F. Scott Fitzgerald
|Born||Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald|
September 24, 1896
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1940 (aged 44)|
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Saint Mary's Cemetery|
Rockville, Maryland, U.S.
|Pen name||Paul Elgin|
|Children||Frances Scott Fitzgerald|
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 - December 21, 1940) was an American novelist, essayist, short story writer and screenwriter. He was best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age--a term he popularized. During his lifetime, he published four novels, four collections of short stories, and 164 short stories. Although he achieved temporary popular success and fortune in the 1920s, Fitzgerald received critical acclaim only after his death, and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
Born into a middle-class family in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald was raised primarily in New York. He attended Princeton University, but owing to a failed romantic relationship with Chicago socialite Ginevra King, he dropped out in 1917 to join the United States Army amid World War I. While stationed in Alabama, he romanced Zelda Sayre, a Southern debutante who belonged to Montgomery's exclusive country-club set. Although she rejected Fitzgerald initially, because of his lack of financial prospects, Zelda agreed to marry him after he published the commercially successful This Side of Paradise (1920). The novel became a cultural sensation and cemented his reputation as one of the eminent writers of the decade.
His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), propelled him further into the cultural elite. To maintain his affluent lifestyle, he wrote numerous stories for popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Esquire. During this period, Fitzgerald frequented Europe, where he befriended modernist writers and artists of the "Lost Generation" expatriate community, including Ernest Hemingway. His third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), received generally favorable reviews but was a commercial failure, selling fewer than 23,000 copies in its first year. Despite its lackluster debut, The Great Gatsby is now widely praised, with some labeling it the "Great American Novel". Following the deterioration of his wife's mental health and her placement in a mental institute for schizophrenia, Fitzgerald completed his final novel, Tender Is the Night (1934).
Struggling financially because of the declining popularity of his works amid the Great Depression, Fitzgerald turned to Hollywood, writing and revising screenplays. While living in Hollywood, he cohabited with columnist Sheilah Graham, his final companion before his death. After a long struggle with alcoholism, he attained sobriety only to die of a heart attack in 1940, at 44. His friend Edmund Wilson completed and published an unfinished fifth novel, The Last Tycoon (1941), after Fitzgerald's death.
Born on September 24, 1896, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to a middle-class family, Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin thrice removed, Francis Scott Key, but was always known as Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was also named after his deceased sister, Louise Scott Fitzgerald, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. "Well, three months before I was born," he wrote as an adult, "my mother lost her other two children ... I think I started then to be a writer." His father, Edward Fitzgerald, descended from Irish and English ancestry, and moved to St. Paul from Maryland after the American Civil War. His mother was Mary "Molly" McQuillan Fitzgerald, the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had made his fortune in the wholesale grocery business. Edward's first cousin twice removed, Mary Surratt, was hanged in 1865 for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
Edward Fitzgerald had earlier worked as a wicker furniture salesman; when the business failed, he joined Procter & Gamble in Buffalo, New York. Fitzgerald spent the first decade of his childhood primarily in Buffalo with a brief interlude in Syracuse between January 1901 and September 1903. His parents, both Catholic, sent him to two Catholic schools on Buffalo's West Side--first Holy Angels Convent (1903-1904, now disused) and then Nardin Academy (1905-1908). Fitzgerald's formative years revealed him to be a boy of unusual intelligence with a keen early interest in literature. His mother's money supplemented the family income and enabled them to live in a comfortable lifestyle. In a rather unconventional style of parenting, Fitzgerald attended Holy Angels with the arrangement that he go for only half a day--and be allowed to choose which half.
In March 1908, Procter & Gamble fired his father, and the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy from 1908 to 1911. At 13, Fitzgerald had his first work, a detective story, published in the school newspaper. In 1911, Fitzgerald's parents sent him to the Newman School, a Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. At Newman, Father Sigourney Fay recognized his literary potential and encouraged him to become a writer. Mentored by Fay, Fitzgerald played on Newman's football team. After graduating from Newman in 1913, Fitzgerald enrolled at Princeton University and became one of the few Catholics in the student body. When he tried out for the football team, the coach rejected him on the first day of practice.
At Princeton, Fitzgerald's classmates included future writers, critics, historians, and aviators such as Edmund Wilson, John Peale Bishop, George R. Stewart, and Elliott White Springs. As the semesters passed, he formed close friendships with Wilson and Bishop, both of whom would later aid his literary career. Fitzgerald wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Princeton Tiger, and the Nassau Lit. He became involved in the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which ran the Nassau Lit. Four of the University's eating clubs sent him bids at midyear, and he chose the University Cottage Club where its library still displays his desk and writing materials.
Amid his sophomore year at Princeton, Fitzgerald returned home to Saint Paul during Christmas break. At a winter sledding party on Summit Avenue, the 19-year-old Fitzgerald met 16-year-old Chicago beauty and debutante Ginevra King with whom he fell deeply in love.[a] The couple began a romantic relationship that would span several years. Obsessed with Ginevra, Fitzgerald inundated her with passionate love letters and insisted he would be devoted to her for the rest of his life. She would become his literary model for the characters of Isabelle Borgé in This Side of Paradise, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, and many other characters in his work. While Fitzgerald attended Princeton, Ginevra attended Westover, a nearby Connecticut women's school. He visited Ginevra at Westover until her abrupt expulsion for flirting with a crowd of young male admirers from her dormitory window. Her immediate return to Lake Forest, Illinois, ended Fitzgerald's weekly courtship.
Despite the great distance now separating them, Fitzgerald still attempted to pursue Ginevra, and he traveled across the country to visit her family's lavish estate at Lake Forest. Although Ginevra loved him, her upper-class family belittled Scott's courtship because of his lower-class status. In contrast to Ginevra's other suitors, who were the wealthy scions of business executives, Fitzgerald's relative poverty precluded him as a match in her parents' eyes. Her imperious father Charles Garfield King purportedly told a young Fitzgerald that "poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls". When Ginevra ended the relationship in January 1917,[b] a distraught Fitzgerald requested she destroy his romantic letters professing his love. Despite this demand, he never destroyed King's letters and, after his death in 1940, the letters were returned to King who kept them until her death.
Rejected by Ginevra as a suitor and discouraged by his lack of success at Princeton, a suicidal Fitzgerald enlisted in the United States Army amid World War I and received a commission as a second lieutenant. While awaiting deployment to the Western front where he hoped to die in combat,[c] he was stationed in a training camp at Fort Leavenworth under the command of Captain Dwight Eisenhower, the future general of the Army and United States president. Fitzgerald purportedly chafed under Eisenhower's authority and disliked him intensely. Hoping to have a novel published before his anticipated death in Europe, Fitzgerald hastily wrote a 120,000-word manuscript entitled The Romantic Egotist in three months. When he submitted the manuscript to publishers, Scribners rejected it, although the impressed reviewer, Max Perkins, praised Fitzgerald's writing and encouraged him to resubmit the novel after further revisions.
In June 1918, Fitzgerald was garrisoned with the 45th and 67th Infantry Regiments at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama. Attempting to rebound from his rejection by Ginevra, a lonely Fitzgerald began dating a variety of young Montgomery women. At a local country club, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre, a 17-year-old Southern belle and the youngest daughter of Alabama Supreme Court justice Anthony D. Sayre. The affluent granddaughter of a Confederate senator whose extended family owned the White House of the Confederacy,[d] Zelda was one of the most celebrated debutantes of Montgomery's exclusive country club set. Fitzgerald embarked upon a whirlwind courtship of Zelda and a romance soon blossomed, although he continued writing Ginevra, asking in vain if there was any chance of resuming their former relationship. Three days after Ginevra married wealthy Chicago businessman William "Bill" Mitchell,[e] Fitzgerald professed his affections for Zelda in September 1918.
Fitzgerald's sojourn in Montgomery was interrupted briefly in November 1918 when he was transferred northward to Camp Mills, Long Island. While stationed there, the Allied Powers signed an armistice with Germany, and the war ended. Dispatched back to the base near Montgomery to await discharge, he renewed his pursuit of Zelda. During this period, Fitzgerald relied on Zelda for literary inspiration and plagiarized sentences from her diary while revising his first novel. Together, Scott and Zelda engaged in what he would later call "sexual recklessness," and by December 1918, they had consummated their relationship.[f] Although Fitzgerald did not intend to marry Zelda initially, the couple gradually viewed themselves as informally engaged, although Zelda declined to marry him until he proved financially successful.
Upon his discharge on February 14, 1919, he moved to New York City, where he unsuccessfully begged each of the city editors of various newspapers for a job. He then turned to writing advertising copy to sustain himself while seeking a breakthrough as an author of fiction. Fitzgerald wrote to Zelda frequently, and by March 1920, he had sent Zelda his mother's ring, and the two became officially engaged. Several of Fitzgerald's friends opposed the match, as they deemed Zelda to be ill-suited for him. Likewise, Zelda's Episcopalian family was wary of Scott because of his Catholic background, precarious finances, and excessive drinking.
Attempting to make his fortune in New York, Fitzgerald worked for the Barron Collier advertising agency and lived in a single room at 200 Claremont Avenue in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on Manhattan's west side. Although he received a small raise for creating a catchy slogan, "We keep you clean in Muscatine", for an Iowa laundry, Fitzgerald subsisted in relative poverty. Still aspiring to a lucrative career in literature, he wrote several short stories and satires in his spare time. Rejected over 120 times, he sold only a single story, "Babes in the Woods," and received a pittance of $30.
With his dreams of a lucrative career in New York City dashed, he could not convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement in June 1919. In the wake of Fitzgerald's earlier rejection by Ginevra two years prior, his subsequent rejection by Zelda greatly dispirited him. While Prohibition-era New York City was experiencing the birth pangs of the raucous Jazz Age, Fitzgerald felt defeated and rudderless: two women had rejected him in succession; he detested his advertising job;[g] his short stories failed to sell; he couldn't afford new clothes, and his overall future seemed bleak. Unable to earn a successful living, Fitzgerald publicly threatened to jump to his death from a window ledge of the Yale Club,[h] and he carried a revolver daily while contemplating suicide.
