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Book Review: Did she or didn't she: Does it even matter?

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Dorothy Parker was born on this day 119 years ago in West End, N.J., just a year after poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, about which Parker said "I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Edna St. Vincent Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers."

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That sounds a good deal like the acerbic and disenchanted Mrs. Parker, a leader in that circle called the Algonquin Round Table.

In 1963, she commented that, at 70, "If I had any decency, I'd be dead. Most of my friends are."

She passed on to the Round Table in the Sky (or possibly somewhere else) three years later, leaving a treasure trove of quips people still quote.

She's the woman who said "If you laid all the Smith and Vassar girls end to end at next week's Harvard-Yale game, I wouldn't doubt it a bit."

When her husband Alan Campbell died in Hollywood, a mourner at the wake told Parker that, "If I could be of any help in your mourning period, let me know."

"Well go out and get me a new husband," Parker replied.

"That's disgusting," said the offerer.

"Well then get me a ham and cheese on rye...and hold the mayo."

Legend has it that Parker and Clare Boothe were at the door of the Algonquin Hotel's ballroom. Boothe opened it for Parker and said, "Age before beauty." Parker swept by her saying, "And pearls before swine."

One of the problems for Parker biographers is that you can't always believe the legends of her oral tradition.

Several years ago, Algonquin manager Andrew Anspach, who knew Parker in her old age, told me that Parker claimed that she hadn't said all those wonderful lines and also said she had never met Clare Boothe.

So that's what's wrong with talking rather than getting down to work writing.

Parker was notorious for missing deadlines when she wrote for Vanity Fair and later Esquire. So there's precious little to judge her true literary capabilities.

There's a fabulous short story called "Big Blonde," which is most definitely autobiographical as it chronicles the unsuccessful love life of a chubby lady, which Parker most definitely was. And there are a few collections of her poetry. Here's one:

Lady, lady, should you meet

One whose ways are all discreet

One who murmurs that his wife

Is the lodestar of his life

One who keeps assuring you

That he never was untrue....

Never loved another one....

Lady, lady, better run!

Parker's story is a sad one. She tried suicide several times.

When she was a drama critic in the 1920s she wrote snappy reviews like "Last night at the Belasco Miss Katharine Hepburn ran the gamut of her emotions from A to B."

After slashing her wrists and missing a play, her friend Alexander Woolcott came to her hospital room and said, "What a creative way to avoid seeing that awful play."

When I saw the movie "A Star is Born," starring James Mason and Judy Garland, its grimness left me totally depressed. Years later I tuned in to an earlier version starring Frederick March and Janet Gaynor.

Up until the end, when March walks into the ocean, the movie was hilarious. When the credits rolled, I noticed the screenwriters: Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell!

Pretty obviously Parker glossed over her disenchantment with smart talk, as in her verse "Guns aren't lawful/ Nooses give/ Gas smells awful/ You might as well live."

Before Parker died in 1965 amid her cats and their feces at the Volney Hotel in NYC, she gave orders that her ashes be delivered to her friend Lillian Hellman.

Hellman dropped them off at the Algonquin, where they were misplaced. So Parker didn't even get to use the epitaph she had written for herself: Excuse My Dust.

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