August 22, 1893 - June 7, 1967
"Tell him I was too fucking
busy -- or vice versa."
Story donated by Kevin Fitzpatrick
If you think your best friend will look out for your best interests after you
check out of this life, then listen to the tale of what happened to Dorothy
Parker's ashes after she died in 1967. The celebrity wit, writer and member of
the Algonquin Round Table had a deep
affection for death-inspired imagery.
She was asked once to compose her epitaph:
"Excuse My Dust," she wrote. Later, she penned another: "This Is
Dorothy Parker was born in West End, N.J., on August 22, 1893 and lived in
New York, Los Angeles and Bucks County, Pa. A founding member of the New Yorker,
Mrs. Parker was once one of the most-quoted people in America. She wrote poetry,
short stories, criticism and screenplays. Her nine books of poetry and short
stories have never gone out of print. She was nominated for the screenplay for
the original "A Star Is Born" in 1937, and collected literary prizes
along with subpoenas to testify to the House Un-American Committee as a
suspected Red. Her quips fill up books. In a word game, she was challenged to
use "horticulture" in a sentence. Her reply: "You can lead a
horticulture but you can't make her think."
Both her husbands died with drugs in their blood. On June 14, 1963, when her
second husband, screenwriter Alan Campbell, died of a barbiturate overdose at
their house at 8983 Norma Place in West Hollywood (same block as Carolyn
Jones), a neighbor went to console Mrs. Parker. The friend asked if there was
anything she could do. "Get me a new husband," was Mrs. Parker's
reply. The friend was shocked and told Mrs. Parker it was the most tasteless
thing she had ever heard. "Then run down to the corner and get me a ham and
cheese on rye. And tell them to hold the mayo."
Four suicide attempts never worked for Dorothy Parker, probably best known
for authoring "News Item" -- "Men seldom make passes/At girls who
wear glasses." Death imagery in her work is common, such as the gem
"Resume" she penned in 1925 and "Tombstones in the
Starlight" in 1929. When she turned 70, she told an interviewer who asked
what she was going to do next, "If I had any decency, I'd be dead. All my
friends are." But death waited until she was 73, and a fatal coronary came
on June 7, 1967. She was living in the
Volney; a residential hotel located at 23 East 74th Street between Fifth and
Madison avenues on New York's fashionable Upper East Side.
Her memorial ceremony was held at the Frank
E. Campbell funeral home, on the corner of East 81st Street and Madison
Avenue, just seven blocks from the Volney.
Campbell's is the funeral home to the
famous and infamous, others who have passed through the doors there are Judy
Garland, Lou Gehrig and John Kennedy Jr. and his wife.
Her will was plain and simple. With no heirs, she left her literary estate to
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She'd never met the civil rights activist, but
always felt strongly for social justice. She named the acerbic author Lillian
Hellman as her executor. Within a year of her death, Dr. King was assassinated,
and the Parker estate rolled over to the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. To this day, the NAACP benefits from the royalty
of all Parker publications and productions.
She was cremated, and this is where the story takes a sharp right turn.
Parker was cremated on June 9, 1967, at Ferncliff Crematory in Hartsdale, New York.
Hellman, who made all the funeral arrangements, never told the crematory what to
do with the ashes. So they sat on a shelf in Hartsdale. Six years later, on July
16, 1973, the ashes were mailed to Mrs. Parker's lawyer's offices, O'Dwyer and
Bernstein, 99 Wall Street. Paul O'Dwyer, her attorney, didn't know what to do
with the box of ashes. It sat on a shelf, on a desk, and for 15 years, in a
Hellman went to court to fight the NAACP over Parker's literary estate.
Hellman lost in 1972 when a court ruled that she should be removed from
executorship. Hellman, also the widow (they had a relationship lasting 30
years. Common-law.) of Dashiell Hammett, was adamant that she
get Parker's money, and came out of the mess painted as a racist. She was sure
the will was supposed to give her a huge sum. Hellman said, "she must have
been drunk when she did it."
In 1988, someone figured out that Mrs. Parker's ashes were unclaimed, 21
years after her death. New York tabloids ran stories and readers sent in letters
about what should be done with the dust. But the NAACP stepped in and took the
box from Paul O'Dwyer's drawer. The NAACP built a memorial garden at the
national headquarters in Baltimore, and interred the ashes there. However,
Dorothy Parker's epitaph doesn't say, "Excuse My Dust."
photo courtesy of Kathy Gadziala and Kevin Fitzpatrick
Thank you so much, Kevin. If you want to know more about Dorothy, go to
Kevin's own website dedicated to her. Click