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The Literati: Mr. and Mrs. Dorothy Parker’s Arrival in Hollywood

Sketchbook | The Literati

The newlyweds Dorothy Parker, 41, and Alan Campbell, 30, arrived in Los Angeles in 1934 to begin new careers as a screenwriting team. Alan was carrying their contract from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Dorothy was carrying her old emotional baggage: fear of loneliness, an addiction to drink and attempts at suicide.

At story conferences with producers, Dorothy curbed her acerbic tongue, and within four years she and Alan racked up credits on 15 films. She regarded all of them as banal, even “A Star Is Born,” which was nominated for an Oscar. Dissatisfied, she badgered Alan for a home far from Hollywood where they could “put down roots.” She found it in Bucks County, Pa. The $4,500 asking price was less than their weekly salary, but adding bedrooms and bathrooms, servants’ quarters in the barn and a swimming pool tacked nearly $100,000 onto the price.

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CreditEdward Sorel

In 1935 Dorothy became pregnant, but she miscarried three months later. Devastated, she threw herself into radical politics — it provided her with a sense of purpose that writing sugar-coated dreams for the masses did not. The next year, she and Oscar Hammerstein II helped to co-found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Friends who did not live up to her standards for militancy against fascism were dropped. Alan worried that her involvement with left-wing causes would get them blacklisted by the studios. He urged caution. She called him a coward, a homosexual and a “fawn’s ass.”

After Pearl Harbor the “fawn’s ass” enlisted. Dorothy, too old for the Women’s Army Corps, applied for a passport to become a foreign correspondent, but she was now listed by the government as P.A.F. — a premature anti-fascist — and, as such, a Communist. No passport. When the war ended, Alan, stationed in London, decided to stay, and Dorothy divorced him in 1947. A couple years later, unable to bear living alone, she remarried him in Hollywood.

In 1950 her name appeared in the anti-Communist pamphlet “Red Channels.” There would be no more movie work. Their home in Bucks County had been sold at the time of the divorce for less than half of what they had lavished on it. Having no income except for some iffy book royalties, they moved to an apartment in an unfashionable West Hollywood neighborhood, and Dorothy was advised to apply for unemployment compensation. When she reported each week to fill out the card saying she was available for work, Dorothy saw there were always a few Rollses and Cadillacs in the parking lot.

“You make money writing on the coast,” she observed. “But that money is like so much compressed snow. It goes so fast it melts in your hand.”

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