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Marion Meade's engrossing and comprehensive biography of one
of the twentieth century's most captivating women

In this
lively, absorbing biography, Marion Meade illuminates both the charm and
the dark side of Dorothy Parker, exploring her days of wicked wittiness
at the Algonquin Round Table with the likes of Robert Benchley, George
Kaufman, and Harold Ross, and in Hollywood with S. J. Perelman, William
Faulkner, and Lillian Hellman. At the dazzling center of it all, Meade
gives us the flamboyant, self-destructive, and brilliant Dorothy
Parker.
This edition features a new afterword by Marion
Meade.

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Reviews for Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?:

4

Feb 25, 2019

Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade is a biography of Dorothy Parker (1893 1967). She is known for her sharp, caustic, biting wit. She wrote poems, short stories, critique and script for movies and plays. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table. She was there alongside Harold Ross when the New Yorker saw day. During the McCarthy era her left-wing political views led to her being "blacklisted" in Hollywood. She drank excessively, overdosed on Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade is a biography of Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967). She is known for her sharp, caustic, biting wit. She wrote poems, short stories, critique and script for movies and plays. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table. She was there alongside Harold Ross when the New Yorker saw day. During the McCarthy era her left-wing political views led to her being "blacklisted" in Hollywood. She drank excessively, overdosed on barbiturates and attempted suicide several times. She fought difficulties, writer’s block being high on the list, by turning to drink. She lashed out at those around her through biting quips, whiplash retorts, snide sarcasm and wisecracks.

So is this a person with a happy life? NO! Yet her remarks, her retorts, are spot-on, pin-perfect, absolutely correct, intelligent and humorous--all at the same time. One cannot help but marvel at her ability to play with words. The book is filled with lines and lines of things she has said. Many worthy of quoting. And so, the sad and the disagreeable is balanced by biting and ever so smart humor.

Do I like the woman? No, not really. But I admire her wit and repartee and her strength to go on and never give up fighting. I found that by the end I had come to care for her--despite all her disagreeable attributes.

The chapters move forward chronologically, one, two, three or a couple of years at a time, from birth to death. There is less on her youth than her years as an adult. We follow her marriages and the steps of her writing career, her political involvement and trips abroad. And her dogs—she has lots and lots of dogs. Her dogs are always an essential element of her hectic and messy life.

When you read this book, you read about dozens and dozens of other authors. These authors were her friends and acquaintances. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald, publisher and socialite Seward Collins, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Nathaniel West, John O'Hara, W. Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Saul Bellow and Lillian Hellman to name but a few. Robert Benchley deserves special mention, he was such an important person in her life. Their works and Parker’s are discussed, but mostly hers and how she struggled to write, how what she wrote of was often of her own life. Learning of her life you better understand her stories.

The author expresses herself in a witty fashion. This fits well with how Parker wrote, and I like this very much. As an example--Parker expressed disgust with the shallowness of the films produced when she worked as a screenwriter in the film industry. How is this expressed in the book? Look:

“Even when a serious property was purchased, it somehow wound up on the screen thoroughly fumigated of anything that might kindle a thought or resemble a message.”

My principle complaints with the book are two. I wish the author had been clearer in presenting whose opinion is being stated. I wish the author had discussed alternate ways of interpreting events. Some views presented seem subjective to me.

The audiobook is narrated by Grace Conlin. The tone she uses to read the lines is perfect. The pacing could not be better. She reads a sentence and then stops. This gives one time to absorb the impact of what is said. The sarcasm and wit is heard loud and clear. I loved the narration, and so of course I have given this five stars. Some foreign city names are not properly pronounced, but this is of little consequence.

Despite the sordid life described in this book, I do not want to leave it. The book is detailed, but it is through these details that I have come to know Parker so very well. Before reading the book I was not a huge fan of Parker’s writing, and yet nevertheless I have found Parker’s life fascinating! The book will also be of interest to those curious to know more about the Algonquin Round Table crowd and how the New Yorker came to be. Finally, the book’s many, many wonderful lines are to be savored. ...more
4

Sep 20, 2012

This book reminds me of several others I've read about famous women - they're really good with the history, the details, the research, and well written - but because of the detail you know that this woman was NOT an easy person to really know, to befriend, or to be in the same room with. It's not just that Parker's depressions are sad - it's also that she could be a mean drunk, and loved to talk behind people's backs, even if those people were her friends. There's no denying that she could be This book reminds me of several others I've read about famous women - they're really good with the history, the details, the research, and well written - but because of the detail you know that this woman was NOT an easy person to really know, to befriend, or to be in the same room with. It's not just that Parker's depressions are sad - it's also that she could be a mean drunk, and loved to talk behind people's backs, even if those people were her friends. There's no denying that she could be self-centered and melodramatic. Add to this her inability to manage money and to make enough to support herself on her writing - not counting her Hollywood scriptwriting days. In fact it was that scriptwriting (and the many causes she gave time to) that probably kept her from producing more of her own writing.

You don't need to have read all or even a great deal of Parker's writing to find this book interesting. (Though it will make you want to read more, and I recommend this.) The woman definitely did not lead a dull life. You will have to read about suicide attempts, abortion, miscarriage, and many, many depressions. And lots of drinking. That was one of the side effects of Prohibition - lots of alcoholism. Everyone drank a lot, but the ones who made a career of it (and survived) were frightening.

Do I like Parker any less now that I know a bit more about how unlikeable she could be? Not really. I mean, I wouldn't want to live with the woman, that's for sure, but I still appreciate her writing, and really love her reviews of books and plays. There seem to be a large number of very creative people, many of them writers, who I feel the same about, once I read a really detailed biography. Especially one that gives you a lot of the facts, whether they make the subject look good or not. I'd actually rather have the whole of the person's history rather than the "edited to make the subject look good" type.

I also have to empathize with how much of her time was spent in wanting to write, yet procrastinating, yet hating that and wishing the writing was done, and yet hating to get around to writing. And she was a severe critic of herself, and would revise and rewrite constantly. A vicious cycle that reminds me of churning out work in graduate school. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that there is a lot of work done to produce even a little writing.

Really thorough endnotes on each chapter with citations, many of them interviews. Lots of evidence of research here. Well worth reading the notes for the occasional extra story and the cited books to track down. (They really will have to change future endnotes by page number - this does NOT work for ebook readers. It would take me forever to figure out where a numerical page is located unless I track down the paper book.)


Whenever I add this many quotes? You know I'm an engaged reader.

From the acknowledgments:
"Since Dorothy Parker herself left no correspondence, manuscripts, memorabilia, or private papers of any kind, I have had to reconstruct her life by talking to those who knew her and by retrieving material from various institutions, attics, trunks, and the personal files of people who considered her letters worth preserving. ...This biography was written with the cooperation of Lel Droste Iveson, Dorothy Parker's niece, who generously shared with me memories of her aunt an details of the family's history, as well as Parker's childhood letters, verse, and a scrapbook-photo album compiled over the course of many years.
So the first take away, even before starting the book, is that Parker didn't make it easy for her biographers. This is also just the kind of information I appreciate a biographer passing along, both because it allows the reader an idea of how much work was done behind the scenes, and because it gives you a better idea of what references were used than just a written bibliography.

From Parker's job at Vogue writing captions for photos:
(7% into the ebook) "..."There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she wore this divine nightdress of rose-colored mousseline de soie, trimmed with frothy Valenciennes lace." To presume that Vogue readers might be having sex was surely an idea to set Palm Beach and Newport reeling. ...Only at the last moment, in proofs, did someone catch and exterminate the subversive caption.That was around 1915-1919 - and what a long way our magazines have come in terms of content...

Discussing Parker's "Why I Haven't Married:"
(8% in) "...After skewering half a dozen men with the collective appeal of a dish of boiled turnips, she went on to present a final portrait, one of special interest because he was the only man to merit her praise. ...He was utterly confectionery, "an English-tailored Greek God, just masterful enough to be entertaining, just wicked enough to be exciting, just clever enough to be a good audience."And in reality this was apparently Edwin Pond Parker II, her future husband.

