Marion Meade

Marion Meade
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin

The title alone is enough to draw readers in. But the subjects of this four-way, interconnected biography—authors Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Edna Ferber—make Bobbed Hair irresistible.

Each of these women is complex, captivating, and controversial. Throughout the decade of the 1920s their lives intersect, run parallel, then diverge again. Meade, a zealous researcher, brings fresh insights and revelations to every page. We peek inside boudoirs and ballrooms, read over shoulders, and eavesdrop on private conversations. It’s like watching the dishiest soap opera imaginable.

The two Ednas are polar opposites. Ferber is sober in her habits, mannish in her dress, and hardworking to the point of exhaustion. The mercurial-tempered Millay, known as Vincent to family and friends, dashes off poetry by the ream and conducts sizzling love affairs that leave a string of shattered hearts—male and female—in her wake.

Fitzgerald flits from one mad scheme to another, reinventing herself as a ballet dancer, novelist, and costume designer. Her flamboyant behavior alternately entrances and alienates her many admirers; eventually she is diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an asylum.

Celebrated wit Dorothy Parker rounds out the quartet, screaming at the “goddamn” Alps, entertaining herself with newspaper accounts of murders and dismemberments, flinging a Cartier watch out a Paris window. (Meade, who apparently finds her as fascinating as I do, devoted an entire separate biography to Parker.)

Bobbed Hair is organized chronologically, with one year to each chapter. So in 1925, for example, we find Fitzgerald overdosing on barbiturates; Ferber boning up on side-wheelers and stern-wheelers preparatory to writing Show Boat; Parker mourning the death of her Boston terrier; and Millay buying a dairy farm in upstate New York. If anybody slept during the 1920s, you’d never know it from this book.

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