Written by Pauline Savard

Biography of Dorothy Rothschild Parker

(1893 – 1967)

Photo of Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker born Rothschild was an American writer and poet. Dorothy Parker contributed to many works of literature including newspaper columns, reviews, screenplays, satirical verses, and books; she is especially known for short stories, poems, and powerful quotes. In fact, she “was once one of the most-quoted people in America” (Fitzpatrick 1). Parker was also known for “her pointed verbal wit and satire(Johnson Lewis 1). She was one of the most accomplished feminists of her time: “Parker illustrated the real effects of poverty, economic and spiritual ideas upon women who had lacked education as a result of social class and sex.” (Tu 2).

Parker was born on August 22, 1893 in West End, New Jersey to Eliza Marston Roths, a Scottish Protestant, and J. Henry Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish garment manufacturer. Parker did not have a happy childhood. She lost her mother when she was only four years of age and her father when she was 16. In addition, Parker lost her brother Henri in 1912 when the steamship Titanic sank. Parker was educated in private schools, the Blessed Sacrament Convent School and a finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey. Later, parker said in an interview, “but as for helping me in the outside world, the convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase in.” Parker’s formal education ended when she was 14. But she never received a high school diploma, “her knowledge was acquired through her voracious reading” (Pettit 1).

Parker sold her first poem “Any Porch” to Vanity Fair magazine in 1916, and, at the same time, she started working for Vogue magazine as an editorial assistant. But a year later, she went back to Vanity Fair as a drama critic. In 1917, she married Edwin Pound Parker II, a stockbroker, who she divorced within the same year. Even though the marriage lasted for a very short period of time, she kept Parker’s name. In 1919, Parker became a founding member of the renowned intellectual literary circle the Algonquin Round Table which included Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, James Thurber, George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, and others. During this period, Parker drank heavily and attempted suicide on various occasions. In 1920, she was fired from Vanity Fair because her reviews were more and more sarcastic and unfavorable. Soon after, she found a job at Ainslee’s and could be as sarcastic, bitchy, and witty as she wanted. Her literary career began in 1922 when she wrote her first short story “Such a Pretty Little Picture”. Parker’s first collection of poems, Enough Rope was published in 1926 and contained ‘Résumé’ a poem on suicide that has been often quoted. Enough Rope became a bestseller and was followed by Sunset Guns in 1928 and Death and Taxes in 1931. In 1929, Dorothy won the O. Henry Prize for her short story “Big Blond”. Parker’s short stories were collected in Laments for the Living (1930), After Such Pleasures (1933), and Here Lies (1939).

In 1933, Parker moved to California where she wrote screenplays with her second husband, Alan Campbell. She was nominated for an Academy award in 1937 for A Star Is Born. The film received an Oscar for Best Original Story. She received another Oscar nomination in 1948 for Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. Throughout the 1940’s Dorothy continued writing prose and short stories along with screenplays. Parker was against Fascism and Nazism and she declared herself a Communist, for which she and some of her fellow writers were blacklisted in Hollywood. As a result, Parker could no longer work in California and moved back to the East Coast and wrote for Esquire until her death. In 1959, Parker was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a distinguished visiting professor at California State College in Los Angeles in 1963. Parker died at age 73 on June 7, 1967. She left her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Parker’s unhappiness in her own life was reflected in her writing. Most of Parker’s writing was about unhappiness, death, and frustration with the world she was living in. Parker offered “a witty and often acerbic assessment of human affairs – whether they concerned romantic love, the family, war, racism, self-deception, economic disparity, or the intersection of these issues. She has been called a period writer, a humorist, and a (pejoratively speaking) sentimentalist” (Pettit 1). However, Parker “was the most talked-about woman of her time, worshipped by an entire college generation for whom she mirrored, expressed, and helped to establish a new style in life and art” (Pickering 1405). Despite her sadness toward life, her alcoholism, and her various suicide attempts, Dorothy Parker was one of the most successful women and was regarded as the most brilliant writers from the early 1900s. Her work is timeless and as pertinent to today's society as it was to that of the time she wrote.

 

 

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