Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The notable wit Dorothy Parker constructed several epitaphs for herself. I am interested in the following:
Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!
When did she craft this fateful expression?
Dear Quote Investigator: QI has already examined a collection of epitaphs that have been ascribed to Dorothy Parker; this is the fifth and final member of the set, and it will be explored below. Here is a link to a webpage that has pointers to four other analyses.
In October 1924 “Vanity Fair” magazine published a feature presenting self-selected memorial remarks obtained from prominent artists and writers of the time:
A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs
Some Well-Known People Seize the Coveted Opportunity of Saying the Last Word
Most of the inscriptions were comical, but Parker’s blunt remark suggested an outlook of despair: 1
The article was successful and “Vanity Fair” gathered another set of epitaphs for publication in June 1925. Parker responded with a more lighthearted saying: Excuse My Dust 2
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1986 a biography of a well-known member of the Algonquin Round Table titled “F.P.A.: The Life and Times of Franklin Pierce Adams” discussed the article in “Vanity Fair” and mentioned Parker’s contribution. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3
The magazine presented sophisticated humor, cartoons, and essays. One series entitled “Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs” was actually a collective submission by Round Tablers. F.P.A.’s verse for his own tombstone was, “Beneath this green and tear-spent sod/The bones of F.P. Adams lie./He had a rotten time, but God! How he did hate to die!” Other self-invented epitaphs included: …
HERE LIES ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT WHO DIED AT THE AGE OF 92.
HE NEVER HAD IMITATION FRUIT IN HIS DINING ROOM.
HERE LIES THE BODY OF DOROTHY PARKER
The 1996 collection “Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker” began with an introduction by the editor which referred to the epitaph. In the following passage “Dottie” was the nickname of Dorothy Parker and “Sherwood” was Parker’s friend playwright Robert Sherwood: 4
For example, both Dottie and Sherwood participated when Vanity Fair asked literary celebrities to compose their own epitaphs for the October 1924 issue. Her entry: “Here Lies the Body of Dorothy Parker. Thank God!” At other times she suggested different closing thoughts, including “Excuse my dust,” This is on me,” and “If you can read this you’ve come too close.”
In conclusion, Dorothy Parker did submit this expression to the editors of “Vanity Fair” as a possible inscription for her gravestone. The words were never used for that purpose. The text on Parker’s plaque of commemoration can be read in this entry.
Image Notes: Cemetery adjacent to a castle from shilmar on Pixabay. Dorothy Parker picture from 1910 or early 1920s via Wikimedia Commons. Illustration of Dorothy Parker epitaph from October 1924 issue of “Vanity Fair”.
- 1924 October, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1925 June, Vanity Fair, A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs, Start Page 50, Quote Page 51, Column 3, (Dorothy Parker tombstone epitaph illustration), Conde Nast, New York. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1986, F.P.A.: The Life and Times of Franklin Pierce Adams by Sally Ashley, Quote Page 186, Beaufort Books, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1996, Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker, Compiled by Stuart Y. Silverstein, Section: Introduction, Footnote 17, Quote Page 19, Scribner, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