It looked as if her sex life had died. Since she and John McClain had parted, she had “put sex carefully away on the highest cupboard-shelf, in a box marked ‘Winter Hats—1916.’ ” Not that there weren’t plenty of ravishing men around, most of them willowy young actors who were thrilled to escort her wherever she wished to go and to see that she got back to the Lowell and tucked safely into bed if she passed out. If they had no interest in sleeping with women it made no difference because, as she often said, she needed good fairies to protect her. One night, she was invited to a costume ball where all the divine young men were dressed up to look like divine young women. Lubricated by several highballs, Dorothy observed the dancers from a balcony, but every so often she leaned over the railing and looked down at the dance floor, muttering in despair. Water, water everywhere and not a single drop to drink. When she could contain herself no longer, she shouted, “Come on up, anybody. I’m a man!”
That August she turned forty. On the night of her birthday she walked into Tony’s with her head defiantly armored in a football helmet, a gift from Adele Lovett’s husband. In the distance loomed all the birthdays to come, the unfolding of solitary years, until she felt like a prisoner trapped in a cage of her own construction.
Long I fought the driving lists,
Plume a-stream and armor clanging;
Link on link, between my wrists,
Now my heavy freedom’s hanging.
During the spring, she met Alan Campbell at Tony’s one night. Benchley introduced them, although Alan was not a friend of his. Alan Campbell was a personable young actor, who had published a few stories in The New Yorker and whom Benchley knew only well enough to say hello and how are you. A few months later, Dorothy ran into him again at Howard Dietz’s house, and she was surprised to learn they had other mutual friends. She was immediately impressed by Alan’s golden good looks, the fine bone structure, the fair hair and dazzling smile that made it seem as if he had just stepped indoors on a June day. He resembled Scott Fitzgerald when Scott had been young and healthy, before he began drinking heavily, and some people thought him far better looking. Alan, like Scott, had a face that was a touch too pretty for a man, the kind of features that caused people to remark he would have made a splendid woman. He was typecast by producers as a classic juvenile. His looks projected the image of a stunning man clad in a blazer, carrying a racquet, bursting through the doors of a stage drawing room, asking, “Tennis, anyone?” That cliché could have been written for Alan. His only physical flaw was a habit of chewing his nails.
He was twenty-nine, eleven years Dorothy’s junior. While he never actually lied about his background, some people got the idea that his father had been a wealthy Virginia tobacco man, and he could not bring himself to correct the mistake. His real background was similar to Dorothy’s, a mixture of Jewish and Gentile. In Alan’s case, his father was of Scottish descent. His mother’s family, the Eichels, were Jewish emigrés from the Alsace region of France who fought in the Civil War and afterward settled in Richmond, Virginia, where Alan’s grandfather was known to be the finest butcher in the city.
When Alan’s mother, Hortense, was eighteen, she eloped with Harry Lee Campbell, a six-foot-tall Baptist who worked for a company that sold leaf tobacco. He was reputedly a drinking man. For much of their fifteen-year marriage, they alternated living with their families. When Alan was born in 1904, they were staying at the spacious Eichel house on East Clay Street. It was an unhappy marriage. Clara Lester, who cooked for the Eichel family, remembered Horte’s restlessness. “She’d pick up and go off, and nobody knew where. Anybody goin’ anywhere would say to Horte, ‘You goin’ my way?’ and off she’d go. Her husband was jealous and he drank.” After the Campbells divorced, Horte and Alan continued to live with Horte’s family.
Alan’s mother, who worked as a clerk at the Internal Revenue Service, never remarried. Content to raise her beautiful son, Horte made him the center of her existence and devoted herself to obtaining the very best for him: dancing classes, scholarships to a prep school, summer camps patronized by Richmond’s elite families, and an education at Virginia Military Institute, where he became one of the most popular boys in his class. Although Alan majored in civil engineering, he also revealed a definite talent for the artistic. His writings and drawings appeared regularly in campus publications and he played the leading feminine parts in dramatic club productions. J. Clifford Miller, Jr., who was three years behind Alan at VMI, recalled that in one play he “was dressed in an evening gown and was so well made-up that in spite of his very obvious arm and leg muscles, he got a lot of whistles from the cadets when he appeared as a very pretty young lady.” For two years after graduation, he lived at home and worked for the state highway department. Roy Eichel remembered his nephew’s unhappiness:
All at once, one night, without saying a word to anybody, he disappeared. Later we figured out that when nobody was looking he had packed a suitcase, which he lowered out of his bedroom window on a rope during the night. Then he walked down the stairs to the backyard, picked up the suitcase, and went off to the station where he caught a train for New York. Of course Miz Campbell carried on like a lunatic.
A few weeks later, finally learning of his whereabouts, Horte dispatched Roy to New York on a special mission to bring her son home. Alan, determined to become an actor, refused.
His first theater job was in the Schubert costume department, but he soon got small parts with Eva Le Gallienne’s repertory company. In 1928, he played Laurette Taylor’s son in The Furies. By the time he met Dorothy he had appeared in a dozen Broadway shows, including the hit musical Show Boat and Noel Coward’s Design for Living with the Lunts. Alan also began to write and sell fiction, mostly about the theater, which was the subject of many of his New Yorker stories.
From the start, Dorothy and Alan were extremely taken with each other. He said years later that she was “the only woman I ever knew whose mind was completely attuned to mine.” They were very much alike, not only in their Jewish-Gentile backgrounds, but in their likes and dislikes, their fears, and their critical judgments. “No one in the world has made me laugh as much as Dottie,” he said. He could never predict when or where she would open her mouth and quietly utter five or six priceless words. One evening at the home of Dorothy and Richard Rodgers, dinner guests were happily and lengthily denigrating Clare Boothe. Her sole defender at the table was Uka Chase, who protested that Clare was always loyal to friends. Moreover, added Chase, Clare was always kind to her inferiors.
“And where does she find them?” asked Dorothy, without looking up from her plate or missing a bite.
Quite apart from his uncritical appreciation of her wit, it was obvious to him that she needed someone to look after her. The disorderly way she lived was deplorable, but Alan took it for granted that a writer of her stature should be ignorant of cooking, shopping, and keeping her bank account in order, indeed coping with any mundane matter. He was quick to notice every detail of her appearance and to make tactful suggestions for improvement. Even though she had excellent taste in clothing, her grooming was occasionally less than impeccable. Alan felt strongly that a woman in her position should look elegant, and he was going to make sure she did. Not only did he supervise dieting and shopping for a new wardrobe, he redid her makeup and also designed an exceptionally becoming hairstyle—long soft bangs with the rest of her hair sleekly pulled back into a twist. She liked the style so much that she kept it for the rest of her life. Alan was, said Ruth Goodman Goetz, “your instantaneous, quick-witted interior decorator. Alan bought her clothes, fussed with her hairstyle and her perfume. I don’t know if he actually set her hair or not, but he may have. Dottie was delighted to have this handsome creature around.”
