On A Play Twice Seen
By F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)
Here in the figured dark I watch once more;
There with the curtain rolls a year away,
A year of years — There was an idle day
Of ours, when happy endings didn’t bore
Our unfermented souls, and rocks held ore:
Your little face beside me, wide-eyed, gay,
Smiled its own repertoire, while the poor play
Reached me as a faint ripple reaches shore.
Yawning and wondering an evening through
I watch alone — and chatterings of course
Spoil the one scene which somehow did have charms;
You wept a bit, and I grew sad for you
Right there, where Mr. X defends divorce
And What’s-Her-Name falls fainting in his arms.
It has been extremely pleasant to spend the week in Dorothy Parker’s company. Parker doesn’t have the reputation today in literary circles of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which is a shame, because Parker accomplished something that Fitzgerald could not – she persevered. Parker is rumored to have had a brief affair with Fitzgerald and whether that is true or not we’ll leave to their ghostly hearts. But there is no question that Parker and Fitzgerald were cut from the same cloth; talented writers, hedonistic, hard drinkers and tortured souls. Parker once said, “wear a short enough skirt and the party will come to you,” and Fitzgerald likely replied – “Would you like to dance?”
Parker was said to have hated Fitzgerald as a mirror into her own demons, and yet she wrote late in her life The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald, a selection of some his finest writing that helped to resuscitate his reputation and cement Fitzgerald as one of the great writers of the 20th Century.
The question is why no one has done the same for Parker and elevate her reputation as a writer posthumously? Is it because she was a master wit and remembered more for her voluminous quips. The literati tend to look down their noses at such things as rhymes and biting humorous jabs, but if it was easy, everyone would be known for it.
“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.”
Dorothy Parker – Life Magazine – 1927.
Parker was a working writer her entire life. At times blue collar, at times destitute and at times fabulously wealthy, neither money nor success seemed to bring her peace, nor did love. Parker was married three times, twice, successfully, to the same man – Alan Campbell, her writing partner and true protector, who took care of her and gave her room to write. He also brought out the best in her, letting her take the lions share of the accolades for the successes achieved in their professional partnership.
Early in her career Parker was a staff writer for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and the book reviewer for The New Yorker in the 1920’s under the name Constant Reader. She published articles, poetry, short stories and novels during this period in her career as well as wrote a couple of plays. Parker’s poetry and short stories were both commercial and critical successes. As a journalist, she was acerbic and witty in her commentary but also generous with her praise of the writers and books she loved, She was her own harshest critic, saying – “writing is a struggle, good writing always is.”
She moved to Hollywood and flourished during the 1930’s and 1940’s. This is where she met and married Alan Campbell the first time and the two of them wrote scores of screen plays including Saboteur (Hitchcock)) and A Star is Born (Garland). At their height Parker and Campbell were making $5,000 dollars a week in the 1940’s working in Hollywood. However, all of that success came crashing down, when in 1950 both her and Campbell were blacklisted and branded as communists.
Parker moved back to New York under very diminished circumstances and continued to write. Late in her life Parker wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine for the princely sum of $750 dollars a month and lived in a residential hotel in New York. Alan Campbell died from what was deemed an accidental overdose of barbiturates and booze in 1963 and Parker died in 1967.
Parker left what was left of her estate – $20,000 – to Martin Luther King. One of her iconic sayings was “excuse my dust”, which is tragic or ironic, depending on your sense of humor, considering her ashes went unclaimed for 19 years, moldering in the backroom of her lawyer’s office, until the NAACP claimed them and laid them to rest in a memorial garden in Baltimore Maryland in 1988.
After reading many of her poems this week, I am struck by how effortless she makes the difficult task of blending wit and beauty with perfect meter and rhyme. She wrote more than 300 poems of all colors and stripes, from flippant, to funny to serious. The more I read the more I felt her sonnets reflect the complexity of Parker’s character. All of her poetry ascribes to my rule of good mouth feel, which means you don’t truly appreciate it until you read it out loud and let it flow off your lips. Most of what I learned this week about Dorothy is that happiness is over-rated. Do what you are good at, and if you are so fortunate as to keep a roof over your head in the process, then count yourself blessed. I think she was her best when grinding out another page at her typewriter. She was a hard working professional writer who lived uncompromisingly as a true original.
“Now I know the things I know, and I do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!” – Dorothy Parker.
I Shall Come Back
by Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)
I shall come back without fanfaronade
Of wailing wind and graveyard panoply;
But, trembling, slip from cool Eternity-
A mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
But softly come where I had longed to be
In April twilight’s unsung melody,
And I, not you, shall be the one afraid.
Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I’ll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near-
And that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.