Dorothy Parker was one of the funniest goddamn writers of the twentieth century, in print and in person. She was also a great fan of dogs, so much so that during her brief stint as a theater critic in the teens and early twenties she frequently offered assessments of any dogs that happened to appear in the theatrical productions she was reviewing.
And so, as a kind of break from the regular misogyny and/or election coverage here on WHTM, let’s take ourselves back to that more innocent (but not really) age for a look at Dorothy Parker’s reviews of dogs.
Just so we’re clear: this is not “what Dorothy Parker might have sounded like if she had reviewed dogs instead of plays.” These are actual snippets from her published reviews, which are helpfully collected in the lovely and frequently hilarious book Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway, 1918-1923.
The heart of a dog:
Reviewing what seems to have been a rather mawkishly sentimental melodrama called The Mountebank in July of 1923, Parker admitted that there was one scene in the production that
will just tear the heart right out of you, throw it on the floor, and walk up and down over it with hobnailed boots on.
Naturally, a dog was involved — and a very good boy indeed!
That scene has to do with the death of a dog, and the Parker emotions, always lying around loose where dogs are concerned, are still in such a state over it that the typewriter sticks and jams, and its keys melt into a blurred mist at the very memory. The dog who plays the important rôle is a self-possessed actor, but a most engaging one, and gets everything possible out of the part.
I’m not crying! I just have something in my eye.
Also, he proved himself to be the owner of a very kind heart, for, during a tender scene in the last act, he voiced a loud and healthy bark, offstage, as if to prove to the audience that he wasn’t dead at all, that it was all just a play, and he really never felt better in his life. There was not a dry eye in the house at this assurance.
What a VERY GOOD BOY!
Parker was not quite so enamored with the non-dog portions of the play.
Aside from the dog’s scene, The Mountebank is—oh, well, all right—not so good, but then, on the other main, not so bad.
Aside from the dog, it was definitely not better than CATS.
Face of a dog
In a gushing review of an unexpectedly solid comedy called Kempy in August 1922, Parker singles out one of the actors for special praise:
Particularly intelligent work in a character part is done by a dog … who though small and somewhat shabby, has a splendid face for comedy.
Who’s GOT A FACE FOR COMEDY? WHO?
The Artful Talker
Writing about an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink revue at the Hippodrome called Get Together in December of 1921, Parker deemed the production “great,” maybe even too much so.
There is overmuch generosity in the allowance of ice ballet, the Fokine ballet, and an act in which five people in Dutch costumes play accordions. But the elephants, God bless them, are more winning and talented than ever, and there are a talking dog and a trained crow which reach the heights of art.
What an ARTFULLY GOOD BOY! Or GIRL!
The Real Hero
Reviewing what she felt was a rather dreary and predictable returning-soldier drama titled The Hero in June of 1921, Parker managed to end the review on a bit of a high note. Well, maybe a slightly elevated note. Ok, a note.
A dog which figures in the company, while rather self-conscious, is adequate.
WHO’S AN ADEQUATE BOY (OR GIRL)?
After praising the performance of Laurette Taylor in a 1921 revival of Peg o’ My Heart for being “as spontaneous and charming as it was the very first time she played the rôle; even a trifle more so, if it is possible,” Parker went on to note that
the only member of the company who seems at all bored by so many performances of the same part is the dog cast in the rôle of Michael. She is a male impersonator, by the way, for in private life she is an enthusiastic and capable mother. Michael has become so upstage from prolonged success that she takes her curtain calls with her back to the audience.
But Parker was sympathetic, noting that
it must be remembered that she has played the part almost twelve hundred times. She ranks, really, as the Mrs. Thomas Whiffen of canine actresses.
The helpful notes in Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway inform us that Mrs. Thomas Whiffen, aka Blanche Galton, was a popular actress who was, when Parker was writing, nearing the end of an exceedingly long acting career, which had begun in 1867 and wouldn’t end until until 1927, four years after Parker moved on from theater criticism.
As for the dog? Another GOOD BOY (who is actually a GOOD GIRL).
Masters of disguise
Summing up a season’s worth of theater in August 1921, Parker listed some of “the performances which stand out in highest relief.” After paying homage to such theatrical wonders as “the lady who stood against a curtain and had magic lantern slides thrown upon her, in The Midnight Rounders of 1921” and “Margot Kelly’s hair, in Deburau,” Parker ended her list with a nod to
[t]he two small dogs, one of whom impersonated a camel and the other an elephant, in the Winter Garden Show.
GOOD BOYS. Or girls. Again, impossible to tell.