Ghosts at the Round Table: A Telling Alliance--
Sacco and Vanzetti at the Gonk

Treatment by D. J. Herda
Registered, American Society of Authors and Writers, June 2005

Registration No. 114367

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Anticipated at 80,000 - 90,000

Narrative Nonfiction

Newspaper Headline
August 23, 1927
“Sacco and Vanzetti Dead!”

Flashback: August 22, 1893
Henry Rothschild was a successful garment manufacturer in New York.  It was into his life of relative luxury that he and his wife, Annie Eliza Marston, brought their fourth and last child, a daughter whom they named Dorothy. 

An inquisitive child, Dorothy quickly learned the inner workings of society.  Although half Jewish, her father sent her to a private school for Catholic girls to get the finest education possible.  By the time she had reached her teens, she seemed destined for a life in a Manhattan mansion and summers in the Hamptons. 

But as the years passed, Rothschild’s fortunes steadily declined.  He was penniless by the time he died in 1913, and Dorothy, who had been taking care of him, was suddenly forced to support herself.  She worked as a dance instructor until she broke into magazine publishing by selling a poem, "Any Porch," to Frank Crowninshield, the sophisticated editor of Vanity Fair, who helped her get a job writing captions for Vogue in 1914.

She worked her way up to the position of staff writer for Vanity Fair in 1916, replacing P. G. Wodehouse as their drama critic.  The following year, she met, fell in love with, and married Edwin Pond Parker, a Wall Street stockbroker from a prestigious Hartford, Connecticut, family.  The handsome Edwin shared Dorothy's love of excitement and presented her with the advantage of what she later termed "a nice, clean name."  Shortly after their wedding, Edwin went off to war, leaving Parker once again alone in New York.

Before long, the absentee marriage began to sour, and Parker turned to new friendships with Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams, and other well-known writers of the time.  She also established the rapier wit that brought her fame and cost her a job: Vanity Fair fired her for lampooning actress Billie Burke, who was the wife of one of the magazine's largest advertisers.

But the firing didn’t dampen Parker’s enthusiasm for life.  The period following the end of World War I was one of gaiety and optimism.  The era of dour pessimism that had preceded it was gone, and a new period of creativity in American culture exploded across the horizon.  Among all the joy and hope of the era, little Dorothy Parker was about to make her move.  Standing barely 5 feet tall, she was about to found an institution.

It was destined to become one of the most profound—and outrageous—influences on the times since the invention of bathtub gin.  It would grow to envelope a group of a dozen tastemakers gathered together for lunch at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. 

For more than a decade, they would meet daily to exchange ideas and offer criticisms.  They invited friends, devastated enemies, and pulverized America’s politically elite.  They hated nearly everything that everyone else loved and loved whatever everyone else hated.  They came to be known simply as the Algonquin Round Table. 

Along with Parker were writers Robert Benchley, and Harold Ross (founder of The New Yorker); columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun; Broun’s wife Ruth Hale; critic Alexander Wollcott; comedian Harpo Marx; and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, and Robert Sherwood.  They were on the cutting edge of literary society...representative of America at its best.  At the core of the Round Table, they embodied a destiny that would change forever the face of America—and that would eventually be changed forever by it, as well.

It all began in June 1919 with an afternoon roast of New York Times drama critic, Alexander Woollcott.  A number of writers met at the Algonquin Hotel on 44th street and had such a good time that the event was repeated the next day, and the day after that, until the lunch table at the Algonquin was an established ritual. 

The core group of friends was sometimes joined by others who attended for short periods or drifted about the periphery of the group; they included notables such as actress Tallulah Bankhead and playwright Noel Coward.  The Round Table was made up of people with a shared admiration for each other's work.  Outspoken and outrageous, they would often quote each other freely in their books, columns, and articles.

Round Tabler Edna Ferber, who called them "The Poison Squad," wrote, "They were actually merciless if they disapproved.  I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew.  But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly." 

Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent, and very, very tough.  Both casual and incisive, they had a certain terrible integrity about their work, as well as boundless ambition. 

Some of the most notable members of the Round Table came together to work on several major collaborative projects.  George Kaufman teamed up with Edna Ferber and Marc Connelly on some of his best stage comedies, including Dulcy and The Royal Family.  Harold Ross hired Dorothy Parker as a book reviewer and Robert Benchley as a drama critic for The New Yorker.

Through long lunches of bootleg cocktails, the members cemented their reputations as trendsetters and newsmakers, and they reveled in the fact.  Apart, they were incorrigibly talented.  Together, they were even more so.  They promised America never to disappoint and lived up to their every word.  They won over New York and much of the English-speaking world with their wit and their witticisms. 

Robert Sherwood, reviewing cowboy hero Tom Mix: "They say he rides as if he’s part of the horse, but they don’t say which part."

Dorothy Parker: "That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them."

George S. Kaufman, when asked by a press agent how to get his leading lady’s name into print: "Shoot her."

Before long, the Round Tablers had grown famous.  Parker had led the charge.  Her wit and intelligence were boundless.  And so was the power she wielded both on and off the page.

Cutaway: 1950s Interview
Hotel Volney, New York
“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....

“But, 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 know 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.”

Parker spent the next three years reviewing plays for Ainslee's and submitting poetry and short stories to a variety of magazines.  Throughout the 1920s, her life took on the surface glamour of the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties with its bootleg booze, dusk-til-dawn parties, wild drinking, speakeasy bars, trips to Europe, and salon-like gatherings at the Algonquin Hotel and the vacation homes of New York's millionaire families.  She published her first poetry volumes (the fiction would come later), and they sold well, initially receiving largely positive reviews.  She became one of the most quotable women in New York.  And she owed nearly all of her success to The Round Table.

What had started as a private clique had grown to become a public amusement.  The country-at-large was now attentive to their every word—people often coming to stare at them during lunch or to beg for autographs. 

Cutaway: 1920’s
The New Yorker Offices
Dorothy Parker is returning to her office just as her New Yorker editor and Clare Boothe Luce are leaving.  Ross introduces her to Parker in a narrow doorway.

"Age before beauty," Luce declares, stepping aside.

 "Pearls before swine," Parker replies, gliding through.

By now as familiar a part of the New York social scene as any phenomenon in city history, the world itself revolved around what went on over lunch.  People scoured their newspapers and rushed to buy magazines as soon as they came out so they could learn the latest antics of the Table of Twelve.  Weekends took on an ominous tone: the Tablers wouldn’t meet again until the following Monday.  What would people do?

So predictable were they that one day, when Parker failed to show for lunch and none of her friends had seen her, everyone was understandably concerned.  People took turns going to her apartment every couple of hours.  She was not there.  Her phone rang incessantly.  It was not answered.

Harold Ross, by now one of the legendary Roundtable literati, was not only Parker's boss at The New Yorker but also an editor on a deadline.  After a second day came and passed, he was frantic.

While sipping his lunch on the third day of Parker's disappearance, Ross’ secretary paged him at the Algonquin to report that Dorothy Parker had just phoned to say that she’d gotten married.  She left the number of a place where she could be reached.

Ross immediately dialed the number, which turned out to be a bar in Harlem.  He asked for Parker and waited impatiently until she came to the phone.


"Dorothy, is it really you?"

"Hiya, Harold.  You sound kind of upset.  What's ..."

"Never mind that.  Why haven’t you called??"

"Cause I've been too fucking busy," she snapped.  "And vice-versa."

But just as Parker had become the very heart and soul of the Round Table, some members had begun to tire of the constant publicity.  The time they spent entertaining and being entertained took its toll on them.  Robert Sherwood and Robert Benchley moved out of the hotel in order to concentrate on their individual projects.  And others were poised to follow suit.

Just as it seemed the group might drift apart once and for all, Dorothy Parker found a way to pull them back together.

Cutaway: April 15, 1920
South Braintree near Boston
 Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli are approached by two men wearing dark suits and fedoras.  The men pull out their weapons and fire several times at point-blank range.  As Parmenter and Berardelli fall, the men grab two boxes from them, open them, and begin stuffing twenty-dollar bills into their pockets.  After several moments, one man turns to the other.

 “How much do you think we got?”

 The second man shakes his head.  “I dunno.  Ten, maybe fifteen grand.  C’mon.  Let’s get outa here.”

 The men race around the corner and leap into a car containing several others.  The car speeds off.

Several eyewitnesses claimed that the robbers looked Italian.  The police rounded up a large number of Italian immigrants for questioning before eventually deciding to charge Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco with the murders.  Although the two had no prior criminal records, police argued that they had committed the robbery to acquire funds for their anarchist political campaigns.

Their trial began on May 21, 1921.  The main evidence against the men was that they were both carrying a gun when arrested—a simple act of self-defense that was both legal and commonplace at the time.  Some people who saw the crime taking place identified Sacco and Vanzetti as the robbers.  Others disagreed.  Both men had solid alibis.  Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth—simple enough to prove—while Sacco was in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken—easily verifiable.  The prosecution made a great deal of the fact that all of those called to provide evidence to support these alibis were themselves Italian immigrants.
As immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language.  It was clear from some of the answers they gave in court that they had misunderstood several questions.  During the trial, the prosecution emphasized the men's radical political beliefs.  Vanzetti and Sacco were accused of unpatriotic behavior by fleeing to Mexico to avoid the draft during the First World War.  

The trial lasted seven weeks, and on July 14, both men were found guilty of first degree murder.  They were sentenced to death.

Many observers believed that their conviction resulted from prejudice against them for being Italian immigrants and left-wing radicals.  Since the end of World War I, the U.S. Justice Department had been on a rampage, revoking entry papers and exporting Italian-Americans at an alarming pace—particularly socialists, Marxists, and anarchists, whom the U.S. Attorney General viewed as particularly dangerous to the country. 

Dorothy Parker—who had followed the trial closely from its start, believed all along that Sacco and Vanzetti would be found not guilty.  When just the opposite occurred, she was outraged.  So, too, was much of the civilized world.

The outcome of the trial led to anti-U.S. demonstrations around the globe.  Riots broke out in France, Germany, and England.  Protestors in Paris detonated a bomb, killing twenty people.  Parker took up the gauntlet, writing columns about the injustices of America’s judicial system, about the injustice of labeling two undesirables as murderers.  She recounted the trial and retold the story of the accused men.  She investigated their alibis and found them to be rock solid.  She even went so far as to question the motives of the judge in the case.

As Sacco and Vanzetti sat on Death Row, Parker began a campaign to help overturn their conviction.  If she could get enough prominent Americans to protest, at least the two immigrants might win a new—and this time a fair—trial. 

She began writing her friends.  She telephoned everyone of prominence she had ever known.  Within days, dozens of influential U. S. and European figures had joined the most popular American writer of the day.  The crusade had begun. 

In Parker’s corner were John Dos Passos, Alice Hamilton, Paul Kellog, Jane Addams, Heywood Broun, William Patterson, Upton Sinclair, Ben Shahn, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Felix Frankfurter, John Howard Lawson, Freda Kirchway, Floyd Dell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells.  All lent their support in demanding a retrial.  Facing off against her were the prosecuting D. A. and Judge Webster Thayer.

Although Thayer, the original judge in the hearing, was officially criticized for his conduct of the trial, authorities refused to overrule the decision to execute the men.  He refused to consider key evidence and seemed by his very demeanor to endorse the men’s guilt.  Parker was furious.

Cutaway: 1927
Streets of Boston
Several hundred people have gathered to protest the Sacco and Vanzetti verdict.  Some are carrying signs:

“Capitalism at Work”

“Condemn the Courts, Not Innocent Victims!”

Dorothy Parker marches along with the crowd past the Federal Court Building where the trial had occurred.  She is flanked by Robert Benchley and Heywood Broun, to whom she turns.

“What do you think?  Is this doing any good?”

The three are jostled suddenly but continue to march.  Police push several people away from the building’s entrance and out toward the street, which has been barricaded to traffic.

“I don’t know,” he says.  “Does anything ever do any good?”

She stops and is nearly pushed over.  Broun and Benchley stop and reach out to help her.  She pushes them away.  Someone bumps into her and shoving breaks out.  She loses sight of the two; and, within moments, a uniformed police officer grabs her by the arm and begins pulling her free from the crowd.

“Wait.  What are you doing?”

“Come on with me.”

“For what?  Where are we going?”

“You’re under arrest.”

She tries to break free but fails.  When they reach a paddy wagon where others are being herded inside, she refuses to get in.

“Come on, now,” the cop warns.  “You’re under arrest.”

She yanks her arm free from his grip.  “All right,” she says.  “I’m under arrest.  But I’m not getting in that paddy wagon.”

“You’ll get in or you walk to jail,” he says.

She eyes him contemptuously for several seconds before turning away and beginning to walk.  The cop pushes past several people and hurries to catch up with her, and the two disappear in the crowd.

Back in New York, Parker continued her writing about the injustices of the system, although—at the suggestion of those closest to her—more quietly now, using a pen name so that her own socialist leanings would not come back to haunt her.

A Child's horror-to watch my mother die!
My father was flabby, a fraud. I knew,
"For now at least, I'll have to live a lie:
outside smiling, inside raging." I grew
to hate his narrow greed-not sure why.
Bright, brash, I thought my "brilliant" friends
lived and loved beyond his loutish range.
But when I fight for Sacco, illusion ends.
Woollcott calls him, "Dago killer," calls me, "strange."
Calls me, "Hebe." My contempt firms --and never bends.
I work for the poor, for Blacks --for Spain.
Won't play the "Yes, sir" game. Or quit the booze.
At least I'm used to loneliness and pain.
Can't handle winning. Sure know how to lose.
Here lies a gal who whistled in the rain.

On November 18, 1925, Celestino F. Medeiros, who was being held in the same jail as Sacco and Vanzetti for the murder of a cashier during a bank robbery, sent a note through a messenger to Sacco:

"I hear by confess to being in the South Braintree shoe company crime and Sacco and Vanzetti was not in said crime. – Medeiros” 

The man added upon questioning that five men had participated in the crime: gang leader Joe Morelli, Medeiros, and three of his brothers—Joe, Pasquel, and Mike.

Medeiros had been a member of the Morelli gang, a professional group of criminals who for years had been involved in stealing of shoes from freight cars, including shoes of the Slater and Morrill Company of South Braintree.  When Medeieros had been arrested, he was carrying with him a sum of money roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the South Braintree payroll.  None of the stolen money was ever found on Sacco or Vanzetti. 

All but two of the Morelli gang were out of jail on April 15, 1920, and all were first-generation Italian-Americans, without accents, a point that was made by prosecution witnesses: the killers spoke without accents.  Further, the leader of the gang, Joe Morelli, bore a striking physical resemblance to Sacco.

In an appeal trial overseen by Judge Thayer—the same judge who had found Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of murder in the lower court—defense attorneys presented a point-by-point comparison of the evidence that could be presented between the two groups of suspects, Sacco and Vanzetti and the Morelli gang.

Judge Thayer rejected the appeal based on the “unreliability of the primary witness,” Medeieros.  Sacco and Vanzetti, along with Medeiros, who had likewise lost an appeal in his bank cashier’s murder trial, were sentenced to death.  Time was running out.

Meanwhile, Parker, still hopeful, returned to work, freelancing for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other magazines.  She was in serious financial straits.  She had become involved in a series of painfully brief love affairs with men who cared little for her.  And she was drinking entirely too much.  All these troubles led to two failed suicide attempts in 1923 (following an abortion) and in 1925. 

Despite the best efforts of Parker and her fellow Tablers, it had grown clear by the summer of 1927—seven years after their arrest—that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti would be executed for a crime most people felt they didn’t commit.  

Vanzetti didn’t help his own case when he said to a journalist: "If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men.  I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure.  Now we are not a failure.  This is our career and our triumph.  Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident.  Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing!  The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all!  That last moment belongs to us - that agony is our triumph.”