Parker developing her writing style:
(8% in) "...The formula, subsequently summed up by Robert Benchley as the Elevated Eyebrow School of Journalism, was by no means simple to master. You could write about practically any subject you wished, no matter how outrageous, so long as you said it in evening clothes.
...It took Dorothy only a few months to get the hang of Crownie's [Frank Crowninshield] style. Then she spent the next decade trying to unlearn it."

(20% in)"...In her verse as in her fiction, she always wrote about herself or else drew portraits of people she knew, describing them so vividly that everyone in her circle knew exactly to whom she was referring. She was almost incapable of doing purely imagined characters or situationsThis may be why I've always had a really hard time reading Parker's short stories - there are parts of them that feel very painfully real, and you do feel that the author has somehow experienced them. And when I say painful I mean that in the way of emotional pain. I can only remember one or two stories of hers that were amusing - most were depressing. Which is why I love Parker's theater and book reviews so much more.

About Parker's writing process (20% in):"Writing fiction was a torturous process for her. When she insisted that it took her six months to complete a story, it was often the case. Instead of making a first draft, she thought out each paragraph beforehand and then laboriously wrote it down in longhand sentence by sentence. She may have been careless about many aspects living, but she was obsessively careful, a perfectionist, in her writing. Nothing pleased her and she couldn't "write five words but that I change seven." She named her characters from the obituary columns or the telephone book..."

...Set asides! (I'll set aside various books sometimes, to pickup and read later.) 1) When things got a bit bleak and depressing in Parker's life and I needed to have something more upbeat to read for the holidays, and 2) I realized that reading a book on holiday around relatives meant being interrupted a LOT and for that type of reading a book like this was much better suited.

But I am really enjoying this biography, just want to be able to sit and read it uninterrupted, and the time is not right for that. Yet.

...Another thing keeping me from reading this quickly - things in the text that are referred to that I have to go look up. And, thanks to the wonder of YouTube, Parker's close friend Robert Benchley's films from the 1920s are online:
The Treasurer's Report: YouTube, Wikipedia
The Sex Life of the Polyp: YouTube, Wikipedia

...Marriage to second husband and work as screenwriting team (49% in):"...Those who later claimed that Alan [Campbell] rode on Dorothy's coattails in Hollywood could not have been more mistaken... ...In Hollywood from the start he showed himself to be a dogged worker determined to master a new craft. His strength turned out to be construction. He would first block out a scene, then labor to pull it together on paper so that Dorothy could follow along and inject amusing dialog. Without her, Alan's scenes would have fallen flat, but without him there would have been no scene. As a team they were a perfect complement."After having read so much about Parker's depression and difficulties it's really a relief that she found Campbell and was happy with him. Well, at this point anyway.

...About Hellman's account of Parker testifying at HUAC (55% in): "...As with so many of Lillian Hellman's memories, this simply was not true. Dorothy was not among those who received a pink slip in 1947, nor was she summoned as a witness in the HUAC hearings during the early fifties, because the government must have known that it had a weak case. Dorothy herself made two rather emphatic statements on the subject. ...Fourteen years later, she denied having ever been a party member, although it is easy to understand that the circumstances under which she made the statement might have warranted the stretching of the truth."Parker had been active in fundraising for various anti-Nazi and anti-fascist causes, and wasn't at all careful who she was affiliating herself with. But then a lot of people then weren't asking those sorts of questions, until the HUAC/Red Scare got rolling. After many accounts of her political leanings, attendance of speeches/meetings, and hosting dinners, it does seem amazing that she wasn't called before HUAC. Meade provides information on what the FBI had in its files about her - and it states that others said she was a party member, but there was no proof. So it seems a near miss for her, in light of how many other writers' careers were ruined.

...And I spoke too soon. Some paragraphs later (55% in):"Accusations such as [Martin] Berkeley's destroyed Dorothy's career during the fifties. Unable to find work as a screenwriter, she paid dearly for her transgressions, real or invented, but she never called attention to her plight, never singled herself out as exception or in any way worthy of admiration."Meade then goes on to compare her to Hellman who was apparently one to "exalt her behavior." In 1950 Parker's name appeared in Red Channels and she was effectively blacklisted. She was called to testify - but not at HUAC. Instead a local NY legislative committee investigating fundraising by the Communist Party, because it was alleged that one of her fund raising groups was a front. She took the fifth when asked if she was ever a party member. The FBI eventually closed her file as (68% in) it didn't consider her dangerous to keep under watch.

