Интервью Дороти Парке, опубликованное в “The Paris Review” (на английском языке). Фото поэтессы

The Art of Fiction No. 13
Interviewed by Marion Capron
Issue 13, Summer 1956

At the time of this interview, Mrs. Parker was living in a midtown
New York hotel. She shared her small apartment with a youthful
poodle that had the run of the place and had caused it to look,
as Mrs. Parker said apologetically, somewhat “Hogarthian”:
newspapers spread about the floor, picked lamb chops here and
there, and a rubber doll—its throat torn from ear to ear—which
Mrs. Parker lobbed left-handed from her chair into corners of the
room for the poodle to retrieve—as it did, never tiring of the
opportunity. The room was sparsely decorated, its one overpowering
fixture being a large dog portrait, not of the poodle, but of a
sheepdog owned by the author Philip Wylie, and painted by his
wife. The portrait indicated a dog of such size that if it were real,
would have dwarfed Mrs. Parker, who was a small woman, her
voice gentle, her tone often apologetic, but occasionally, given the
opportunity to comment on matters she felt strongly about, she
spoke almost harshly, and her sentences were punctuated with
observations phrased with lethal force. Hers was still the wit that
made her a legend as a member of the Round Table of the
Algonquin—a humor whose particular quality seemed a coupling
of brilliant social commentary with a mind of devastating


DOROTHY PARKER inventiveness. She seemed able to produce the well-turned phrasefor any occasion. A friend remembered sitting next to her at the
theater when the news was announced of the death of the stolid
Calvin Coolidge. “How can they tell?” whispered Mrs. Parker.
Readers of this interview, however, will find that Mrs. Parker
had only contempt for the eager reception accorded her wit. “Why,
it got so bad,” she had said bitterly, “that they began to laugh
before I opened my mouth.” And she had a similar attitude toward
her value as a serious writer. But Mrs. Parker was her own worst
critic. Her three books of poetry may have established her reputation
as a master of light verse, but her short stories were essentially
serious in tone—serious in that they reflected her own life, which
was in many ways an unhappy one—and also serious in their
intention. Franklin P. Adams described them in an introduction to
her work: “Nobody can write such ironic things unless he has a
deep sense of injustice—injustice to those members of the race who
are the victims of the stupid, the pretentious and the hypocritical.”
—Marion Capron, 1956

Your first job was on Vogue, wasn’t it? How did you go about
getting hired, and why Vogue?

After my father died there wasn’t any money. I had to work,
you see, and Mr. Crowninshield, God rest his soul, paid twelve
dollars for a small verse of mine and gave me a job at ten dollars
a week. Well, I thought I was Edith Sitwell. I lived in a boarding
house at 103rd and Broadway, paying eight dollars a week for my
room and two meals, breakfast and dinner. Thorne Smith was
there, and another man. We used to sit around in the evening and
talk. There was no money, but, Jesus, we had fun.

What kind of work did you do at Vogue?

I wrote captions. “This little pink dress will win you a beau,”
that sort of thing. Funny, they were plain women working at
Vogue, not chic. They were decent, nice women—the nicest
women I ever met—but they had no business on such a magazine.
They wore funny little bonnets and in the pages of their magazine
they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little
loves. Now the editors are what they should be: all chic and worldly;
most of the models are out of the mind of a Bram Stoker, and as
for the caption writers—my old job—they’re recommending mink
covers at seventy-five dollars apiece for the wooden ends of golf
clubs “—for the friend who has everything.” Civilization is coming
to an end, you understand.

Why did you change to Vanity Fair?

Mr. Crowninshield wanted me to. Mr. Sherwood and Mr.
Benchley—we always called each other by our last names—were
there. Our office was across from the Hippodrome. The midgets
would come out and frighten Mr. Sherwood. He was about seven
feet tall and they were always sneaking up behind him and asking
him how the weather was up there. “Walk down the street with
me,” he’d ask, and Mr. Benchley and I would leave our jobs and
guide him down the street. I can’t tell you, we had more fun. Both
Mr. Benchley and I subscribed to two undertaking magazines: The
Casket and Sunnyside. Steel yourself: Sunnyside had a joke column
called “From Grave to Gay.” I cut a picture out of one of them, in
color, of how and where to inject embalming fluid, and had it hung
over my desk until Mr. Crowninshield asked me if I could possibly
take it down. Mr. Crowninshield was a lovely man, but puzzled.
I must say we behaved extremely badly. Albert Lee, one of the
editors, had a map over his desk with little flags on it to show
where our troops were fighting during the First World War. Every
day he would get the news and move the flags around. I was married,
my husband was overseas, and since I didn’t have anything
better to do I’d get up half an hour early and go down and change
his flags. Later on, Lee would come in, look at his map, and he’d
get very serious about spies—shout, and spend his morning moving
his little pins back into position.

How long did you stay at Vanity Fair?

Four years. I’d taken over the drama criticism from P. G.
Wodehouse. Then I fixed three plays—one of them Caesar’s Wife,
with Billie Burke in it—and as a result I was fired.

You fixed three plays?

Well, panned. The plays closed and the producers, who were
the big boys—Dillingham, Ziegfeld, and Belasco—didn’t like it,
you know. Vanity Fair was a magazine of no opinion, but I had
opinions. So I was fired. And Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Benchley
resigned their jobs. It was all right for Mr. Sherwood, but Mr.
Benchley had a family—two children. It was the greatest act of
friendship I’d known. Mr. Benchley did a sign, “Contributions for
Miss Billie Burke,” and on our way out we left it in the hall of
Vanity Fair. We behaved very badly. We made ourselves discharge
chevrons and wore them.

Where did you all go after Vanity Fair?

Mr. Sherwood became the motion-picture critic for the old
Life. Mr. Benchley did the drama reviews. He and I had an office
so tiny that an inch smaller and it would have been adultery. We
had Parkbench for a cable address, but no one ever sent us one. It
was so long ago—before you were a gleam in someone’s eyes—
that I doubt there was a cable.

It’s a popular supposition that there was much more
communication between writers in the twenties. The Round Table
discussions in the Algonquin, for example.

I wasn’t there very often—it cost too much. Others went.
Kaufman was there. I guess he was sort of funny. Mr. Benchley and
Mr. Sherwood went when they had a nickel. Franklin P. Adams,
whose column was widely read by people who wanted to write,
would sit in occasionally. And Harold Ross, the New Yorker editor.
He was a professional lunatic, but I don’t know if he was a great
man. He had a profound ignorance. On one of Mr. Benchley’s
manuscripts he wrote in the margin opposite “Andromache,” “Who
he?” Mr. Benchley wrote back, “You keep out of this.” The only one
with stature who came to the Round Table was Heywood Broun.

What was it about the twenties that inspired people like
yourself and Broun?

Gertrude Stein did us the most harm when she said, “You’re
all a lost generation.” That got around to certain people and we all
said, Whee! We’re lost. Perhaps it suddenly brought to us the sense
of change. Or irresponsibility. But don’t forget that, though the
people in the twenties seemed like flops, they weren’t. Fitzgerald,
the rest of them, reckless as they were, drinkers as they were, they
worked damn hard and all the time.

Did the “lost generation” attitude you speak of have a
detrimental effect on your own work?

Silly of me to blame it on dates, but so it happened to be.
Dammit, it was the twenties and we had to be smarty. I wanted to
be cute. That’s the terrible thing. I should have had more sense.

And during this time you were writing poems?

My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody was then,
I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily
in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good.
Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated—as anything once
fashionable is dreadful now. I gave it up, knowing it wasn’t getting
any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.

Do you think your verse writing has been of any benefit to
your prose?

Franklin P. Adams once gave me a book of French verse forms
and told me to copy their design, that by copying them I would get
precision in prose. The men you imitate in verse influence your
prose, and what I got out of it was precision, all I realize I’ve ever
had in prose writing.

How did you get started in writing?

I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children
who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed
Sacrament. Convents do the same things progressive schools do,
only they don’t know it. They don’t teach you how to read; you
have to find out for yourself. At my convent we did have a textbook,
one that devoted a page and a half to Adelaide Ann Proctor; but
we couldn’t read Dickens; he was vulgar, you know. But I read him
and Thackeray, and I’m the one woman you’ll ever know who’s
read every word of Charles Reade, the author of The Cloister and
the Hearth. But as for helping me in the outside world, the convent
taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase ink.
And I remember the smell of oilcloth, the smell of nuns’ garb. I was
fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence
that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.

Have you ever drawn from those years for story material?

All those writers who write about their childhood! Gentle God,
if I wrote about mine you wouldn’t sit in the same room with me.

What, then, would you say is the source of most of your work?

Need of money, dear.

And besides that?

It’s easier to write about those you hate—just as it’s easier to
criticize a bad play or a bad book.

What about “Big Blonde”? Where did the idea for that
come from?

I knew a lady—a friend of mine who went through holy hell.
Just say I knew a woman once. The purpose of the writer is to say
what he feels and sees. To those who write fantasies—the Misses
Baldwin, Ferber, Norris—I am not at home.

That’s not showing much respect for your fellow women, at
least not the writers.

As artists they’re not, but as providers they’re oil wells; they
gush. Norris said she never wrote a story unless it was fun to do.
I understand Ferber whistles at her typewriter. And there was that
poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days
looking for the right word. I’m a feminist, and God knows I’m
loyal to my sex, and you must remember that from my very early
days, when this city was scarcely safe from buffaloes, I was in the
struggle for equal rights for women. But when we paraded through
the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lampposts to
try to get our equality—dear child, we didn’t foresee those female
writers. Or Clare Boothe Luce, or Perle Mesta, or Oveta Culp Hobby.

You have an extensive reputation as a wit. Has this interfered,
do you think, with your acceptance as a serious writer?
A manuscript page from a short story by Dorothy Parker

I don’t want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel
guilty. I’ve never read a good tough quotable female humorist, and
I never was one myself. I couldn’t do it. A “smartcracker” they
called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There’s a hell of
a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking
is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much
when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called
a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

How about satire?

Ah, satire. That’s another matter. They’re the big boys. If I’d
been called a satirist there’d be no living with me. But by satirist I
mean those boys in the other centuries. The people we call satirists
now are those who make cracks at topical topics and consider
themselves satirists—creatures like George S. Kaufman and such
who don’t even know what satire is. Lord knows, a writer should
show his times, but not show them in wisecracks. Their stuff is not
satire; it’s as dull as yesterday’s newspaper. Successful satire has got
to be pretty good the day after tomorrow.

And how about contemporary humorists? Do you feel about
them as you do about satirists?

You get to a certain age and only the tired writers are funny.
I read my verses now and I ain’t funny. I haven’t been funny for
twenty years. But anyway there aren’t any humorists anymore,
except for Perelman. There’s no need for them. Perelman must be
very lonely.

Why is there no need for the humorist?

It’s a question of supply and demand. If we needed them, we’d
have them. The new crop of would-be humorists doesn’t count.
They’re like the would-be satirists. They write about topical topics.
Not like Thurber and Mr. Benchley. Those two were damn well-read
and, though I hate the word, they were cultured. What sets them
apart is that they both had a point of view to express. That is
important to all good writing. It’s the difference between Paddy
Chayefsky, who just puts down lines, and Clifford Odets, who in
his early plays not only sees but has a point of view. The writer
must be aware of life around him. Carson McCullers is good, or
she used to be, but now she’s withdrawn from life and writes about
freaks. Her characters are grotesques.

Speaking of Chayefsky and McCullers, do you read much of
your own or the present generation of writers?

I will say of the writers of today that some of them, thank
God, have the sense to adapt to their times. Mailer’s The Naked
and the Dead is a great book. And I thought William Styron’s Lie
Down in Darkness an extraordinary thing. The start of it took
your heart and flung it over there. He writes like a god. But for
most of my reading I go back to the old ones—for comfort. As you
get older you go much farther back. I read Vanity Fair about a
dozen times a year. I was a woman of eleven when I first read it—
the thrill of that line “George Osborne lay dead with a bullet
through his heart.” Sometimes I read, as an elegant friend of mine
calls them, “who-did-its.” I love Sherlock Holmes. My life is so
untidy and he’s so neat. But as for living novelists, I suppose E. M.
Forster is the best, not knowing what that is, but at least he’s a
semifinalist, wouldn’t you think? Somerset Maugham once said to
me, “We have a novelist over here, E. M. Forster, though I don’t
suppose he’s familiar to you.” Well, I could have kicked him. Did
he think I carried a papoose on my back? Why, I’d go on my hands
and knees to get to Forster. He once wrote something I’ve always
remembered: “It has never happened to me that I’ve had to choose
between betraying a friend and betraying my country, but if it ever
does so happen I hope I have the guts to betray my country.” Now
doesn’t that make the Fifth Amendment look like a bum?

Could I ask you some technical questions? How do you actually
write out a story? Do you write out a draft and then go over
it or what?

It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and then
write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five
words but that I change seven.

How do you name your characters?

The telephone book and from the obituary columns.

Do you keep a notebook?

I tried to keep one, but I never could remember where I put the
damn thing. I always say I’m going to keep one tomorrow.

How do you get the story down on paper?

I wrote in longhand at first, but I’ve lost it. I use two fingers
on the typewriter. I think it’s unkind of you to ask. I know so little
about the typewriter that once I bought a new one because I couldn’t
change the ribbon on the one I had.

You’re working on a play now, aren’t you?

Yes, collaborating with Arnaud d’Usseau. I’d like to do a play
more than anything. First night is the most exciting thing in the
world. It’s wonderful to hear your words spoken. Unhappily, our
first play, The Ladies of the Corridor, was not a success, but writing
that play was the best time I ever had, both for the privilege and
the stimulation of working with Mr. d’Usseau and because that
play was the only thing I have ever done in which I had great pride.

How about the novel? Have you ever tried that form?

I wish to God I could do one, but I haven’t got the nerve.

And short stories? Are you still doing them?

I’m trying now to do a story that’s purely narrative. I think
narrative stories are the best, though my past stories make themselves
stories by telling themselves through what people say. I haven’t got
a visual mind. I hear things. But I’m not going to do those he-said,
she-said things anymore, they’re over, honey, they’re over. I want
to do the story that can only be told in the narrative form, and
though they’re going to scream about the rent, I’m going to do it.

Do you think economic security an advantage to the writer?

Yes. Being in a garret doesn’t do you any good unless you’re
some sort of a Keats. The people who lived and wrote well in the
twenties were comfortable and easy living. They were able to find
stories and novels, and good ones, in conflicts that came out of two
million dollars a year, not a garret. As for me, 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. I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling
at it. At the moment, however, I like to think of Maurice Baring’s
remark: “If you would know what the Lord God thinks of money,
you have only to look at those to whom he gives it.” I realize that’s
not much help when the wolf comes scratching at the door, but it’s
a comfort.

What do you think about the artist being supported by the state?

Naturally, when penniless, I think it’s superb. I think that the
art of the country so immeasurably adds to its prestige that if you
want the country to have writers and artists—persons who live
precariously in our country—the state must help. I do not think
that any kind of artist thrives under charity, by which I mean one
person or organization giving him money. Here and there, this and
that—that’s no good. The difference between the state giving and
the individual patron is that one is charity and the other isn’t.
Charity is murder and you know it. But I do think that if the
government supports its artists, they need have no feeling of gratitude
—the meanest and most sniveling attribute in the world—or
baskets being brought to them, or apple polishing. Working for the
state—for Christ’s sake, are you grateful to your employers? Let
the state see what its artists are trying to do—like France with the
Académie Française. The artists are a part of their country and
their country should recognize this, so both it and the artists can
take pride in their efforts. Now I mean that, my dear.

How about Hollywood as provider for the artist?

Hollywood money isn’t money. It’s congealed snow, melts in
your hand, and there you are. I can’t talk about Hollywood. It was
a horror to me when I was there and it’s a horror to look back on.
I can’t imagine how I did it. 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.

Do you think Hollywood destroys the artist’s talent?

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.

Then what is it that’s the evil in Hollywood?

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.” It was terrible about Scott; if you’d seen him you’d have
been sick. When he died no one went to the funeral, not a single
soul came, or even sent a flower. I said, “Poor son of a bitch,” a
quote right out of The Great Gatsby, and everyone thought it was
another wisecrack. But it was said in dead seriousness. Sickening
about Scott. And it wasn’t only the people, but also the indignity
to which your ability was put. There was a picture in which Mr.
Benchley had a part. In it Monty Woolley had a scene in which he
had to enter a room through a door on which was balanced a
bucket of water. He came into the room covered with water and
muttered to Mr. Benchley, who had a part in the scene, “Benchley?
Benchley of Harvard?” “Yes,” mumbled Mr. Benchley and he asked,
“Woolley? Woolley of Yale?”

How about your political views? Have they made any difference
to you professionally?

Oh, certainly. Though I don’t think this “blacklist” business
extends to the theater or certain of the magazines, in Hollywood it
exists because several gentlemen felt it best to drop names like
marbles which bounced back like rubber balls about people they’d
seen in the company of what they charmingly called “commies.”
You can’t go back thirty years to Sacco and Vanzetti. I won’t do it.
Well, well, well, that’s the way it is. If all this means something to
the good of the movies, I don’t know what it is. Sam Goldwyn
said, “How’m I gonna do decent pictures when all my good writers
are in jail?” Then he added, the infallible Goldwyn, “Don’t
misunderstand me, they all ought to be hung.” Mr. Goldwyn didn’t
know about “hanged.” That’s all there is to say. It’s not the
tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not
being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—
don’t you, honey?

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