Meanwhile, she was suffering from serious problems that seemed incapable of solution by anything as simple as a new coiffure. Sunk deep in one of the moods that she called “a Scotch mist,” she drank heavily and sometimes had blackouts. Writer Joseph Bryan III, a childhood friend of Alan’s from Richmond, remembered running into him at a dance.
“Come along at once,” Alan said. “Dottie Parker is here and she’s dying to meet you.”
Bryan followed him to the edge of the dance floor, where Dorothy was holding court on a gilt chair. To his amazement and delight, she seemed thrilled to see him, complimented him extravagantly on a recent New Yorker profile, and insisted he take a seat next to her. After a time, she wondered whether he might be interested in collaborating on a play with her—he said he would be—and wanted to know how soon he could start. When they agreed to meet the next morning, Bryan left the dance floating on a pink cloud. Next day, on the stroke of eleven, he appeared at her hotel and asked the doorman to ring her.
She was a long time answering, but finally he said, “Mr. Bryan, madam ... Mr. Bryan.... He turned to me: “Will you spell it, sir?” I spelled it, and he repeated, “B, R, Y, A, N, madam.... Yes, madam.” He turned to me again: “Mrs. Parker asks what you wish to see her about.” I don’t know how I made myself heard over the noise of my heart cracking, but I must have succeeded, because presently I found myself in the elevator, even though I was already achingly aware that she’d have no recollection of our glittering plans from the evening before. It proved to be worse than that: she had no recollection even of our having met.
I saw Dottie many, many times afterwards... but never once was that first evening ever mentioned. For all that she retained of it, it had never happened.
A few weeks later, another embarrassing incident occurred. Dorothy had agreed to support Fiorello La Guardia’s candidacy for mayor of New York City. At a press conference arranged by Beatrice Kaufman, a horde of reporters arrived at Dorothy’s apartment and began to interrogate her about politics. One of the better political jokes of the year had been hers: When Benchley brought her the news that Calvin Coolidge was dead, she responded, “How can they tell?”
Firsthand witnesses claimed that Benchley shot back, “He had an erection.” But the punch line was generally omitted in deference to Benchley’s image as a one-hundred-percent clean-cut family man.
On the afternoon of the La Guardia press conference, crouched in a chair, Dorothy was either drunk or hung over. She refused to talk about La Guardia, or any other subject, and declared that “I’m having a filthy time.” Reluctant to acknowledge that she had never voted, she said that maybe she once had voted for a surrogate judge but could no longer remember. When asked about the election, she replied, “Maybe we’d better have another round of drinks. I’ll tell Ivy,” and added angrily, “This is not going so well, I feel miserable.”
The Viking Press was preparing to issue her second volume of collected fiction. The original title, The Infernal Grove, had been discarded and donated to John O’Hara, who also finally vetoed it in favor of Appointment in Samarra for his first novel. Dorothy’s book finally appeared as After Such Pleasures from John Donne’s “Farewell to Love.” Viking reprinted several of her best stories (“Horsie,” “Dusk Before Fireworks”), some of her earliest work (“Too Bad,” written in 1923) and popular soliloquies such as “The Waltz.” An excited Edmund Wilson recommended the book to Louise Bogan: “You should read it, if you haven’t—I’ll send you my borrowed copy, if you promise to send it back.” Wilson’s praise was typical of the critical reaction, which should have delighted Dorothy, but the pleasures of success were overcast by the debilitation that always accompanied a “Scotch mist.”
Prohibition was repealed. After thirteen years, the sale of alcohol became legal again on December 5, 1933, and the speakeasy era, in which Dorothy learned to drink, would soon fade to a memory. Even though Prohibition had never interfered with her drinking—quite the opposite—she enjoyed the new freedom, particularly in Alan’s company, as they made the rounds of her favorite saloons. One night they were drinking at Tony’s when their voices began to rise. Alan got up and angrily stamped out. Dorothy, left fingering the silverware, looked around and smiled at the people sitting nearby. “I don’t know why he should get so angry,” she said to Emily Hahn, “just because I called him a fawn’s ass.”
Ordinarily, Alan did not react to such provocative remarks. Having grown up with drinking parents, he instinctively understood that in these situations somebody had to be responsible and usually it was himself. He knew what Dorothy badly needed was somebody to take charge, and Alan took great pleasure in being a manager. On a practical level, he endeared himself by sobering her up, making excuses, and getting her out of jams whenever necessary. There were some problems about which he could do nothing but shake his head in astonishment, however. By this time, her debts had grown so sizable that it seemed she could never repay them if she lived to be a hundred. Her method of handling money and debt was careless. She disposed of her earnings by reckless spending until nothing was left and then panicking, at which point she would shoot off an apologetic telegram to Viking, asking that five hundred dollars be deposited in National City Bank.
Part of her financial distress was due to generosity. She was quick to give away money to any friend who needed it. When John O’Hara faced a domestic crisis and required fifty dollars in a hurry, she wrote a check and ordered him never to mention the matter again, because she was so deeply in debt that fifty dollars made no difference. She also helped her sister, who was working as a salesclerk at Gimbel’s. George Droste died in 1932, and Helen recently married Victor Grimwood, a retired schoolteacher in his sixties and a sportsman who was the author of a book on fly fishing. Sometimes the Grimwoods were hard up. Dorothy agreed to cosign a bank loan for Victor, a kindness that did not prevent her from complaining about him behind his back. The members of her family, she grumbled, “seem to have retired from active work of any kind. That is, all except my brother-in-law, who has a dandy business. He makes ships’ models. Of course, it’s a little dull at the moment, but it’ll come back.”
Attracting a man as young as Alan pleased Dorothy, but she also felt extremely sensitive about the difference in their ages. For the most part, she carried off the situation by never mentioning Alan’s true age and pretending he was merely a few years her junior. Only among her closest friends did she joke about it. When Howard Dietz once needled her about Alan being too straitlaced for her, she agreed but wondered what could be done about it. “Oh yes,” she said, “we could send him to military school.” Instead of dwelling on his youth, she preferred to emphasize the fact that he was a Southerner and affectionately began referring to him as “the Colonel.”
Dorothy went out of her way to help the Colonel. In January 1934, presumably as a result of introducing him to her close friends Ellen and Philip Barry, Alan was cast in Barry’s new play, The Joyous Season. That same month Dorothy made up her mind to leave the Lowell and moved into an apartment building at 444 East Fifty-second Street, which afforded an unbroken view of the garbage in the East River and was located, as she said, “far enough east to plant tea.” At first she found the new apartment oppressive, but after Philip Barry’s play had closed, the Colonel began spending most of his time there with her. By spring they were more or less living together.
With a new home and a new lover, it seemed only natural to buy a dog, and she acquired a Bedlington terrier. “I picked him out because Bedlingtons are trained to root up gardens and hunt otters, and my New York apartment was simply infested with otters.” No animal of Dorothy’s was exposed to the concepts of obedience training or housebreaking, and Wolf proved no exception. To compound the problem of owning an untrained puppy, Alan insisted that Wolf should have a friend, and they decided to get a second, fully grown Bedlington, Cora. One night they were at the Murphys’ Beekman Place apartment with John O’Hara, waiting for the arrival of Ernest Hemingway. After four hours, he had not shown up and the Bedlingtons grew restless. So did O’Hara, who felt antagonistic toward Sara because he suspected that she disliked him. As he gleefully reported to Hemingway later, “I had the pleasure of watching first one dog, then another taking a squirt on Mrs. Murphy’s expensive rugs.”
