Dorothy Parker Day to honor a reluctant Jersey girl

Landmark plaque, readings, talks celebrate Long Branch connection

BY KATHY HALL Correspondent


Ultimate New Yorker that she was, Dorothy Parker never approved of being born in West End, but she might approve of the activities planned for Long Branch’s first annual Dorothy Parker Day on Aug. 21.

Parker, whose family name was Rothschild, was born prematurely in the family’s West End summer home in Long Branch on Aug. 22, 1893. She was the fourth and last child of Eliza and J. Henry Rothschild, a highly successful merchant.

The family’s last West End summer was 1898, when Eliza died in the house.

Parker’s first published poem, “Any Porch,” is said to have been inspired by conversations overheard during her summers in Long Branch, according to Kevin Fitzpatrick, founder and president of the 3,000-member Dorothy Parker Society of New York

Vintage records like property maps and sewerage authority ledgers were used to locate the site of the summer house in West End where Dorothy Parker’s family summered and where she was born.  Vintage records like property maps and sewerage authority ledgers were used to locate the site of the summer house in West End where Dorothy Parker’s family summered and where she was born. Parker took the name of her first husband, Edwin Pond Parker II, when they married in 1917.

Often described as “the wittiest woman in America,” Mrs. Parker, as she insisted on being called, was a charter member of the famous Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers and other influential people who regularly met for lunch at New York City’s grand Algonquin Hotel. She was the first female drama critic in New York, where her criticism was published in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Although best known for her poetry and short stories, Parker also wrote screenplays with her second husband, Alan Campbell.

A committed social activist, Parker was jailed for protesting the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, spoke out against Franco and Hitler, and refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

She died in New York in 1967 and bequeathed her literary estate to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After his death, the courts awarded executorship to the NAACP over the objection of Lillian Hellman, whom Parker had named executor in her will. Dorothy Parker left no correspondence, manuscripts, memorabilia or private papers of any kind. Hellman refused to cooperate with anyone who wanted to write about Parker, and no materials relating to her were found among Hellman’s possessions after her death.

The first annual Dorothy Parker Day is organized by the Dorothy Parker Society of New York, Friends of the Library USA [FOLUSA], the Long Branch Arts Council, the Long Branch Historical Association, the Long Branch Free Public Library, New Jersey Repertory Company, MIX Lounge/Food Bar, and the West End Merchants. The committee plans to celebrate different aspects of Parker’s life each year. Upcoming events include a dog show in honor of her lifelong love of canines

The impetus for Dorothy Parker Day began when Fitzpatrick wrote to FOLUSA to obtain their trademarked Literary Landmark designation for Dorothy Parker’s birthplace in the West End.

According to the FOLUSA Web site, a Literary Landmark may apply to any special location that is tied to a deceased literary figure, author, or his or her work. Once the site is approved, the sponsoring group plans a dedication ceremony and applies to FOLUSA for official recognition, including a bronze plaque and a listing on the FOLUSA Web site.

Dorothy Parker’s birthplace will be New Jersey’s second Literary Landmark and the first to honor a woman author from New Jersey.

Long Branch businesswoman Beth Woolley helped pull together a sponsoring group of local organizations.

“Kevin had done a search and found the West End Merchants and contacted Debbie Steward,” Woolley explained. “I do the e-mail for the merchants and [Steward] knew that I was associated with the historical society. I am also on the advisory board of the Long Branch Arts Council and, of course, the library.”

Woolley worked with Joan Widdis Yerves from Charles Widdis Associates, a Long Branch surveying company, to pinpoint the exact location of the Rothschilds’ summer home, which had burned down in 1907. She began by looking at old rental records of the sewerage authority.

“[Dorothy Parker] was born in 1893, and luckily we have the old sewage authority rental records that go back to 1894. I looked in 1894 for her father’s name,” Woolley explained.

The records showed that Jacob Rothschild pulled permit 431 for three properties: a stable on Ocean Avenue, the Garfield Place Cottage on Ocean Avenue, and a Broadway theater.

“We knew the house was in the area of Cedar and Ocean Avenue,” Woolley said, “but we didn’t know exactly where.”

Woolley consulted old property maps that contained property owners’ names.

“His name appeared right on the corner of what was then Garfield Place and Ocean. Next to him was Sternberger and several other names. Now that street is called Sternberger, so we know just where it is.”

Yerves provided copies of the old tax maps and showed Woolley how to cross reference them to current ones. By this process, they determined that the house was located at what is now 732 Ocean Ave., currently occupied by the Fountain Garden Apartments.

Dorothy Parker Day will begin at 10 a.m. in the Long Branch Free Public Library with a welcome by Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II and representatives of the Long Branch Arts Council.

The opening ceremony will feature representatives from FOLUSA and the Dorothy Parker Society, and readings by city officials, Gaffney and trustees and friends of the Long Branch Free Public Library.

Although Parker is best remembered for her biting epigrams like “Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses,” she wanted to be considered a serious writer, according to biographer Marion Meade. In addition to readings, the opening ceremony will include two author talks. Monmouth professor and poet Dan Weeks, who is currently working on a book titled “Writers of the Twenties: Wilson, Woollcott, Parker and Frank: Toward a Literary History of Monmouth County,” will speak on “Dorothy Parker and her Monmouth County Circle.” Kevin Fitzgerald, author of the soon-to-be-published “A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York,” will present “Dorothy Parker’s Journey.”

Following the ceremony at the library, special “Round Table Luncheons” will be offered beginning at noon in XeBastian’s (on top of Mix) and Mannas restaurant (next door). Both restaurants are located on Brighton Avenue very close to Parker’s birthplace.

At 3 p.m. there will be the dedication of the Literary Landmark plaque and readings in West End Park of Parker’s works by members of the New Jersey Repertory Company.

Dorothy Parker Day will conclude with a “Speakeasy Cocktail Party” featuring limited-edition commemorative martini glasses at The Mix, a cocktail lounge known for its martinis.

Admission to the speakeasy, which includes a cash bar, is limited to those who can show a souvenir program from either the morning program at the library or from the dedication of the plaque.

Books and materials by and about Dorothy Parker will be on display throughout August at the Long Branch Free Public Library, which is giving away a commemorative bookmark honoring her work.

“I hope that West End becomes a destination for book lovers to go to,” Fitzpatrick said. “Mrs. Parker might be remembered for being a quintessential New Yorker, but her life started on the Jersey Shore.”