On August 23, 1927, the day of the execution, more than 250,000 people took part in a demonstration in Boston, denouncing as cold-blooded murder the taking of two innocent lives.  Inside the prison, Vanzetti had a brief conversation with his attorney shortly before he was led to the death chamber.  The attorney later recalled the encounter:

“In this closing scene the impression ... which had been gaining in my mind for three years, was deepened and confirmed -- that he was a man of powerful mind, and unselfish disposition, of seasoned character, and of devotion to high ideals. There was no sign of breaking down or of terror at approaching death.  At parting he gave me a firm clasp of the hand, and a steady glance, which revealed unmistakably the depth of his feeling and the firmness of his self-control.

Vanzetti's last words he spoke to the warden:

“I wish to say to you that I am innocent.  I have never done a crime, some sins, but never any crime.  I thank you for everything you have done for me.  I am innocent of all crime, not only this one, but of all, of all.  I am an innocent man.”

Then, shaking hands with the warden and two of the four guards, he sat in the electric chair and added, “I now wish to forgive some people for what they are doing to me.”

The lights flickered and went out for several seconds.  And it was over.

The execution cast a pall over the Round Tablers’ unchecked antics.  Everyone was shocked.  Everyone had thought that, at the last minute, the governor would grant a pardon...or a higher court would intervene.  That never happened, and everyone was stunned—no one more so than Dorothy Parker.

Everything Parker had ever believed in, everything that she was firmly convinced made America’s system of justice the best in the world, had suddenly been destroyed.  The concept of America’s judicial system, upon which a nation was built—that a person is innocent until proven, proven! guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt—was a house built of straw. 

Once the lights went out in the state house on Sacco and Vanzetti, they went out, too, in Dorothy Parker’s heart.  She knew that the two men had been innocent—and she would carry that knowledge with her for the rest of her life.

It was a far cry for the young Jewish-Catholic girl from New York who, only the year before, had packed her bags and left the states for Paris, from where she mailed home articles to The New Yorker and Life magazine.  She felt at home there, at peace, and why shouldn’t she have?  She had left the strains of the real world far behind, the world of intense feelings and shaken confidence.  She spent evenings dining with Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein.  She made friends with Ernest Hemingway, whose sharp mind and pointed literary style she admired.

But the moment she returned to New York, she felt the pressures of life—her life, real life—gnawing away at her.  Following the execution, she fell back into her writing, although by now her home life was miserable.  Her marriage to the morphine- and alcohol-addicted Edwin finally ended in 1928.  Through her worst years, she maintained a tough-talking and hard-drinking public exterior, scoffing at her own misery with blasé humor.

At the suggestion of a friend, she collected a volume of her poetry to pay for an overseas trip, although she herself felt her verse was not good enough for a book.  To her great surprise, Enough Rope became an instant best-seller, rare for a book of poems.  In this and subsequent successful volumes of poetry—Sunset Gun (1928), Death and Taxes (1931), and Not So Deep as a Well (1936)—Parker poked fun at her own heartbreak, masochism, and hopefulness.  Her most effective verse captures the breadth of her dreams and disappointments with bitter irony and perfect turns of phrase, but only hints at their depths.

But nothing she accomplished made her happy.

As the dour days of the post-execution years passed and America entered the Great Depression and the more somber decade of the 1930s, so too did Dorothy Parker enter her own period of personal despair.  The bonds that had held the Round Table together loosened; some members moved to Hollywood; others drifted off to pursue other interests.

"It didn’t end, it just sort of faded," recalled Marc Connelly.

A decade after it had begun, the Algonquin Round Table was over. 

Parker the Activist—on the edge of emotional collapse, partly from her drinking and partly from her disparagement with America’s tarnished judicial system—decided she needed a change.  But that change had to reconcile itself with Parker the Working Woman. 

In 1927, she joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine where she wrote book reviews under the pen name, Constant Reader.  While she was there, she gradually worked herself out of her depression.  Her readership began to climb, and her notoriety soared.  She became famous for her two-line quip,

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

Regaining both her confidence and a feel for her work, Parker dove into her writing like a woman reborn.  Her verses were sardonic, dry, and elegantly written commentaries on lost love or on the shallowness of modern life.  And the public loved them to death.

