Shelved Dolls: Dorothy Parker – Hemingway Really Hated Her. Also, Midgets!

Oh, God, you must read her theater reviews. If she was reviewing the theater right now, you’d go, just so you could compare the experience to the reviews. Consider this one for A.A. Milne’s (of Winnie the Pooh fame) Give Me Yesterday. 

The cabinet minister is, like Melisande, not happy. His wife is proud, cold, and ambitious; his daughter is a Bright Young Thing, his son has gone Socialist; and, to crown it all, it is rumored that Mowbrey is to be appointed to the coveted position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. “Ah,” I said to myself, for I love a responsive audience, “so, it’s one of those plays. All right, it’s one of those plays. At least we shall have no Christopher Robins cocking their heads on the lawn.” For a moment, you see, I had forgotten the title, and hope tormented me…It appeared his boyhood sweetheart, Sally – called by Mr. Louis Calhern, who has gone British or something “Selly” just as he says, and as yearningly, “heppy” – had used to occupy the adjoining room, and he had a nasty habit of tapping o the wall between, to communicate with her. The code was not essentially difficult. There was one tap for “a”, two for “b” and so on. I ask you, kind reader, but to bear this in mind for rougher times… the cabinet minister goes into a dream – I do not pretend to follow this argument – and meets with his boyhood sweetheart, who wears, and becomingly, the dress of her day. And then, believe it or not, things get worse. The cabinet minister talks softly and embarrassingly to Sally – “Ah, Selly, Selly, Selly” – but that is not enough. He must tap out to her, on the garden wall, his message, though she is right there beside him. First he taps, and at the length it would take, the letter “I.” Then he goes on to “L” and, though she surely everyone in the audience has caught the idea, he carries through to “O”. “Oh, he’s not going to “V”" I  told myself, “Even Milne wouldn’t do that to you.” But he did. He tapped on through “V” and then he did an “E.”

There is, unfortunately, as far as I can tell, no complete set of Dorothy Parker’s theater reviews, but you can read a lot of them in The Portable Dorothy Parker. 

One day, Dorothy arrived at Vanity Fair to find that her office was now being shared by the new managing editor. His name was Robert Benchely. He was 29, a former Boy Scout who went to bed at 10, and spent his weekend clipping hedges and playing the mandolin for his wife and children. He wore long underwear year round and immediately warned Dorothy against drinking saying “alcohol will coarsen you.”

God, he sounds awful. Dorothy disliked him immediately.

That man was the famous humorist Robert Benchley. He was soon to become Dorothy’s best friend for life.

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    • Phil

      These shelved dolls articles are fascinating; the Edie Sedgwick one, and this one were excellent.

      I had a dream last year; and it was obviously, some famous blond….a beauty…from the past talking with me; I seen a white couch in some sort of mansion, which back in time, the couch would have been considered rich…..but today would not be worth much at all….I figured that out when in the dream.

      Then, some rich guys face turned ugly (instantly) …with time? …Or sickness?…looking almost devilish; then he died, and I woke up.

    • Lauren

      I’m really enjoying this Shelved Doll columns. This one has been my favorite so far because I’m ridiculously late to the Dorothy Parker party. She’s always someone I mean to learn more about and then never do. This really inspired me to finally get on that. The Portable Dorothy Parker has been sitting in my Amazon carts for months. I think it’s time I purchase it. Thanks.

      Also, that article you wrote for, has to be one of my favorite things you have ever written. I read it when it was first published, but I had to go read it again when you linked it here.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Thank you re: Salon. You’re really not supposed to pick favorite pieces, but it is my favorite, hands down.

    • MR

      Yeah, Dorothy will always be interesting. Hemingway is a dickbag – Amanda, are you going to let her get away with that? :)

      • Amanda Chatel

        Jennifer and I already had it out about this last night. She threw her martini in my face, I pulled out my boxing gloves and we were both promptly escorted out of The Algonquin.

      • Jennifer Wright

        I mean, I won.

      • Amanda Chatel

        That’s just because she refused to lace up my boxing gloves… some friend. Pfft.

      • MR

        I can read Hemingway the person pretty well. If only he had been capable of loving a woman as much as he loved himself, he may have not ended up the way he did. Speaking of which, my girlfriend has been on me about blogging here, saying it’s not appropriate for a guy. We actually had a big fight about this last night. As is, I have a six month timeline til I can finish purchasing something and take full title of it. Another asset that will complete my portfolio. She and I will be together a little over a year then, and things should be a lot clearer for us then too. So I’m going to connect them, though they are not connected. Anyways since she has come more than half way to me, I will do what she asks. She is a good woman, and is good to me. Hope you guys are okay with this. Or as we said in the ’70s: “Keep on keeping on.”. Yes, I do actually know how to correctly punctuate a sentence, Ashley (?) :)

    • Lindsey

      I got a compilation of her poetry from a used book store and it turned out to have a correspondence written within, some genuine weirdness dated decades ago.

      I love her, I wish I was sharp as her.

      Also, this and the article were great. You are great, a good writer, and probably super fun at parties even if the parties are just nibbling hors d’oeuvres in a bathroom stall.

    • Luigi Juarez

      One of the things that’s always intrigued me about Parker was her attempt at writing a novel (following her divorce from Edwin in 1928) but never finishing it. It’s a detail that’s asked me to assess the rest of her written work, nearly all of which involves short-form (articles, reviews, and stories) and even shorter-form (poems and “sketches”) literature.

      I say “nearly” because she did, in fact, write several plays. Although their lack of success relative to the other stuff only furthers my following point. That is: Parker both knew she was the cleverest girl in the room, and professionally *made it known* with pieces that were easily digestible. Her cleverness wasn’t the “easily digestible” part. The types of writing she used as outlets was.

      I liked how your feature went over the figures of the Algonquin Round Table. Herman Manckiewicz famously declared them, “The greatest collection of unsaleable wit in America”– an ironic pronouncement because as you know, they all made quite the living tapping into that “unsaleable wit” (but since Manckiewicz would later link up with Orson Welles to write the brooding Citizen Kane, he probably would’ve been a bore to hang out with, anyhow). I think for Parker, her friends at the round table played a unique role. It’s not just about possessing wit but also about surrounding yourself with individuals who make coin from mining and producing works of said wit. Benchley apprenticed his “punning linguist” persona at the Lampoon and assured himself working for The New Yorker. Sherwood wrote comedies and had to duck under many a doorway. Woollcott showcased his high-pitched voice in radio and looked like Peter Griffin…

      … ok, ok, so I’ve slowly moved devolved describing how these guys looked funny.* But one peek at Hirschfeld’s famous caricatures of them and maybe you could also see why.

      Aside from her wit, however, my favorite quality of Parker’s is one that is often relegated as second-in-line: her social commentary. She had this amazing knack of perceiving the absolutely silly ways we human beings navigate through our zippy lives. And that’s why so much of it feels so damn contemporary, too. I’m reminded of her short story, “You Were Perfectly Fine” (1929), which could’ve served as a first draft of The Hangover (2004) in its tale of waking up after a night of too much drink to a morning of too many unanswered questions, firing off the tongue. Or “The Standard of Living” (1941), where Annabel and Midge low-ball their guess as to how much a particular “string of pearls” actually costs (spoiler alert: it’s a lot, lot more, and they can fall in line with Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil at severely underestimating the march of economic inflation). In these stories and others, Parker managed to apprehend the accelerating pulse of modern urban life, and capture those moments where we actually have enough time to second-guess our pace amid the frenzy (and, of course, look *completely* ridiculous in doing so). Given how fast we currently live, it’s not surprising how often and how strongly those moments resonate off the page today.

      No wonder her wit was so “quick.”

      *I’ll always maintain that she was quite the looker, too. She and Audrey Hepburn have that brunette, pixie-air down pat!

      • Luigi Juarez

        P.S. I got that date of The Hangover wrong but who cares

      • Jennifer Wright

        Yes to all of that. Also, if we’re sharing favorite stories (You Were Perfectly Fine is really good) mine is is “Advice to the Little Peyton Girl”. I can’t find a record of it online, but it was staged by Tallulah Bankhead in 1937 and you can see the script here:

    • fashion blog

      nice post :)) I like it !

    • MadameDakar

      Anyone know where to find a copy of “Interior Desecration”? I’d love to send a copy to my interior designer mom and sister. (The gene skipped me — I live in squalor.)

    • MadameDakar

      Anyone know where to find a copy of “Interior Desecration”? I’d love to send a copy to my interior designer mom and sister. (The gene skipped me — I live in squalor.)

    • Rassles

      “They didn’t take it seriously until Hemingway didn’t take it seriously, and then they realized the magnitude of the thing.”

      Revelation. Stars and shining things.

    • Jennifer Bunner

      I really liked this article, of course, like I love all the Shelved Dolls articles, but I have to point out that the term “midget” is an offensive one and shouldn’t be used to describe a Little Person. Peter Dinklage even talks about it in Question 10 of his Playboy interview

    • Sibyla

      I hate Hemmingway as a person. And I can´t read him anymore – it´s so phony! So false macho! Had he writen as he really was: a tormented, unsecure human being, somenthing deeply interesting, Capotesque might origin. But these papier-mache big game hunters? Oh no!

    • Julian O’Dea

      This is a very silly and girlish piece.