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Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Parker’

I Spent $300 on a T-shirt Last Week, and Other News

April 14, 2016 | by

Simon Hanselmann. Photo: Fantagraphics, via the Guardian.

Mrs. Parker and the Pink Object

February 18, 2016 | by

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At the time of this interview, Mrs. Parker was living in a midtown New York hotel. She shared her small apartment with a youthful poodle that had the run of the place and had caused it to look, as Mrs. Parker said apologetically, somewhat “Hogarthian”: newspapers spread about the floor, picked lamb chops here and there, and a rubber doll—its throat torn from ear to ear—which Mrs. Parker lobbed left-handed from her chair into corners of the room for the poodle to retrieve—as it did, never tiring of the opportunity. The room was sparsely decorated, its one overpowering fixture being a large dog portrait, not of the poodle, but of a sheepdog owned by the author Philip Wylie, and painted by his wife. The portrait indicated a dog of such size that if it were real, would have dwarfed Mrs. Parker, who was a small woman, her voice gentle, her tone often apologetic, but occasionally, given the opportunity to comment on matters she felt strongly about, she spoke almost harshly, and her sentences were punctuated with observations phrased with lethal force. 

That description comes from the introduction to Dorothy Parker’s 1956 Paris Review Art of Fiction interview, a document of unusual (sometimes harsh) honesty, and great humor. I've always tried to envision that scene: the writer, battling depression and alcoholism, her career (to her eyes) in twilight—and so was fascinated to run across this snapshot in the New York Public Library’s digital archive. It pictures Parker—petite, with signature chignon and bangs—in a distinctly midcentury room, seated on a dun-colored sofa with two poodles. Before her on a marbled coffee table is a fairly hideous arrangement made up at least in part of dried eucalyptus stems, which puts the viewer in the unusual position of being able to imagine the smell of the scene: eucalyptus and dog, with hints of coffee. (I assume coffee, rather than tea, although feel free to disagree.) The only real mystery—besides where she is, and who took the picture—concerns the pink plush thing on the stack of magazines. Hat? Chew toy? Lamb Chop? But then, as Parker herself wrote in Esquire in 1959, “In all reverence I say Heaven bless the Whodunit, the soothing balm on the wound, the cooling hand on the brow, the opiate of the people.” Update: a colleague feels strongly that it is a bedroom slipper “filled with either dog food or gold coins,” possibly the chocolate Hanukah kind. 

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Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent. 

The Eternal Ham

September 25, 2015 | by

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with a Ham, 1767.

Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of the best quotes in history: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Like many such quips, it’s hard to find the original source—although in this case, we can safely assume that life was certainly the direct inspiration. 

It’s not just that hams are big—they were even more massive in Parker’s day than they are now—or that a little of the salty meat goes a long way. It’s also the fact that a ham goes immediately from a thing of festive beauty (cue pineapple rings, scored surfaces studded with cloves, glistening patina) to a professional leftover. It goes very gentle into that good night. And, because it is cured, and because it can be used in so many ways, and because you can always, always scrape more meat off that bone—well, you’re really never justified in throwing it away. It’s with you for eternity. Read More »

Booksellers Week

May 11, 2015 | by

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Carl Spitzweg, Kunst und Wissenschaft (detail), ca. 1880.

One of the few remaining bastions of character on New York’s Upper West Side is its smattering of sidewalk booksellers. Up and down Broadway—displaying wares by American Apparel, blasting Bach, and hawking signed Roth novels in front of Zabar’s, dressed in velvet by the Eighty-Sixth Street Uptown 1—these are the folks who keep the neighborhood alive.  

Over the weekend, I was perusing the stall of a certain bookseller when another customer—a “character” in a many-pocketed fishing-tackle vest—strode up and began barraging the mild-mannered proprietor with questions. Read More »

Fresh Hell

August 22, 2014 | by

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Dorothy Parker

If you wish to celebrate Dorothy Parker’s birthday with a small gift to yourself, you have many options. An Etsy search of the writer’s name will give you letterpress prints and pillows and pins; a locket; earrings, several flasks; a bracelet; a range of portraits, including a cat in a cloche; a sampler; and a choice of two dolls. And the tote bags! Ah, the tote bags. Need I even mention the tote bags? I am not immune; yesterday, I treated myself to a Dorothy Parker cocktail, made with Dorothy Parker gin. At the Algonquin, no less. (There is also a certain charm to “what fresh hell” spelled out in Morse Code.)

Dorothy Parker’s Art of Fiction interview, from 1956, has always been among my favorites. She has no interest in glamorizing her reputation. She has scant regard for her much-vaunted wit. From the interview’s introduction: “Readers of this interview ... will find that Mrs. Parker had only contempt for the eager reception accorded her wit.” “Why, it got so bad,” she had said bitterly, “that they began to laugh before I opened my mouth.” I can’t think of an interview more honest, or more generous. She refuses to call herself a serious writer, saying:

There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

And on the vaunted Round Table: “I wasn’t there very often—it cost too much. Others went. Kaufman was there. I guess he was sort of funny.”

Say what she will, no one can take away from the body of her quotables—or, for that matter, an easy cultural shorthand that reduces her to bons mots. But for my money, there’s no quote that sticks with you quite so much as the final lines of that interview:

It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—don’t you, honey?

Coming of Age

February 7, 2014 | by

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Valenciennes lace of Ypres, 1875

The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.

The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”

At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »