Today is the birthday of the famous New York wit, scribe and (for some of us) heart throb Dorothy Parker (1893-1967).
I fell in love with her wax sculpture in Madame Tussaud’s, which indicates a sick level of devotion I feel sure she would understand. Parker’s festive yet melancholy life was symptomatic of the dilemma and disease of all American artists. Once celebrated, you must celebrate. The very machinery that delivers your art (public appearances) comes to kill it in the cradle. I think Parker was a GREAT writer, and had the potential to be an even greater one. Her peak of artistry was when she was writing light verse and short stories and criticism for magazines from the late teens through the early thirties. We learn which writers she admired and emulated in the form of her regrets; she bemoaned the fact that she’d spent so much time warming a seat at the Algonquin Round Table, drinking and fooling around with her friends while the people she considered real writers — Fitzgerald and Hemingway — were busy turning out Great American Novels. She was never to follow their example, she simply churned out masses of “writing”, often collected and published in book form. Then she went to Hollywood, the town that is famous for boiling geniuses like lobsters and sending the shells home once they’re picked clean of the meat. Parker was associated with some good movies, usually in collaboration with a half dozen people, so it’s difficult to say what she authored, as little of it seems to bear the distinctive stamp we associate with her prose and poetry.
Suicide was a sad theme of Parker’s life, but she always seemed to be able to make make comedy out of it. This is my favorite piece of her writing (below), and it’s justly among her most famous. I find the concision of expression here BREATHTAKING. “Nooses give”. That is a sentence with TWO WORDS and says so much!
Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.
For all things Dorothy Parker, check out the Dorothy Parker Society site here.