...Randomly here're some modern photos (and an older one) of the Pennsylvania home Dorothy and Alan bought. "The house was modified and expanded in the 1990s; but the original parts of the home from the 18th and 19th Century are mostly intact." - so no more violent shades of red in the living room.

...Another reminder of why the book is sometimes hard (for me) to read - Parker is often depressed. And not mildly so. (58% in) After they'd liked in one California house in Coldwater Canyon for two years:"...One day, she looked out the window and told Alan they would have to move immediately because there was "a suicide light" rippling on the hill behind the house.

They hastened back to the Garden of Allah, where the light did not make her think that it might be refreshing to be dead."

...It's really sad to me that Parker did so much fund raising work for (among other things) the Spanish Civil War, to help the Spanish Republicans who were fighting the fascists (for ambulances, milk for children, etc.), and then to help the refugees when the fascists won. Not a lot of attention was or is paid to this war in the US, and Parker was always very quiet about her work in this sort of thing. People were always very dismissive of her causes, and many insisted she didn't care about anyone but herself. Which I can't buy after reading about how much time she devoted to such charity work.

...Untangling the Algonquin Round Table attendee's lives after the table (64% in):"...Marc Connelly, after years of frustration over his unrequited love for Margalo Gillmore, finally married a Mack Sennet bathing beauty, Madeline Hurlock, only to watch her fall in love with one of his best friends Robert Sherwood, who himself had been trapped in a turbulent sadomasochistic marriage with Mary Brandon."And that's just one sentence in several paragraphs of explaining "what happened to..." I admit to trying to found out more about Sherwood and Brandon's marriage but no dice, at least not in my googling.

...I would bet that most people don't know this about Parker. When she's in her 70s and has various ailments (79% in):"...she told him that her estate, plus any copyrights and royalties from her writings were to go to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and in the event of his death, to the National Association of Colored People. ...As his [Oscar Bernstien,the lawyer drawing up the will] widow, Rebecca, said, "He understood completely what she had in mind. It seemed natural because she had no heirs, and racial injustice had always affected her very deeply." "I found this out from The Portable Parker, one of the preface essays.

...Frank Sullivan, letter to a friend (82% in):"...And you said it, when you wrote: she was at war with herself all her life. Maybe most of us are and some negotiate cease fires occasionally, which seldom last. All the digs she took at people, friend and foe alike, were really digs at herself..."I'd give anything to read that whole letter. ...more
3

Jun 19, 2011

I was rather disappointed in this biography of the fabulous Dorothy Parker, frankly. Toward the last third of the book I felt that I was forcing myself to continue. And the most disappointing thing about this book is that the author failed to include a bibliography of the books and magazines she'd used in her research. I always go through bibliographies and write down the books that sound interesting, so this wasn't a pleasant discovery.

Meade's style is rather jumpy, and I found a lot of I was rather disappointed in this biography of the fabulous Dorothy Parker, frankly. Toward the last third of the book I felt that I was forcing myself to continue. And the most disappointing thing about this book is that the author failed to include a bibliography of the books and magazines she'd used in her research. I always go through bibliographies and write down the books that sound interesting, so this wasn't a pleasant discovery.

Meade's style is rather jumpy, and I found a lot of repetition of facts and details throughout the book. There was amateurish psychological speculations, such as blaming Parker's alcoholism on her childhood and her chaotic lifestyle on her inability to manage her thoughts and her life. On the positive side, though, there were some very interesting stories about Parker from her Vicious Circle friends, and from others outside the Circle, such as Lillian Hellman (who doesn't come off very well in this book at all - apparently she was irritated that Parker had bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of to Hellman). I would like to have been better able to follow Meade on her road through Parker's life, but it was difficult to stay hooked in after a while. There's also a great deal of emphasis on the sadness and loneliness of Parker's life which was depressing to me as well.

