Acerbic Algonquin Round Table wit Dorothy Parker was honored Sunday at her birthplace in West End, a village on the Jersey Shore that is part of Long Branch. She might not have liked it, but the town unveiled a literary plaque. More than 200 people attended events during a daylong Parker celebration. Parker was born in a summer cottage at 732 Ocean Avenue on August 22, 1893, to garment businessman Jacob Henry Rothschild and wife Eliza. The cottage burned down in 1907 and an apartment building currently stands on the site.
A poet, reviewer, and short story writer, Parker is best known as a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an urbane circle of theatrical and literary figures who gathered for lunch in Midtown Manhattan at the Algonquin Hotel for about a decade beginning in 1919.
Long Branch Free Public Library director Ingrid Bruck introduced readings in the morning by city officials, library trustees, and others. Monmouth University president Paul Gaffney gave greetings and read Parker's poem "Tombstones in the Starlight." It contains a stanza about the "The Very Rich Man":
He'd have the best, and that was none too good;
No barrier could hold, before his terms.
He lies below, correct in cypress wood,
And entertains the most exclusive worms.
Dorothy Parker Society of New York founder Kevin Fitzpatrick read from his forthcoming book, "A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York" (Roaring Forties Press), which is scheduled to be published in December.
Monmouth University adjunct professor of history Daniel Weeks spoke next, noting that Parker did not even deign to launch a nasty bon mot about Long Branch: "She simply condemned the whole state of New Jersey. In her fiction, New Jersey became a place to go to score drugs and was the ultimate refuge of all naive bumpkins with pretensions to sophistication."
Contemporary writers born in Long Branch include novelist Norman Mailer and poet Robert Pinsky. Mr. Weeks, however, discussed Dorothy Parker in relation to Monmouth County writers of the past.
He discussed literary and cultural critic Edmund Wilson, who was born nearby in Red Bank, N.J., and theater critic Alexander Woollcott, who was born in Colts Neck at the North American Phalanx, a commune inspired by French utopian thinker Charles Fourier. He said Wilson formed an unfavorable opinion of Woollcott upon meeting him at the Algonquin Round Table. But Woollcott later warmed up after learning that Wilson's grandfather, Dr. Kimball, had delivered Woollcott in a snowstorm at the Phalanx. He also learned that Wilson's father had helped Woollcott's uncle, a painter, avoid bankruptcy.
Mr. Weeks told of when Wilson first met Parker in Vanity Fair's offices. Wilson thought her to be pretty, but he wrote, "What I considered the vulgarity of her too much perfume prevented me from paying her court."
He said Wilson and Woollcott both wrote appreciations of Parker and visited her in the hospital after her suicide attempts. Wilson asked her to be one of the writers to inscribe a poem with a diamond-tipped instrument upon a glass pane for a window at his stone house in Talcottville, N.Y.
The mayor of Long Branch, Adam Schneider, welcomed attendees at the plaque dedication in West End Park. The audience laughed when Mr. Schneider said that while Parker, living in New York, found it unfortunate to have been born in Long Branch, he suffered the opposite. For he was from New York and wished he could claim to be a Long Branch native.
A speakeasy party was held later that afternoon at a cocktail lounge called the Mix. Attendees drank from commemorative Dorothy Parker martini glasses.
How did Parker Day come into being? Mr. Fitzpatrick and his wife, Christina, attended a wedding last July in Red Bank and visited West End only to regret that there was no public marker noting Parker's birth there. He wrote to Friends of the Library USA to apply for their literary landmark designation. The event was planned in collaboration with others, including Beth Woolley of the Long Branch Historical Association and Gabor Barabas of the Long Branch Arts Council.
Members of the Dorothy Parker Society who traveled from New York included Catherine Chodack, and Chuck and Lauren Dohrenwend.
On Monday night, fans of Dorothy Parker gathered at the Algonquin Hotel on the anniversary of her birthday. Compliments of general manager, Anthony Melchiorri, the hotel gave out champagne and presented a double-chocolate cake to Parker, who would have been 112 years old. The waiters led a rendition of "Happy Birthday." The cake had one candle that was blown out by actress Kristin Maloney, who portrays Parker in the musical review "Talk of the Town" at the hotel's Oak Room.
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TAKE THIS ON FAITH Reverend Wyatt introduced Harlem Children's Zone president Geoffrey Canada at Hue-Man Bookstore last week on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Mr. Canada spoke about his books "Reaching Up for Manhood" and "Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun," both published in paperback by Beacon Press.
He read passages and gave an inspiring talk about pressures adolescent boys face while growing up. He also talked about the role of faith and spiritual guidance in their development. "If you're not prepared to give your child a spiritual message, then Nike's got a message for your child," he said, referring to the sneaker company. He said that if parents or mentors do not address children's spiritual development, "someone else is going to give them an altar to worship to."