Sunday, January 23, 2011
Dorothy Parker Has Her Say
By Dorothy Parker, from MURDER YOUR DARLINGS by J.J. Murphy
I once said, “I don’t care what is written about me, so long it isn’t true.” Well, I’ll be darned…Someone finally took me up on it.
Go to your local bookstore (if you still have one that hasn’t been overtaken by a coffee shop and a glut of teenage vampire books) and poke your nose into the mystery section. They have a book out now called MURDER YOUR DARLINGS. In this story (a murder mystery, in fact), there’s a “character” called Dorothy Parker. (Oh, she’s quite a character!)
She lives in the Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s. (True enough.) She works for Vanity Fair magazine, where she penned the line “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”. (So far, so good.) She’s friends (maybe more?) with the funny and light-hearted Robert Benchley. (No comment.) And she drinks too much for her own good. (OK, they have me dead to rights on that one).
Here comes the fictional part: This Dorothy Parker solves a murder mystery. Now they’ve gone too far…I’ve never even solved a crossword puzzle, so I don’t know how I can be expected to solve a murder. But there you have it.
It’s not as though I haven’t been fictionalized before.
In my own day (a cold, wet, rainy day, as I recall it), a character based on yours truly appeared in no less than three plays on Broadway. I suppose that now if I ever wrote a play about myself, I’d be sued for plagiarism. Oh yes, and there was that dreadful film in the 1990s. [Editor’s note: “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.”] It made an afternoon at the Algonquin Round Table look like as much fun as a visit to the orthodontist. (A bartender once asked me, “What are you having?” I replied, “Not much fun.” That’s this movie in a nutshell. And in a nutshell is exactly where it belongs.)
The Roaring Twenties were a hell of a time! As the song went, “Ain’t we got fun?” We certainly did, my sweet little peaches! That’s the one thing this MURDER YOUR DARLINGS book gets right. It shows the 1920s as an endless parade of fun. Drinking, smoking, carousing, and insults flying across the table like horseshoes… You know—fun!
Oh, other events happen in the book as well. A famous drama critic is found under the Round Table. (Believe me, he wasn’t the first person to wind up down there.) But this old boy has been murdered. Then William Faulkner shows up. (Yes, that William Faulkner! And we find out how he learned his trademark style of writing.) I swoon over my beloved Benchley, not that he takes any notice. Some gangsters chase us around, through subways and alleyways and…anyways, you’ll have to read it for yourself.
I said I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true. But perhaps I lied, just a little. After all, lying is what writers do, isn’t it? Writers and prostitutes—they both lie for money. Read the book. You’ll see.
Mrs. Parker appears (with the other members of the Algonquin Round Table) in MURDER YOUR DARLINGS, available now from Obsidian/Penguin. She and her cohorts will return next year in YOU MIGHT AS WELL DIE.
Do you agree (or disagree) about her opinion of the movie version of her life? Which actress would you currently cast to play Dorothy Parker? Vote here, and comment below: Algonquin Round Table Mysteries.
Tomorrow on Killer Characters: a Maggie Sefton character.