In July, Fitzgerald quit his advertising job in New York and returned to St. Paul. Having returned to his hometown as a failure, Fitzgerald became a social recluse and lived on the top floor of his parents' home at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill. He decided to make one last attempt to become a novelist and to stake everything on the success or failure of a book. Abstaining from alcohol and parties, he worked day and night to revise The Romantic Egotist as This Side of Paradise--an autobiographical account of his Princeton years and his romances with Ginevra, Zelda, and others.
Scribner's accepted his revised manuscript in the fall of 1919, and the novel appeared in bookstores on March 26, 1920. An instant success, This Side of Paradise sold 41,075 copies in the first year. Within months of its publication, his debut novel became a cultural sensation in the United States, and F. Scott Fitzgerald became a household name. Critics such as H. L. Mencken hailed the work as "the best American novel that I have seen of late," and newspaper columnists described the work as the first realistic American college novel. The work catapulted Fitzgerald's career as a writer. Magazines now accepted his previously rejected stories, and The Saturday Evening Post published his story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" with his name on its May 1920 cover.
Following this financial success, Zelda resumed their engagement as Fitzgerald could now pay for her accustomed lifestyle.[i] Although they were re-engaged, Fitzgerald's feelings for Zelda were at an all-time low, and he remarked to a friend, "I wouldn't care if she died, but I couldn't stand to have anybody else marry her." Despite mutual reservations, they married in a simple ceremony on April 3, 1920, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. At the time of their wedding, Fitzgerald claimed neither he nor Zelda still loved each other, and the early years of their marriage were more akin to a friendship.
It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald in "Echoes of the Jazz Age"
Living in luxury at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City, the newlywed couple became celebrities, as much for their wild behavior as for the success of Fitzgerald's debut novel. At the Biltmore, Scott did handstands in the lobby, while Zelda slid down the hotel banisters. After several weeks, the hotel asked them to leave for disturbing other guests. The couple relocated two blocks to the Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street where they spent half-an-hour spinning in the revolving door. One day, on a whim, they jumped into a water fountain at Union Square while sober. Fitzgerald likened their juvenile behavior in New York City to two "small children in a great bright unexplored barn". Writer Dorothy Parker first encountered the couple riding on the roof of a taxi. "They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun," Parker recalled, "their youth was striking. Everyone wanted to meet him."
As Fitzgerald was one of the most celebrated novelists during the Jazz Age, many admirers sought his acquaintanceship. He met journalist Rebecca West, playwright Zoe Akins, cartoonist Rube Goldberg, actress Laurette Taylor, actor Lew Fields, comedian Ed Wynn, and many others. He became close friends with critics George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, the influential co-editors of The Smart Set magazine who led an ongoing cultural war against puritanism in American arts. At the peak of his commercial success and cultural salience, Fitzgerald recalled "riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings" and weeping when he realized he likely "would never be so happy again".
Fitzgerald's happiness mirrored the societal giddiness of the Jazz Age, which "raced along under its own power, served by great filling stations full of money". In Fitzgerald's eyes, the era represented a morally permissive time when Americans became disillusioned with prevailing social norms and obsessed with self-gratification. During this hedonistic period, alcohol increasingly fueled the Fitzgeralds' social life. At every outing, they consumed gin-and-fruit concoctions. Publicly, their alcohol intake meant little more than napping at parties, but privately it led to bitter arguments. As their quarrels grew more intense, they remarked to friends that their marriage would not last much longer. Amid these arguments, Zelda accused Fitzgerald of extramarital relations with Tallulah Bankhead, while Scott viewed her dalliances at parties with mounting suspicion. The dissipated couple soon became viewed as the epitome of Jazz Age excess, with journalist Ring Lardner Jr. labeling them "the prince and princess of their generation". After their eviction from the Commodore Hotel in May 1920, the couple moved to a cottage at Westport, Connecticut, within sight of Long Island Sound. The couple lived on the shore at Westport for the summer of 1920.
In Winter 1921, his wife became pregnant as Fitzgerald worked on his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, and the couple traveled to his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, to have the child. On October 26, 1921, Zelda gave birth to their daughter and only child Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald. As she emerged from the anesthesia, he recorded Zelda saying, "Oh, God, goofo [sic] I'm drunk. Mark Twain. Isn't she smart--she has the hiccups. I hope it's beautiful and a fool--a beautiful little fool." Fitzgerald used some of her rambling in his later writing; the words appear almost verbatim in Daisy Buchanan's dialogue in The Great Gatsby.
After the birth of his daughter, Fitzgerald returned to drafting The Beautiful and Damned. He modeled the characters of Anthony Patch on himself and Gloria Patch on--in his words--the "full-hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda". Metropolitan Magazine serialized the manuscript in late 1921, and Scribner's published the book in March 1922. Scribner's prepared an initial print run of 20,000 copies and mounted an advertising campaign. It sold well enough to warrant additional print runs reaching 50,000 copies. That year, Fitzgerald released an anthology of eleven stories entitled Tales of the Jazz Age. He had written all but two of the stories before 1920.
