Study Guide

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111207205-Parker.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Parker’s ironic wit, astute observations, and acute verse, along with her place at the Algonquin Round Table, made her one of the twentieth century’s most popular writers.

Early Life

Dorothy Rothschild was born on a rainy August night in 1893, at her family’s summer home on the shore of West End, New Jersey. Her father, Jacob Henry Rothschild, was the son of German-Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in the wake of the revolutions that spread across Europe in 1848. J. Henry, as he preferred to be known, joined his father in the men’s furnishings business. In 1868, he fell in love with his neighbor, Eliza Annie Marston, the daughter of Christian English gun merchants. The disapproval of her family kept the two apart for ten years, during which time Eliza took a job teaching public school; they finally married in 1878.

Dorothy, who was born when Eliza was forty-two years old, was the last of four children. The family lived the comfortable lives of the upper middle class, hiring Irish maids and residing on the fashionable Upper West Side. Disaster, however, does not acknowledge wealth: On July 20, 1898, when Dorothy was four years old, Eliza died of a combination of acute colic and heart disease.

Within less than two years, Henry married another well-educated gentile, Eleanor Francis Lewis. Dorothy cordially despised both her and the Blessed Sacrament Academy where Eleanor convinced Henry to enroll her as a day student. Eleanor’s determination to see Dorothy accept Christian dogma kept the two at constant loggerheads. Their struggles ended in April, 1903, when Eleanor died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage.

After Eleanor’s death, Dorothy attended the academically rigorous Miss Dana’s School in Morristown, New Jersey, where she learned Latin and French and was required to recite poetry. She graduated in 1911. From that moment until her father’s death in 1913, Dorothy’s social life revolved around tedious parties, piano playing, and composing silly rhymes to send to her father while she sat on the wide verandas of various seaside hotels.

Henry’s death on December 28, 1913, marked the end of Dorothy’s comfortable, middle-class life for a time. After the siblings divided up the household goods, Dorothy was forced to support herself by playing the piano at various Manhattan dance schools. She amused herself in the off-hours by writing light verse. Although she professed not to think of verse as a serious vocation, she thought enough of her efforts to send pieces to various publishers, including Franklin Pierce Adams, writer of the newspaper column “The Conning Tower,” and to Frank Crowninshield at Vanity Fair.

Acceptance finally came in 1914, when Crowninshield sent a letter accepting Dorothy’s poem “Any Porch” and a payment of twelve dollars. Thrilled, Dorothy immediately proposed that he might offer her a job as well. When he declined, she continued banging out tunes for would-be flappers. A few months went by, followed by another letter from Crowninshield, this time offering Dorothy a job at Vanity Fair’s sister publication Vogue. Her career was about to begin.

Life’s Work

At Vogue, Dorothy’s wit showed itself in the advertising copy and picture captions she was assigned to write. “Brevity,” she quipped in one of her most-quoted captions, “is the soul of lingerie.” During this period, she met her first husband, a handsome young stockbroker named Edwin Pond Parker II. The two married over the protests of his well-connected Protestant family but lived together only briefly; Parker enlisted as an ambulance driver and shipped out to the battlefields of Europe almost immediately.

By 1918, Parker’s clever way with words had finally earned her a position on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. Only twenty-four years old, Parker became New York’s only woman drama critic, replacing P. G. Wodehouse during his leave of absence. The reviews she wrote, penned in her highly individual style, attracted her first broad audience and put her name on the lips of sophisticated New Yorkers.

At Vanity Fair, Parker met two lifetime friends, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, witty, relatively unknown writers who, like Parker, were poised on the brink of success. The three went everywhere together, including the first luncheon of the group that was to become the renowned Algonquin Round Table. Alexander Woolcott, Edna Ferber, Harpo Marx, George S. Kaufman, Irving Berlin, and many other celebrated authors, critics, artists, and songwriters gathered around this table for daily, lunchtime exchanges of ideas, observations, and witty repartee. Parker was reputedly the wittiest of the bunch, waiting calmly in the midst of the daily babble until she saw an opening for her deadly, often profane barbs, which the petite brunette delivered in a soft, cultivated voice.

Parker was...

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Dorothy Parker Biography

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Dorothy Parker
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Introduction

Dorothy Parker once joked that she married her first husband to escape her name (Rothschild). She was a vibrant and complicated woman who is mainly remembered for her acerbic wit. Parker began her literary career as an editorial assistant for Vogue. While working as a theater critic for Vanity Fair, she became one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table, a sharp-tongued group of magazine and newspaper writers. Parker wrote many poems and short stories, but is most famous for her book reviews in The New Yorker known as “Constant Reader.” Parker moved to Hollywood in 1934 and worked on several films, but her vocal support of left-wing causes found her blacklisted. Parker’s personal life was fraught with marriages and affairs, suicide attempts and alcoholism, but in her writing, she is personified cool.

Essential Facts

  1. Dorothy Parker was married three times, twice to screenwriter Alan Campbell.
  2. Later in life, Parker criticized her once beloved Algonquin comrades, saying they were “just a bunch of loudmouths.”
  3. Parker was arrested in Boston in 1927 for protesting against the controversial executions of two men, Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She was charged with “loitering and sauntering” and fined $5.
  4. Dorothy Parker left her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. In 1988, the NAACP buried her ashes outside its headquarters.
  5. Parker has been memorialized on a stamp, in several plays, and in numerous films, including Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and Dash and Lilly.

