One perfect rose
April 17, 1999
THERE are some one-liners that are unforgettable.
For instance, "Brevity is the soul of lingerie" or "The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of their tires".
This review of a new book, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." This wry and self-deprecating statement at Halloween, "Ducking for apples-change one letter and it's the story of my life."
These are all examples of the wit of the great American short story writer, poet, and critic, Dorothy Parker. Recovering from surgery and other complications, I once more took refuge in her delightful sense of humour.
She wrote the famous couplet that might have prompted the invention and widespread use of contact lenses, "Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses."
Dorothy Parker, noted for her acid quips and wry comebacks, became a legendary figure on the New York literary scene. She had a very low tolerance for hypocrisy and stupidity. For instance, a young man looking loftily around at a party said, "I'm afraid I simply cannot bear fools."
"How odd," Dorothy Parker said, "Your mother could, apparently."
Speaking about an acquaintance, she murmured in bogus admiration, "You know, she speaks eighteen languages and cannot say 'No' in any of them." She once collided with Clare Booth Luce, the writer, in a narrow doorway. "Age before beauty," said Mrs Luce, stepping aside. "Pearls before swine," said Dorothy Parker, gliding through. She had previously remarked when told that Mrs Luce was always kind to her social inferiors, "And where does she find them?"
Dorothy Parker was born in West End, New Jersey, to a Jewish father and Scottish mother. She was educated at a convent, and in 1916 she sold some of her poetry to the editor of Vogue, and was given an editorial position on the magazine. From 1917 to 1920 she worked as a critic for Vanity Fair, and formed, with two other writers, Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, the nucleus of the Algonquin Round Table, an informal luncheon club held at New York City's Algonquin Hotel.
During the 1920s, although she had extra-marital affairs, drank heavily and attempted suicide three times, she maintained her writing. In the 1930s Dorothy Parker collaborated with her second husband as a film writer, including A Star Is Born (1937), reported on the Spanish Civil War, and collaborated on several plays. She was blacklisted in the 1940s for supporting radical causes. She died in New York on June 7, 1967, and left her estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Dorothy Parker was at her best at the Algonquin Round Table. Once she and a friend were discussing a forceful and extremely talkative celebrity. "She's so outspoken," remarked the friend.
"By whom?" asked Dorothy. Commenting on the book Lay Sermons by Margot Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, Dorothy Parker wrote, "The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest love stories in literature." On Marion Davies the actress Parker said, "She has only two expressions-joy and indigestion." She was no kinder to actors. "Scratch an actor," she said, "and you'll find an actress."
Sometimes her wit could be gentle. When one of her friends gave birth she sent her a telegram saying, "Congratulations. We all knew you had it in you."
Sometimes she could be outrageous. At one time she had a small cubbyhole of an office in New York. As she never had any visitors she became depressed and lonely. When the signwriter came to paint her name on the office door, she got him to write instead the word, "GENTLEMEN".
Perhaps it is this tendency for depression that caused her, in spite of her many marriages and affairs, to write, "Four be the things I'd have been better without: love, curiosity, freckles and doubt." Her suggestion for her own epitaph was, "Excuse my dust". One of my favourite pieces of her verse expresses the irony and pathos of her life, "Why is it no one ever sent me yet/ One perfect limousine, do you suppose?/ Ah no, it's always just my luck to get/ One perfect rose."
-Tony Deyal was last seen commenting on Dorothy Parker's reply to her boss when he asked her to work while she was on her honeymoon. She wrote, "Too (expletive deleted) busy and vice versa."