This Day In Literary History
On April 11th, 1931, the legendary American writer Dorothy Parker resigned as drama critic for the New Yorker magazine.
Best known as a poet, Dorothy began her career as a magazine writer in 1914 when Vogue hired her as an editorial assistant after one of her poems appeared in its sister magazine, Vanity Fair.
After working at Vogue for two years, Dorothy was transferred to Vanity Fair to work as a staff writer. By 1918, she had become the magazine's guest drama critic, filling in for the vacationing P.G. Wodehouse.
It was in this capacity that Dorothy Parker began developing the rapacious wit that would make her famous. Her reviews were often brutal. She offered this advice to potential audiences of one particular musical comedy: "If you don't knit, bring a book."
She reviewed a production of Leo Tolstoy's Redemption by saying, "I went into the Plymouth Theater a comparatively young woman, and I staggered out of it, three hours later, twenty years older."
Infuriated by Dorothy's scathing reviews of their plays, the wealthy, powerful producers flexed their considerable muscle to get her fired. Her friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, resigned in protest.
Together, they formed the Algonquin Round Table, a famous group of New York City writers, actors, critics, and wits. Another founding member of the group was Harold Ross, who would found the New Yorker magazine in 1925.
He named Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley as members of the magazine's board of editors, which made his investors happy. Over the next fifteen years, Dorothy would reach her peak of productivity and success.
Her first poetry collection, Enough Rope, was published in 1926. It sold nearly 50,000 copies and received great reviews. The Nation newsmagazine described her poetry as "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity."
Within the next four years, Dorothy would publish over 300 poems in the New Yorker and many other national magazines. In addition to her poetry, she also wrote humorous pieces, essays, columns, and book reviews for the New Yorker.
She also served as the magazine's drama critic for over five years. Then she tired of drama - and of the drama her scathing reviews created - and resigned as drama critic. She continued writing book reviews - under the byline Constant Reader - until 1933.
Dorothy Parker's writing talent and sparkling wit was noticed by Hollywood, and she became a screenwriter. In 1937, she co-wrote the hit film, A Star Is Born and earned an Academy Award nomination. Her political activism would eventually derail her Hollywood career.
She served as a correspondent for the communist magazine New Masses, reporting on the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, before her success with A Star Is Born, she founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.
During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Dorothy protested the government's relentless and mostly illegal persecution of suspected communists and communist sympathizers. She never joined the Communist Party, but did declare herself a sympathizer.
The FBI deemed her a subversive and compiled a dossier on her that would reach 1,000 pages in length. She was never charged with a crime, but her former Hollywood studio bosses blacklisted her for years. In 1957, she moved back to New York City and served as a book reviewer for Esquire magazine.
Dorothy died of a heart attack in June of 1967 at the age of 73. She left her estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination the following year, it was passed on to the NAACP.
In 1988, the NAACP interred Dorothy's ashes in a memorial garden outside its Baltimore headquarters. The plaque in the garden reads as follows:
Here lies the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph, she suggested Excuse my dust. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988
Four years later, to celebrate Dorothy's 99th birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.
Quote Of The Day
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” - Dorothy Parker
Today's video features a rare recording of Dorothy Parker reading her poem, Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom. Enjoy!