Lillian Hellman & Dorothy Parker: The Friendship of Two Difficult Women

Lillian Hellman & Dorothy Parker

Lillian Hellman, the legendary American playwright, met Dorothy Parker, known for her brittle poetry and acid wit, in 1931. Hellman, not yet famous, was with her longtime partner Dashiell Hammett at a New York party when Parker approached the couple, fell to her knees, and kissed Hammett’s hand.

The scene made the couple uncomfortable, and Hellman never imagined she’d want to see Parker again, let alone befriend her. But when the two women met four years later, they clicked and became lifelong friends. Here, in Hellman’s own words from her 1969 memoir An Unfinished Woman, some observations about her friend Dorothy Parker:

“It was strange that we did like each other and that never through the years did two such difficult women ever have a quarrel, or even a mild, unpleasant word. Much, certainly, was against our friendship: we were not the same generation, we were not the same kind of writer, we had led and were to lead very different lives, often we didn’t like the same people or even the same books, but more important, we never liked the same men.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“If she denounced everybody else, I had a right to think that I was included, but now I think I was wrong about that … so many people have told me that she never did talk about me, never complained, never would allow gossip about me, that I have come to believe it. But even when I didn’t, it didn’t matter. I enjoyed her more than I have ever enjoyed any woman.”

. . . . . . . . . .

An Unfinished Woman by Hellman cover

See also: An Unfinished Woman by Lillian Hellman

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“She was modest — that wasn’t all virtue, she liked to think that she was not worth much — her view of people was original and sharp, her elaborate, over delicate manners made her a pleasure to live with, she liked books and was generous about writers, and the wit, of course, was so wonderful that neither age nor illness dried up the spring from which it came each day. No remembrance of her can exclude it.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Once she said to me — I quoted it at her funeral and found to my pleasure, as it would have been to hers, that the mourners laughed — ‘Lilly, promise me that my gravestone will carry only these words: If you can read this you’ve come too close.’”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Her taste in men was …. bad, even for writer ladies. She had been loved by several remarkable men, but she only loved the ones who did not love her, and they were the shabby ones. Robert Benchley had loved her, I was told by many people, and certainly I was later to see the devotion he had for her and she for him.

She had had an affair with Ring Lardner, and both of these men she respected, and never attacked — a rare mark of feeling — but I don’t think she was in love with them, because respect somehow canceled out romantic love.”

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Dorothy Parker

You might also like:
Gems from Dorothy Parker’s Book Reviews

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“She was … a tangled fishnet of contradictions: she liked the rich because she liked the way they looked, their clothes, the thinks in their houses, and she disliked them with an open and baiting contempt; she believed in socialism but seldom, except in sticky sentimental minutes, could stand the sight of a working radical; she drank far too much, spent far too much time with ladies who did, and made fun of them every inch of the way; she faked interest and sympathy for those who bored her and for whom she had no feeling …”

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“Dottie had always, even in the best days, clung to the idea that she was poor. Often she was, because she was generous to others and to herself, but more often it came from an insistence on a world where the artist was the put-upon outsider, the épaté rebel who ate caviar from rare china …

I had long ago given up trying to figure out her true poverty periods from the pretend-poverty periods, and the last sick years seemed no time to argue.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“What money she had she left to Martin Luther King, a man she had never met. I was the only executor of her will. I was, I am, moved that she wanted it that way, because the will had been dictated during the years of my neglect. But I had always known and always admired her refusal to chastise or complain about neglect.”

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Lillan Hellman

See also: Forthright Quotes by Lillian Hellman

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