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