That spring Dorothy saw a good deal of Scott Fitzgerald, who was living in Baltimore while Zelda underwent treatment at Johns Hopkins. Scott was busy revising Tender Is the Night for an April publication date. Dorothy had not seen him for several years, although the previous fall, she had impulsively written to him, when Ring Lardner had died of a heart attack at the age of forty-eight. She and John O’Hara were sitting over coffee in the Baltimore Dairy Lunch late one night while Dorothy read the latest issue of The New Republic containing Scott’s obituary of Ring. Dorothy could not help weeping. O’Hara irritated her by repeating, “Isn’t it swell?” until she finally told him, “The Gettysburg Address was good too.” Writing in what appears to be crayon, she scrawled a tipsy note to Scott: “I think your piece about Ring is the finest and most moving thing I have ever read,” and she signed it “Dorothy Parker, N.Y. City,” as if she and Scott were complete strangers.
He telephoned to thank her, but they did not meet again until April, when Zelda’s paintings and drawings were exhibited at a Manhattan art gallery. Dorothy, who attended the exhibition with the Murphys and Adele Lovett, dutifully made several purchases. She paid thirty-five dollars for two watercolors, one of them a portrait of Scott wearing a crown of thorns and the other a dancer who resembled Zelda. She was shocked to find the prices pitifully low. Zelda had talent, she thought, but the painful qualities of the work and the dominating color of blood red upset her. She knew she would never hang the pictures in her apartment.
During this period, while Zelda was temporarily living at a rest home on the Hudson River, Scott made frequent visits to New York, where he stayed at the Algonquin or the Plaza. His pockets stuffed with catalogs for Zelda’s exhibit, he turned up at Tony’s or telephoned Dorothy, eager to ramble around all night partying and asking for introductions to women. Jim Thurber obliged. Dorothy did not, but she once invited him to join her, John O’Hara, and O’Hara’s former wife, Helen. To O’Hara’s dismay, as they were seeing Helen home, Scott began making passes in the cab, and she did not bother to fight him off. When the taxi pulled up at her door, Scott immediately climbed out and escorted her inside, even though he was so drunk that he needed the doorman’s assistance to walk.
“He’s awful,” Dorothy protested to O’Hara. “Why didn’t you punch him?”
O’Hara replied that Helen was entitled to behave as she liked.
Years later Dorothy confided in a friend that she had slept with Scott, but added that it had been nothing more than a fleeting affair. Since he was an alcoholic like herself, she could feel compassion for him, but he made her uncomfortable for the same reason. She despised in him the very qualities she hated in herself—sniveling self-pity, the way they both wasted their talent, their lack of self-discipline. And, like herself, Scott could be tiresome when he was drinking. It is not impossible that they slept with each other once or twice in some unplanned encounter when both of them were drunk. However, given her deepening involvement with Alan at this time, the fact that they were living together and spending most of their time in each other’s company, it seems unlikely that she went out of her way to have affairs.
Some of her friends wondered what sort of erotic relationship she was having with Alan. Some were pleased to speculate that there was little physical intimacy at all. In order to make such remarks, they had to ignore the obvious, which was that “in addition to their friendship they had a real physical love for each other so strong that it was startling to see,” as one friend said.
Before meeting Dorothy, Alan’s involvements with the opposite sex had been with older women, with whom he slept or lived and whom he treated like daughters. He’d once, for example, lived with actress Estelle Winwood. Sid Perelman classified Alan as a homosexual, temporarily non-practicing. Other friends tended to agree with Ruth Goetz who said, “All the time I knew Alan I never saw him do anything overtly homosexual. I sensed, however, that somewhere in his past there had been homosexual friendships.”
Regardless of what people said, it was increasingly clear that Dorothy loved Alan and that he loved her. With her history, her seeming knack for selecting those very men incapable of loving back, this development seemed excellent progress. Marc Connelly was one friend who welcomed Alan. “When Dottie fell in love, she fell in love. She didn’t swim in a fishpond, you know; she went into the ocean. Alan was a nice boy, a good boy. She was very much in love with him, and so he was welcome.”
Although Alan’s wit was not in the same class as Dorothy’s, his conversation was rarely dull. He had an engaging sense of humor and a highly developed idea of fun. One evening when they were drinking in a Village bar, another customer, whose appearance was decidedly effeminate, began to interrogate Dorothy about her literary tastes. Did she prefer this author or that author? Did she ever read fairy tales?
“My dear,” she replied, “let us not talk shop.”
Alan laughed so hard he almost fell on the floor. Later that evening, still feeling merry, he suggested that they have themselves tattooed. They had themselves decorated at one of the Bowery tattoo parlors with matching blue stars in the insides of their upper arms. Afterward, Dorothy complained that she would be condemned to wearing long sleeves for the rest of her life.
After Dorothy’s tattoo was revealed in a gossip column, the New York Daily Mirror dispatched a reporter to find out where it was located. Sheilah Graham, a young Englishwoman, arrived to find Dorothy having cocktails with Alan and John O’Hara. Shyly, Dorothy pushed up the sleeve of her dress to show Graham her arm and apologized for the boring location of the star. It was so tiny that Graham had trouble distinguishing the design. Dorothy offered Graham a drink, said she liked her, and assured her they would become close friends. She urged her to call again, an invitation Graham took seriously. After she had stopped by several times, always informed that Mrs. Parker was out, she realized that Dorothy had been making a fool of her.
1) Twelve-year-old Dorothy Rothschild at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, January 1906. (HELEN IVESON. ROBERT IVESON. MARGARET DROSTE. SUSAN COTTON)
2) A Sunday outing in Riverside Park, 1906. Dorothy poses with brother Bert, her dog Rags, sister Helen, and sister-in-law Mate. Absent is oldest brother Harry, who would subsequently cut himself off entirely from the family. (HELEN IVESON. ROBERT IVESON. MARGARET DROSTE SUSAN COTTON)
3) A widowed J. Henry Rothschild in 1899, six months after the death of his wife Eliza. Radiating prosperity and his customary confidence, he was known in the garment industry as “the greatest salesman of them all” (Creraud’s Cloak Journal). (HELEN IVESON. ROBERT IVESON, MARGARET DROSTE. SUSAN COTTON)
4) A boyish Edwin Pond Parker II, nicknamed “Spook” by friends in the 33rd Ambulance Company, because hangovers made him look pale as a ghost, in 1917. Already dependent on alcohol, Eddie (second from left, top row) became further scarred by his war experiences in France and turned to another means of escape when liquor was not available. “Unfortunately,” Dorothy said, “they had dope in the ambulance” (Esquire). (SOURCE: UNKNOWN).
5) Dorothy and her husband, photographed by Robert Sherwood in October 1919, after Eddie’s return from the war. His features have coarsened, he is struggling with morphine addiction, and to Dorothy, who felt she had been married “for about five minutes,” he had become practically a total stranger. (COURTESY OF THE BOSTON UNIVERSTY LlBRAIRIES)
6) Dorothy and Robert Benchley pose demurely with their employers in 1919: Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, Vogue editor Edna Chase, and publisher Condé Nast. Dorothy and Robert Sherwood, behind the camera, would soon be, dismissed, and Benchley would resign in sympathy. “It was the greatest act of friendship I’d known” (Paris Review). (COURTESY OF THE BOSTON UNIVERSITY LIBRAIRIES)
7) Two revealing portraits of Dorothy in the early twenties: In 1921 (above) she still looks like a vulnerable, naive adolescent, but in Neysa McMein’s 1923 oil painting (left) her face has aged and her expression has grown tense. In the interval between the two portraits, she separated from Eddie, had an affair with Charles MacArthur complicated by pregnancy and abortion, and attempted suicide by slashing her wrists. Alcohol was becoming a problem. (ABOVE. COURTESY OF SAM
SCHAEFLER; LEFT, COURTESY OF CULVER PICTURES).
8) Charles MacArthur and Dorothy with Arthur Samuels, a wigless Harpo Marx, and an unusually thin Alexander Woollcott, 1924, probably partying at one of the Long Island mansions where they liked to spend weekends. (SUSAN MARX).
9) Dorothy sunbathing in Miami Beach, January 1924. The rest of the group includes Ray Goetz. William Emmerich. Neysa McMein, and Irving Berlin. (NEW YORK NEWS. INC.)
10) Painting of the Round Tablers and friends playing poker was commissioned by Paul Hyde Bonner. Seated counterclockwise around the table are Dorothy, Franklin P. Adams, Henry Wise Miller, Gerald Brooks, Raoul Fleischmann, George Kaufman, Paul Hyde Bonner, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott, and Heywood Broun. Standing arc Robert Bcnehley, Irving Berlin, Harold Ross, Beatrice Kaufman, Alice Duer Miller, Herbert Bayard Swope, George Backer, Joyce Barbour, and Crosby Gaige. (PAUL BONNER, JR.)
11) Singing “The Internationale” on Beacon Street, Boston, during a demonstration to protest the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, August 10, 1927. Marching ahead of Dorothy in her embroidered dress and white gloves is John Dos Passos. Minutes after the picture was taken, she was arrested. Next morning she pleaded guilty to a charge of loitering and sauntering and paid a five-dollar fine.
12) Dorothy dressed for an evening on the town around the time she fell in love with John Garrett and divorced Eddie Parker. Snapshot was taken by Heywood Broun’s assistant, Mildred Gilman, during a typical evening of partying and making rounds of the speakeasies,. (MILDRED GILMAN WOHLFORTH)
13) Dorothy and Robert Benchley (at right) were guests of the Murphy family at Cap d’Antibes in June 1929. Standing by the cabana with towels are Honoria and Gerald Murphy. Dorothy swam two kilometers a day and worked diligently on a novel. “Dear God,” she prayed, “please make me stop writing like a woman. For Jesus Christ’s sake, amen.” (PROPERLY OF MR. AND MRS. WILLIAM M. DONNELLY)
14) Dorothy in Montana-Vermala, Switzerland, late 1929, where she had accompanied the Murphy family after their son Patrick developed tuberculosis. Although the atmosphere of death in the sanatorium town depressed Dorothy, her sympathy for Sara and Gerald’s agony kept her with them off and on for more than a year. To cheer herself up she bought a Dandie Dinmont terrier and derived pleasure from characterising Switzerland as “the home of horseshit.” (PROPERTY OF MR. AND MRS. WILLIAM M. DONNELLY)
15) New York Sun reporter John McClain, described by a friend as resembling a male Rubens, with Dorothy during their affair in 1931. (BRENDAN GILL)
16) Dorothy and her dachshund, Robinson. During the early thirties she was one of the two most socially sought after women in New York (the other was Fanny Brice). On her nightly rounds of parties and speakeasies, Dorothy was usually accompanied by Robinson, who slept elegantly curled up beneath her chair. (HELEN IVESON, ROBERT IVESON, MARGARET DROSTE, SUSAN COTTON)
17) Thirteen-year-old Alan Campbell on the boardwalk in Atlantic City with his mother, Horte Campbell, and aunt Beulah Eichel. Across the face of the photograph Alan printed We are pushed for money. (AUTHOR COLLECTION) 17
18) Alan Campbell and a radiant, girlish Dorothy shortly after their marriage in 1934. The newlyweds had recently arrived in Hollywood to become a screen-writing team at Paramount Pictures. (COURTESY OF PARAMONT PICTURES CORPORATION)
19 Dorothy and Alan arriving in New York on the Champlain, October 1937, after returning from the Spanish Civil War. Horrified by her observations in Valencia and Madrid, Dorothy promptly volunteered her services to aid Spanish children. (WIDE WORLD PHOTOS)
20) Dorothy and Lillian Hellman with Fernando De Los Rios, Spanish Republic ambassador to the United States, at a luncheon to benefit homeless children in December 1937. As a passionate supporter of the Loyalists, Dorothy helped to raise an estimated $1.5 million for refugees from Franco. (CULVER PICTURES)
21) At Marc Connelly’s Hollywood house in the late thirties, Dorothy is shown chatting with William Faulkner (standing), Faulkner’s woman friend, Meta Carpenter Wilde, and his agent, Ben Wasson. Faulkner, unlike Dorothy, did not allow his screen-writing work to interfere with his fiction. (COURTESY OF THE DRAMATISTS GUILD FlND)
22) Dorothy and Alan enjoying cocktails at the Café Deux Magots in July 1939. That summer Paris was congested with American tourists eager to party and spend money, even though their sleep was broken by the drone of German planes circling overhead. World War II began on September 1. (COURTESY OF JOHN DAVIES)
23) Dorothy next to Dashiell Hammett, applauding a speaker at a meeting in Hollywood, late 1930s. Hammett’s aversion toward her increased until he refused to stay under the same roof. (COURTESY OF THE ESTATE OF LILLIAN HELLMAN)
24) Dorothy seated between Laura Perelman and her sister Helen in Hollywood., 1943. Dorothy proudly cunducted Helen on a tour of the movie capital and introduced her to stars such as Marlene Dietrich. “Everyone makes a swell fuss over Dot,” Helen wrote to her son. (HELEN IVESON, ROBERT IVESON, MARGARET DROSTE, SUSAN COTTON)
25) Dorothy and Alan’s second wedding, August 17, 1950, in Hollywood. Dorothy explained the remarriage by telling wedding guests, “What are you going to do when you love the son of a bitch?” The marriage, however, failed to last even a year. (WIDE WORLD PHOTOS)
26) Dorothy and Alan with Donald Ogden Stewart at Los Angeles Airport in the late 1930s, before embarking on one of their frequent cross-country air trips between Hollywood and their farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Dorothy is carrying her ever-present knitting bag. (DONALD OGDEN STEWART, JR.)
27) Alan and Dorothy reunited after an eleven-year separation, outside Alan’s bungalow in Norma Place, Hollywood, 1962. He is behind the wheel of his new green Jaguar, confidently purchased in the hope that a script slated for Marilyn Monroe would lead to a rebirth of their career as a screen-writing team. (PAUL MILLARD)
28) A grinning Dorothy, holding her poodle Cliché, after deciding to remain with Alan in Hollywood, June 1962. On the table are heaped review copics that she received for her monthly book column in Esquire, a task that became increasingly difficult to carry out. Unemployment insurance—and the sale of review copies—helped support them during lean times. (© 1962 LOS ANGELES TIMES)
That summer Alan was offered a job playing juveniles with the Elitch Gardens stock company in Denver, which meant a separation of several months. Dorothy decided to go along with him; they could rent an apartment together, and she could write while he was busy at the theater. Alan insisted that it would be a wise move to buy a secondhand car and motor across the country. He promised the trip would take only four days, and Dorothy began to dream of their romantic progress toward the western sun, riding through fields of windswept grain. Among those who saw them off on the morning of June 8 was Marc Connelly, who recalled that their car, a 1929 Ford that resembled a sitz bath, “was the most goddamnedest most-loaded vehicle you ever saw. There was more junk in it, completely unnecessary stuff,” not to mention the two Bedlingtons. When they reached Newcastle, Pennsylvania, Dorothy stopped to telegraph the Murphys, who were sailing for Europe the next day.
THIS IS TO REPORT ARRIVAL IN NEWCASTLE OF FIRST BEDLINGTON TERRIERS TO CROSS CONTINENT IN OPEN FORD. MANY NATIVES NOTE RESEMBLANCE TO SHEEP. COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE AND CAN’T NOW
BUT GOOD LUCK DARLING MURPHYS AND PLEASE HURRY BACK. WITH ALL LOVE, DOROTHY.
The trip west delighted Dorothy. She decided that the finest people who existed operated filling stations and that most Americans west of Pennsylvania lived entirely on catsup. Wolf sat on her lap the whole trip; Cora annoyed Alan. On the fourth day, having just crossed the Nebraska-Colorado state line, they decided it would be fun to wire Don Stewart in Hollywood:
WE ARE IN JULESBURG, COLORADO, IN OPEN 1929 FLIVVER WITH TWO BEDLINGTON TERRIERS. PLEASE ADVISE.
Stewart had no suggestions and replied,
I HAVE NEVER BEEN IN JULESBURG, COLORADO.
Arriving at Elitch Gardens, they stepped into more “fresh hell.” The telegram to Stewart had been signed with both their names and apparently he showed it to a Hollywood journalist. “We got out of the car into a swirl of reporters, camera men, sports writers, and members of the printers’ union,” Dorothy recalled. They naively assumed they would be able to live together as in New York but immediately realized their mistake. “Eyebrows,” Connelly said, “shot up to the tops of the cathedrals. I don’t know why they expected to go out to Denver and get away with having an affair.” When they heard phrases like “living in sin,” they both lost their heads. Before Dorothy could stop him, Alan’s southern chivalry had bounded to the forefront, and he boldly declared that they were married, lies that led to further lies because naturally the reporters then wanted details about where and when. Improvising, Alan said the wedding had taken place last October by a justice of the peace in Westbury, Long Island. Dorothy told other reporters that the ceremony had been performed at her sister’s house in Garden City. When the wire services searched the vital statistics of North Hempstead Township, they could find no registry of the marriage, nor had the municipal clerk issued a marriage license. When they called Helen’s home, Victor Grimwood said it was news to him, in fact he was quite sure no ceremony had been performed at his house.
There seemed to be only one way to save face. A few days later, on the evening of June 18, they drove across the state line to Raton, New Mexico. It was nearly midnight by the time they located a justice of the peace. In an effort to conceal the marriage, Dorothy gave her name as Dorothy Rothschild, age forty, and Alan said he was Allen [sic] Campbell, age thirty-two (he was only thirty). The next day, back in Denver, Dorothy sent her sister a wire from one of the dogs:
COMMUNICATION HAS BEEN IMPOSSIBLE IN APPALLING CONFUSION. BUT MANAGED UNANNOUNCED DRIVE TO NEW MEXICO YESTERDAY WHERE PARENTS DIFFICULTIES PRIVATELY SETTLED, IT IS HOPED FOR ALL TIME. BOTH VERY HAPPY. BEST LOVE AND MOTHER IS WRITING.
She signed the telegram CORA. A wire-service photograph snapped the day before their marriage reveals that they were in fact very happy. Dorothy, trim, radiant, and looking closer to thirty than forty, wore a dress printed all over with daisies and seemed like an adorable Japanese doll next to Alan, who was beaming as usual.
Still, reporters continued to trail them. Dorothy began to feel persecuted. “Oh, this is the first real happiness I’ve had in my whole life,” she cried. “Why can’t they let us alone?” Her attorney, Morris Ernst, advised showing the marriage certificate but keeping well concealed the date or place it was issued, which she did. While she was at it, she threatened to bring a fifty-thousand-dollar libel suit against the New York Post for suggesting she had lied about having been married the previous autumn.
Otherwise she was, as she wrote in an ebullient letter to Aleck Woollcott, “in a sort of coma of happiness.” Being Alan’s wife was “lovelier than I ever knew anything could be.” She also felt rapturous about her new status as a wife. When she heard from Scott Fitzgerald in early July, she wired him back:
DEAR SCOTT THEY JUST FORWARDED YOUR WIRE BUT LOOK WHERE
I AM AND ALL MARRIED TO ALAN CAMPBELL AND EVERYTHING ALAN PLAYING STOCK HERE FOR SUMMER.
She sent him deepest love from both of them.
It was one of the happiest summers of her life. For only fifty-five dollars a month they leased a furnished bungalow at 3783 Meade Street, which Dorothy named “Repent-at-Leisure.” For the first week or so, they attempted to keep house for themselves. Alan did the cooking and put tomatoes in every dish he prepared, while Dorothy’s contribution to housekeeping was a botched effort to make the bed. She offered to help in the kitchen but failed sublimely. Alan ordered her to stay out. Once rehearsals started, the system broke down, and they had to seek help from an employment agency. They needed, Alan stated, a man who would market, cook, serve, clean, and keep the cigarette boxes filled. A man was preferred because, in their experience, maids tended to chatter, and it was essential for any servant of theirs to observe silence. His wife, he explained to the agency, must never be disturbed: She wrote.
During the first week, the newlyweds hired and fired three servants, one of whom turned out to be a nonstop talker. Dorothy disliked him so passionately that she was inspired to write a short story about him, “Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street,” which was probably the quickest story she had ever written. It appeared in the August 4 issue of The New Yorker. They finally retained a housekeeper, who insisted on calling Dorothy “honey” and who was genteelly fond of her liquor.