Following Fitzgerald's adaptation of his story "The Vegetable" into a play, in October 1922, he and Zelda moved to Great Neck, Long Island, to be near Broadway. Although he hoped The Vegetable would inaugurate a lucrative career as a playwright, the play's November 1923 premiere became an unmitigated disaster. The bored audience walked out during the second act. Fitzgerald wished to halt the show and disavow the production, but "the actors struggled heroically on". During an intermission, Fitzgerald asked the lead actor, Ernest Truex, if he planned to finish the performance. When Truex replied in the affirmative, Fitzgerald fled to the nearest bar. Mired in debt by the play's failure, Fitzgerald wrote short stories to restore his finances. Fitzgerald viewed his stories as worthless except for "Winter Dreams", which he described as his first attempt at the Gatsby idea. When not writing, Fitzgerald and his wife continued to socialize and to drink at Long Island parties.
Despite enjoying the exclusive Long Island milieu, Fitzgerald disapproved of the extravagant parties, and the wealthy people he encountered often disappointed him. While striving to emulate the rich, he found their privileged lifestyle to be morally disquieting. Although Fitzgerald admired the rich, he possessed a smoldering resentment towards them. While the couple were living on Long Island, one of Fitzgerald's wealthier neighbors was Max Gerlach.[j] Purportedly born in America to a German immigrant family,[k] Gerlach had been a major in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and became a gentleman bootlegger who lived like a millionaire in New York. Flaunting his new wealth,[l] Gerlach threw lavish parties, never wore the same shirt twice, used the phrase "old sport", and fostered myths about himself, including that he was a relation of the German Kaiser. These details would inspire Fitzgerald in creating his next work, The Great Gatsby. In addition to the obvious influence of Long Island on The Great Gatsby, the writer Barbara Probst Solomon notes the possible influence of Westport, Connecticut - where the Fitzgerald lived for the Summer of 1920 - on settings and characters in the book.
In May 1924, Fitzgerald and his family moved abroad to Europe. He continued writing his third novel, which would eventually become his magnum opus The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald had been planning the novel since 1923, when he told his publisher Maxwell Perkins of his plans "to write something new--something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned". He had already written 18,000 words for his novel by mid-1923 but discarded most of his new story as a false start. Initially titled Trimalchio, an allusion to the Latin work Satyricon, the plot followed the rise of a parvenu who seeks wealth to win the woman he loves. For source material, Fitzgerald drew heavily on his earlier experiences on Long Island and once again on his lifelong obsession with his "first love" Ginevra King. "The whole idea of Gatsby," he later explained, "is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money.[b] This theme comes up again and again because I lived it."
Work on The Great Gatsby slowed while the Fitzgeralds sojourned on the French Riviera, where a marital crisis developed. Zelda became infatuated with a French naval aviator, Edouard Jozan. She spent afternoons swimming at the beach and evenings dancing at the casinos with him. After six weeks, Zelda asked for a divorce. Fitzgerald sought to confront Jozan and locked Zelda in their house until he could do so. Before any confrontation could occur, Jozan--who had no intention of marrying Zelda--left the Riviera, and the Fitzgeralds never saw him again. Soon after, Zelda overdosed on sleeping pills. The couple never spoke of the incident, but the episode prompted Fitzgerald to write "something had happened that could never be repaired". Later in his life, Jozan dismissed the entire incident and claimed no infidelity occurred: "They both had a need of drama, they made it up and perhaps they were the victims of their own unsettled and a little unhealthy imagination."
Following the incident with Jozan, the Fitzgeralds relocated to Rome, where he made revisions to the Gatsby manuscript throughout the winter and submitted the final version in February 1925. Fitzgerald declined a $10,000 offer for the serial rights, as it would delay the book's publication. Upon its release on April 10, 1925, Willa Cather, T. S. Eliot, and Edith Wharton praised Fitzgerald's work, and the novel received generally favorable reviews from literary critics of the day. Despite this reception, Gatsby became a commercial failure compared to his previous efforts, This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922). By the end of the year, the book had sold fewer than 23,000 copies. For the rest of his life, The Great Gatsby experienced tepid sales.[m] In 1929, Fitzgerald received royalties of $5.10 from the American edition and just $0.34 from the English edition, A final royalty check amounted to $13.13, all of which was from Fitzgerald buying his own books. It would take decades for the novel to gain its present acclaim and popularity.
After wintering in Italy, the Fitzgeralds returned to France, where they would alternate between Paris and the French Riviera until 1926. Fitzgerald began writing his fourth novel, provisionally titled The Boy Who Killed His Mother, Our Type, and then The World's Fair. During this period, he became friends with writer Gertrude Stein, bookseller Sylvia Beach, novelist James Joyce, and poet Ezra Pound and other members of the American expatriate community in Paris, some of whom would later be identified with the Lost Generation. Most notable among them was a relatively unknown Ernest Hemingway, whom Fitzgerald first met in May 1925 and grew to admire. Hemingway later recalled that, during this early period of their relationship, Fitzgerald became his most loyal friend.
