, journalist and Algonquin Round Table wit, died on June 7, 1967, after a heart attack at the age of seventy-three. In her will she left all of her estate to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.

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She was born Dorothy Rothschild, to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother. Her mother died when Parker was young and she detested her father who she later accused of being physically abusive.

She had her first poem accepted by Vanity Fair magazine in 1914, when she was twenty-one. She worked briefly as an editorial assistant at Vogue magazine before becoming a full time writer for Vanity Fair in 1916. The following year she married Edwin Pond Parker II, a Wall Street stockbroker.

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Around that time Parker began to have lunch with fellow Vanity Fair writers Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood at the Algonquin Hotel. They were soon joined by Franklin P. Adams, the most popular newspaper columnist in America at the time, who recounted the groups witty remarks in his column, making them famous as the witty and sarcastic Algonquin Round Table. Over the years the group grew to include many other famous wits.

Through the 1920s and thirties Parker wrote caustic poems, theatre reviews and short stories, mostly for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue. She was known for her acerbic style and world weary outlook.

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Like other writers at the time Parker moved to Hollywood in the 1930s to work on movie scripts. She was nominated for two Academy Awards, but because of her support of progressive and left-wing causes she was blacklisted in the 1950s.

She returned to New York where she suffered greatly from depression and an increase in her alcoholism. She continued to write but became isolated from longtime friends.

Here are a few of her lasting witticisms:

You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.

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 don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.

And here she is on suicide:

Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.

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