As for Dorothy, she was drinking less. Blaming the altitude, she explained that “two cocktails and you spin on your ass,” but she also felt happy and relaxed. Expecting to hate Denver, she confessed that “I love it. I love it. I love being a juvenile’s bride and living in a bungalow and pinching dead leaves off the rose bushes. I will be God damned.” Ensconced in the little bungalow, she did nothing but eat, sleep, and knit socks for Alan. Some days she saw little of him because he was in rehearsal, then performed at night, including Sunday. Dorothy was fanatical about staying away from Elitch Gardens; she had once read in a movie magazine that Hollywood respected Clark Gable’s wife for staying out of her husband’s business. Probably this was a wise decision on Dorothy’s part because she had taken to making wildly slanderous observations about the company’s leading lady, telling Alan that she looked like “a two-dollar whore who once commanded five.”
Some of Dorothy’s closest friends did not take her marriage seriously. Aleck Woollcott, told of her happiness, only snorted sourly and replied, he had read nothing of hers lately that was worthwhile, “That bird only sings when she’s unhappy.” Eventually he became close to Alan. They shared many of the same obsessions and sensibilities and, to a lesser degree, they had in common confusions about gender identity. Dorothy knew that Woollcott accepted her marriage when he began playing his usual practical jokes. After Alan applied for a department store charge account and gave Woollcott as a financial reference, Aleck responded with a fake carbon copy of his reply to the store:
Mr. Alan Campbell, the present husband of Dorothy Parker, has given my name as a reference in an attempt to open an account at your store. I hope that you will extend this credit to him. Surely Dorothy Parker’s position in American letters is such as to make shameful the petty refusals which she and Alan have encountered at many hotels, restaurants, and department stores. What if you never get paid. Why shouldn’t you stand your share of the expense?
Woollcott and what remained of the defunct Round Table awaited Dorothy’s return to New York, perhaps anticipating the excitement on Broadway that would attend the fall opening of George Kaufman and Moss Hart’s new drama, Merrily We Roll Along,featuring a character named Julia Glenn, a wisecracking alcoholic—a woman you could talk to like a man. Word-of-mouth publicity identified her real-life counterpart as Dorothy Parker. Questioned by reporters, Kaufman admitted that there might be a trace of Mrs. Parker in the character, but he insisted he and Hart meant no offense.
Once again somebody had stolen her story. This time she could not complain that her character was distorted; the Kaufman and Hart portrayal was uncomfortably close, supplying a harsh chronicle to her drinking. As the play’s stage directions noted, the youthful Julia of 1925 looked fresh and glowing, but in 1927 she showed signs of decay, and by 1934 she had acquired the typical flabbiness of the steady drinker, a woman never quite sober. Julia Glenn preferred to sleep with men much younger than herself. Unlike George Oppenheimer’s Here Today, which borrowed mainly her mannerisms, this was not a likeness Dorothy could laugh off by going backstage and carrying off an awkward moment with a “darling, how delightful.” If she had never been fond of Kaufman, now she hated him.
She was able to avoid Merrily We Roll Along. Alan, who felt he had earned a holiday, proposed going to California for a honeymoon after the season ended at Elitch Gardens. They could visit Hollywood and stay with Don and Bea Stewart for a few weeks. In the meantime, another idea came along. They met Rosalie Stewart, a former Broadway producer, now a Hollywood agent, who thought they should go to Hollywood as a husband-and-wife writing team and even promised to get them a ten-week contract at Paramount.
Hearing Rosalie Stewart’s idea and remembering her unpleasant experience at MGM in 1928, Dorothy disdained the plan and wanted to “file the whole thing under Horseshit,” but Alan felt differently. He became increasingly excited, especially when Stewart talked about a deal in which Alan’s contract would call for him to write dialogue as well as act. When Dorothy continued to drag her feet, he pointed out that the job would last only for ten weeks and that she could repay the suffocating mass of debt he called “Dottie’s dowry.”
They signed contracts that guaranteed Alan two hundred and fifty dollars a week and Dorothy one thousand, a discrepancy that seemed reasonable to Alan. His wife was, after all, an acknowledged literary figure, and he knew that without her Paramount would not have signed him at all. The studio’s news release announced that Dorothy’s first assignment would be to write an original screenplay for Lee Tracy and Carole Lombard.
For Dorothy, the film capital was symbolized by a sight she never forgot:
Once I was coming down a street in Beverly Hills and I saw a Cadillac about a block long, and out of the side window was a wonderfully slinky mink, and an arm, and at the end of the arm a hand in a white suede glove wrinkled at the wrist, and in the hand was a bagel with a bite out of it.
Throughout the thirties, Hollywood was a combination kosher deli and El Dorado that attracted talented writers of all types: newspapermen like Ben Hecht, left-wing New York theater people such as Clifford Odets and John Howard Lawson, a contingent of New Yorker authors, even some of the country’s most illustrious novelists and playwrights—William Faulkner, Elmer Rice, Thornton Wilder, and later Scott Fitzgerald. There was no secret about their motivations. Everybody was eager to make the proverbial hay while the sun shone, and few remained immune to the astronomical salaries being offered. What they were obliged to do in order to collect the huge paychecks was another matter.
The emigrés rented bungalows at the Garden of Allah or houses in Beverly Hills. When they gathered at parties, they stood around grumbling about how degrading their jobs were, although Sid Perelman rated screen-writing as “no worse than playing the piano in a house of call.” There was good cause for complaint. Standard procedure assigned half a dozen writers to the same film, either working simultaneously or performing a frontal lobotomy on a predecessor’s script. The relationship between the writer and the studio was more or less sadomasochistic. Writers held their employers in contempt, feelings that were reciprocated. Studio executives called them “schmucks with Underwoods,” or the highest-paid secretaries in the world. Dorothy and Alan prepared for the worst.
The Hollywood press eagerly fed them into its meat grinder and they emerged in the press looking like chopped movie star:
The devastating Dorothy Parker and her young husband, Mr. Campbell, were practically turtle-doves [at the Trocadero] ...
Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell guests at Countess di Frasso’s ...
Met Dorothy Parker with Alan Campbell, her young and handsome husband, at a tea given by Zoe Akins ...
Dorothy Parker and the handsome husband buying a house in her once despised Hollywood. New York papers please copy.
Although Alan appeared satisfied with secondary billing, Dorothy was alert to the potential dangers of a husband living in his wife’s shadow. Paramount made a token attempt to credit him for being somebody in his own right. The caption accompanying a studio publicity photo announced:
Doubly Famous: Alan Campbell, actor-author, just placed under contract by Paramount, is a double bid for fame. Plus his own accomplishments, which are several, he can rightfully brag about those of his talented wife, Dorothy Parker, also under contract to Paramount as a writer.
This was feeble but probably better than nothing. That Paramount failed to enumerate Alan’s several accomplishments was unfortunate, but hardly accidental. Once it became clear to the studio that Dorothy, despite her reputation, was worthless to them without Alan, he was never offered an acting role of any kind.
Those who later claimed that Alan rode on Dorothy’s coattails in Hollywood could not have been more mistaken. He was a capable, but certainly not a distinguished or original writer. He continued to write for The New Yorker throughout the thirties, publishing a total of nineteen short stories. In Hollywood, from the start, he showed himself to be a dogged worker determined to master a new craft. His strength turned out to be construction. He would first block out a scene, then labor to pull it together on paper so that Dorothy could follow along and inject amusing dialogue. Without her, Alan’s scenes would have fallen flat, but without him there would have been no scene. As a team they were a perfect complement.
On September 3, they moved into the Paramount writers building, where they were assigned a comfortable, if seedy, office. The Lee Tracy picture did not materialize. She told the Murphys that the work they were given “stinks.” One of their first scripts was Twenty-two Hours by Air, a story that had been kicking around the studio so long that the progress of aerial transportation had practically made it obsolete. “It is now called ‘Eleven Hours by Air,’ ” Dorothy said. “By the time we are done, the title is to be, I believe, ‘Stay Where You Are.’ ” (It was finally produced as One Hour Late. ) They prepared a new screenplay for Sailor Beware, an adaptation of a recent Broadway play, and removed the sex from a previous version, specifically a scene in which the sailor bets he can seduce the woman. The producer considered it obscene. “But would they accept our change,” Dorothy reported to Aleck Woollcott, “that triumph of ingenuity where the sailor just bets he will make another sailor? Oh, no. Sometimes I think they don’t know whatthey want.” What they did not want was the Parker-Campbell version, nor did they even want the screenplay’s original title, because it was finally released in 1936 as Lady Be Careful. Dorothy and Alan also worked on a Sylvia Sidney picture, Here Is My Heart, followed by still another assignment memorable mainly because they were informed of neither plot nor title, only that “the male lead will be played by Tullio Carminati or Bing Crosby. So just write it with both of them in mind.”
Dorothy explained to Harold Guinzburg that a few months in Hollywood would mean “no art but can clear up that national debt.” The Campbells’ combined salary of twelve hundred and fifty dollars a week represented a truly gigantic sum at a time when income taxes were minimal and the dollar worth six or seven times its current value. It was a relief to repay debts. At the same time, they found that living in Hollywood in a manner befitting their position was far more expensive than living in New York. She discovered that “Hollywood money isn’t money.” It was “congealed snow” that “melts in your hand.”
They rented a house at 520 North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. When they received assurance that their contracts would be renewed, they decided to purchase expensive white carpets, whose impracticality made them irresistible. Christmas came and the weather felt like summer. Dorothy could not have been more delighted with their new home, as she wrote to Woollcott:
Aside from the work which I hate like holy water, I love it here. There are any number of poops about, of course, but so are there in New York—or, as we call it, The Coast—and the weather’s better here. I love having a house, I love its being pretty wherever you look, I love a big yard full of dogs. There are two additions—a four-months-old dachshund, pure enchantment, named Fräulein, and a mixed party called Scrambles who is, by a happy coincidence, the one dog in the world you couldn’t love. This gap in her character causes us to lean over backwards to ply her with attentions, and so she’s worse than ever. You don’t know anybody who wants a half-Welsh-terrier, half-Zambi, do you?
In New York, Dorothy’s pets had been welcomed, or at least tolerated, by public establishments, but she found local custom to be less broadminded. When she brought one of her dogs to the Beverly Hills Hotel, the animal misbehaved in the lobby.
The manager promptly appeared. “Miss Parker, Miss Parker!” he shouted. “Look what your dog did.”
Dorothy drew herself up and gave the man a withering look. “I did it,” she said and walked away with as much dignity as she could summon under the circumstances. After this, she left the dogs home.
Thanks to Alan, life on North Canon Drive was a miracle of orderliness. Not only did he take care of everything, but also he cosseted her with loving patience. There was less drinking, with a few exceptions. After they threw a splashy housewarming party, to which they invited a hundred guests and were surprised to find more than three hundred showed up, Dorothy declared that her hangover was impressive enough to be referred to as “we.” Apart from her comparative sobriety, other changes could be noticed. No more did she talk about killing herself. When this became apparent to Dorothy, she was amazed.
In May my heart was breaking—
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
And sore it split in sleep.
And when it came November,
I sought my heart, and sighed,
“Poor thing, do you remember?”
“What heart was that?” it cried.
“Autumn Valentine,” published in 1935, was one of her last verses. No longer did she despair over princes who turned into frogs. Having always courted men capable of torturing her, having always derived creative inspiration from her suffering, she now found herself in the paradoxical position of being wed to a man who did not abuse her but who also failed to inspire serious writing. As far as is known, she composed only one poem for him and that was later, during the war, when it was history that caused her misery. In 1931, Viking had published Dorothy’s third volume of poetry under the title Death and Taxes, which was followed five years later by a volume of her collected verse, Not So Deep as a Well. After 1935, however, Dorothy wrote only three known poems: the unpublished “The Passionate Screen Writer To His Love” (1937), “Threat to a Fickle Lady” (1938), and “War Song” (1944).
At MGM, William Randolph Hearst had built his mistress, actress Marion Davies, a dressing-room bungalow whose entrance was adorned with a statue of the Madonna. To Dorothy’s annoyance, Hollywood insisted upon crediting her with the authorship of a popular jingle about them:
Upon my honor
I saw a Madonna
Standing in a niche
Above the door
Of a prominent whore
Of a prominent son of a bitch.
Dorothy, offended, declared that she would never stoop to rhyming honor with Madonna.
Despite her happiness with Alan and her abandonment of suicide as a philosophy of life, a few lingering anxieties emerged in the form of psychosomatic ailments. While living in Denver she experienced hay fever for the first time. The allergy made her uncomfortable but proved to be minor compared to the itching and scratching that began once she arrived in California, where she was afflicted with hives. Throughout the fall, the hives worsened. Despite a battery of tests, her doctor could offer no sensible answers about the cause. After Christmas, she developed intestinal hives and was obliged to spend a week at Good Samaritan—“or at least Pretty Good Samaritan”—Hospital. In time the hives passed, as such problems often do.
Dashiell Hammett was a writer for whom she had high regard. While reviewing The Glass Key in 1931, she described him “as American as a sawed-off shotgun.” He was one of the most powerful writers of the time and had become her hero. That same year, catching sight of him at a cocktail party, she introduced herself before dropping to her knees and kissing his hand. It was meant to be funny, but Hammett was so embarrassed that, he responded with an uncharacteristic simpering reply. The woman with him stared daggers at Dorothy. Afterward, the dagger-staring woman and Hammett quarreled over what kind of a man would permit a literary critic to kneel in adoration. In the winter of 1935, Dorothy ran into Hammett’s critical girlfriend at a party. After Lillian Hellman spent the better part of the evening glowering at her, they finally began to talk and realized they liked each other. The previous autumn, her play The Children’s Hour had opened to acclaim and was named the best play of the year by the New York Drama Critics Circle. Samuel Goldwyn had brought her to Hollywood with a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars a week.
While married to writer Arthur Kober and living in Hollywood, Hellman had first met Hammett five years earlier. Despite his wife and daughters, despite his chronic womanizing, they had fallen in love and been together ever since. Lillian was a scrapper, a woman of spirit and independence and some ruthlessness who knew where she wanted to go and did what was necessary to realize her ambitions. She had reddish hair, stylish clothes, and a tough, funny way of expressing herself, but she was not a handsome woman. She had heavy features; her mouth was thin, her chin receded, and her nose was large and protrusive.