The book is organized in groups of years, which is a good way to set things up. This makes it easy to keep track of what's happening in Parker's life as her life goes by.

I can't really say this was an excellent biography, and I think I'll be looking for others to help me through my self-assigned Dorothy Parker reading project. ...more
4

Nov 06, 2013

What an interesting person Dorothy Parker was. Incredibly smart with a sharp wit that made her a success with any group she was with. She wrote poetry, short stories, and screenplays, but she was best known as a literary and stage critic for magazines and newspapers in New York. She was a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table. I imagine that she would be one of those people, having met, you would never forget, whether for good or bad. For some reason I group Dorothy Parker with What an interesting person Dorothy Parker was. Incredibly smart with a sharp wit that made her a success with any group she was with. She wrote poetry, short stories, and screenplays, but she was best known as a literary and stage critic for magazines and newspapers in New York. She was a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table. I imagine that she would be one of those people, having met, you would never forget, whether for good or bad. For some reason I group Dorothy Parker with Sylvia Plath and Carson McCullers. They were contemporaries, they each struggled with personal issues that led them to attempt suicide at some point, and each contributed considerably to the literary history of the 20th century. Marion Meade's writing and Parker's powerful personality make this a very interesting read.

"Ducking for apples--change one letter and it's the story of my life".
Dorothy Parker

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3

Jun 09, 2010

This was OK, I guess. It was quite interesting finding out what sort of person Dorothy Parker was and where she was from, and it was well-written enough. But the writer's magaziney style grated sometimes. And a lot of the time she just seemed to be making stuff up! I don't think the main character of Big Blonde is based on Parker -- I mean, yes, I'm sure Parker experienced some of what she put into the story, but I'm suspicious of attempts to turn people's fiction into sekrit biographies of This was OK, I guess. It was quite interesting finding out what sort of person Dorothy Parker was and where she was from, and it was well-written enough. But the writer's magaziney style grated sometimes. And a lot of the time she just seemed to be making stuff up! I don't think the main character of Big Blonde is based on Parker -- I mean, yes, I'm sure Parker experienced some of what she put into the story, but I'm suspicious of attempts to turn people's fiction into sekrit biographies of themselves. Fiction writers wouldn't write fiction if they couldn't, y'know, make shit up. If anything Parker is more the kind of writer to make stuff up for effect even when she's supposed to be writing non-fiction, than the kind of writer who puts a lot of True Stuff into their fiction.

Things I didn't know
- Dorothy Parker liked dogs
- She left her money to the NAACP
- She was Jewish
- She was married three times

Things I could have guessed
- She wasn't good with money
- She hated writing and found it incredibly difficult
- She was one of those women who hated being considered like a woman

On a tangent, find it depressing that Dorothy Parker is relatively obscure -- now probably known more as a writer of light verse about girl-stuff than anything else -- and the dudes she knew are Shining Lights of American literature. ...more
3

Feb 14, 2008

I know so many women today who would feel right at home with Dorothy Parker but have probably never heard of her. This book is a respectable (perhaps too much so) biography of one of America's greatest women of letters. Deeply flawed in many ways, from her alcoholism to her choices in men, Parker masked it all with a rapier wit that redefined a woman's role in literature. Alternately hilarious and nasty, she presented a new feminine face that had rarely been seen in society prior to her I know so many women today who would feel right at home with Dorothy Parker but have probably never heard of her. This book is a respectable (perhaps too much so) biography of one of America's greatest women of letters. Deeply flawed in many ways, from her alcoholism to her choices in men, Parker masked it all with a rapier wit that redefined a woman's role in literature. Alternately hilarious and nasty, she presented a new feminine face that had rarely been seen in society prior to her emergence.

