Dorothy Parker

American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist (1893-1967)

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American writer, poet, and critic. A fixture of 1920s literary society known for her acerbic wit and low opinion of romantic relationships, she became a member of the Algonquin Round Table.

Quotes edit

There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
  • Excuse my dust.
    • Her proposed epitaph for herself, quoted in Vanity Fair (June 1925)
  • And she had It. It, hell; she had Those.
    • Regarding a character in Elinor Glyn's novel It; in her review, "Madame Glyn Lectures on 'It,' with Illustrations" in The New Yorker (November 26, 1927)
  • Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.
    • The New Yorker (February 4, 1928)
  • Well, Aimee Semple McPherson has written a book. And were you to call it a little peach, you would not be so much as scratching its surface. It is the story of her life, and it is called In the Service of the King, which title is perhaps a bit dangerously suggestive of a romantic novel. It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.
    • "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker" in The New Yorker (February 25, 1928)
  • That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.
    • "But the One on the Right" in The New Yorker (1929)
  • A lady ... with all the poise of the Sphinx though but little of her mystery.
    • Concerning a child actress in A. A. Milne's play Give Me Yesterday; in her review of same, "Just Around Pooh Corner" in The New Yorker (March 14, 1931)
  • The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.
    • Review of "The House Beautiful" by Channing Pollock, The New Yorker (March 21, 1931)
  • Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
    Love, the reeling midnight through,
    For tomorrow we shall die!
    (But, alas, we never do.)
    • "The Flaw in Paganism" in Death and Taxes (1931)
  • The ones I like ... are "cheque" and "enclosed."
    • On the most beautiful words in the English language, as quoted in The New York Herald Tribune (December 12, 1932)
  • And I'll stay away from Verlaine too; he was always chasing Rimbauds.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939); this plays on the title of the popular song "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"; Paul Verlaine was Arthur Rimbaud's lover.
  • I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound; if I can remember any of the damn things.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • I'm never going to accomplish anything; that's perfectly clear to me. I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more.
    • "The Little Hours" in Here Lies (1939)
  • One more drink and I'd have been under the host.
    • As quoted in Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf (1944)
    • Misattributed as quatrain beginning “I like to have a martini,” (see below).
  • It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can't write five words but that I change seven.
  • There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
    • Interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)
  • It's not the tragedies that kill us; it's the messes.
    • Interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)
  • All those writers who write about their own childhood! Gentle God, if I wrote about mine you wouldn't sit in the same room with me.
    • Interview in The Paris Review, Issue #13 (Summer 1956)
  • [On being told of Calvin Coolidge's death] How do they know? (Coolidge was known as a man who said very few words.)
  • There is no such hour on the present clock as 6:30, New York time. Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you'll live through the night.
    • "New York at 6:30 P.M.", Esquire (November 1964)
  • Too fucking busy, and vice versa.
    • Response to an editor pressuring her for overdue work, as quoted in The Unimportance of Being Oscar (1968) by Oscar Levant, p. 89
  • It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
    • On her abortion, as quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970)
  • You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.
    • Parker's answer when asked to use the word horticulture during a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence?, as quoted in You Might as well Live by John Keats (1970).
  • What fresh hell can this be?
    • "If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, 'What fresh hell can this be?' — and it wasn't funny; she meant it." You might as well live: the life and times of Dorothy Parker, John Keats (Simon Schuster, 1970, p. 124). Often quoted as "What fresh hell is this?" as in the title of the 1987 biography by Marion Meade, "Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?".
  • If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy.
    • From a review of the revised edition of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White published in Esquire (November 1959).

Enough Rope (1926) edit

Ballads of a Great Weariness

Scratch a lover, and find a foe.


If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
First printed in New York World, (August 16, 1925)


Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.
First printed in New York World, (August 16, 1925)


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.
First printed in New York World, (August 16, 1925)

News Item

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
First printed in New York World, (August 16, 1925)

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying,
Lady, make a note of this —
One of you is lying.
First printed in Life, (April 8, 1926) p. 11


Some men tear your heart in two,
Some men flirt and flatter,
Some men never look at you,
And that clears up the matter.
First printed in Life, (April 8, 1926) p. 11

Rainy Night

I am sister to the rain;
Fey and sudden and unholy,
Petulant at the windowpane,
Quickly lost, remembered slowly.
First printed in The New Yorker, (September 26, 1926) p. 10


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
First printed in Life, (November 11, 1926) p. 12

Sunset Gun (1927) edit

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Will look on Helen's face in Hell;
While they whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.
First printed in Life (February 24, 1927) p. 5

A Pig's-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde

If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
First printed in Life, (June 2, 1927) p. 13

Fair Weather

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
First printed in New York World, (January 20, 1928) p. 13

Thoughts for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
"Your clan will pay me back some day."
First printed in The New Yorker, (April 9, 1927) p. 31

"Our Mrs Parker" (1934) edit

Quotes of Parker from Alexander Woollcott's biographical essay "Our Mrs Parker" in While Rome Burns (1934) which is the original published source for some of the best known comments Parker said at the Algonquin Round Table.
  • And there was that wholesale libel on a Yale prom. If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, Mrs Parker said, she wouldn't be at all surprised.
  • Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
    • Caption written for Vogue 1916
  • Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.
    • Woollcott writes in While Rome Burns that Parker had "recently...achieved an equal compression in reporting on The Lake, Miss Hepburn, it seems, had run the whole gamut from A to B." These words do not appear in Dorothy Parker's 1934 printed review of The Lake, but were elsewhere described as a spoken remark. "'We might as well go back,' said Dorothy Parker during an intermission of The Lake in 1934, 'and watch Katharine Hepburn run the gamut of emotions from A to B.'"
    • "Hepburn From A to B : Close-up of a Stage Struck Youngster" by Alan Jackson, in Cinema Arts Vol. 1 No. 2, (July 1937)

Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker (1996) edit

  • Dotty had
    Great Big
    Visions of
    Dotty saw an
    Ad, and it
    Left her
    Dotty had a
    Great Big
    Snifter of
    And that (said Dotty)
    Is that.
    • "When We Were Very Sore (Lines on Discovering That You Have Been Advertised as America's A. A. Milne)", first printed in New York World (March 10, 1927) p. 15; based on A. A. Milne's "Happiness"

Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway, 1918–1923 (2014) edit

  • Almost overnight, Dorothy Parker was transformed from a woman of letters into a gin-soaked quote machine, with a martini in one hand and a dagger in the other. p. xiii

Chapter 1: 1918 edit

  • Sinbad is produced in accordance with the fine old Shubert precept that nothing succeeds like undress. p. 6
  • Anyone can do that—the stunt lies in not doing it. p. 8
  • I thought that was going to be a good song, too, and then they went and rhymed “time” and “Rhine,” and spoiled everything. p. 24
  • They exude an atmosphere of The New Republic—a sort of Crolier-than-thou air. p. 36
  • There is one thing about Fiddlers Three, though, that held my attention all through the evening: Try as I might I could only discern two fiddlers. p. 42

Chapter 2: 1919 edit

  • To quote the only line of Gertrude Stein's which I have ever been able to understand, "It is wonderful how I am not interested." p. 64
  • You know how a play in dialect is. At the first act, you think, "How quaint!"; at the second act, you wish they would either stop using dialect or keep quiet; and at the third act, you wish you hadn't come. And Tillie, may I mention in passing, has four acts. p. 64
  • If the English version is in what, in our youth, we used to speak of affectionately as dear old iambic pentameter, the actors mercifully abstain from reciting it that way; they speak their lines as good, hardy prose. p. 76
  • The musical comedies of the month are She’s a Good Fellow and The Lady in Red, both of which owe their book and lyrics to Anne Caldwell—evidently a native of New York, judged by the casualness with which she rhymes “teacher” and “reach a.” p. 82
  • And you remember, Rabbi Wise has declared, in a heated moment, that our plays seem to be written for the hosiery buyers. If Dr. Wise had only witnessed our new summer reviews, he doubtless would have amended his statement to read “by the hosiery buyers.” p.89
  • This use of soldiers to make a play popular seems too much like taking an unfair advantage of the uniform—hitting below the Sam Browne belt, as it were. p. 93
  • In short, there is everything about this season's entertainment to make the Hippodrome what it always is—a Temple of the Arts to all those who hang pennants on their automobiles, use “Shake hands with my friend” as a formula for introduction, and sprinkle powdered sugar on their sliced tomatoes. p. 106

Chapter 3: 1920 edit

  • The play holds the season's record, thus far, with a run of four evening performances and one matinée. By an odd coincidence, it ran just five performances too many. p. 121
  • Writing a book for the Follies seems to be about as profitable an occupation as furnishing flannel petticoats for the showgirls. p. 151
  • The management's method of procedure is evidently to hire some well-known man to write the book, and then, as soon as it is written, to give it away to some deserving family, and go out and engage an assortment of specialty acts. p. 151
  • Van and Schenck put their songs over so skillfully that it isn't until their act is all done that you realize what extremely indifferent songs they are. Now, when John Steel is singing, on the other hand, you are never fooled for a moment. p.153
  • Mr. Hodge plays with his accustomed ease, even carrying the thing so far as to repeat many of his lines with his eyes shut; and in a pretty spirit of reciprocity, many members of the audience sit through the play with their eyes shut. p. 175

Chapter 4: 1921 edit

  • Of course, there are many things to be said for the afternoon performance, chief among them being that it cuts in so generously on one's work. p. 201
  • Naturally, you know how you would feel on setting out to see a performance of Aucassin and Nicolette done by a company of little ones; you would strive to hurl yourself beneath the wheels of a friendly truck, on your way to the theatre. p. 233
  • Bringing in a wounded soldier is getting to be rather like waving an American flag at the end of an act. One cannot harbor feelings of unmixed admiration for the playwright who will hide behind either of them. p. 250

Chapter 5: 1922 edit

  • So seeing that there is nothing further to say, I shall go right on talking about The Circle, thus proving that I am a born reviewer of plays. p. 256
  • Rockliffe Fellowes gives a likable performance of the secondary crook's rôle, and there are some decidedly agreeable-looking doughnuts consumed in the first act. And that is about all one can say for Pot Luck. p. 260
  • If you arrive late, you won't know what anything is about, and if you are there all the way from the beginning, you won't care. p. 277
  • There is one thing that appreciably eases the strain for the plays that arrive at this time of year, and that is that practically nothing is expected of them. p. 306
  • The murdered man meets his death in an intriguing and novel manner, which the management asks its customers, as a personal favor, not to reveal to possible future audiences. It remains a secret, chummily shared by those that have seen the play and the four or five million who read it in its original form as a Saturday Evening Post story a year or so ago. p. 320
  • It is advertised as “a seagoin’ comedy,” and anytime they go leaving off the final g that way, you know what to expect. p. 324

Chapter 6: 1923 edit

  • Two things made The Dice of the Gods, another play about drugs, seem much better than it had any real right to seem. One was that Morphia had come first, and once you had seen Morphia, nothing seemd so very terrible to you. p. 375

Attributed edit

  • The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
    • Widely attributed to Dorothy Parker and to Ellen Parr, but the origin is unknown.
  • "Age Before Beauty." "Pearls Before Swine."
    • Commonly attributed to Dorothy Parker and Clare Boothe Luce. "Age before beauty" said Luce while yielding the way. "And pearls before swine," replied Parker while gliding through the doorway.[1]

Misattributed edit

Note: A great many misquotations are attributed to Dorothy Parker. Please try to verify the provenance of any quotations you believe should be ascribed to her. Parker herself wrote about the perils of misquotation in "A Pig's Eye Look At Literature"
  • If you want to know what the Lord God thinks of money, just look at those to whom he gives it.
    • Man and the Gospel (1891) by Thomas Guthrie "in His eyes wealth is not worth; and you may know how little God thinks of Money by observing on what bad and contemptible characters He often bestows it." p. 127.
    • “We may see the small Value God has for Riches, by the People he gives them to.” -- Alexander Pope (1727).
  • Upon my honor
    I saw a Madonna
    Standing in a niche
    Over the door
    Of the glamorous whore
    Of a prominent son of a bitch.
    • Said to have been written in the guest-book of Hearst Castle, referring to the room occupied by Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Parker always denied it, pointing out that she would never have rhymed "honor" with "Madonna".
    • Since Parker didn't write it, there are many different versions of this, including ones where the word describing the whore is "favorite" or "famous", and ones where "son of a bitch" is modified by "the world's worst" instead of "a prominent".
  • How odd
    Of God
    To choose
    The Jews
    • This is actually by William Norman Ewer (1885-1976) in Week-End Book (1924); This has sometimes been misattributed to Parker, who was herself of Jewish heritage, in the form:
      How odd of God
      To choose the Jews
    • Similar sayings have also been attributed to Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
      'It wasn't odd;
      the Jews chose God
    • Cecil Brown
      But not so odd
      As those who choose
      A Jewish God,
      But spurn the Jews
    • Leo Rosten
      Not odd
      Of God
      The goyim
      Annoy 'im.
  • I like to have a martini,
    Two at the very most.
    After three I'm under the table,
    After four I'm under my host.
  • This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
    • Quoted in The Algonquin Wits (1968) edited by Robert E. Drennan, and The Dispatch (October 1962). As noted at Snopes, Drennan's source seems to be a Parker review which does not seem to contain this quote. If Parker wrote this statement anywhere the primary source seems to have gone missing.
    • The earliest attribution of this quote was published in the February 1960 Readers' Digest, and credited to a book review by Sid Ziff in the Los Angeles Mirror-News, which existed from 1955 to 1960. This is a little odd, considering that Sid Ziff was a sports columnist; the reference in Readers' Digest has been confirmed but the quote from the Mirror-News has not - see Quote Investigator for details.
  • 72 suburbs in search of a city
    • This description of Los Angeles, often attributed to Parker, seems to instead be based on Aldous Huxley having referred to L.A. as "nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis" in his 1925 book Americana. In turn, he was likely quoting someone else.
  • You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.
    • Attributed to Parker after her death, by Robert E. Drennan The Algonquin Wits (1968), p. 124. However the same quip appears anonymously fifteen years earlier, in the trade journal Sales Management (Chicago: Dartnell Corp., 1918-75), vol. 70 (Survey of Buying Power, 1953), p. 80: "Marxism never changes. You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks."

Quotes about Parker edit

  • It was easy to get a crush on Dottie Parker as she sent you flattering telegrams on your birthday, your show opening and whenever she thought you were slipping from her grasp. Her equipment was witty telegrams, vers de société and kisses on the lips when you aimed for her cheek. [...] One time Dottie and I decided to go to the Royalton to see Mister Benchley who was the most individual character I ever met. Benchley was half undressed and went on undressing to go to bed. Dottie said she was sleepy too, took off her hat and dress, and got into an enormous waste basket that looked like a giant's cradle made of leather. Dottie curled up. I said I was sleepy too, and, shedding my clothes, was starting to climb in with Dottie when Mr. Benchley's wife Gertrude made an unexpected appearance. "Hello, Gertrude," said Dottie. "Howard and I decided to drop in."
  • Dorothy Parker arrived at the Island one day with a huge suitcase which, when opened, contained only a large picture hat. She spent a week at Lake Bomoseen practically naked. Her figure was as eloquent as her verses.
    • Howard Dietz, in Dancing in the Dark (1974), p. 83
  • Everything I've ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.
    • George S. Kaufman, as quoted in George S. Kaufman and His Friends (1974) by Scott Meredith
  • [In the aftermath of the death of Parker's husband Alan] A woman who had been fond of Alan and who had always pretended to like her, although Dorothy doubted it, came over to offer condolences and assistance, as had many people that evening. How could she help? she asked. "Get me a new husband," Dorothy replied without a flicker of emotion.
    • cited in Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? (by Marion Meade, 1988)

External links edit

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  1. 'Age Before Beauty.' 'Pearls Before Swine.'. Quote Investigator. Retrieved on 2015-09-30.