In contrast to his friendship with Scott, Hemingway disliked Zelda and described her as "insane" in his memoir, A Moveable Feast.[n] Hemingway claimed that Zelda "encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Fitzgerald from his work on his novel". She preferred him to work on short stories he sold to magazines to help support her accustomed lifestyle.[i] Like many novelists at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing stories for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Esquire. He would first write his stories in an 'authentic' manner, then rewrite them to add "twists that made them into salable magazine stories". This "whoring", as Hemingway called these sales, emerged as a sore point in their friendship. Upon reading The Great Gatsby, an impressed Hemingway vowed to put any differences with Fitzgerald aside and to aid him in any way he could, although he feared Zelda would derail Fitzgerald's writing career.
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway claimed Zelda sought to destroy her husband, and she purportedly taunted Fitzgerald over the size of his penis. After examining it in a public restroom, Hemingway confirmed Fitzgerald's penis to be of average size. A more serious rift soon occurred when Zelda declared Fitzgerald to be "a fairy" secretly engaging in a homosexual liaison with Hemingway. Fitzgerald decided to have sex with a prostitute to prove his heterosexuality. Zelda found condoms he had purchased before any encounter occurred, and a bitter quarrel ensued, resulting in lingering jealousy. Soon after, Zelda threw herself down a flight of marble stairs at a party because Fitzgerald, engrossed in talking to Isadora Duncan, ignored her. In December 1926, after two unpleasant years in Europe which considerably strained their marriage, the Fitzgeralds returned to America.
In 1926, film producer John W. Considine Jr. invited Fitzgerald to Hollywood to write a flapper comedy for United Artists. He agreed and moved into a studio-owned bungalow with Zelda in January 1927. While in Hollywood, the Fitzgeralds attended parties where they danced the black bottom and mingled with film stars. At one party they outraged guests Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge by a prank. They requested their watches and, retreating into the kitchen, boiled the expensive timepieces in a pot of tomato sauce. The novelty of Hollywood life quickly faded for the Fitzgeralds, and Zelda frequently complained of boredom.
While attending a lavish party at the Pickfair estate, Fitzgerald met 17-year-old starlet Lois Moran. Desperate for intellectual conversation in the film colony, Moran and Fitzgerald discussed literature and philosophy for hours while sitting on a staircase. Despite being past his prime, a smitten Moran regarded Fitzgerald as a sophisticated, handsome, and intellectually gifted writer. Consequently, she pursued a relationship with him. The starlet became a muse for the author, and he rewrote Rosemary Hoyt--one of the central characters in Tender is the Night--to mirror her closely.
Jealous of Fitzgerald's attentions to Moran, Zelda burned her own clothing in a bathtub as a self-destructive act. She disparaged Moran as "a breakfast food that many men identified with whatever they missed from life". Fitzgerald's relationship with Moran further exacerbated the Fitzgeralds' marital difficulties and, after two months in Hollywood, the unhappy couple departed for Delaware in March 1927.
They next rented "Ellerslie", a mansion near Wilmington, Delaware, until 1929. Fitzgerald continued working on his fourth novel but proved unable to make any progress due to his alcoholism and poor work ethic. In Spring 1929, the couple returned to Europe. That winter, Zelda's behavior grew increasingly erratic and violent. During an automobile trip to Paris along the mountainous roads of the Grande Corniche, Zelda seized the car's steering wheel and tried to kill herself, Fitzgerald, and their daughter by driving over a cliff. Following this homicidal incident, doctors diagnosed Zelda with schizophrenia in June 1930. The couple traveled to Switzerland, where she underwent treatment at a clinic. They returned to America in September 1931. In February 1932, she underwent hospitalization at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
In April 1932, when the clinic allowed Zelda to travel with her husband, Fitzgerald took her to lunch with critic H. L. Mencken. In his diary, Mencken noted Zelda "went insane in Paris a year or so ago, and is still plainly more or less off her base". Throughout the lunch, she manifested signs of mental distress. A year later, when Mencken met Zelda for the last time, he described her mental illness as immediately evident to any onlooker and her mind as "only half sane". He regretted Fitzgerald could not write novels, as he had to write magazine stories to pay for Zelda's psychiatric treatment.
During this time, Fitzgerald rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson, Maryland, and worked on his forthcoming novel, which drew heavily on recent events in his life. The story concerned a promising young American named Dick Diver who marries a mentally ill young woman; their marriage deteriorates while they are abroad in Europe. While Fitzgerald labored on his novel, Zelda wrote--and sent to Scribner's--her own fictionalized version of these same autobiographical events in Save Me the Waltz (1932). Angered by what he saw as theft of his novel's plot material, Fitzgerald would later describe Zelda as "plagiaristic" and a "third-rate writer".[o] Despite his annoyance, he demanded few revisions to the work,[p] and he persuaded Perkins to publish Zelda's novel. Scribner's published Zelda's novel in October 1932, but it was a commercial and critical failure.
Fitzgerald's own novel finally debuted in April 1934 as Tender Is the Night and received mixed reviews. Its structure threw off many critics who felt Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. Hemingway and others argued that such criticism stemmed from superficial readings of the material and from Depression-era America's reaction to Fitzgerald's status as a symbol of Jazz Age excess. The novel did not sell well upon publication, with approximately 12,000 sold in the first three months, but, like The Great Gatsby, the book's reputation has since risen significantly.
