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Dorothy Parker on Hollywood

July 17, 2009 |  5:06 pm

Dorothyparker_profile Since its inception, the Paris Review has interviewed writers -- T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Jorge Luis Borges and more are included in two anthologies. Some of the interviews are available on its website, including one with Dorothy Parker from 1956.

Parker, who became famous for her writing and wit as a member of the Algonquin Round Table in New York, came to California in the 1930s with her husband with the oh-so-common intention of making it in Hollywood. The two collaborated with Robert Carson on the screenplay for "A Star Is Born" -- about the way making it in Hollywood can destroy people and relationships --and they received an Oscar nomination. Parker stayed in California until the early 1950s, when she seemed to return to New York for good.

She told her Paris Review interviewer that she didn't want to talk about her time in California -- then proceeded to keep right on talking. Hollywood, Parker said, "was a horror to me when I was there and it's a horror to look back on."

Parker: When I got away from it I couldn't even refer to the place by name. "Out there," I called it. You want to know what "out there" means to me? 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 around the wrist, and in the hand was a bagel with a bite out of it.

Interviewer: Do you think Hollywood destroys the artist’s talent?

Parker: No, no, no. I think nobody on earth writes down. Garbage though they turn out, Hollywood writers aren’t writing down. That is their best. If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you. I want so much to write well, though I know I don’t, and that I didn’t make it. But during and at the end of my life, I will adore those who have.

Interviewer: Then what is it that's the evil in Hollywood?

Parker: It’s the people. Like the director who put his finger in Scott Fitzgerald’s face and complained, “Pay you. Why, you ought to pay us.”

By the mid 1930s, Parker was getting paid well enough to move into this house on Roxbury Drive -- Maybe she saw that big car in Beverly Hills when she stepped out to pick up the paper.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © Estate of George Platt Lynes