This week I will finish looking at the witticisms of very clever writer Dorothy Parker following her days at New York’s Algonquin Round Table. Since her later life was not always happy, many of the barbs she came up with were aimed squarely at herself.

“I require three things in a man,” said Parker, “he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.” Actor Alan Campbell filled the bill, and the couple married in 1934 and moved “out to Hollywood, where the streets are paved with Goldwyn.” The pair would divorce in 1947.

One of the screenplays on which they worked in Hollywood was “A Star Is Born,” which turned out to be very similar to another film from a few years earlier. When the other studio threatened to sue, Parker moaned, “The only ‘ism’ Hollywood cares about is plagiarism.” (The couple would eventually be blacklisted from Hollywood during the McCarthy era for being against fascism and supporting communism.)

When she butted heads with major film producer Samuel Goldwyn over the way a film should end, she reportedly told him, “I know this will come as a shock to you Mr. Goldwyn, but in all of history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”

When Parker and Campbell remarried in 1950, she quipped at the reception that “people who haven’t talked to each other in years are on speaking terms again today – including the bride and groom.”

She also had some between-marriages relationships that prompted her to make several observations about such encounters, such as: “If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.” Some of her other thoughts on the matter included: “Ducking for apples – change one letter and it’s the story of my life’” and “Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.”


Parker lived in “a small apartment; I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends,” she once remarked. One of those friends was playwright Charles MacArthur. When one of their liaisons resulted in her becoming pregnant, she wrote, “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.” After terminating the pregnancy, she made her first suicide attempt. “It’s not the tragedies that kill you, it’s the messes.”

And it was a mess. As Parker herself wrote, “This wasn’t just terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

While she was recovering in the hospital, her old friend, columnist and humorist Robert Benchley —“Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship” — told her that she “might as well live.” That remark is said to have inspired her to write the poem Resumé: “Razors pain you, Rivers are damp, Acids stain you, And drugs cause cramp, Guns aren’t lawful, Nooses give, Gas smells awful, You might as well live.”

Parker died of natural causes in 1967 at the age of 73 and was cremated wearing a party dress that Gloria Vanderbilt had given her “as an act of charity.”

As you’d expect, Parker had come up with a few versions of her own epitaph, including: “Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment,” and the ironically appropriate “Excuse my dust.”

The wittiest of all, in my opinion, is her assertion that “You can’t take it with you, and even if you did, it would probably melt.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: