"Kindly direct me to hell."
May 26, 2006 10:36 AM   Subscribe

"That goddamn bitch Dorothy Parker...You won't believe what she's done." Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker were best friends forever until Ms. Parker pissed Ms. Hellman off by leaving her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., instead of to Ms. Hellman. Which might explain why Ms. Parker's remains went missing. [more inside; via]
posted by kirkaracha (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ms. Hellman thought she deserved to inherit Ms. Parker's estate:
I paid her hotel bill at the Volney for years, kept her in booze, paid for her suicide attempts--all on the promise that when she died, she would leave me the rights to her writing..But what did she do? She left them directly to the NAACP. Damn her!
The will called for the estate to go to the NAACP if Martin Luther King, Jr., died; he was assassinated the following year. Ms. Hellman thought the NAACP was too conservative and ineffectual.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:36 AM on May 26, 2006

Marion Meade was also featured on last weekend's Weekend Edition Saturday.
posted by LinnTate at 10:50 AM on May 26, 2006

That was fascinating, thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 11:02 AM on May 26, 2006

Great story!
posted by ori at 11:28 AM on May 26, 2006

Yeah, terrific, thanks!
posted by JanetLand at 11:28 AM on May 26, 2006

A great story. Parker was a fine, funny writer and a perceptive reviewer in her day. But Brendan Gill's assessment that she had overstayed her welcome-- though cruel -- was pretty close to sound. Both Parker and Hellman were good examples of intellectuals whose radicalism was a form of high-toned snobbery. Both got their comeuppance after death, with Hellman having been totally trashed by everyone from a summer housekeeper to Mary McCarthy, and Parker's having spent her last years as n ignoble drunk, and ending up a pile of ashes in a file drawer. My heart goes out to Parker's modest little relatives, who may have expected a little something from her estate, and had to see it tossed away by Parker in a flashy gesture, meant to demonstrate her own superiority to the common run of people.
(I kind of liked the idea of interring Parker's ashes in a bar at the Algonquin.)
posted by Faze at 11:35 AM on May 26, 2006

This was an amazing read. I'm a huge Dorothy Parker fan, and I had no idea about any of this. Thanks for sharing!
posted by dejah420 at 11:49 AM on May 26, 2006

Ms. Hellman thought the NAACP was too conservative and ineffectual.

Possibly, but racist contempt for blacks and radical social ideals were not mutually exclusive to this circle of people. (I'm reminded, in light of a recent thread, of Invisible Man, in particular the scene where a drunken white socialite, brimming with ideals about the coming "revolution," asks Invisible to rape her like a mandingo-buck would. He doesn't, of course.)

Neat post. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of some of these people's apartments--Dashiell Hammett too.
posted by bardic at 12:02 PM on May 26, 2006

That was an interesting story thanks. Perhaps it's the size of it on the internet but I don't think that was a great piece of writing. And it felt a bit clubby and I felt a little excluded.
posted by peacay at 12:13 PM on May 26, 2006

Terrific read. Such a strange world of upper class Reds.
posted by freebird at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2006

What dejah said! Thanks, kirkaracha.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:18 PM on May 26, 2006

bardic, I thought the narrator in Invisible Man did in fact sleep with the racist socialite. Still, good point, and there are countless examples of white radicals and liberals relating in racist ways to radicals and liberals of color, all the way to present day.
posted by Embryo at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2006

Good read. Thanks kirkaracha.
posted by intermod at 2:10 PM on May 26, 2006

I had assumptions about why she left her estate to the NAACP, but I could have guessed there was a(t least one) Lillian Hellman in her past.

Dorothy Parker was legendarily high maintenance for most of her life, and I could see a few people feeling entitled to something in return after she died.
posted by chicobangs at 2:40 PM on May 26, 2006

nice link -- thanks!
posted by scody at 2:54 PM on May 26, 2006

Interesting FP, thanks.

Faze and bardic, nicely said.

An odd tidbit. Once I asked the doorman of 150 East 72nd Street, NYC, where my late grandmother lived, if anybody well known had ever lived in the building. He said Dorothy Parker had lived there "in the back".

The Algonquin Oak Room is still a wonderful place to hang out in spite of the recent renovation.

The book in which one can read Wyatt Cooper's article: "Whatever you think Dorothy Parker was like, she wasn't".

