Waltzing out of The Lowell: Dorothy Parker’s Sojourn in an East Side Hotel
By Jalissa Cintron |
Quickly splashing up the subway station stairs, I run in between drops of rain up Lexington Avenue. I soon find myself at The Lowell Hotel on 28 East 63rd Street, at Madison Avenue in New York City. Looking up, beyond the seventh floor, I cannot see. The sky is heavy and the street is gray. Still, the entrance shines bright and warm, kindly inviting me in to escape the rain. In the lobby, I imagine Dorothy Parker laying her bags on one of the antique sofas that complement the hotel’s Art Deco facade before she walks over to the front desk, requesting a room. Specifically, a room away from the daily traffic of visitors at The Lowell Hotel, where she could write.
Most famous for being the first, and for a good length of time, the only woman member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, screenwriter, and critic known for her exceptional wittiness and one-liners. The Algonquin Round Table, to which she belonged, was a literary circle that met for lunch and witty conversation at the Algonquin Hotel during the years 1919 to 1929. Created together with writer Robert Benchley and playwright Robert Sherwood, this innovative group would soon expand its members to include The New Yorker founder Harold Ross, comedian Harpo Marx, critic Alexander Woollcott, and playwright Edna Ferber (“Dorothy Parker: Civil Rights Activist” Poet, Journalist”). Later, this group would become known as the Vicious Circle due to the raw remarks made by its members, especially the brilliant, incisive Dorothy Parker (“Dorothy Parker: Civil Rights Activist, Poet, Journalist”). Aside from possessing a sharp tongue, Dorothy was known to drink just as much as the men who accompanied her. When she wasn’t at the Algonquin Hotel, Dorothy often visited the “21” Club and the infamous Polly Adler Brothel (Fitzpatrick).
Along with her many hangouts, Dorothy Parker found herself residing in over 10 locations around New York City between her birth in 1893 and her death in 1967. Such places that she called home included apartments and hotels. It’s said that Dorothy enjoyed living in hotels because she had no domestic skills or furniture and frequently traveled (“Writer’s Block Breaks at The Lowell”). Her most notable residency was the decade when she occupied a room at the Algonquin. In February 1932, being tormented over the breakup with her boyfriend, John McClain, Dorothy Parker attempted to take her own life (“Writer’s Block Breaks at The Lowell”). In the aftermath and with hopes of starting anew, Dorothy left the Algonquin and moved into The Lowell Hotel on the East Side of Manhattan (Meade). Built in 1925, on a peaceful, tree-lined street just a block away from Central Park, the Lowell Hotel is quite the opposite of your average hotel. Its cozy and romantic aura makes this Art Deco building an elegant hideaway from the busy city of New York.
During her time at The Lowell, Dorothy began to come around; she freed herself of her ongoing writer’s block and composed some of the best short stories of her entire career (“Writer’s Block Breaks at The Lowell”). One of these stories is “The Waltz,” which was published in The New Yorker on September 2, 1933. In “The Waltz,” Dorothy Parker introduces us to a young woman whom we initially perceive to be a stereotypical chatterbox. When approached by a young man who asks her to dance, the young woman, in fear of appearing rude, agrees, only to find out that he is an awfully clumsy dancer. As they waltz, she gives him an earful: “It’s the constant rush, rush, rush, that’s the curse of American life,” she says. “That’s the reason that we’re all of us so — Ow! For God’s sake, don’t kick, you idiot; this is only the second down. Oh my shin. My poor, poor shin, that I’ve had ever since I was a little girl!” (Parker 2). During their waltz, the young woman is forced to withstand her dance partners’ kicks and bothersome habits. As they move across the floor, the reader is taken into the thoughts of the young woman; she seems to be having a serious discussion with herself: “Oh, no, no, no. Goodness, no. It didn’t hurt the least little bit. And anyway it was my fault. Really it was. Truly. Well, you’re just being sweet, to say that. It really was all my fault” (Parker 2). Although the young woman speaks more or less politely to the young man with whom she is waltzing, Parker reveals her true thoughts to us: “I wonder what I’d better do—kill him this instant, with my naked hands, or wait and let him drop in his traces. Maybe it’s best not to make a scene. I guess I’ll just lie low, and watch the pace get him. He can’t keep this up indefinitely — he’s only flesh and blood. Die he must, and die he shall, for what he did to me” (Parker 2). Throughout the story, Dorothy Parker allows us into the mind of a young woman who battles with the conflict between satisfying her internal desires and the demands forced upon her by external society. In doing so, her external and internal voice, one being compliant and the other being critical, begin to clash.
It was while living at The Lowell that Dorothy Parker authored some of her best literary work and set ablaze her legend as a short story writer. After much success and healing, Dorothy met the screenwriter Alan Campbell. Soon after making Campbell her second husband, she waltzed out of the Lowell and settled down 11 blocks south from the place that had revived her literary vision and talent for writing (“Writer’s Block Breaks at The Lowell”).
“Dorothy Parker.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
“Dorothy Parker Society.” Dorothy Parker Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Fitzpatrick, Kevin C. “A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Meade, Marion. “Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Parker, Dorothy. “The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker.” Choice Reviews Online 43.08 (2006): n. pag. The Waltz By Dorothy Parker. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
“The Waltz By Dorothy Parker.” The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.