Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today with a mini-biography of that most wondrous woman with the razor-sharp wit, the first queen of snark, Dorothy Parker.
The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, was released on January 24, 2015.
Quotes and misquotes from Dorothy Parker are everywhere in our collective consciousness. “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” plagued me through high school and I preferred to go blind rather than wear specs. “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” “Women and elephants never forget.” “You cannot teach on old dogma new tricks.” She answered her phone not with “Hello?” but “What fresh hell is this?” (I’m really tempted to put that on my ring tone.)
While her quotes are legendary, her wit scathing, she never bothered to write her autobiography. She said she would rather cut her throat with a dull knife, but if you read between the lines of her pieces she covertly gives her history. Others filled in the gaps through her columns in Vogue and Vanity Fair. In Life Magazine she penned a column called “The Far-Sighted Muse.” Amazing since her formal education stopped at 14. She called them “compositions” but today they would be blogs.
Considered “fast” for her time, she drank, smoked, bobbed her hair, rolled her stockings, sniffed cocaine, danced the Charleston and had lots and lots of sex. She had plenty of opinions too, and on every subject. “At my birth, the devil touched my tongue,” she once said. Tallulah Bankhead, who was also pretty venomous, called her “The mistress of the verbal hand grenade.”
She hung out with her bff’s at the Algonquin Hotel where the intelligentsia of the day sat around a round table trading barbs. Famous participants were Harpo Marx (yes, he TALKED!), Ring Lardner, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. Nobody had money in 1919, so they drank lots of coffee and splurged on scrambled eggs. But richness flowed from the table. “I think the trouble was us is that we stayed too young,” she once lamented. She called their talks “Intellectual incest” and accused them of “living lives of extreme casualness.” One of the more solvent members created The New Yorker Magazine to showcase their wit.
Dorothy admired Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, William Styron Hemingway and E.M. Forester. She didn’t like sex in novels and she loved mysteries, especially Sherlock Holmes. Dashiell Hammett she hated.
She was definitely not PC. In her opinion, a writer had to be aware of life around them and have a definite point of view to share. And, oh boy, did she have a strong POV. She wrote about feminine rage and the loneliness of the career woman. She felt women were “emerging in a feminist world where there were no longer any firm rules to guide them.” This was well before the ’60’s when my generation were burning their bras. Dorothy was offered $750 a week to write for Esquire but her political views and ignoring deadlines got her fired. “There must be a magnified disregard of your readers, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it” she fired back.
The Wall Street crash of 1929 killed the fun of the Algonquin Round Table. Dorothy never married and had a tragic view of life. She is described as “weary eyes, sad mouth, superstitious, pessimistic and hated to be alone.” She was disillusioned by love, suspicious of good news, self-mocking, deliberately underachieving and always looking for the dark cloud in every silver lining. She flippantly called herself “the greatest little hoper that ever lived” and once said her two favorite things were flowers and a good cry.
Depression was a constant companion. After three failed suicide attempts, Dorothy died in 1967 at the age of 73 of a heart attack. To her dismay she outlived all her Round Table gang. She bequeathed everything to Martin Luther King Jr. in support of his cause.
Obviously, Dorothy underestimated her influence and longevity in the world of words. Wouldn’t it be great to see her ripostes on today’s world in a modern blog?