Always wit, often wisdom, under a heavy cloud: Dorothy Parker

August 23, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

When they told her that the taciturn ex-President Calvin Coolidge was dead, she said, “How could they tell?”

Dorothy Parker never like the monicker or the reputation she had acquired as a “wisecracker,” but that is indeed what she was. She was more, however. She was a poet, critic, screenwriter, and political activist, and as a writer she had a major impact on her time and place.

She was also a victim of alcoholism and depression and dealt with these conditions for most of her adult life. She made several attempts at suicide — most of them thought to be half-hearted — and went through many broken relationships. Her leftwing politics eventually got her blacklisted from Hollywood.

All the while, she continued to write and crack wise:

You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.
Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.
I hate writing, I love having written.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.

The fact was that Dorothy Parker was a good writer, maybe even a great one. She received two Academy nominations for her screenplays, and her poetry is still read and honored. She died in 1967, but she is not forgotten. (For more on Parker and other off-kilter writers, check out Andrew Shafer’s Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors.)


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