Happy Birthday, Mrs. Parker. The original Mrs. Parker that is.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is said of Hermia that “though she be but little she is fierce.” Shakespeare could have been describing Dorothy Parker, one of America’s great wits and a New York City literary icon.
On 22 August 1893 Dorothy Rothschild was born in West End, New Jersey (she would always regret that her parents couldn’t make it back to New York in time for her birth). An unhappy childhood (she lost her mother at four and didn't get along with her stepmother) didn’t stop the precocious little girl from developing her unique take on language and the world. Expelled from Catholic school for describing the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion,” her formal education ended at 14. A voracious reader (her favourite character was Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair), she wanted to be a writer and worked on her verse, getting a poem “Any Porch” published in Vanity Fair the magazine in 1915. A job at Vogue soon followed.
A few years later she married the first of her two husbands. While the marriage didn’t work out, Edwin Pond Parker II gave Dorothy Rothschild one of the most important gifts she would ever receive, a new name, and for the rest of her life she would be known as Dorothy Parker.
She would go on to work for Vanity Fair, eventually becoming its theatre critic. (On Katherine Hepburn: “[she] delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”) There she became colleagues and good friends with Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood. When the magazine’s editor, Frank Crowninshield, famously invited her to brunch at the Plaza only to fire her (one of her reviews had angered Flo Ziegfeld), Benchley and Sherwood walked out inprotest.
But she could write and write well. I dare you to read one of her short stories like “Big Blonde” or "A Telephone Call" and not feel moved by the plight of the female characters or read one of her poems such as “Inventory” or “Symptom Recital” and not nod your head in agreement with the truth of her words.