Why is it no one sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah, no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Parker's short stories, which were collected in After Such Pleasures (1932) and Here Lies (1939), illuminated her deep knowledge and understanding of human nature.  Among her best-known tales are “A Big Blonde,” which won that year’s O’Henry Prize for short stories, and “A Telephone Call.” 

But while Parker reveled in the adulation of her adoring fans, New York had suddenly grown too small, too provincial, too unfamiliar to her.  New York, Boston, Philadelphia—the entire Eastern Seaboard had become a prison too tiny to endure.

During the 1930s, she and her second husband, Alan Campbell, decided to move to Hollywood where she worked as a screenwriter on A Star Is Born (1937), directed by William Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, and Adolphe Menjou.  She received An Academy Award for the screenplay, along with Campbell and Robert Carson.  She attended the Oscar ceremonies, collected her prize, and was lauded throughout Hollywood for her talent and her creativity.

But once again she was beginning to feel the strain of life in the fast lane.  Surrendering to the constant pressures of writing under deadline, Parker the Activist felt she needed another change—not just a career move, but a lifestyle relocation.  If she couldn’t save two innocent men from the gallows in America, she would try to save other innocents somewhere else far, far away. 

Within weeks, Parker sailed for Spain.  The Spanish Civil War was raging there, and she had decided to go to work against Franco and his despotic elitism (the "proudest thing" she ever did).  With her typewriter and her wit, she joined the battle against Franco and for the loyalists.  She wrote home about what she had experienced.

Cutaway: 1938
Dorothy Parker at her desk in Spain
Voice Over

“I want to say first that I came to Spain without my ax to grind.  I didn't bring messages from anybody, nor greetings to anybody.  I am not a member of any political party.  The only group I have ever been affiliated with is that not especially brave little band that hid its nakedness of heart and mind under the out-of-date garment of a sense of humor.  I heard someone say, and so I said it too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon.  I don't suppose I ever really believed it, but it was easy and comforting, and so I said it.  Well, now I know.  I know that there are things that never have been funny, and never will be.  And I know that ridicule may be a shield, but it is not a weapon.

“I was puzzled, as you may have been, about Spain.  I read in our larger newspapers that here was a civil war, with the opposing factions neatly divided into Reds and Whites—rather as if they were chessmen.  Even I could figure out that there is something not quite right when Moors are employed to defend Christianity.  Since I have been here, I have heard what the people in the streets say.  Not many of them call it the ‘war.’  They speak of it as the ‘invasion.’  Theirs is the better word.”

When Parker returned to Hollywood, she fell back into her work, by now a common theme, and began collaborating with Peter Vierter and Joan Harrison on Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1940).  Following the film’s successful debut, she once again found herself riding the pinnacle of popularity, and she was once again frightened. 

Was it the success that frightened her...or the fact that not all of the success in the world had enabled her to help two innocent victims put to death for murder?  She ached to learn the truth, and in aching, she sought refuge, once again, in alcohol.  She “drank like a fish, so much so that the boys couldn’t keep up, which was fine with her.”  Not that her drinking, by any means, dampened her thirst for sardonic wit, much to the chagrin of many big-name celebrities of the day. 

After meeting Joan Crawford, who was married at the time to Franchot Tone, Parker said, "You can take a whore to culture, but you can't make her think." In a 1933 review of the Katherine Hepburn play, The Lake, she wrote, "Miss Hepburn runs the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B."

Forever the Activist, Parker felt a great sympathy for Hollywood screenwriters, upon whom producers of the day often preyed mercilessly; so she organized them into a protective guild that established minimum payment for their original scripts, as well as for rewrites, adaptations, and collaborations.  She also founded the anti-Nazi Society.  Her activism promptly earned herself an invitation to appear before the House on Un-American Activities Committee to testify against associates who had joined the Communist party. 

Many of her contemporaries (and even friends, such as Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett), refusing to recognize the committee’s right to such a hearing, pleaded the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Parker didn't.  She pleaded the First.  During several hours of tough grilling by Wisconsin’s Joseph McCarthy, she never named names.

