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Dorothy Parker

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Also Known As: Dorothy Rothschild Died: June 7, 1967
Born: August 22, 1891 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: West End, New Jersey, USA Profession: screenwriter, poet, critic, satirist, short story writer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A tart-tongued wit and prolific writer of reviews, poetry, short stories, plays and screenplays, founding member of the famed Algonquin Hotel Round Table Dorothy Parker parlayed her caustic barbs into a successful career as a writer in numerous mediums. Troubled and obsessive, Parker was unpredictable and self-destructive, attempting suicide several times in her life, while growing increasingly dependent on alcohol. Still, she remained a prolific writer throughout her career for magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Smart Set and LIFE while becoming more politically active in leftist causes. She married actor and writer Alan Campbell, which led to a Hollywood career writing screenplays for "Nothing Sacred" (1937), "A Star Is Born" (1938) and "Saboteur" (1942), while helping to form the Screenwriters Guild, only to find herself blacklisted by 1950 because of her Communist affiliations. She left Hollywood for New York to write plays and a regular book review column for Esquire, though her growing alcoholism hampered her coherence. Though she died quietly in 1967, Parker remained a vital nerve in the cultural zeitgeist whose contributions to literature, film and non-fiction were...

A tart-tongued wit and prolific writer of reviews, poetry, short stories, plays and screenplays, founding member of the famed Algonquin Hotel Round Table Dorothy Parker parlayed her caustic barbs into a successful career as a writer in numerous mediums. Troubled and obsessive, Parker was unpredictable and self-destructive, attempting suicide several times in her life, while growing increasingly dependent on alcohol. Still, she remained a prolific writer throughout her career for magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Smart Set and LIFE while becoming more politically active in leftist causes. She married actor and writer Alan Campbell, which led to a Hollywood career writing screenplays for "Nothing Sacred" (1937), "A Star Is Born" (1938) and "Saboteur" (1942), while helping to form the Screenwriters Guild, only to find herself blacklisted by 1950 because of her Communist affiliations. She left Hollywood for New York to write plays and a regular book review column for Esquire, though her growing alcoholism hampered her coherence. Though she died quietly in 1967, Parker remained a vital nerve in the cultural zeitgeist whose contributions to literature, film and non-fiction were unparalleled.

Born Dorothy Rothschild on Aug. 22, 1891 in Long Branch, NJ, Parker was raised by her Jewish-American father, Jacob, and her British mother, Eliza. Just shy of Parker's fifth birthday, her mother died and her father remarried a woman she refused to acknowledge as her stepmother, let alone her mother. In fact, Parker claimed to have grown up in an unhappy and even abusive environment, which many historians believed could explain her later descents into self-destructive behavior. While attending Catholic school at the Blessed Sacrament Academy, Parker was asked to leave after displaying her caustic wit in taking a jab at the Immaculate Conception. In 1903, her stepmother died and Parker finished her education at Miss Dana's School, a finishing school in Morristown, NJ. When she was 19, her father died, which led her to eke out a living playing piano for a dance school while she developed her writing. Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914 and soon became an editorial assistant at Vogue. After two years, Parker joined Vanity Fair as a staff writer.

In 1917, Parker met and married her first of three husbands, Edwin Pond Parker II, a Wall Street broker who went off to fight World War I while she stayed behind to make her name on the New York literary scene. Her first rise to acclaim came when she began writing theater criticism for a vacationing P.G. Wodehouse, which led to meeting and eventually befriending humorist Robert Benchley and writer Robert E. Sherwood. The trio began lunching almost daily at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where other writers like Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woollcott, Ruth Hale and George S. Kaufman would trade witticisms and wordplay. Initially formed as a practical joke, The Algonquin Round Table, as they were soon called, came into national prominence when their witty barbs were disseminated in newspapers across the country. Other notable celebrities began attending the sessions, including Tallulah Bankhead, Harpo Marx, Margalo Gillmore, Donald Ogden Stewart and historian Margaret Leech. The Round Table lasted a good 10 years until as its members moved out of New York and on to other ventures. In later years, Parker openly disparaged the group, calling it "a bunch of loudmouths showing off."

Despite such admonitions from Parker and other members, the Round Table had a lasting reputation. In fact, Parker's most fruitful years as a writer were during her time with Algonquin and she wrote for some of the most important periodicals of her day including Smart Set, Ainslee's, The Saturday Evening Post and LIFE. Her success depended largely on her caustic wit, which landed Parker in trouble at Vogue in 1920 and led to her dismissal due to her routine upsetting of Broadway producers. But her sharp, often pointed critiques made her a force to be reckoned with on the national stage, while her poetry was published in countless magazines, including McCall's and The New Republic. In 1926, Parker published her first volume of poetry, Enough Rope, a rather dubious title given her suicide attempts in 1923 and 1926. Besides her own collections of poetry and short stories - one of which, "Big Blonde," won the O. Henry Award in 1929 - Parker collaborated on theater pieces with some of the medium's giants including Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and Elmer Rice. She was on the advisory committee that helped Harold Ross create the legendary magazine, The New Yorker, later becoming that periodical's chief book reviewer. Meanwhile, her first marriage to Wall Street broker Edwin Parker ended in divorce, though she held on to his name.

Parker's second marriage to writer and actor Alan Campbell in 1934 turned into a professional collaboration as well, with both spending several years in Hollywood writing and doctoring screenplays. Although she worked on a number of scenarios for which she did not receive screen credit, Parker's few credits were on several noteworthy films including William Wellman's screwball comedy classic "Nothing Sacred" (1937) starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March, and the tragic tale of fame and excess, "A Star Is Born" (1937), which earned her and Campbell an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. Of course, Parker continued writing journalistically and traveled to Spain in order to report on their civil war for New Masses magazine, a highly influential socialist magazine that rose to prominence during the Great Depression. Having already shown her left-leaning tendencies by showing support for a pair of convicted anarchists in 1927, Parker became more politically active by co-founding the Anti-Nazi League and helping to organize the Screenwriters Guild in 1937. While under contract with MGM and Columbia Studios, Parker added some welcome spice to the sugary Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy musical "Sweethearts" (1938) and wrote "Saboteur" (1942) for Alfred Hitchcock, in which she had a brief cameo in the film as a woman in a car.

As she became increasingly involved in a wide array of leftist causes, Parker sank deeper into depression and a growing dependence on alcohol. Despite her successful foray into Hollywood screenwriting, her career failed to last very long and she ultimately wrote her last script with "The Fan" (1949), an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's Fan." Meanwhile, Parker divorced Campbell, only to reconcile and remarry him in 1950, while that same year she was listed in the anti-Communist pamphlet, Red Channels, as a leftist sympathizer and was effectively blacklisted. In 1952, Parker moved back to New York and wrote the Harold Clurman-directed play, "Ladies of the Corridor" (1953) with Arnaud d'Usseau and again collaborated on the unproduced play, "The Ice Age." From 1957-1962, Parker wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine, but saw her writing become more uncertain due to her worsening alcoholism. After returning to California in 1961, Parker taught English at California State College, only to see Campbell commit suicide via drug overdose in 1963. Four years later, on June 7, 1967, Parker died of a heart attack at 73 years old and willed her entire estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Her reputation dimmed with time, though director Alan Rudolph resurrected her memory with the feature "Mrs. Parker and Her Vicious Circle" (1994), which starred Jennifer Jason Leigh in the title role.

By Shawn Dwyer

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born in West End, New Jersey to a Jewish father and British mother
1908:
Cease formal education at age 15
1914:
Worked as pianist for a dance school
1915:
Was a writer for <i>Vogue</i> magazine
1917:
Appointed theatre critic for <i>Vanity Fair</i> magazine
1919:
First meeting of Algonquin Hotel 'round table' group, headed by Alexander Woollcott
1920:
Fired by <i>Vanity Fair</i>
1920:
Made drama critic for <i>Ainslee's Magazine</i>; also contributed to magazines <i>Smart Set, Saturday Evening Post</i>, and <i>Life</i>, among others
1922:
Collaborated with Robert Benchley on one-act play "Nero" for inclusion in revue "The 49ers/No Siree"
1923:
Attempted suicide
1924:
With George S Kaufman wrote "Business is Business", one act curtain raiser to accompany premiere run of film "Beggars on Horseback"
1924:
With Elmer Rice wrote Broadway play "Close Harmony"
1925:
Member of advisory committee overseeing the founding of <i>The New Yorker</i> magazine by Harold Ross
1926:
Second suicide attempt
1926:
European tour
1927:
Book reviewer for <i>The New Yorker</i>
1927:
Attended demonstration in Boston in support of convicted anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti
1928:
Divorced husband Parker after years of separation
1929:
Moved to Hollywood with MGM contract; returned in three months
1931:
Third suicide attempt
1931:
Contributed material to revue "Shoot the Works"
1934:
Married writer/actor Alan Campbell
1934:
She and Campbell go to Hollywood under contract to Paramount
1937:
Traveled to Spain to report on the civil war for <i>New Masses</i> magazine
1937:
Co-founded Hollywood Anti-Nazi League
1937:
Helped organize Screenwriters Guild
1937:
She and Campbell have successive contracts with Goldwyn, MGM and Columbia
1939:
With Campbell adapted Hungarian play "The Happiest Man" by Miklos Laszlo; unproduced
1946:
Divorced Campbell
1949:
Her play "The Coast of Illyria" is produced in Dallas; also productions in London and Edinburgh
1950:
Named in pamphlet Red Channels as communist sympathizer and is "greylisted"
1950:
Remarried Alan Campbell
1953:
With Arnaud d'Usseau wrote play, "Ladies of the Corridor"; Harold Clurman directed
1955:
Appeared as witness before New York State Legislation Committee investigation into funding of Communist Party
1955:
Collaborated with d'Usseau on play "The Ice Age" but it remained unproduced
1956:
Contributed lyrics for one song for Leonard Bernstein's nusical "Candide"
1958:
Had regular book review column in <i>Esquire</i>
:
Taught English at California State College
1963:
Death of Alan Campbell
1964:
Left California and returned to New York
1969:
West End revue based on her writings, "As Dorothy Parker Once Said..."
1994:
Film bio, "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," released
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Blessed Sacrament Academy: -
Miss Dana's Boarding School: - 1907 - 1908

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Edward Pond Parker III. Married in 1917; divorced 1928.
husband:
Alan Campbell. Writer; actor. Married 1934; divorced 1946; remarried 1950; died 1963.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Enough Rope"
"Sunset Gun"
"Laments for the Living"
"Death and Taxes"
"After Such Pleasures"
"Not So Deep As A Well"
"Here Lies"
"The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker"
"The Portable Dorothy Parker"
"The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker"
"Short Story: A Thematic Anthology"
"Constant Reader"
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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