SJ Perelman, one of the witty Round Table gang with Ms. Parker was equally a viciously entertaining, racist snob.
posted by nickyskye at 3:31 PM on May 26, 2006

embryo, I just looked it up--a pretty amazing scene. The woman, Sybil (hint hint), is down with the movement and its values, but tries to seduce Invisible to fulfill her fantasy of being raped by a black man. He won't indulge her, and uses lipstick to write "You've been raped by Santa Claus" on her stomach when she passes out.
posted by bardic at 4:16 PM on May 26, 2006

bardic: huh, i stand corrected. I could have sworn I remembered the woman's husband coming home and forcing the narrator to flee. Or are you saying that all happens, but he merely sleeps next to her rather than "with" her? I don't understand the relevance of "Sybil", either, care to spell it out for the dense?
posted by Embryo at 4:29 PM on May 26, 2006

Sybil of Cumae was the prophet who could never lie, but no one every believed her. Come to think of it, maybe they were sleeping together--it's been a little while for me. They're definitely building up to it though, but I always read it as Invisible not sleeping with her, since it's pretty obvious she just wants to use him to fulfill her race fantasies. FWIW, I've been meaning to read IM again.... I guess now I should!
posted by bardic at 4:36 PM on May 26, 2006

No, that was Cassandra.
posted by kenko at 8:03 PM on May 26, 2006

from the article:

"Perhaps figuring that Hellman had no need of money, though more likely because she believed passionately in racial equality, Parker had decided to place her sparrow-size nest egg where it could do some good."

I can't help but feel that was the case. Even drunken old washed-out half-forgotten poets are pretty idealistic at heart.

I know that bioflicks are 90% fallacy but I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Jennifer Jason Leigh did a fantastic job.

Great post - thanks.
posted by rougy at 11:09 PM on May 26, 2006

Cumaen Sybil.


The main point is that Ellison uses her name ironically.
posted by bardic at 12:13 AM on May 27, 2006

nickyskye -- Thank you for mentioning the great S.J. Perelman -- just seeing his name in print makes me feel good. His talent way eclipses Parker's -- and while his later work was not as great as his mind-blowing early feuilletons, it was never an embarassment. He was not only the most intellegent American humorist (every New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" piece is -- in essence -- a tribute to Perelmen), his best stuff displays a near-Nabokovian serious-silly verbal gravity. I see him as almost an American Borges.
posted by Faze at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2006

Wickedly interesting.
posted by bhouston at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2006

Wickedly interesting. bhouston, well said.

Faze, huh. That's amazing. Very few people I know have read SJ Perelman. Those who have heard of him are Marx brothers fans (can't stand the Marx brothers) or aficionados of 1940's deco, the olde Hollywood nostalgia, (bores me stiff).

SJ's writing makes me laugh until I bark, until my sides hurt, that funny. Sid's wit is best when he is a victim of his own nasty, bitter and impatient temperament. I like his travel stuff a lot and his mischievous enjoyment of details.

There is something immediately evocative about Sid's writing. His opening sentences are, for me, a portal into hilarity. The only book that made me laugh as hard as Sid's writing is Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe.

At school there was an anthology of short stories for English class with Nothing But the Tooth (full story printed mid webpage) and to my shock it was by Sid. He was one of my mother's womanizing friends. (He was gaga about my mother -they had a long thing going on- and loathed my father for being a rival.) As a kid I knew Sid as a man who came over for drinks with the grown ups but didn't really know about him. The dentist short story was disturbingly silly in a mediocre way, but I couldn't believe the author was that rigid mannered guy I'd met, so I wrote Sid complimenting him. We ended up talking. He was more fun in his writing than in person. He didn't like kids, at all.

He was, like the rest of the Round Table crew, in his element between bookcovers or out of the sunlight, being scathing over booze, playfully eviscerating.

What do you like of his?
posted by nickyskye at 9:29 AM on May 27, 2006

I bow to your firsthand encounters with the great Perelman. Your description of his crusty, dandified exterior certainly jibes with the descriptions in his biography, and the opinions in his collected letters. I'm not surprised that he didn't like kids. In fact, I recall he had a sad little daughter who occasionally turns up in essays published during his glum "family man" phase. I devoured everything by Perelman in the 1980s, from the book that collects his college humor writings (and collaborations with John Held, Jr.) to his last, "Crazy as a Fox." Certainly, the Modern Library "Most of" (which was my childhood introduction to his work) is a "greatest hits" guaranteed to knock out the neophyte. "The Idol's Eye," has made me laugh out loud over and over. It's probably my favorite story of his. I also really like the overseas tours with Hirschfeld. But all his essay collections are wonderful. I'd read them on the subway and just chuckle away.
I hope you cherish your personal connection with the guy. No question that the Marx Brothers films constitute the least of his work. To have S.J. Perelman have had a crush on your mother -- that is a strange and enviable family history (I think). All my best to you.
posted by Faze at 5:10 PM on May 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

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