I held off on publishing my annual Public Domain Day for Dorothy Parker work until mid-January. It was for one reason. Mickey. I knew—and we all saw this coming—that everything about the annual release of U.S. protected works in the public domain would be overshadowed by Mickey Mouse. After watching two weeks of stories about what this means for intellectual property and licensed characters belonging to Walt Disney, it is time to learn about what really became important on January 1, 2024: the pieces Parker wrote in 1928 that are now copyright free.
One caveat that I will include in this year’s update. Parker left her estate for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Upon his death it was her intent to roll it over to the NAACP, which still oversees and collects royalties on her work that is under copyright. After working with the NAACP on the return of Dorothy Parker’s ashes to New York, I saw first-hand how important they still treat Parker’s estate. So, it would not hurt to continue to make a donation to the NAACP if you perform or publish her work. All Parker fans are still holding out hopes for a feature film or Broadway show to help the estate.
Let’s talk about 1928 now.
Last year was a banner year. More Dorothy Parker poetry and short fiction entered the public domain in the United States on January 1, 2023, than ever before in a single year: 50 poems and four short stories. This is a slightly higher figure than in 2022 with 47 poems and five stories; 2021 when 25 poems had their copyrights expire, or 2020 when the number was only 15 poems and one story. Last year was work she wrote in 1927, which was a busy year for Parker in the world of poetry, but not short fiction. Last year her most popular poem was “Bohemia” and her New Yorker story “Arrangement in Black and White.”
In 1928, Parker wrote this verse, which first appeared in the New York World in the “Conning Tower” column of her dear friend, Franklin P. Adams. This is appropriate now that we are in Hollywood awards season:
Song of Social Life in Hollywood
One speculates—or doesn’t one?
Upon our movie actors’ fun;
For it is true, as it is right,
They don’t make pictures all the night.
Now what can there be left, to please
Such fortunates, in hours of ease?
Who labors for his daily bread
Rehearsing scenes would knock you dead
‘Mid groves designed, as if by fairies,
For love, and its subsidiaries,
And every lithe and gifted hero
Makes whoopee, à la mode de Nero,
With women, wine, and even song,
The livelong day, the live day long—
What’s his for fun, when work is is through?
What can he do, what DOES he do?
Oh, ask me that, for I have found
There is a rule, the world around;
The busman, in his hours of play,
Doth ride a bus, for holiday.
The 1928 pieces are much more famous. That is the fact we are announcing today. And this is why this is better than news than if Mickey Mouse will star in an AI horror movie. This year, there are 21 pieces of verse and six short stories that copyright has expired on. While the poems are some of the more obscure ones, two stories “A Telephone Call” and “Just a Little One” are among Parker’s best-loved.
“A Telephone Call”
“A Terrible Day Tomorrow”
“Just A Little One”
“The Mantle of Whistler”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Wisdom”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: For R.C.B.”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Penelope”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Surprise”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Post-Graduate”
“The Whistling Girl”
“The Last Question”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: The Searched Soul”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Solace”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: On Cheating the Fiddler”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Rhyme Against Living”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Distance”
“Songs for the Nearest Harmonica: Grande Passion”
“Excursion into Assonance”
“Prayer For a New Mother”
“Song of Social Life in Hollywood”
“Purposely Ungrammatical Love Song”
All of this work is from 1928 and has reached the 95-year mark that ends U.S. copyright protection. The remainder of the work is still under copyright with her estate, which Parker bequeathed to the NAACP.
There are many gaps in 1928 for Parker’s life, which shows why she wrote less. That was the year she had much drama. She was back and forth from New York to France and Switzerland with Sara and Gerald Murphy. She was mending a broken heart. If we look at 1928 her output was less, but the time she spent on her short fiction was worth it.
We look forward to 1929.