Dorothy Parker once said that in Hollywood, the streets are paved with Goldwyn. And while we all recognize that she was tweaking the movie mogul, she was certainly drawn to the money offered by the film industry. As passionate as she was for New York, Parker spent a number of years on the West Coast, writing screenplays and making more money than she could ever hope to earn with her stories, reviews and poems.
"I hate almost all rich people, but I think I'd be darling at it."
As a novelist, I can relate to the lure of Hollywood gold. Movie money shines. It comes in glossy Technicolor buckets. Book money is the linty change in the bottom of your pocket. Most of us who toil away on our novels--struggling to pay mortgages and college tuition bills--dream of that lucre.
But it's more than money that fuels these dreams. It's also the idea of rubbing elbows with all that glamour... and, of course, seeing our words come to life.
"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers ... shoot them now, while they're happy."
I've had movie dreams for all my books, but with my latest, Farewell, Dorothy Parker [Berkley Trade, $15.00], the longing goes beyond ambition. It's like a thirst I'm driven to slake. I need to see Dorothy Parker move and breathe and conquer!
She was, arguably, the greatest American wit of the twentieth century. She was also my very first literary hero, so fictionalizing her in this book felt like an honor and a privilege. After all, I've carried her around with me almost my entire life. She was always the dark voice in my head, offering the stinging barbs and snarky comments I didn't dare utter. This novel was my chance to take those imaginings one step further and bring my idol to life.
"I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true."
A movie adaptation of this book would take it further still. So I often drift to sleep casting the film. But who could possibly play Dorothy Parker? In 1994, the very talented Jennifer Jason Leigh portrayed her in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. It was a virtuoso performance, but I was never quite on board with her interpretation of the great wit. Her Dorothy Parker was consumed with ennui. Mine is a raw nerve, hypersensitive to everything, and dealing with the pain by masking it with contempt.
"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."
It's a juicy role, and when I close my eyes, I see Meryl Streep in a hat. I bet you can see it, too--the way she transforms herself. Julia Child... Margaret Thatcher... Dorothy Parker. Be still my heart. I can even envision the dusky lighting.
I journey into unconventional choices, as well. The other day I saw Debra Winger on a talk show. And maybe it was because she sat across from Alec Baldwin (talk about an enigma), but there was a darkness to her intensity that gave me a chill and I thought, okay. Yes. She could embody "the mistress of the verbal hand grenade."
Then there's the captivating British actress, Helen Mirren, who can probably affect a convincing American accent. There would even be a slight physical resemblance if she wore a dark wig.
Speaking of foreign actresses who can play Americans, Cate Blachett's luminous performance in Blue Jasmine knocked me off my chair and stomped on my heart. If she could layer that kind of fragility beneath Dorothy Parker's toughness, they'd need to take people from the theater in stretchers.
"It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard."
I could go on, casting actresses who deliver humor with a deft and subtle touch (Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Kudrow, Renee Zellweger) or who bear a physical likeness (Marcia Gay Harden, Parker Posey), or even a height resemblance (Sally Field, Holly Hunter). But the fact is, to her fans, any choice will be controversial. Dorothy Parker was dark, daring, powerful, audacious, and beloved. Her voice was hers alone, and so brilliant it cuts right through the decades, sounding as fresh today as it did in the roaring twenties.
And what would Dorothy Parker herself think of seeing her likeness as a movie character, rematerializing from an antique guest book to become both mentor and tormentor to a twenty-first century woman? Would she sanction such a thing? Surely, she took such portrayals in stride in 1930s and 1940s, when a few playwrights based characters upon her. "I wanted to write my autobiography," she quipped, "but now I'm afraid to. George Oppenheimer and Ruth Gordon would sue me for plagiarism."
Of course, Farewell, Dorothy Parker is anything but biographical. It is a work of pure fantasy. In fact, I went so far as to give Dorothy Parker a happy ending. Samuel Goldwyn would most certainly approve ... and I like to think Mrs. Parker would, too.
"I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending."