Monday, July 28, 2008

Drinking Hard, Alienating Your Friends, Fucking Up

Dorothy Parker was a mess. She was so much of a mess that being totally fucked up was kind of her professional schtick.  I was thinking about this because last weekend I saw a bio-play about her, Those Whistling Lads (Yeah. Worst title ever.), that had Parker expositing about her life, and dramatized some of her short stories and poems. 

Her life is more interesting to me then her writing,  so in the spirit of positive thinking, I will focus on her life.  One word about the work:  her patented combination of cynicism and sentimentality is most effective I think in her screenplay for (probably one the most influential screenplays ever) the original 1937 A Star is Born.  Frederick March's Norman Maine might seem a little clichéd to modern audiences, but his washed up, alcoholic, self-destructive movie star is also, well, really modern.  With his trial by tabloid, followed by rehab, followed by relapse, Dorothy Parker's Norman Maine created the cinematic blueprint for every subsequent fictional or real life Hollywood disaster.  It probably feels so real because she lived it, drinking hard, alienating her friends, fucking up.  

The thing that is so remarkable to me about her is that she stayed employed for such an incredible length of time.  I said in a previous blog post that women can't afford to fuck up.  Dottie did, and got away with it for a really  long time.   It wasn't her drinking and fucking that brought down her career (as that extraordinary flapper icon Louise Brooks put it), but her politics.  As McCarthyism swept Hollywood, she was put on the infamous Blacklist.  In her last years, she worked, intermittently, as a book reviewer for Esquire where she gave Harlan Ellison a great review (possibly his first) for his collection Gentleman Junkie (a book I loved when I was growing up. I haven't read it since I was a teenager, and I'm a little afraid to now. Um, I think I still have the paperback I stole from my brother's room 20 years ago.).  Like so many others, she died broke.  But- and this may be completely apocryphal - after her death, a check for twenty thousand dollars was found, tossed nonchalantly in a desk drawer, uncashed.

1 comment:

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

She was mostly at her best as a critic, I thought, where her gift for the waspish bon mot could find full expression without the tedious chore of imaging anyone other than herself as real. And yes, her long-term employment is sort of amazing---a relic, I think, of the Manhattan old boys' club of a less competitive era.