It’s the birthday of writer and satirist Dorothy Parker, born in West End, New Jersey (1893). She was clever even as a little girl — she got kicked out of Catholic school for describing the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion.”
Almost every day from 1919 until 1929, a group of clever writers and actors met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan. They called themselves the Algonquin Round Table, and eventually, “The Vicious Circle.” Dorothy Parker was one of the founding members of the group, along with people like Harold Ross, who founded The New Yorker, and journalist George S. Kaufman, and there were frequent guests, like Tallulah Bankhead, Frank Sullivan, and Harpo Marx. They played word games and card games, they made fun of other writers and actors, they played pranks on each other, and they wrote about each others’ clever comments in newspaper columns, so that their witticisms and pranks became national news.
She moved to Hollywood in the 30’s to screenwrite. With Robert Carson and Campbell, she wrote the script for the 1937 film A “Star is Born,” for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing – Screenplay. She wrote additional dialogue for “The Little Foxes” in 1941 and received another Oscar nomination, with Frank Cavett, for 1947’s “Smash-Up, The Story of a Woman,” starring Susan Hayward.
Parker died of a heart attack at the age of 73 in 1967 in New York City. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. foundation. Following King’s death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP. Her ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her attorney Paul O’Dwyer’s filing cabinet, for approximately 17 years. In 1988, the NAACP claimed Parker’s remains and designed a memorial garden for them outside their Baltimore headquarters. The plaque reads, “Here lie 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.”
“The Flaw in Paganism” in Death and Taxes (1931)
Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)