Friday, July 28, 2006


(photo: Dorothy Dean and the gang on Fire Island)

----I began to inquire after her; but Dorothy had been on her last legs as a scenemaker, and no one I contacted seemed to know or care much about what might have happened to her. My first trip to New York after moving to California I devoted much of my time toward a search for her, but unlike Thompson in Citizen Kane I couldn't gain a clue. I went to her apartment, but her name was not on the mailbox and no one answered when I rang the bell. A few weeks later, after I had returned to L.A., David got in touch with a seemingly reliable source, someone from Dorothy's old Warhol days, now a successful movie publicist, who told him the following story: an extraordinary tale, but one not so far out, considering its subject was Dorothy, that it couldn't conceivably have happened. It seems that she had attended a cocktail party at the penthouse of a well-known Broadway composer, the gathering composed of the usual witty, brittle people who congregate at such affairs; the kind of event to which Dorothy had probably been to hundreds of times. At one point in the evening, her usual two sheets to the wind, she found herself in the middle of a particularly bothersome conversation with a musician friend of the host. Finally when Dorothy could take no more, she allegedly leveled at the offending party just the sort of attack that she'd launched on hundreds of such boors in the past:
----"You are a boring, insensitive lout who has misused and mangled the English language exactly 20 times in the last five minutes while in my presence" she said, "and if you had any feelings of regard toward the human race, you would march over to the edge of this terrace and throw yourself off."
----Which, according to David's informant, is exactly what the man did, killing himself and in the process causing Dorothy to have a total nervous collapse, resulting in weeks spent in a mental hospital. Afterwards, she had gone to Boulder, Colorado, to stay in a commune run by Off-Broadway playwright, Jean-Claude Van Itallie.
----In truth, I was to soon learn, there was not much veracity to the story (the part about Colorado, though, was accurate). Apparently an individual who happened to have been at a party with Dorothy a few days earlier, had killed himself; then somehow the two unrelated incidents had become conflated. An seemingly apocryphal tale, but Dorothy would have loved the idea of someone killing themselves over bad grammar.
----All the years of drinking had finally caught up with Dorothy both physically and mentally. Thrown out of her longtime Morton Street apartment, she was rescued by sympathetic friends who began the process of trying to help Dorothy put her life back in order.
----After obtaining Dorothy's address in Boulder, I wrote her a simple chatty letter, making no reference to the recent unpleasantness. I received no reply from her. Then in February 1987, the same week that Andy Warhol died, I opened up the paper to the Death Notices to learn that Dorothy had succumbed to cancer. She had long been associated, the notice informed, with the likes of Vogue and Harper and Row and at the time of her death was a proofreader for the Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera (what fun Dorothy would have had with inept Boulder cops and the Jon Benet Ramsey case!). Otherwise, the obituary---the only such New York Tunes unpaid obit ever accorded a mere proofreader?---was short and perfunctory and with no hint of the "real" Dorothy. Such as that---as I later learned----after moving to Colorado she had not only joined a bible study group (!), but Alcoholics Anonymous as well. Joining AA, regardless of her sincerity or lack thereof, must have finally given her what she had been looking for all her life: complete and total command of a room full of people. Just like the old joke (one that the old Dorothy would have loved) about the comic who tells a friend he has to go to an AA meeting. His pal replies:
----"But you're not an alcoholic."
----"Yes, I know, but I need the floor time."

To quote James McCourt in Queer Street quoting Joseph L. Mankiewicz via Bette Davis, “Slow Curtain. The End.”

3 Comments:

Blogger Jax said...

"But you're not an alcoholic£
Yes, I know, but I need the floor time"

This has to be the one-liner of all time!

David E, I cringe to admit I have never heard of Dorothy, but she's amazing so thanks so much for bringing her to my attention

1:29 AM  
Blogger David Ehrenstein said...

You're welcome.

Her life was a work of art.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Friendlier said...

I have seen Dorothy Dean's walk-on appearance in My Hustler, and may I say the woman certainly knew how to make the most of screen time.

In some regards the stories David Ehrenstein tell here are like those told of the briliant, acidic New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan. I wonder if they ever met.

And finally, what is Early Plastic?

11:31 AM  

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