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Fitzgerald's works were deemed elitist and materialistic. In 1933, journalist Matthew Josephson criticized the work saying that many Americans could not afford to drink "champagne from morning to night" or "go to Princeton or Montparnasse". As writer Budd Schulberg recalled, "my generation thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald as an age rather than a writer, and when the economic stroke of 1929 began to change the sheiks[q] and flappers into unemployed boys or underpaid girls, we consciously and a little belligerently turned our backs on Fitzgerald".
With his popularity greatly decreased, Fitzgerald began to suffer financially and, by 1936, his book royalties amounted to $80. The cost of his opulent lifestyle and Zelda's medical bills quickly caught up, placing him in constant debt. He relied on loans from his agent, Harold Ober, and publisher Perkins. When Ober ceased advancing money, an ashamed Fitzgerald severed ties with his agent believing Ober had lost faith in him due to his alcoholism.[r]
As he had been an alcoholic since college, Fitzgerald's extraordinarily heavy drinking undermined his health by the late 1930s. His alcoholism resulted in cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, angina, dyspnea, and syncopal spells. According to biographer Nancy Milford, Fitzgerald's claims of having tuberculosis served as a pretext to cover his drinking ailments. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli contends Fitzgerald did in fact have recurring tuberculosis. A biographer, Arthur Mizener, notes Fitzgerald suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and conclusively had a tubercular hemorrhage in 1929. In the 1930s, as his health deteriorated, Fitzgerald had told Hemingway of his fear of dying from "congestion of the lungs".
Fitzgerald's deteriorating health, chronic alcoholism, and financial woes made for difficult years in Baltimore. Hospitalized nine times at Johns Hopkins Hospital, his friend H. L. Mencken wrote in a June 1934 diary entry that "the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance. His wife, Zelda, who has been insane for years, is now confined at the Sheppard-Pratt Hospital, and he is living in Park Avenue with his little daughter, Scottie." By 1935, alcoholism disrupted Fitzgerald's writing and limited his mental acuity. From 1933 to 1937, he was hospitalized for alcoholism eight times. In September 1936, journalist Michel Mok of the New York Post publicly reported Fitzgerald's alcoholism and career failure in a nationally syndicated article. The article damaged Fitzgerald's reputation and prompted him to attempt suicide after reading it.
By that same year, Zelda's intense suicidal mania necessitated her extended confinement at the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Nearly bankrupt, Fitzgerald spent most of 1936 and 1937 living in cheap hotels near Asheville. His attempts to write and sell more short stories faltered. He later referred to this period of decline in his life as "The Crack-Up" in a short story. Shortly after the release of this story, Hemingway publicly referred to Fitzgerald as "poor Scott" in his short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". The sudden death of Fitzgerald's mother and Zelda's mental deterioration led to his marriage further disintegrating. He saw Zelda for the last time on a 1939 trip to Cuba. During this trip, spectators at a cockfight beat Fitzgerald when he tried to intervene against animal cruelty. He returned to the United States and--his ill-health exacerbated by excessive drinking--underwent hospitalization at the Doctors Hospital in Manhattan.
Although he detested screenwriting, Fitzgerald's dire financial straits compelled him to accept a lucrative contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1937 that necessitated his relocation to Hollywood. Despite earning his highest annual income up to that point ($29,757.87, equivalent to $535,711 in 2020), Fitzgerald spent the bulk of his income on Zelda's psychiatric treatment and his daughter Scottie's expenses at Vassar College. During the next two years, Fitzgerald rented a cheap room at the Garden of Allah bungalow on Sunset Boulevard. In an effort to abstain from alcohol, Fitzgerald drank large amounts of Coca-Cola and ate many sweets.
Estranged from Zelda, Fitzgerald attempted to reunite with his first love Ginevra King when the wealthy Chicago heiress visited Hollywood in 1938. "She was the first girl I ever loved and I have faithfully avoided seeing her up to this moment to keep the illusion perfect", Fitzgerald informed his daughter Scottie, shortly before the planned meeting. However, the reunion proved a disaster due to Fitzgerald's uncontrollable alcoholism, and a disappointed Ginevra returned east to Chicago.
Soon after, a lonely Fitzgerald began a relationship with nationally syndicated gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, his final companion before his death. After a heart-attack in Schwab's Drug Store, a doctor ordered Fitzgerald to avoid strenuous exertion. Fitzgerald had to climb two flights of stairs to his apartment, while Graham lived on the ground floor. Consequently, he moved in with Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Avenue, one block east of Fitzgerald's apartment on North Laurel Avenue.
Throughout their relationship, Graham claimed Fitzgerald suffered from constant guilt over Zelda's mental illness and confinement. He repeatedly attempted sobriety, suffered from depression, had violent outbursts, and attempted suicide. On occasions that Fitzgerald failed his attempt at sobriety,[s] he would ask strangers, "I'm F. Scott Fitzgerald. You've read my books. You've read The Great Gatsby, haven't you? Remember?" As Graham had read none of his works, Fitzgerald attempted to buy her a set of his novels. After visiting several bookstores, he realized they had stopped carrying his works. The realization that he was largely forgotten as an author further depressed him.
