Tribute to Mrs. Parker’s Radical Life

Tonya Pinkins
Tonya Pinkins

Four decades after she passed away, Dorothy Parker’s life was celebrated in a unique evening at a radical bookshop in Chelsea. More than fifty turned out for the event and were treated to readings of Mrs. Parker’s work by Broadway stars Tonya Pinkins and Xanthe Elbrick. Two special guests also spoke: Hilda Rodgers, an executive with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Marion Meade, author and editor.

To mark the 40th anniversary of Mrs. Parker’s death, the event was held June 4, 2007, at Revolution Books, 9 West 19th Street. The shop is one of the most important radical bookstores in the country. The staff was incredible kind and gracious for setting up the store for the Dorothy Parker Society. In his opening remarks, DPS president Kevin Fitzpatrick told the crowd that it was the kind of bookstore that Mrs. Parker would have been happy to be associated with.

As a nod to Mrs. Parker’s fame as a drama critic, two Broadway actresses volunteered to attend the party and read from The Portable Dorothy Parker.

Tony Award winning actress Tonya Pinkins, currently starring in August Wilson’s Radio Golf at the Cort Theatre, blew everyone away by reading My Hometown, an essay Mrs. Parker wrote about being a New Yorker. The audience was enraptured and delivered long, loud applause for her reading. Afterward, a member of the audience remarked that the piece was on par, or even better, than E.B. White’s classic Here Is New York.

Xanthe Elbrick
Xanthe Elbrick
The crowd was dazzled by the stunning Xanthe Elbrick, who just wrapped up in Coram Boy at the Imperial Theatre, and was nominated for a 2007 Tony Award for best performance by a featured actress in a play. Ms. Elbrick read classic pieces, including “Observation” and “Bohemia” before reading the devastating 1927 New Yorker short story, Arrangement in Black and White. The reading moved the audience to warm applause, and Ms. Elbrick’s take on the story was truly amazing.

Another highlight of the event was the attendance of Hilda Rodgers, regional director of the NAACP, and three associates from the New York office. Mrs. Parker’s estate is managed by the organization, and it was extremely kind of Ms. Rodgers to give a short talk about the connection of Mrs. Parker and the NAACP. She also read some light verse, including “Comment” and “Inventory.”

The same week as the party, Penguin Books released a 20th anniversary edition of Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? Author Marion Meade gave a short talk, and related to the audience was has happened to Mrs. Parker’s legacy in the 20 years since her book came out. Ms. Meade told the crowd that Mrs. Parker is more popular than ever, with a new generation of fans to keep her spirit alive.

The mood of the event was festive, partly due to free cocktails supplied by the event’s sponsor (a first for the DPS), Plymouth Gin. The company sent a bar, a bartender, and a case of gin to make the “Plymouth Parker-Tini” martini for all guests. The drinks flowed… the recipe?
3 parts Plymouth Gin
Splash of Dry Vermouth
Dash of Orange Bitters
The preparation: Stir with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest. Plymouth also gave out souvenir glasses and “muddlers” — which some thought was a stainless steel police baton — a bartending tool used to mash up lemons or limes when constructing classic cocktails, such as the martini or cosmopolitan. These were given out in gift bags, provided by Penguin Classics.

It was a terrific event. The Dorothy Parker Society now has 10 years to plan how to top it.

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge all images. Photos by A. Greg Raymond.

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