The great Dorothy Parker wrote hundreds of poems and short stories, was a much-loved book critic for The New Yorker, co-wrote two Academy Award-nominated screenplays, and was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. AND YET, despite it all, there does not exist a published collection of her many letters. Instead we must make do with the relatively few letters and snippets that pop up tantalisingly in books such as the excellent The Portable Dorothy Parker. See also: What Fresh Hell is This?, The Last Days of Dorothy Parker, and Alpine Giggle Week.
For such a book to be absent in the year of our Lord 2021 is nonsensical and an unsustainable state of affairs, and I’m this close to starting an online petition. In the meantime, however, here are some flashes of brilliance.
THIS IS INSTEAD OF TELEPHONING BECAUSE I CANT LOOK YOU IN THE VOICE. I SIMPLY CANNOT GET THAT THING DONE YET NEVER HAVE DONE SUCH HARD NIGHT AND DAY WORK NEVER HAVE SO WANTED ANYTHING TO BE GOOD AND ALL I HAVE IS A PILE OF PAPER COVERED WITH WRONG WORDS. CAN ONLY KEEP AT IT AND HOPE TO HEAVEN TO GET IT DONE. DONT KNOW WHY IT IS SO TERRIBLY DIFFICULT OR I SO TERRIBLY INCOMPETANT.
Dorothy Parker to her editor, Pascal Covici, 28 Jun 1945
Dear Mr. Thalberg,
Yours of March 6 received and its contents duly noted. In reply to your query as to my inability to attend the script meeting, I can only offer the explanation that I was too ****ing busy and vice versa.
Dorothy Parker to Irving Thalberg, Mar 19351
YOU COME RIGHT OVER HERE AND EXPLAIN WHY THEY ARE HAVING ANOTHER YEAR
Dorothy Parker to Robert Benchley, 31 Dec 1929
Kids, I have started one thousand (1,000) letters to you, but they all through no will of mine got to sounding so gloomy I was afraid of boring the combined tripe out of you, so I never sent them. Now, however, it seems just the ripe time to pen these few poor scraps, for we are having what is known as Alpine Giggle Week. Gerald left hastily for America to catch what is doubtless a last glimpse of his dear old mother, whose blood-pressure is so high there is snow on it; Sara is in bed with a pretty attack of jaundice, and rheumatism, than which nothing makes you feel heartier; the Russian trained nurse who takes care of little Patrick has gone completely Muscovite and after a week of strained silence has shut herself in her room and cannot be coaxed out; the pet monkey bit one of the townsfolk so badly that both blood-poison and a law suit set in; and I, in my role of the old family friend always right there in time of trouble, fell off an unnamed Alp, cracked my right knee-cap and ripped all the ligaments free, and it will be many a bright September day before I will be able to walk the length of the room. And how are all of you?
Dorothy Parker to Harold Guinzburg and George Oppenheimer, Sep 1930
We were pretty much sickened by what the studio (20th Century Fucks) did to the darling, bawdy farce we wrote for Marilyn Monroe2. . . Marilyn would have been a terrible problem, though I am crazy about her. The studio is beginning to view her as Marat must have regarded the lethally-poised Charlotte Corday. Of course, Marilyn can’t help her behavior. She is always in terror. Not so different from you and me, only much prettier!
Dorothy Parker to John Patrick, 2 Feb 1962
And finally, a full letter from May 1927, at which point Parker was in hospital suffering from exhaustion. Her time under observation was a welcome respite from her hectic lifestyle, but also irritatingly uneventful, and on May 5th she wrote to her publisher Seward Collins to update him on her visit. This letter, by the way, is taken from the first volume of Letters of Note.
The Presbyterian Hospital
May 5, I think
Dear Seward, honest, what with music lessons and four attacks of measles and all that expense of having my teeth straightened, I was brought up more carefully than to write letters in pencil. But I asked the nurse for some ink—just asked her in a nice way—and she left the room and hasn’t been heard of from that day to this. So that, my dears, is how I met Major (later General) Grant.
Maybe only the trusties are allowed to play with ink.
I am practically bursting with health, and the medical world, hitherto white with suspense, is entertaining high hopes—I love that locution—you can just see the high hopes, all dressed up, being taken to the Hippodrome and then to Maillard’s for tea. Or maybe you can’t—the hell with it.
This is my favorite kind of hospital and everybody is very brisk and sterilized and kind and nice. But they are always sticking thermometers into you or turning lights on you or instructing you in occupational therapy (rug-making—there’s a fascinating pursuit!) and you don’t get a chance to gather any news for letter-writing.
Of course, if I thought you would listen, I could tell you about the cunning little tot of four who ran up and down the corridor all day long; and I think, from the way he sounded, he had his little horse-shoes on—some well-wisher had given him a bunch of keys to play with, and he jingled them as he ran, and just as he came to my door, the manly little fellow would drop them and when I got so I knew just when to expect the crash, he’d fool me and run by two or even three times without letting them go. Well, they took him up and operated on his shoulder, and they don’t think he will ever be able to use his right arm again. So that will stop that god damn nonsense.
And then there is the nurse who tells me she is afraid she is an incorrigible flirt, but somehow she just can’t help it. She also pronounces “picturesque” picture-skew, and “unique” un-i-kew, and it is amazing how often she manages to introduce these words into her conversation, leading the laughter herself. Also, when she leaves the room, she says “see you anon.” I have not shot her yet. Maybe Monday.
And, above all, there is the kindhearted if ineffectual gentleman across the hall, where he lies among his gallstones, who sent me in a turtle to play with. Honest. Sent me in a turtle to play with. I am teaching it two-handed bridge. And as soon as I get really big and strong, I am going to race it to the end of the room and back.
I should love to see Daisy, but it seems that there is some narrow-minded prejudice against bringing dogs into hospitals. And anyway, I wouldn’t trust these bastards of doctors. She would probably leave here with a guinea-pig’s thyroid in her. Helen says she is magnificent—she has been plucked and her girlish waist-line has returned. I thought the dear devoted little beast might eat her heart out in my absence, and you know she shouldn’t have meat. But she is playful as a puppy, and has nine new toys—three balls and six assorted plush animals. She insists on taking the entire collection to bed with her, and, as she sleeps on Helen’s bed, Helen is looking a little haggard these days.
At my tearful request, Helen said to her “Dorothy sends her love.”
“Who?” she said.
I am enclosing a little thing sent by some unknown friend. Oh, well.
And here is a poem of a literary nature. It is called Despair in Chelsea.
Is unable to have a satisfactory evacuation.
His brother, Sacheverel,
Doubts if he ever’ll.
This is beyond doubt the dullest letter since George Moore wrote “Esther Water.” But I will write you decent ones as soon as any news breaks. And after my death, Mr. Conkwright-Shreiner can put them in a book—the big stiff.
But in the meantime, I should love to hear how you are and whatever. And if in your travels, you meet any deserving family that wants to read “Mr. Fortune’s Maggot,” I have six copies.
I promised my mother on her deathbed I would never write a postscript, but I had to save the wow for the finish. I have lost twenty-two pounds.
According to Bob Thomas’ book, Thalberg: Life and Legend, Parker had missed a long-awaited and important call—and by extension a script meeting—with Hollywood Producer Irving Thalberg. When the call did eventually come, having grown impatient, she was on a date.
Parker was attempting to adapt a play, The Good Soup, for the big screen, with Marilyn Monroe to star. Six months after this letter was written, Monroe died.