easy shots to take
at who rose to prominence
Not sure where I am going with any of this but I was thinking of Dorothy Parker.
I don’t often spend any time thinking about Dorothy Parker.
And aside from the wonderful, “What fresh hell is this?’ line that she was noted for saying when the phone rang, I am not sure I know much of her work.
On the other hand, if I was known for being the author of the line, “What fresh hell is this?” when the phone rang I would die a happy man.
But I digress.
Ms. Parker has always been there as someone someone should read.
She wrote criticism and commentary for any number of magazines and newspapers.
She co-wrote the screen play for the movie A Star is Born starring Lady Gaga which was a remake of the movie starring Barbara Streisand, which was a remake of the movie starring Judy Garland, which was a remake of the movie starring Janet Gaynor.
It was for the original version with Janet Gaynor that earned Ms. Parker an Oscar Nomination in 1937 for Best Adaptation.
I recently watched a bio-pic about her titled, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
The Vicious Circle being the group of writers and critics who gathered at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to sit at their famous round table in the hotel’s restaurant.
It was a who’s who of the wits and writers of American in the 1930’s.
It might have been as if the best of the best of the casts and writers of Saturday Night Live met for lunch each day/
I put Ms. Parker into the GOOGLE and came across an article titled, VEIL OF LAUGHTER, a review of the movie, by Randy Sue Coburn.
In this article which seemed to be more of a defense of Ms. Parker than a review, and maybe it was as it was written by one of the movies co-writers.
Ms. Coburn included this paragraph.
From that point onward, Parker’s output dwindled, but she remained an icon for young women who dreamt of breaking into journalism and dazzling all the men around them. Several years after John Keats’s less-than-empathetic biography of Parker appeared in 1970, however, one such woman, Nora Ephron, devoted her column in Esquire to denouncing Parker as a role model, promoting the comforts of sisterhood over the dubious distinction of being the only woman at the table. As much as I probably agreed with Ephron then, this now seems an easy sort of shot to take at someone who rose to prominence in an entirely different era.
The writer then goes on to point out that, “In Parker’s heyday, few starkly personal literary novels were being written by her “sisters.” One of these was Zelda Fitzgerald, and we all know what happened to her.”
But I was struck by the line, “this now seems an easy sort of shot to take at someone who rose to prominence in an entirely different era.“
When I was in college I had wonderful professor who constantly banged on three themes.
Clarity, Compassion and ‘avoid present-mindedness’.
More than once papers written for this guy came back with bright spirals in thick red magic marker all over a page with the text, “I AM COMPLETELY LOST” written on it.
He would yell at us, “YOU ARE THE EXPERT HERE. so take YOUR READER by the HAND!”
He invoked compassion.
We as students of history were ready to blow George III, George Brinton McClellan or George Bush out of the water with all the sanctimonious self righteousness that college students seem to have great supplies of.
“YOU KNOW THIS ABOUT THEM, but WHAT DON’T YOU KNOW ABOUT THEM that might change your point of view?”, the professor would challenge.
He was very proud of me when I pointed out that General William Howe might have been reluctant to wipe out George Washington at the Battle of Long Island after witnessing the slaughter at the Battle of Bunker Hill along with the fact that that the General’s older brother, George Howe, had been killed in the French and Indian War leading an attack on Fort Ticonderoga.
And he warned and warned against a sense of what he called, “Present Minded-Ness.”
All the things we take for granted today, even something as simple as clean fresh water, was not the norm 200 years ago.
He cautioned us to not make judgments or hold folks to a standard of today that didn’t apply back in history.
So looking back in time, where to start.
I have no problems with taking down Confederate monuments that aren’t part of historical battlefield parks.
But what then.
As Ms. Coburn writes, there are a seems to be a lot of an easy sort of shot to take at someone who rose to prominence in an entirely different era.
I remember the last time I was in Cooperstown, which was a long time ago, and there was a sign outside the Hall of Fame that stated something along the lines that the information in the plaques honoring the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame was correct at the time of the members induction.
I think this mostly had to due with naming Babe Ruth the all leader in Home Runs and Ty Cobb the all time leader in stolen bases and such like.
Maybe we just need signs all around the United States that some things are there and the way they are because it was correct at the time.
I can’t say that is a good idea.
I do agree there are some things that need to come down.
There are some people who don’t need to be remembered.
At the same time, the signs at the Concentration Camps say ‘Never Again’ and ‘Never Forget.’
Sad to say it seems we NEED those reminders.
In the Old Chapel at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY there are granite shields for all 14 of George Washington’s Generals.
One shield is blank.
No names and no dates.
It is a plaque for General Benedict Arnold.
A reminder for a story and a man that all you need to hear is his name to know why it is blank.
So there you are.
Back to Ms. Dorothy Parker.
They say she felt that if only she could write like a man.
Here is her poem, “Inventory:”.
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
I guess she does okay as who she was.
When Ms. Parker died in 1967 she left her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, with the note that if anything happened to Dr, King, her estate would go to the NAACP.
Ms. Parker’s ashes were buried on the grounds of the NAACP Nation Headquarters in Baltimore, MD under a circle of bricks in memory of the Algonquin Round Table.
Royalties on her writings are still paid to the NAACP.
I am not sure I am aware of better way to go out of this life.
She was known for her wit and comments are the current passing scene.
Today she would be on a panel on CNN.
And what might she say?
“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks”