In 1915, Dorothy Parker got a job at Vogue writing captions. Under a picture of underwear, she wrote: "Brevity is the soul of lingerie." She was the funniest person in the Algonquin Round Table—a group of humorists, including Robert Benchley and Harpo Marx, who used to gather for lunch at a Manhattan hotel—and also, for years, the only woman in the bunch.
She is best-known for quips, including, "If all the girls attending the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised." One time she was challenged to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, and she said, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."
She's also remembered for her poems, which were kind of like sing-song adult nursery rhymes that plunged unexpectedly into darkness (see her immortal "Resume"). But her short stories are where her genius most shined.
You know how Donald Trump says he is the "least racist" person you've ever met? Whenever he says that, I think of Parker's short story "Arrangement in Black and White," published a hundred years ago, a send-up of exactly that kind of Trump claim. It's about a white woman with dyed hair walking around a party bragging about how not-racist she is.
Parker's father was a capitalist titan in the garment industry with a Trump-like propensity for lying and mistreating workers; it's no surprise that Parker became an avowed socialist. As for her personal opinions about race, she was so inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. that when she died she willed her estate—the rights to all her writings—to him. MLK was very surprised when he heard the news upon her death, because he had never met her, according to Marion Meade's biographer of Parker, What Fresh Hell Is This?
After MLK's death, her estate and the rights to her work, according to Parker's will, were transferred to the NAACP. Now if anyone wants to republish Parker's work, the NAACP is the entity that decides whether or not to grant them. Her ashes are interred at the NAACP's headquarters in Baltimore.
In honor of her birthday, here are some of her other best-known quotes. Feel free to use them to liven up your next social interaction:
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common.
Tell him I was too fucking busy—or vice versa.
I hate writing, I love having written.
Ducking for apples—change one letter and it's the story of my life.
It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
I'm not a writer with a drinking problem, I'm a drinker with a writing problem.
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.