Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Watching Willow Watts - If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be. . .

The utterly fab Talli Roland has a new book out! And if her last one is any indication, it'll be a cracking read. I'm dying to read it but in the meantime, I'm chuffed to be participating in Talli's online launch party.

Talli's new novel, Watching Willow Watts, is about a girl who becomes an overnight celebrity when she is filmed impersonating Marilyn Monroe, and someone spots Marilyn's ghost in the background. And in keeping with the theme, Talli is throwing a virtual costume party, where we all come dressed as the person we'd most like to be.

After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided to come as Dorothy Parker. I'm not sure I want her private life, which was troubled by bad relationships, suicide attempts and addiction issues, but in spite of her personal demons, Dorothy is still inspirational, both as a writer and as a person.

Quite apart from the volume of short stories and poems she left behind, Dorothy had a formidable reputation as a wisecracker. When President Coolidge died, she asked 'How can they tell?' She said that Katherine Hepburn ran the gamut of emotions from A to B. She assured us that if all the girls who attended the Yale Ball were laid end-to-end, she wouldn't be a bit surprised. Google 'Dorothy Parker quotes' and watch twenty minutes disappear in a cloud of giggles.

But her contribution as a political activist is often forgotten. She campaigned tirelessly for the issues that moved her. Her short story, Arrangement in Black and White, is a brilliant satire of racial issues among the 'smart set' during the 1920s. Dorothy Parker was passionately pro-civil rights.

When she died, aged 73 - not, everyone was shocked to hear, by her own hand, but from a heart attack - she left everything she owned to Martin Luther King Jr. When he was assassinated, her literary estate passed to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, which continues to benefit from her sales to this day.

However, her friend and executor, Lillian Hellman, was evidently a bit miffed that she didn't receive any money, and after a protracted legal battle, she refused to claim Dorothy's ashes. No one, in fact, claimed them, and they sat in a filing cabinet in her lawyer's office for twenty years.

Yep. Twenty.

Eventually, someone realised this and the NAACP built a memorial garden to her in Baltimore. Her epitaph, in spite of the many jokey ones she suggested for herself, is simple and fitting for a woman who was a finer character than anyone (herself included) gave her credit for:

"Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) Humorist, writer, critic, defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested "Excuse My Dust". This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people."

So she was pretty cool, and an inspiration. But she was also a right laugh at parties, so for today, I'll pour a Martini and relive a few of her wisecracks :)

'I don't know much about being a millionaire but I bet I'd be darling at it.'

"This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it." 

"If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you." 

"I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."


  1. Wow!!! You taught me something to day. Ellen, this was extra special!!! I've been away FAR TOO LONG!! I don't know how you're not bookmarked on my blog... that has since changed!

    I love who you've chosen. I love the story you shared behind it as well. This was so heartfelt. I'm in true love.

  2. I'm glad you reminded me of Dorothy Parker. She is inspirational in her own way. Like Jen, I just saw your link and decided to pop over. Haven't seen you for ages...


  3. wow, thanks so much for sharing Dorothy's story with us! A real unsung hero!

  4. Somehow I knew you were going to be Dorothy Parker today Ellen, an awesome post.

  5. Wonderful choice!!! Yay for Ms Dorothy - such an inspiration - sharp witted, intelligent, funny! Brilliant! Take care

  6. Love her!

    If you haven't read it already - there's an excellent biography of her by Marion Meade ("What Fresh Hell Is This?"). It's hilarious.

  7. Excellent post on one of the most hilarious and brilliant women ever! I didn't know about her legacy to the NAACP--thank you for expanding my awe and respect of her. Love, love, love this.

  8. What a great choice. I didn't know all the history behind her! And wow, 20 years in a filing cabinet?

    I'm learning so much in this websplash!

    Thank you loads for taking part, Ellen. And for all your fantastic help and support for both this launch and the last! xx

  9. Twenty years? How awful. But, what a great choice you picked.

  10. She was very inspirational. Thank you for sharing her history!

  11. Thanks Ellen for reminding me of Dorothy. She was a great woman.

  12. The skirt joke made me laugh. Thanks for telling more about Dorothy. I didn't know some of that.


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