Dorothy Parker's Humor A Head of It's Time
There are many types of humor: slapstick, situational, grim, self-deprecating, silly, serious, raw, light hearted, visual, plays on words and rhymes, and on and on. The one thing that most humor has in common is 'the unexpected'. Dorothy Parker's humor was certainly the unexpected. She played off of each situation and said or wrote exactly what she was 'thinking' - particularly if it was 'out of the box' of social propriety. Her words were quick, biting and unexpected - eliciting genuine laughter, and perhaps nervous laughter as well.
Dorothy grew up at a time when young ladies were expected to be seen rather than heard. She enjoyed challenging authority by speaking out - at times inappropriately - to get laughs from her fellow schoolmates. While entertaining her friends, she would trouble the nuns in the private school she attended by saying plays on words like, the "Immaculate Conception" was a "Spontaneous Combustion." For this she was asked to leave the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament on West 79th Street in New York City.
By the time Dorothy Parker sold her first verse to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914, she was both quick witted and fearless. Her talent for humor was recognized and appreciated by Vanity Fair, thus she was chosen to fill in for their own humor writer P.G. Wodehouse when he was on vacation - rather large shoes to fill for this petite and by burgeoning feminist beauty.
Dorothy soon wrote theatrical play reviews for Vanity Fair and became quite popular with her readers; while eventually feared by Broadway producers. Her cutting remarks could devastate the success of a meticulously and costly mounted play. She once wrote that a actress "... ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." No aspect of a production was safe from her clever and cutting words: from dialogue to casting to wardrobe. In one of her reviews Dorothy observed, "She wore as truly a horrible dress as I have ever seen on the American stage. Had she not been strangled in the Second Act, I should have made my way to the stage and done her in myself."
With pressure mounting from Broadway producers, Vanity Fair terminated Dorothy Parker's employment. Vanity Fair writers and fellow members of the Algonquin Round Table, Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, quit in protest - a true act of loyalty for their eventual lifelong friend. Dorothy's termination from Vanity Fair was a blessing in disguise. She was hired to write for a newly created magazine titled, The New Yorker and eventually enjoyed a successful career as a writer of several hundred poems, books, plays, articles, music and screenplays. She became a two time Academy Award nominated screenwriter in Hollywood - and was heralded by fans and friends who both feared and adored her.
Dorothy Parker's spontaneous humor and the ability to speak her mind, carried over to her personal life. She would be kind to someone's face, then wait for them to leave the room and say cutting remarks. Dorothy's husband Allan Campbell was often the brunt of her humor - as well as friends who knew and loved her - and yes feared her as well. One could say that Dorothy Parker was the Don Rickles of her day - a well known contemporary comedian who, both loved and feared, enjoys getting laughs at others' expense.