During this last phase of his career, Fitzgerald's screenwriting tasks included revisions on Madame Curie (1943) and an unused dialogue polish for Gone with the Wind (1939)--a book which Fitzgerald disparaged as "unoriginal" and an "old wives' tale". Both assignments went uncredited. His work on Three Comrades (1938) became his sole screenplay credit. To the studio's annoyance, Fitzgerald often ignored scriptwriting rules and included descriptions more fitting for a novel. In his spare time, he worked on his fifth novel, The Last Tycoon,[t] based on film executive Irving Thalberg. In 1939, MGM terminated his contract, and Fitzgerald became a freelance screenwriter. During his work on Winter Carnival (1939), Fitzgerald suffered an alcoholic relapse and sought treatment by New York psychiatrist Richard Hoffmann.
Director Billy Wilder described Fitzgerald's foray into Hollywood as like that of "a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job". Edmund Wilson and Aaron Latham suggested Hollywood sucked Fitzgerald's creativity like a vampire. His failure in Hollywood pushed him to return to drinking, and he drank nearly 40 beers a day in 1939. Beginning that year, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories. Esquire originally published the Pat Hobby Stories between January 1940 and July 1941. Approaching the final year of life, Fitzgerald wrote regretfully to his daughter: "I wish now I'd never relaxed or looked back--but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: I've found my line--from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty--without this I am nothing."
Fitzgerald finally achieved sobriety over a year before his death, and Graham described their last year together as one of the happiest times of their relationship. On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. As the couple left the Pantages Theatre, a sober Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had difficulty walking to his vehicle. Watched by onlookers, he remarked in a strained voice to Graham, "I suppose people will think I'm drunk."
The following day, as Fitzgerald ate a candy bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, and collapse on the floor without uttering a sound. Lying flat on his back, he gasped and lapsed into unconsciousness. After Graham's efforts to revive him failed, Graham ran to fetch Harry Culver, the building's manager. Upon entering the apartment to assist Fitzgerald, Culver stated, "I'm afraid he's dead." Fitzgerald had died of occlusive coronary arteriosclerosis, aged just 44.
On learning of her father's death, Fitzgerald's daughter, Scottie, telephoned Graham from Vassar College and asked she not attend the funeral for the sake of social propriety. After agreeing not to attend the funeral and hanging up the telephone, Graham sobbed and told herself that, if Scott were alive, "he, too, would have said to me, Sheilo [sic], you cannot come to my funeral". In her place, Graham's friend Dorothy Parker attended the visitation held in the back room of an undertaker's parlor. Observing few other people at the visitation, Parker murmured "the poor son of a bitch"--a line from Jay Gatsby's funeral in The Great Gatsby. When Fitzgerald's body arrived in Bethesda, Maryland, only thirty people attended his funeral. Among the attendees were his only child, Scottie, his agent Harold Ober, and his lifelong editor Maxwell Perkins.
In the wake of her husband's death, Zelda eulogized Fitzgerald in a letter to a friend: "He was as spiritually generous a soul as ever was... It seems as if he was always planning happiness for Scottie and for me. Books to read--places to go. Life seemed so promising always when he was around. ... Scott was the best friend a person could have to me." At the time of his death, the Roman Catholic Church denied the family's request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic, be buried in the family plot in the Catholic Saint Mary's Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. Fitzgerald was buried instead with a simple Protestant service at Rockville Union Cemetery. When Zelda Fitzgerald died in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in 1948, she was originally buried next to him at Rockville Union. In 1975, Scottie successfully petitioned to have the earlier decision revisited, and her parents' remains were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's.
It has been the greatest credo in my life that I would rather be an artist than a careerist. I would rather impress my image upon the soul of a people.... I would as soon be as anonymous as Rimbaud if I could feel that I had accomplished that purpose.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald believed his life to be a failure and that his work was forgotten. The few critics who were familiar with his work regarded him as a failed alcoholic--the embodiment of Jazz Age decadence. His New York Times obituary hailed him as a brilliant novelist but deemed his work to be forever tied to an era "when gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession". As late as 1941, his works were still regarded as period pieces with English literary historian Peter Quennell dismissing The Great Gatsby as having "the sadness and the remote jauntiness of a Gershwin tune".
Fitzgerald died before he could complete his fifth novel. His friend, literary critic Edmund Wilson, completed the manuscript using Fitzgerald's extensive notes for the unwritten part of the novel's story. When Wilson published his finished version entitled The Last Tycoon in 1941,[t] he included The Great Gatsby within the edition, sparking new interest and discussion among critics.
Amid World War II, The Great Gatsby gained further popularity when the Council on Books in Wartime distributed free Armed Services Edition copies to American soldiers serving overseas. The Red Cross distributed the novel to prisoners in Japanese and German POW camps. By 1945, over 123,000 copies of The Great Gatsby had been distributed among U.S. troops. By 1960--thirty-five years after the novel's original publication--the book was selling 100,000 copies per year. This renewed interest led The New York Times editorialist Arthur Mizener to proclaim the novel a masterwork of American literature. By the 21st century, The Great Gatsby had sold millions of copies, and the novel is required reading in many high school and college classes. Despite its publication over a century ago, the work continues to be cited by scholars as relevant to understanding contemporary America. According to Professor John Kuehl of New York University: "If you want to know about Spain, you read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. If you want to know about the South, you read Faulkner. If you want to know what America's like, you read The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald is the quintessential American writer."