It was a courageous move.  It was also career suicide: those who gave up the names of their associates, correctly or not, were permitted to continue on with their careers.  Those who didn’t were black-balled, banned from working in Hollywood at all.  The tactics were identical to those used during the Salem Witch Hunts.  Hysteria, fear, a chance to pay someone back for old grudges, anti-Semitism, anti-intellectualism, prejudice, old jealousies, greed—all motivated witnesses to brand their own peers as "Communists," whether or not they actually were.

Parker had been a member of the Communist Party, back in the '20s and '30s, as were many patriotic and loyal Americans whose objectives, with 20/20 hind sight, may have been naive but were nonetheless honorable and sincere.

Cutaway: HUAC Congressional Hearing, 1952
Senator Joseph McCarthy Chairing

“Mrs. Parker, will you now tell this committee that you have nothing to hide.  If so, will you name those people you know personally to be members of the Communist Party?  If not, I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to help you here today.”

[Camera pans to Dorothy Parker.]

"Listen, I can't even get my dog to stay down.  Do I look like someone who could overthrow the government?"

Shortly after her appearance before the Committee, someone finally gave testimony against her before HUAC, and Parker was immediately blacklisted from the movie industry.  Her screenwriting career was over.

Despite the emotional toll the blacklisting took, Parker continued to write.  Much of her best work was published in the Portable Dorothy Parker, which has been in print since 1944.  Of the first ten Portables published by Viking, only the Portable Shakespeare and the Portable Bible have sold as well and as steadily.  

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live. - from Resume

Besides her witty limericks, Parker over the years contributed numerous words and phrases to America's popular vernacular, including bobbed (hairstyle: 1915), queer (homosexual: 1929), bundle of nerves (1915), it's a small world (1915), and what the hell (colloquial: 1923), not to mention the ubiquitous high society, one-night stand, and, appropriately enough, wisecrack.

Yet, in spite of all of her success, all of her fame and glory, she could never reconcile herself to the fact that two innocent men had been put to death, and she had witnessed it firsthand.  She couldn’t shake the feeling for all the world that she had failed to do enough to save them.

When Parker turned 70, she said, "If I had any decency, I'd be dead.  Most of my friends are."

Dorothy Parker, who once claimed, "I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true" and "People are more fun than anybody," was running low on quips and beginning to make plans for the end.  In a meeting with her executor, author Lillian Hellman, Parker extracted a promise that her gravestone would carry only eight simple words: 'If you can read this, you're too close.’”

Flashback, August 23, 1927
More than 250,000 demonstrators showed up in Boston to protest the execution of two Italian immigrants accused of murder. 

Flash Forward, 1961
The first inside confirmation of the guilt of one of the anarchists had been provided when anarchist leader Carlo Tresca told Max Eastman, “Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent."  Eastman published an article recounting his conversation with Tresca in National Review in 1961.  After the article was published, others confirmed that Tresca had told them the same information.

In October of the same year, ballistics tests were run using Sacco's Colt Automatic.  The results left little room for doubt that the bullet that killed Berardelli in 1920 had come from Sacco's gun.

Flash Forward, 1977
Despite evidence of Sacco's guilt, on August 23, 1977, exactly fifty years after their execution, Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation absolving the two men of the crime, saying that the evidence that convicted them was inconclusive and vowing that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names."

Flash Forward, 1982
Additional evidence on the Sacco and Vanzetti case trickled forth in November 1982 in a letter from Ideale Gambera to Francis Russell.  In it, Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who had died in June 1982, had been a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense.  In his letter to Russell, Gambera said "Everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing."

Flashback, June 7, 1967
Dorothy Parker crossed the small kitchen in her apartment at the Hotel Volney into her office/sitting room.  She had been living there alone and broken for 15 years, in the New York Hotel mere blocks from the Gonk, which she had helped to make famous. 

Suddenly her eyes widened and her knees grew weak.  She fell to the floor, gasping for air.  She clutched at her heart, tried to rise, and slunk back slowly to the floor.  She lay there, alone and terrified, her breathing pained and shallow.  She stirred softly, turned her head to one side, took one deep breath, and closed her eyes.  Forever.

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