At times Meade's book is long on details and short on "oomph". It seems as if she didn't wish to step too comfortably into Parker's shoes, when a more sympathetic approach would have conveyed more of the writer's acerbic personality. Still, the book works well as an introduction to the American wonder that was Dorothy Parker, and should inspire readers to dig more deeply into the written canon on her life. ...more
2

Jun 22, 2011

A somewhat anecdotal, pedestrian account of what was undoubtedly a fascinating life. I did learn quite a bit about Parkerpreviously I'd known little more than that she'd coined the phrase 'Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses'such as the fact that she had a fractious relationship with Hemingway, or that she willed all her estate to the NAACP. All of that made me think that she deserved a much more intelligent biographerMeade was far too given to hamfisted armchair psychologising. A somewhat anecdotal, pedestrian account of what was undoubtedly a fascinating life. I did learn quite a bit about Parker—previously I'd known little more than that she'd coined the phrase 'Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses'—such as the fact that she had a fractious relationship with Hemingway, or that she willed all her estate to the NAACP. All of that made me think that she deserved a much more intelligent biographer—Meade was far too given to hamfisted armchair psychologising. ...more
1

Feb 22, 2011

I didn't even quite make it all the way through this one, because Meade irritated me so much. She relied far too much on hearsay and opinion, and could definitely have spent a lot more time doing some fact checking. On top of that, her style was pedantic and generally unimpressive.
2

Aug 25, 2011

Not the best biography for such an enigmatic woman. In the hands of a more experienced writer, it might have been different.
2

Sep 20, 2011

I felt it was decidedly dry. For such a character, it was dull.
2

Apr 20, 2015

She was a woman who didnt mince words so neither will I, this biography was boring as fuck. She was a woman who didn’t mince words so neither will I, this biography was boring as fuck. ...more
5

Apr 09, 2008

One of my favorite curmudgeons - the title refers to her response every time the phone or doorbell rang, must confess I know that feeling!
5

Jan 13, 2009

an excellent biography. truth be told, her life is a better read, than her work. i saw this before the movie.....vicious circle yadayada, while jennifer jason leigh was great, the movie doesn't come close to dotties life story. if you like biographies, and old new york, read it!
4

Dec 13, 2011

4.5 stars, really...It's just not quite up there with Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay for me. I feel somewhat badly saying that, because Meade mentions in her biography of Dorothy Parker that Mrs. Parker (as Dorothy liked to be known) often struggled with feeling second to Edna Millay.

With her great pacing and choice of anecdotes, Marion Meade does an excellent job revealing just what a complex person Mrs. Parker was--an alcoholic who had abominable self-care skills and a 4.5 stars, really...It's just not quite up there with Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay for me. I feel somewhat badly saying that, because Meade mentions in her biography of Dorothy Parker that Mrs. Parker (as Dorothy liked to be known) often struggled with feeling second to Edna Millay.

With her great pacing and choice of anecdotes, Marion Meade does an excellent job revealing just what a complex person Mrs. Parker was--an alcoholic who had abominable self-care skills and a rather abusive personality. I alternated between feeling like "yes! i would surely have been friends with Mrs. Parker had we been contemporaries" and "HELL NO!" Also, after reading this biography, i'm somewhat amazed that Dorothy Parker ever accomplished anything. She had terrible work habits and she hated writing. In many ways i think she was an accidental writer and celebrity.

The most surprising thing for me was discovering how many screenplays she wrote or collaborated on. Yet it makes perfect sense--her real gift was in the dialogues she wrote in her short stories. So scriptwriting must have come somewhat naturally to her, even if she hated to write. I've jotted down the names of the films that actually got produced and will be tracking them down in the hopes of having my own little Dorothy Parker filmfest. I might have to start with Smash-up and A Star is Born, because they were nominated for Academy Awards.

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5

Mar 07, 2016

I was not familiar with Dorothy Parker until I saw the film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle many years ago (1995?). Her character, as portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, intrigued me. The little poems that Leigh read throughout the film were clever, witty and (given my woeful marital situation at the time) rather poignant. I was intrigued, not only by Parker, but by the whole Bohemian (of sorts) scene that was the Algonquin Round Table.

This was, of course, before the internet became much of a I was not familiar with Dorothy Parker until I saw the film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle many years ago (1995?). Her character, as portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, intrigued me. The little poems that Leigh read throughout the film were clever, witty and (given my woeful marital situation at the time) rather poignant. I was intrigued, not only by Parker, but by the whole Bohemian (of sorts) scene that was the Algonquin Round Table.

