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Birth of Dorothy Parker

August 22, 1893
Dorothy Parker
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Dorothy Parker

The always witty, sometimes vicious writer Dorothy Parker was born on this day in 1893 to a Jewish father and Scottish mother. An outsider as a child, she developed an irreverent sense of humor early in life. She left school at age 14 to care for her ill father, who died in 1913. Four years later, she married a prosperous stockbroker from Hartford. The ten-year marriage was miserable from the start.

When her new husband went off to war, she got a job at Vanity Fair; within a year, she succeeded P.G. Wodehouse as the magazine’s drama critic. After her caustic reviews forced her departure from Vanity Fair, her life swung from one extreme to another, from suicide attempts and divorce to the glory days at the center of the Algonquin Round Table, a gathering of wits from the worlds of publishing, writing, and entertainment.

Success as a published poet did not soften her edges, as her poem “Resumé” illustrates:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

As Daniel Itzkovitz writes in his biography, “Through her worst years, [she] maintained a tough-talking and hard-drinking public exterior, scoffing at her own misery with blasé humor.”

Short stories and screenplays (including the original film of A Star Is Born) followed, as well as a second marriage with multiple breakups and reconciliations. Though she said that she was ”just a little Jewish girl trying to be cute,” Dorothy Parker’s was a brilliant chronicler of her times and ranks among the great American literary talents of the 20th century.

To learn more about Dorothy Parker, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Dorothy Parker Papers in the Virtual Archive.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Birth of Dorothy Parker." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/22/1893/dorothy-parker>.