Monday, July 21, 2008

Dorothy Parker

I am in the midst of doing research for a play set in New York in the 1930s. The protagonist grew up in Manhattan in the 1920s, and wants to be a writer when she grows up. So I spent much of the weekend rereading John Keats’ biography of Dorothy Parker. Parker had been on my mind for a couple of reasons. My incredibly patient Pilates teacher Loves Dorothy Parker. There was an article by Marian Meade in "American Theatre" a few months ago about the residency hotel where Parker died, The Volney. I was surprised to discover it’s the same building where I get my hair cut.

The other reason that I’ve been thinking about Parker is that a friend who I used to work with used to say: “What fresh hell is this?” before she’d pick up a ringing phone. When she died in March, I was reminded of a story about Dorothy Parker after her second husband Alan Campbell died. Keats recounts this story in his biography. Some officious-type neighbor lady is fussing over Mrs. Parker, who isn’t well enough to attend the Richmond VA funeral.

According to Keats, the nth time the woman asks her what she can do:
’Get me a new husband,’ Dorothy Parker said.
For a moment, the woman could not believe what she had heard, ‘I think
that is the most callous and disgusting remark I ever heard in my life,’ she
said. ‘With Alan not yet buried.’
Dorothy Parker regarded the woman with weary patience. ‘Well, if that’s
the way you feel,’ she muttered. ‘So sorry. Then run down to the corner
and get me a ham and cheese on rye and tell them to hold the mayo.’

I never found that a horrible or distasteful story; I’m very fond of it. Because it’s so nakedly honest, and not (at least to the Upper East Side Lady) socially acceptable. So in my way, when my friend died, I said to my long-suffering boyfriend, “Get me a new friend.” And it that way, I meant every word.

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