This was, of course, before the internet became much of a thing; Amazon.com was in its infancy. I checked local bookstores in East Lansing for her books but found nothing. I moved on to other things but, of course, kept Mrs. Parker filed away for later reference.

So, here it is thirty or more years later that I finally get around to reading her biography.

Meade indicates that Parker left so very little behind that would have helped to reconstruct her life story, so, with that in mind, I'd say that she has done a superlative job. Many have considered Meade's writing apocryphal... who am I to say?

Had I not been distracted with work and other things, I could have read the book in probably two or three sittings. It flowed very nicely; not once did I feel the writing got tiresome or burdensome. I was tempted, at times, to keep The Portable Dorothy Parker nearby in order to read the essays, reviews, poems and short stories as Meade referred to them, but decided that I wanted to finish the biography sometime this year.

Because I didn't take much of an interest in reading until I was in my twenties, and because I have gone long spells in which I have picked up few books, I am not as familiar with many of the characters that populated Parker's life, many of whom were writers. I've also not been all that familiar with where many of these people fall in our historical timeline, or that many of them had any ties with each other. So, I appreciated that Meade provided context for most of Parker's peers as she introduced them.

Through all this, I discovered Parker to be alternatively someone I liked and someone I disliked. With regard to the latter, I too often found similarities in our personalities. With regard to the former, it pleased me that she had Communist leanings, that she supported the Loyalists in Spain's civil war, and that she was vocal in her support of civil rights in this country. I was pleased, too, to see that her estate was bequeathed to Martin Luther King, Jr. (and to the NAACP upon his death).

I have no doubt that I would have loved being in Parker's presence had I had the opportunity; I also have no doubt that she probably would have ripped me a new one. Several times.

As is too often the case with intensely creative people, especially, perhaps, creative people who run in packs, she was given to substance abuse. In Parker's case, it was alcohol she abused, and per usual, it contributed to breakdowns in friendships, marriages and her ability to meet deadlines (forgiving though her editors/publishers were, incredibly). Typically in such cases, one wonders what higher heights a person might have achieved without the booze and/or other destructive behaviours. ...more
2

Sep 15, 2019

A batshit genius like Dorothy Parker deserves a more lively and penetrating biography.
5

Sep 01, 2013

I didn't know much about Dorothy Parker or the Algonquin Round Table when I saw the movie "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle." I knew a few snatches of her verse, knew she was renowned as a wit, and knew that the Round Table was famous for erudition and repartee. Once I saw the movie, I began to read her work and explore the rest of the group.

I ran across this biography (still fairly new at the time, and I believe Meade may have been an advisor to the movie). Having read other books about DP I didn't know much about Dorothy Parker or the Algonquin Round Table when I saw the movie "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle." I knew a few snatches of her verse, knew she was renowned as a wit, and knew that the Round Table was famous for erudition and repartee. Once I saw the movie, I began to read her work and explore the rest of the group.

I ran across this biography (still fairly new at the time, and I believe Meade may have been an advisor to the movie). Having read other books about DP and the rest of the Gonks before and since, I deeply appreciate the extensive research that went into this book. I also appreciate that so many of the legends about what DP did or said were punctured if Meade found contradictory evidence or could not at least confirm it. I believe this is essential reading for anyone who wants to really understand DP's life and her relationships, work, and times.

There are a lot of reviews here who give this book medium-to-low marks because it bursts the reader's bubble about DP simply being a clever party girl, or for showing that she had a tough, often self-destructive life. There are readers who believe that Meade is not enough of a fan. On the contrary, Meade actually admires DP but doesn't shy away from showing her in her complex entirety. People are complicated, and artists often more so than the rest of us. A book that details the bad with the good is to be complimented. ...more
1

Mar 26, 2014

Meade treats all of Parker's fiction and verse as if it was verified autobiography and paraphrases her writing incredibly obnoxiously. A couple prime examples: "Given the inadequacy of what was available to an aspiring suicide, Dorothy figured she might as well go on living." and "Men were seldom capable of experiencing sexual attraction for a woman who wore glasses." [See Parker's poem Resume and "Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses."]

Because Meade is constantly taking Parker's Meade treats all of Parker's fiction and verse as if it was verified autobiography and paraphrases her writing incredibly obnoxiously. A couple prime examples: "Given the inadequacy of what was available to an aspiring suicide, Dorothy figured she might as well go on living." and "Men were seldom capable of experiencing sexual attraction for a woman who wore glasses." [See Parker's poem Resume and "Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses."]

Because Meade is constantly taking Parker's lines and rewriting them as if they're her own, the biography has an absolutely insufferable tone. Meade pretends to know what Parker felt and believed and looked like at any given moment. An unreadable farce of a biography. ...more
3

May 05, 2010

I learned lots of interesting things. She left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance. She also fell in love a lot and was kind of a See You Next Tuesday. But I dig that about her. I especially enjoyed her platonic romance with Mr. Benchley. Previously, everything I knew about her was culled from The Portable her and that horrible Jennifer Jason Leigh movie. So its nice to discover the real facts of the case. But as far as this book goes, I didnt think it was particularly compelling I learned lots of interesting things. She left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance. She also fell in love a lot and was kind of a See You Next Tuesday. But I dig that about her. I especially enjoyed her platonic romance with Mr. Benchley. Previously, everything I knew about her was culled from The Portable her and that horrible Jennifer Jason Leigh movie. So it’s nice to discover the real facts of the case. But as far as this book goes, I didn’t think it was particularly compelling in its structure or prose. I’m going to keep it because it’s so fucking thorough and who knows when I’ll want to dip into it again, but it really should have been better. Less dry, perhaps. Certainly less boring. ...more
2

Mar 19, 2008

I was very excited about starting this book and enjoyed learning more about Dorothy Parker. However, it was a fight to get through this book and I ended up not finishing before my book club was meeting to discuss it. And I wasn't the only one. The girl who chose it apologized for doing so - it had been recommended to her. It was definitely informative and Dorothy Parker herself is interesting. However, I've also purchased a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine also written by Marion Meade, and I'm I was very excited about starting this book and enjoyed learning more about Dorothy Parker. However, it was a fight to get through this book and I ended up not finishing before my book club was meeting to discuss it. And I wasn't the only one. The girl who chose it apologized for doing so - it had been recommended to her. It was definitely informative and Dorothy Parker herself is interesting. However, I've also purchased a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine also written by Marion Meade, and I'm hesitating to start. ...more
3

May 16, 2010

After doing a short essay on Ms. Parker and her works, I was really excited to learn more about her. Marion Meade's biography does give a pretty thorough look into her life, but too often I found the writing a bit bland and rambling. With such a bold title, and the subject being a woman with such vitriolic wit, I expected a little bit more... excitement. I could only bring myself to skim the last two-hundred pages. Overall, though, a pretty good biography, and a good starting point for After doing a short essay on Ms. Parker and her works, I was really excited to learn more about her. Marion Meade's biography does give a pretty thorough look into her life, but too often I found the writing a bit bland and rambling. With such a bold title, and the subject being a woman with such vitriolic wit, I expected a little bit more... excitement. I could only bring myself to skim the last two-hundred pages. Overall, though, a pretty good biography, and a good starting point for researching Ms. Parker. ...more
2

Dec 27, 2012

I'm a Dorothy Parker fan. I admit that. I don't know that Ms. Meade is. She seems to be very judgmental about Mrs. Parker. I loved Ms. Meade's "Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin," and so was excited to read this but the tone was one of almost sneering at Mrs. Parker.
1

Feb 08, 2011

Garisson Keillor recommended Dorothy Parker's work. I got this book thinking it was a Parker book. I was bored and I did not like it.
1

May 18, 2010

Just wasn't engaged but the author. Read 1/4 and then sent it back to the library.
5

Sep 27, 2017

Iconic American writer ....that has fallen between the cracks.
Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This (M. Meade)

Pour yourself a glass of red wine, or as
Dorothy called it 'The Red Badge of Courage'
and spend hours with this feisty lady!

This is great biography!
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