Thursday, August 24, 2006

she must have been drunk when she did it

In honor of Dorothy Parker's birthday this week, a link to a recent Bookforum article about Parker's bequest to the NAACP and Lillian Hellman's distress in her role as executor.

On the face of it, Hellman seemed pleased about King, publicly applauding Parker's "strong feelings about civil liberty and Negro rights" and saying she was "very impressed" by such a noble bequest. But in private she was fuming. King irritated her—apparently he reminded her of southern preachers from her childhood—but what upset her most was her friend's betrayal. Having managed to acquire control of Hammett's literary estate, Hellman had also expected to inherit Parker's; indeed, she believed she was entitled to it. As literary executor, she would be expected to make all decisions but would not benefit financially; proceeds from sales of the work would go to King, the new owner of the copyrights. Within a year of Parker's death, the civil-rights leader was assassinated and the estate became property of the NAACP, an organization for which Hellman had no respect whatsoever because she considered it timid and ineffectual. Ignoring the fact that King had been a vigorous thirty-six at the time of Parker's demise, Hellman continued to berate her friend and hold her personally responsible for the fate of the coveted copyrights. In a gloves-off mood, she didn't mince words with playwright Howard Teichmann: "That goddamn bitch Dorothy Parker. . . . You won't believe what she's done. I paid her hotel bill at the Volney for years, kept her in booze, paid for her suicide attempts—all on the promise that when she died, she would leave me the rights to her writing. . .But what did she do? She left them directly to the NAACP. Damn her!"