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Who is Dorothy Parker?

Dorothy Parker bequeathed all she owned to Martin Luther King, Jr., though it went to the NAACP.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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Dorothy Parker was an American author and critic famous for her caustic wit. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table, a regular meeting of writers and actors at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Though Dorothy Parker is perhaps best known for her one-liners, she published numerous volumes of poetry and short stories, many inspired by her cynical outlook on life.

Dorothy Parker was born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey on 22 August 1893, but she grew up on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She became familiar with tragedy at a young age. Her mother died in 1898, when Dorothy Parker was almost five years old, and her stepmother died four years later. Dorothy Parker attended a Catholic elementary school, and later a finishing school in New Jersey, which she left at the age of 13. Dorothy Parker's father died when she was 19 years old.

In 1917, Dorothy Parker married Edwin Pond Parker II, a broker on Wall Street, but he went into service in World War I shortly afterwards, and the two later divorced. The same year, Dorothy Parker published her first poem in Vanity Fair and later landed a job on the Vogue staff. Two years later, in 1919, she moved to Vanity Fair as a drama critic.

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Dorothy Parker's fame grew through her position at Vanity Fair and allowed her to meet like-minded writers, including fellow Algonquin Round Table founders Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood. Over the next ten years, the trio were joined at their Algonquin Hotel lunches by other journalists, authors, and comedians, including Harpo Marx. Their witty remarks were often repeated and published in magazines, and Dorothy Parker's were among the most memorable and biting.

Though an important step in her career, Dorothy Parker's stint at Vanity Fair was short-lived, ending in 1920 when her scathing reviews lost their novelty and began to offend. Benchley and Sherwood resigned at the same time. In 1925, Algonquin Round Table member Harold Ross founded a new magazine, The New Yorker, and offered Dorothy Parker work at the publication. She began publishing her creative work in the magazine, soon followed by poetry and short story collections in book form.

After a number of brief affairs, Dorothy Parker married actor and screenwriter Alan Campbell in 1934. She discovered her own talent for screenwriting, and the couple moved to Hollywood, where they made a comfortable living working freelance. Dorothy Parker's relationship with her second husband was stormy — they divorced in 1947, then remarried three years later.

Dorothy Parker became increasingly political in her Hollywood years, claiming to be a Communist and founding the Anti-Nazi League in 1936. In 1950, she was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under McCarthy and blacklisted. In the late 1950s, Dorothy Parker wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine to supplement her screenwriting income.

After her husband died in 1963, Dorothy Parker returned to Manhattan, where she died of a heart attack on 7 June 1967. She bequeathed everything to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it went to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after his death. Dorothy Parker's ashes, unclaimed for many years, are now interred at the Baltimore headquarters of the NAACP.

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Discuss this Article

anon952670
Post 5

What were her hobbies and did she get any recognition?

CarrotIsland
Post 4

I read in a Dorothy Parker biography that when she first moved to New York City, she wrote during the day and played the piano at night to make money. It was also said that one of the reasons that she and Edwin Pond Parker II divorced was because he was an alcoholic and during the war became addicted to morphine.

momothree
Post 3

@boathugger: There was, indeed, a movie about Dorothy Parker. The name of the Alan Rudolph film was “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”. It debuted in 1994 and starred Campbell Scott, Matthew Broderick, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It was a depiction of Dorothy Parker and her friends around the Algonquin Round Table.

BoatHugger
Post 2

Wasn't there a movie made based on the life of Dorothy Parker? I may be wrong. Has anyone ever heard of that?

JoviJo
Post 1

This article has helped me a lot on my research paper! Thank you so much!

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