Dorothy Parker – Excuse my dust

Dorothy Parker critic, poet, short story, and screenwriter died, of a heart attack in June of 1967 in New York City aged seventy-three. A founding member of the Round Table that regularly met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, these writers often reported on what was said at these lunches leading to a widespread recognition of Dorothy’s witty take on life.

Dorothy was not a native New Yorker having been born at her family’s beach cottage in New Jersey. However she always considered New York City to be her hometown. She grew up, struggled during her early days as a writer, became famous, and died in New York City. Interestingly for some one so connected to the cultural life of New York City her grave is in Baltimore.

The reason for this  turn of events has to do with Dorothy’s Will.

Dorothy left a Will but interestingly she left her estate to Martin Luther King a person who although she admired had never met. When Parker’s will was read, her friends and family were shocked to learnt that she had left her entire estate to King, and in the alternative if he was to die the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP).

She also made Lillian Hellman, a longtime friend, her literary executrix, meaning that Lillian’s permission was needed if Dorothy’s writings were to be used or published; however the proceeds from these approvals would go to the heirs of Dorothy’s estate.

Lillian, meanwhile, was less than impressed. She didn’t think much of Martin Luther King or the NAACP. Furthermore Lillian claimed to have financially supported Dorothy and had hoped she would be able to take a share of the revenue Dorothy’s copyright would bring. Lillian became a fairly staunch defender of Dorothy’s copyright refusing nearly all requests to license Dorothy’s work until a court forced her to give up the executorship in 1972.

As has been posted before an executor is responsible for the burial of the Will maker. Dorothy left instructions that she be cremated, but no instructions as to what was to be done with her ashes. Lillian never claimed Dorothy’s ashes from the mortuary, and when they threatened to throw them out for non-payment of storage fees Lillian’s lawyers took them and stored them in a filing cabinet for fifteen years.

The NAACP controls Dorothy’s literary estate and in the office park that houses their headquarters in the outskirts of Baltimore, they have created the “Dorothy Parker Memorial Garden”; which includes a plaque inscribed with the epitaph she once suggested: “Excuse my dust.”

 

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