Remembering Dorothy Parker

This is more than just another mea culpa. Any fool can grin and slither under the poncho of contrition. Not this time. What I did was way too stupid, lazy and stoney (great name for a law firm), and I should have known better than to try to get away with it. First, a little background music:

From The Price Writes, July 5: “LEDE is a journalism-speak/spell noun. It is pronounced exactly like the verb, ‘lead,’ as in, ‘You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.’ (‘Edgy’ Reggie Carpenter, 1966)”

OK, LEDE is a journalism-speak/spell noun, and it is pronounced exactly like the verb, “lead,” but …

From RN&R reader Rebecca Thomas’ letter to the editor, July 26: “In Mike Price’s column … he erroneously attributed a witticism to one ‘Edgy’ Reggie Carpenter. ‘You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think’ is actually a piece from Dorothy Parker, circa 1926. In her original work, the words were, ‘whore to culture,’ not ‘horticulture'—hence the wit.”

Rebecca Thomas nailed it. And me.

“Edgy” Reggie Carpenter? He was just an ex-con who hung around the old El Ranch Vegas when I was growing up.

What really reddens my heretofore swarthy cheeks is that screwing up both a quote and its source may seem like only a pair of misdemeanors, but doing it to Dorothy Parker? There’s your double felony. Forgive me, Dorothy, for being such an absent-minded little fool. I may be a guy who falls into a coma just hearing the word poetry, but that doesn’t deter my lifelong love affair with Dorothy Parker’s ditties. No, please, don’t go there.

During a radio interview for a book I co-authored a few years ago, the host asked, “Is there any other era in history you would like to have lived?”

“The ‘20s,” I responded without hesitation, “so I could eavesdrop on Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcott, Harold Ross, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash, A.J. Liebling, John O’Hara, Ring Lardner, Harpo Marx, Woolcott Gibbs, Donald Ogden Stewart and the rest of the Knights of the Algonquin Hotel Roundtable. Those were my heroes. Those were writers.”

Wait a minute. I can’t let this go without telling you the all-time Dorothy Parker story. It’s about the day she disappeared, the day Manhattan’s most colorful woman-about-town simply vanished.

A full day and night passed, and none of Parker’s above-mentioned closest friends had seen, talked to or heard from her—something that had never happened before. Worried, they all took turns going to her apartment every couple of hours. She was never there. Her phone rang endlessly. It was never answered.

Harold Ross, one of the legendary Roundtable literati, was Parker’s boss at The New Yorker. After a second day and night passed without a word from one of his star writers, he became frantic. Ross, after all, was more than a friend. He was an editor with a deadline. There is no creature more fierce.

While sipping his lunch on the third day of Parker’s disappearance, Ross says, his secretary paged him at the Algonquin to excitedly report that Dorothy Parker had just phoned, and that she’d left the number of a place where she could be reached.

Ross immediately dialed the number, which turned out to be a bar in Harlem. He asked for Dorothy and waited impatiently until she came to the phone.


“Dorothy, is it really you?”

“Hiya, Harold. You sound kind of upset. What’s …”

“Never mind that. WHY HAVEn’t YOU CALLED?”

“Cause I’ve been too fucking busy.” she snapped. “And vice-versa.”

Dorothy Parker. What’s not to love?