Dorothy and Lillian became good friends. In her memoirs, Hellman decided that their friendship had been remarkable because they were so dissimilar. That was true. Apart from a difference of eleven years in their ages, they led entirely different lives, were not the same kind of writer, and often disagreed on people and books. Certainly their tastes in men were different. Alan was, Hellman admitted, “a hard man for me to take;” in fact, she despised him. Although Dorothy was too polite to say so, she did not get on well with Hammett as a person. To complicate matters further, Hammett couldn’t stand Dorothy. In later years, he would leave the house whenever she came to visit. Her habit of flattering people to their faces and then declaring, “Did you ever meet such a shit?” once they had left was especially perturbing to him. Hellman stood up for Dorothy by saying that it was nothing more serious than a defense sometimes adopted by frightened people. Subsequently, she decided that the explanation was too simple. She grew to believe that Dorothy’s hunger for love and admiration, a craving that led to intense self-loathing, could only be released by the most violent behind-the-back denunciations.
Throughout the years of their friendship, Dorothy took pleasure in Lillian’s company, but the reverse was not always so. As time passed, it became less and less true. “Dottie admired Lillian,” said Ruth Goetz.
She admired her political stance and respected her success in the theater. She was never jealous or mean spirited about somebody else’s good fortune or talent. But Lillian did not admire Dottie because she had no admiring mechanism, and she wasn’t generous about anything. Either she was jealous of those who were doing well or she flattered them as colleagues. She enjoyed Dottie’s company because Dottie was so delicious to be around. They got on well at parties and over the dinner table, even though Lillian had no time for women. She was so frantic for male company, male adulation that I don’t think she was ever a good friend to a woman. I was very surprised when I heard that Lillian was to be her executor. It seemed inappropriate because she had not really been a friend to Dottie. To put it bluntly, in later years she had found Dottie wearisome.
As new friendships developed, several old ones began to fade as a result of distance, Alan, or death. Soon after Dorothy’s arrival in Hollywood, she was stunned to learn of Ruth Hale’s death. It was hard for her to believe, let alone accept. She greatly respected Ruth, whose stand on many subjects paralleled her own. An important exception was Ruth’s adamant belief that married women should retain their unmarried names. With Jane Grant, she cofounded the Lucy Stone League to encourage women not to change their names. Dorothy, who regarded keeping the name Rothschild with as much distaste as Ruth would have viewed the idea of taking Heywood Broun’s surname, could never personally endorse Ruth’s crusade. To indicate the emotions behind her rejection, she once sent Ruth a telegram that began TO RUTH BROUN FROM DOROTHY ROTHSCHILD.... Despite her opposing viewpoint she could not help feeling angered at the irony of Ruth’s obituary in the Los Angeles Examiner a five-word record that struck her as the total failure of a feminist’s life: EX-WIFE OF HEYWOOD BROUN PASSES.
All through the year she was gripped by a sense of dislocation. Waves of homesickness for New York came and went and later sent her rocketing from coast to coast. She reminded herself that nice people lived in Hollywood—she thought Bing Crosby was “swell” and James Cagney “the best person”—but nobody made up for the loss of old, dear friends. Each week she made a point of tuning in to Aleck Woollcott’s radio show, The Town Crier. When she heard his voice, she felt “pulled apart by nostalgia” and began to cry. She also missed the Murphys, whose older son, Baoth, suddenly died of spinal meningitis at the age of sixteen.
The person she missed most was Robert Benchley, which was ironic, since he was living half of each year in Hollywood. She could have seen as much of him as she had in New York. With a successful second career as a film actor, he came to the Coast in April and lived at the Garden of Allah until September or October, when he rushed back home to cover the theater season for The New Yorker. If not for Gertrude and the boys, he might have spent even less time in the East.
A coolness had developed between Dorothy and Benchley. To a great extent, Alan had usurped Benchley’s role of confidant, comrade, and advisor, but her withdrawal from Benchley predated her marriage. In 1933, Edmund Wilson visited one Sunday afternoon and found her entertaining Bea Stewart and Benchley’s ex-mistress Betty Starbuck. Drinking gin and ginger ale and lounging around in a dowdy dressing gown, she openly ridiculed Benchley for selling out to Hollywood. She also was disgusted by an advertisement for his New York Mirror column that showed a little girl saying, “Oh, goody! here comes the funny man.” Wilson wrote, “They were vomiting and puking over his stuff in the Mirror.”
In Hollywood, her contacts with Benchley were increasingly limited to social occasions.
Their plans to return East after clearing her debts seemed to have been postponed and perhaps temporarily forgotten. Indeed, they were settling more firmly in California. In 1935 they moved to 914 North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, a colonial mansion with tall white columns and rolling lawn graced by magnolia and pine trees. Despite Harold Guinzburg’s warnings about the folly of writers who remained in Hollywood year-round, they continued to sign contract renewals and hurtle from film to film: The Case Against Mrs. Ames, Hands Across the Table, and Mary Burns, Fugitive, as well as others Dorothy wished she could assign to oblivion. For three months in the autumn, Paramount loaned them to MGM, where they worked on Suzy, a gold-digger comedy about an American showgirl in London that was to showcase Jean Harlow and Cary Grant.
By now their joint salary had climbed to fifteen hundred dollars a week. Dorothy may not have taken pride in her work, but she refused to belittle her labors. “Garbage though they turn out, Hollywood writers aren’t writing down. This is their best.” Unfortunately, she was unable to develop the pragmatic attitude held by friends like William Faulkner and Nathanael West, who viewed film writing as a means of underwriting their other work. After a five-and-a-half-day week at the studio, Dorothy found she had little energy left. This was not true of Alan. He wrote three stories for The New Yorker in 1935, but Dorothy produced no fiction or verse, only a five-page introduction to Arthur Kober’s book, Thunder over the Bronx.
As the months passed, her estrangement from New York continued to deepen. She mourned the unwilling severance of old ties, developed hurt feelings over what she interpreted as neglect by eastern friends, and told herself that New Yorkers had peculiar attitudes about friendship—if you left town for any length of time, they simply figured you were dead. She did not intend to be forgotten and sometimes felt sufficiently provoked to issue a reminder of her existence:
Dear Harold [she wrote to Guinzburg],
This is small business troubles. Look, it seems that Miss Miriam Hopkins ... did some broadcasting while in your New York, and used for her vehicle, the bitch, my “Telephone Call.” I didn’t hear it, because what would I be doing with a radio, but it turns out, from the testimony of kindly friends, that she did it on two occasions. I never knew anything about it—no one ever asked me about using it, let alone any matter of royalties....
It is doubtful whether she realized that she had referred to her native city as “your New York.” The truth was that the city felt less and less like hers. Two years earlier, in Manhattan, she was quoted as saying that she favored taxes because “rich people should be taxed for being alive.” What she could not yet bring herself to acknowledge was that she was, by any standards, well on her way to becoming one of those despised people.