Dorothy Parker: The Softer Side of the Sharpest Wit

Ellen Meister in the Wall Street Journal:

ScreenHunter_1185 May. 07 11.44Here’s a trivia question to try out at a cocktail party: What famous figure of the Jazz Era started her career as a caption writer for Vogue, referencing Shakespeare when she described a skimpy garment with the phrase “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”?

Chances are, many will know it was Dorothy Parker. But here’s something they might not know. The famously acerbic wit, who could shatter an opponent in a single barb, had a soft heart when it came to injustice.

Renowned as a member of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker was also known as a theater critic, short story writer, essayist, book reviewer, screenwriter and poet. She is famous for such withering quotes as, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force,” and “That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”

As a theater critic, she wrote, “The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy,” and once complained that a performance by Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Parker was also known for the darkness of her poetry, which was often humorous but macabre, with its focus on death and suicide.

But her sharp tongue and dark spirit belied the tender heart that drove her activism, and inspired the surprising contents of her will.

More here.