Dorothy Parker was a writer of book reviews, short fiction, poetry, plays, and screenplays who worked for publications like Vanity Fair, Vogue, and The New Yorker. But she’s best remembered for her caustic wit and her tendency to infuriate extremely powerful people.
As a young woman, Parker played piano at a dancing school to earn a living until she sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914. That same year, she was hired as an assistant editor at Vogue. Two years later, she was hired as a staff writer at Vanity Fair. In 1918, Parker’s career took off – she was Vanity Fair‘s stand-in theatre critic when P.G. Wodehouse was on vacation. Her almost-daily lunches at the Algonquin Hotel with Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood soon formed into a meeting of the minds known as the Algonquin Round Table (sometimes referred to as the “Vicious Circle,” since the banter at the table could get pretty spicy). Parker’s remarks were printed in various columns, and she developed a reputation for her biting wit. That wit had a tendency to offend the wrong people, and Parker was fired from Vanity Fair in 1920. However, her writing appeared in the second issue of The New Yorker in 1925, and over the next 15 years she published 300 or so works in Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New Yorker, Life, McCall’s, and The New Republic.
Parker divorced her first husband in 1928 and married bisexual actor Alan Campbell in 1934. The two moved to Hollywood and worked on more than 15 films, including A Star is Born. Over the 30s and 40s, Parker also became a civil rights advocate and helped form the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League – which turned out to be a front for the Communist Party. The FBI eventually compiled a 1000-page dossier on Parker, and in the late 40s she was blacklisted.
The next decade or so was a rough one for Parker, marked by her increasing alcoholism and her divorce from (and later remarriage to) her husband. After Campbell committed suicide in 1963, Parker permanently returned to New York. She died of a heart attack in 1967 and bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr.; after his assassination, her estate passed to the NAACP.
Parker’s ashes, meanwhile, were left unclaimed and (among other things) spent 17 years in her lawyer’s filing cabinet. The NAACP claimed her remains in 1988, and Parker now has a memorial garden outside their headquarters in Baltimore. For her epitaph, Parker suggested “excuse my dust.”