Dorothy Parker Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Though her reputation declined sharply after the 1920’s and 1930’s, Dorothy Parker has been rediscovered by biographers, feminist writers, and literary critics who more fully appreciate the social and political sides of her works. Her experiments in fictional form and voice especially have garnered her renewed critical interest. One could argue that of all the Algonquin Table members, Parker’s literary reputation is now among the highest. In any case, general readers continue to enjoy her writings.

Dorothy Parker Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Educated at Miss Dana’s School in Morristown, New Jersey, Dorothy Rothschild Parker wrote fashion blurbs and drama criticism for Vanity Fair, short stories for The New Yorker irregularly, Hollywood screenplays at intervals (1934-1954), and Esquire book reviews (1959-1962). Her marriage to Edwin Pond Parker (1917-1928) was succeeded by two marriages to bisexual actor-writer Alan Campbell (1934-1947; 1950-1963, when Campbell died). Campbell, Lillian Hellman, and others nurtured Parker, but they could not control her drinking and her worsening writer’s block that kept her from finishing many of her literary attempts during her last fifteen years.

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Dorothy Parker Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Dorothy Parker, born Dorothy Rothschild, was the daughter of a prosperous Jewish clothier, Henry Rothschild (no relation to the banking family), and the Protestant Eliza Marston, who died shortly after childbirth. Her childhood loneliness was exacerbated by her mixed religious ancestry and the fact that her hated stepmother sent her for some years to the Blessed Sacrament Convent school in West End, New Jersey. She later said she wanted to write her autobiography if only for the sake of calling it Mongrel, an epitomization of her self-image as “a mongrel that wanted to be a thoroughbred.”

After a year (1911) at the fashionable Miss Dana’s School in Morristown, New Jersey, Parker gradually developed as a...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Dorothy Parker Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111207205-Parker.jpgDorothy Parker. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Beginning her career as a caption writer for Vogue, and later a literature and drama critic for Vanity Fair, Dorothy Parker developed a style of writing that was always witty, sometimes pointed, and often sardonic. While at Vanity Fair, Parker became friends with Robert Sherwood, the dramatic editor, and Robert Benchley, the managing editor. The three regularly took lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, where they were joined by Franklin Pierce Adams, a humor columnist for the New York Tribune, and Harold Ross, the founder of The New Yorker. This group was to form the center of a large lunch group of journalists, playwrights, and actors known as the Algonquin Round Table.

Parker...

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Dorothy Parker Biography (Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

0111207205-Parker.jpgDorothy Parker (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Author Profile

Irreverent and shrewd, Dorothy Parker punctured the pretensions of books and films in her reviews and spoke out for social causes, including civil rights and labor organizing. She is remembered for her acerbic wit, for such ironic short stories as “Big Blonde” (1929), and for the self-mocking humor of her poetry. Feminists have admired Parker’s staunch independence, which she maintained even after it jeopardized her screenwriting career in Hollywood.

Bibliography

Calhoun, Randall. Dorothy Parker: A Bio- bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. A helpful guide for the student of Parker. Includes bibliographical references and an index....

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Dorothy Parker Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111207205-Parker.jpgDorothy Parker (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Author Profile

Dorothy Parker was the youngest child of J. Henry Rothschild, a prosperous Jewish clothing manufacturer, and Eliza A. Marston, a Scottish Presbyterian, who died while she was an infant. She was educated at the Blessed Sacrament Convent School, New York City. After her father’s death in 1914 she tried freelance writing. In June, 1917, she married Edwin Pond Parker II, a young stock broker who soon volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War I. They were divorced in 1928, but Parker called herself Mrs. Dorothy Parker for the rest of her life.

Parker’s witty and satiric remarks about people and events appeared frequently in New York City newspapers, making her famous for her...

(The entire section is 858 words.)

Dorothy Parker Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207205-Parker.jpgDorothy Parker. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Dorothy Parker, called the wittiest woman in America during her heyday in the 1920’s, was born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey, in 1893. Her Scottish Presbyterian mother died when she was still an infant; her Jewish father was a strict disciplinarian who showed her little affection. After being gently asked to leave a Catholic convent school for her somewhat heretical wit, she attended Miss Dana’s School for Young Ladies in Morristown, New Jersey, where she was matriculated in 1911. After one year there, however, she left, and for the next few years, she lived in a Manhattan boardinghouse, supporting herself as best she could and writing poetry, which was regularly rejected.

Parker’s life began to...

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Dorothy Parker Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Parker was born Dorothy Rothschild on August 22, 1893, in West End, New Jersey, to a Jewish garment manufacturer and his Baptist wife. Though...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Dorothy Parker Biography (Poetry for Students)

Dorothy Rothschild Parker was born in 1893 in West End, New Jersey, to Eliza Marston Roths- child, a Scottish Protestant who died shortly...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Dorothy Parker Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111207205-Parker.jpgDorothy Parker. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Dorothy Rothschild was born to J. Henry Rothschild, a rich, well-known Jewish clothing merchant, and Eliza A. Rothschild, a schoolteacher of Scottish descent who died a few years after Dorothy’s birth. Dorothy’s unhappy, lonely childhood was further saddened by the death of her stepmother a couple of years later and eventually the deaths of her brother in 1912 and her father in 1913. She was expelled from Blessed Sacrament Convent School after insisting that the Immaculate Conception was “spontaneous combustion,” and was then sent to Miss Dana’s finishing school in New Jersey. There she studied and imitated Latin writers such as Horace and Martial, whose epigrams influenced her early poems and witticisms.

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(The entire section is 980 words.)