By Stephanie Zacharek
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By I Used to Be Darker
"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
Yes, Dorothy Parker said that, too. She also said, "Let's go wild--there's plenty of time to do nothing once you're dead." And she summed up a Katharine Hepburn performance with this famous jape: "The whole range of emotion, from A to B."
In fact, literary myth has it that if anything clever, bold and sharp was said anywhere, anytime in this century, it probably originated at the Algonquin Round Table, courtesy of Heywood Broun or Robert Sherwood or George S. Kaufman or Alexander Woollcott or Dorothy Parker. Their verbal cutting sessions grew so famous that the hotel management roped off the table, better to keep gawking tourists listening and learning from a respectful distance. "She didn't waste those one-liners on nobodies," director Alan Rudolph jokes.
But this high art has fallen on hard times since the Twenties.
"Today," Rudolph laments, "wit is the punchline from a beer commercial, or it's what Clint Eastwood says before he pulls the trigger. Today it would be `Larry King Live at the Round Table.'"
Said another way, the age of literacy has passed, and with it an underlying respect for the word.
This is one of the things that attracted Rudolph, once the acolyte of Robert Altman, when he set out to tell the tale of Dorothy Parker onscreen. "These were not the leading writers of their day," Rudolph says. "I'd say they were first-rate second-raters. But we're still affected by the ripples made by the pebbles they threw. They are still very much with us."
Luckily, Rudolph unearthed "two valuable old [audio] tapes" that gave him and leading lady Jennifer Jason Leigh some clues about the real Dorothy Parker. "I didn't want to make a Hollywood biography with a predetermined dramatic curve," Rudolph says. "We wanted to get inside this woman and find her secrets. What I found is that she failed the men in her life as they failed her. She was a truth seeker, but there was a terrible contradiction: She could articulate problems but not solve them for herself."
Jason Leigh was searching for Parker as well, and to that end she checked into the Al-gonquin Hotel on Manhattan's West Side, hoping to stay in Dorothy Parker's old room.
"Isn't it perfect?" she says. "No one there knew what room it was." Still, Jason Leigh discovered Parker's drink of choice ("Scotch, in little sips, throughout the day"), her strength ("She was able to embrace her pain--it's harder when you fight it") and, perhaps, her deepest fear: "Writing was very painful for her. I think that's why she didn't leave the table--because she would have to face the blank page."
And that fills this one.
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