Dorothy Parker

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Dorothy Parker (1893-08-221967-06-07) was an American writer, poet, and critic. A fixture of 1920s literary society known for her acerbic wit and low opinion of romantic relationships, she became a member of the famous Algonquin Round Table.

Sourced

  • Excuse my dust.
    • Her proposed epitaph for herself, quoted in Vanity Fair (June 1925)
  • And she had It. It, hell; she had Those.
    • Regarding a character in Elinor Glyn's novel It; in her review of same, "Madame Glyn Lectures on 'It,' with Illustrations" in The New Yorker (1927-11-26)
  • Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.
    • New Yorker (4 February 1928)
  • Well, Aimee Semple McPherson has written a book. And were you to call it a little peach, you would not be so much as scratching its surface. It is the story of her life, and it is called In the Service of the King, which title is perhaps a bit dangerously suggestive of a romantic novel. It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.
    • "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker" in The New Yorker (1928-02-25)
  • It is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.
  • That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.
    • "But the One on the Right" in The New Yorker (1929)
  • The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.
    • Review of "The House Beautiful" by Channing Pollock, New Yorker (21 March 1931)
  • [A] lady ... with all the poise of the Sphinx though but little of her mystery.
    • Concerning a child actress in A. A. Milne's play Give Me Yesterday; in her review of same, "Just Around Pooh Corner" in The New Yorker (1931-03-14)
  • Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
    Love, the reeling midnight through,
    For tomorrow we shall die!
    (But, alas, we never do.)
    • "The Flaw in Paganism" in Death and Taxes (1931)
  • [On the most beautiful words in the English language] The ones I like...are "cheque" and "enclosed."
    • Quoted in N.Y. Herald Tribune (12 December 1932)
  • And I'll stay away from Verlaine too; he was always chasing Rimbauds.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939); this plays on the title of the popular song "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"; Paul Verlaine was Arthur Rimbaud's homosexual lover.
  • I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound; if I can remember any of the damn things.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • I'm never going to accomplish anything; that's perfectly clear to me. I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • One more drink and I'd have been under the host.
    • Quoted in Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf (1944)
  • There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
    • Interview, Paris Review (Summer 1956)
  • It's not the tragedies that kill us; it's the messes.
    • Interview, Paris Review (Summer 1956)
  • [On being told of Calvin Coolidge's death] How do they know?
  • There is no such hour on the present clock as 6:30, New York time. Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you'll live through the night.
    • "New York at 6:30 P.M.", Esquire (November 1964)
  • This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
    • Quoted in The Algonquin Wits (1968) edited. by Robert E. Drennan regarding Atlas Shrugged.
  • You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.
    • Quoted in The Algonquin Wits (1968) edited. by Robert E. Drennan
  • [On her abortion] It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
    • Quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970)
  • You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.
    • Quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970)
    • Parker's answer when asked to use the word horticulture during a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence?
  • The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
    • Quoted in Turning Numbers into Knowledge (2001) by Johnathan G. Koomey ISBN 0-9706019-0-5

From Enough Rope (1926)

Ballads of a Great Weariness

Scratch a lover, and find a foe.

Fame

If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
First printed in NY World, (16 August 1925)

Comment

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.
First printed in NY World, (16 August 1925)

Résumé

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.
First printed in NY World, (16 August 1925)

News Item

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
First printed in NY World, (16 August 1925)

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying,
Lady, make a note of this —
One of you is lying.
First printed in Life, (8 April 1926) p. 11

Experience

Some men tear your heart in two,
Some men flirt and flatter,
Some men never look at you,
And that clears up the matter.
First printed in Life, (8 April 1926) p. 11

Rainy Night

I am sister to the rain;
Fey and sudden and unholy,
Petulant at the windowpane,
Quickly lost, remembered slowly.
First printed in New Yorker, (26 September 1926) p. 10

Inventory

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
First printed in Life, (11 November 1926) p. 12

From Sunset Gun (1927)

Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Will look on Helen's face in Hell;
While they whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.
First printed in Life, 24 February 1927 p. 5

A Pig's-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde

If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
First printed in Life, (2 June 1927) p. 13

Fair Weather

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
First printed in NY World, (20 January 1928) p. 13

Thoughts for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
"Your clan will pay me back some day."
First printed in New Yorker, (9 April 1927) p. 31

Alexander Woollcott While Rome Burns "Our Mrs Parker" (1934)

Woollcott's biographical essay on Dorothy Parker is the only source for many of the things she said at the Algonquin Round Table.

  • That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say No in any of them.
    • Compare with Ira Gershwin's line in "The Saga of Jenny" (1942): "In 27 languages she couldn't say no."
  • And there was that wholesale libel on a Yale prom. If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, Mrs Parker said, she wouldn't be at all surprised.
  • Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
    • Caption written for Vogue 1916
  • Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.
    • Woollcott writes in While Rome Burns that Parker had "recently...achieved an equal compression in reporting on The Lake, Miss Hepburn, it seems, had run the whole gamut from A to B." The words do not appear in Dorothy Parker's 1934 printed review of The Lake

From Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker (1996)

When We Were Very Sore (Lines on Discovering That You Have Been Advertised as America's A. A. Milne.)

Dotty had
Great Big
Visions of
Quietude.
Dotty saw an
Ad, and it
Left her
Flat.
Dotty had a
Great Big
Snifter of
Cyanide.
And that (said Dotty)
Is that.
First printed in NY World, (10 March 1927) p. 15

Unsourced

  • I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
  • There goes the good time that was had by all
  • Dear Mary, We all knew you had it in you!
    • Telegram sent to a friend who had given birth after a highly-publicized pregnancy.
  • Excuse me, I have to go to the ladies room. Actually, I need to make a telephone call, I was just too embarrassed to say.
  • I had been fed, in my youth, a lot of old wives' tales about the way men would instantly forsake a beautiful woman to flock around a brilliant one. It is but fair to say that, after getting out in the world, I had never seen this happen.
  • I wish I could drink like a lady,
    I'll have one or two at the most.
    Three and I'm under the table,
    Four and I'm under the host.
  • I've been too fucking busy - or vice versa.
    • On her honeymoon, in response to a telegram from her editor asking about some promised stories.
  • She must have done it sliding down a barrister.
    • On hearing an actress had broken her leg
  • The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant — and let the air out of their tires.
  • This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.
  • Time doth flit; oh shit.
  • What fresh hell is this?
    • Reportedly her stock comment when the telephone rang; also the title of Marion Meade's biography of her.
  • Not Much Fun.
    • Parker's response to bartender's question, "What are you having?"
  • Tallulah Bankhead: "Why, it's as easy as ducking for apples."
    Dorothy Parker: "Hah, change one letter in that sentence and you've got the story of my life."
  • Gee Moss, imagine what God could do if he had your money
    • To Moss Hart regarding his extensively landscaped country estate
  • When she and Clare Boothe Luce were entering a room, Clare hung back, saying, "Age before beauty"; Dorothy entered saying "Pearls before swine."

Misattributions

Note: A great many misquotations are attributed to Mrs. Parker. Please try to verify the provenance of any quotations you believe should be ascribed to her. Parker herself wrote about the perils of misquotation in "A Pig's Eye Look At Literature"

  • If you want to know what the Lord God thinks of money, just look at those to whom he gives it.
    • Man and the Gospel (1865) by Thomas Guthrie "and you may know how little God thinks of money by observing on what bad and contemptable characters he often bestows it."
  • Upon my honor
    I saw a Madonna
    Standing in a niche
    Over the door
    Of the prominent whore
    Of a prominent son of a bitch.
    • Said to have been written in the guest-book of Hearst Castle, referring to the room occupied by Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Parker always denied it, pointing out that she would never have rhymed "honor" with "Madonna".
    • Since Parker didn't write it, there are many different versions of this, including ones where the word describing the whore is "favorite" or "famous", and ones where "son of a bitch" is modified by "the world's worst" instead of "a prominent".
  • How odd
    Of God
    To choose
    The Jews
    • This is actually by William Norman Ewer (1885-1976) in Week-End Book'(1924); This has sometimes been misattributed to Parker, who was herself of Jewish heritage, in the form:
      How odd of God
      To choose the Jews
    • Similar sayings have also been attributed to Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
      'It wasn't odd;
      the Jews chose God
    • Cecil Browne
      But not so odd
      As those who choose
      A Jewish God,
      But spurn the Jews
    • Leo Rosten
      Not odd
      Of God
      The goyim
      Annoy 'im.

About Dorothy Parker

  • She is a combination of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth.
    • Alexander Woollcott While Rome Burns "Our Mrs Parker" (1934)
  • Everything I've ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.
    • George S. Kaufman

External links

Wikipedia
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