The popularity of The Great Gatsby led to widespread interest in Fitzgerald himself. By the 1950s, he had become a cult figure in American culture and was more widely known than at any period during his lifetime. In 1952, critic Cyril Connolly observed that "apart from his increasing stature as writer, Fitzgerald is now firmly established as a myth, an American version of the Dying God, an Adonis of letters" whose rise and fall inevitably prompts comparisons to the Jazz Age itself.
Seven years later, Fitzgerald's friend Edmund Wilson remarked that he now received copious letters from female admirers of Fitzgerald's works and that his flawed alcoholic friend had posthumously become "a semi-divine personage" in the popular imagination. Echoing these opinions, writer Adam Gopnik asserted that--contrary to Fitzgerald's claim that "there are no second acts in American lives"--Fitzgerald became "not a poignant footnote to an ill-named time but an enduring legend of the West".
Decades after his death, Fitzgerald's childhood Summit Terrace home in St. Paul became a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Fitzgerald detested the house and deemed it to be an architectural monstrosity. In 1990, Hofstra University established the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, which later became an affiliate of the American Literature Association. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the society organized an online reading of This Side of Paradise to mark its centenary. In 1994, the World Theater in St. Paul--home of the radio broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion--was renamed the Fitzgerald Theater.
Fitzgerald's works inspired a number of contemporary and future writers. The publication of The Great Gatsby prompted poet T. S. Eliot to write, in a letter to Fitzgerald, "It seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James." Charles Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend, wrote "there's no such thing ... as a flawless novel. But if there is, this is it." Future authors Budd Schulberg and Edward Newhouse were deeply affected by it, and John O'Hara acknowledged its influence on his work.
Richard Yates, a writer often compared to Fitzgerald, hailed The Great Gatsby as "the most nourishing novel [he] read ... a miracle of talent ... a triumph of technique". Likewise, J. D. Salinger expressed admiration for Fitzgerald's work and declared himself to be "Fitzgerald's successor". Donald J. Adams, a columnist for The New York Times, remarked upon the tremendous influence of Fitzgerald upon his contemporaries: "In the literary sense he invented a generation ... He might have interpreted them and even guided them, as in their middle years they saw a different and nobler freedom threatened with destruction."
Fitzgerald's works have been adapted into films many times. During his lifetime, his earliest short stories were cinematically adapted as silent films such as The Husband Hunter (1920), The Chorus Girl's Romance (1920), and The Off-Shore Pirate (1921), the latter two both starred Viola Dana. Tender Is the Night was the subject of the eponymous 1962 film, and made into a television miniseries in 1985. The Beautiful and Damned was filmed in 1922 and 2010. The Great Gatsby has been adapted into numerous films of the same name, spanning nearly 90 years: 1926, 1949, 1974, 2000, and 2013 adaptations. In 1976, The Last Tycoon was adapted into a film starring Robert de Niro. and in 2016 it was adapted as an Amazon Prime TV miniseries. His short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" was the basis for a 2008 film.
Beyond his own characters, Fitzgerald himself has been portrayed in dozens of books, plays, and films. He inspired Budd Schulberg's novel The Disenchanted (1950), which followed a screenwriter in Hollywood collaborating with a drunk and flawed novelist. It was later adapted into a Broadway play starring Jason Robards. A musical about the lives of Fitzgerald and Zelda was composed by Frank Wildhorn titled Waiting for the Moon. Fitzgerald has international appeal; the Japanese Takarazuka Revue has created a musical adaptation of Fitzgerald's life.
The last years of Fitzgerald and his affair with Sheilah Graham served as the basis for Beloved Infidel (1959) based on Graham's 1958 memoir of the same name. The film depicts Fitzgerald (played by Gregory Peck) during his final years and his relationship with Graham (played by Deborah Kerr). Another film, Last Call (2002) portrays the relationship between Fitzgerald (Jeremy Irons) and Frances Kroll Ring (Neve Campbell). David Hoflin and Christina Ricci portray the Fitzgeralds in Amazon Prime's 2015 television series Z: The Beginning of Everything. Others include the TV movies Zelda (1993, with Timothy Hutton), F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (1976, with Jason Miller), and F. Scott Fitzgerald and 'The Last of the Belles' (1974, with Richard Chamberlain). Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill appear briefly as Fitzgerald and Zelda in Woody Allen's 2011 feature film Midnight in Paris. Guy Pearce and Vanessa Kirby portray the couple in Genius (2016).
In 2004, the University of South Carolina purchased a cache of 2,000 pages of screenplay work that Fitzgerald had written for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The cache corrects the distorted view of Fitzgerald's screenwriting years in Hollywood as unproductive and indicates he put in considerable effort to earn his salary.
In 2015, The Strand Magazine published for the first time an 8,000-word lost manuscript by Fitzgerald entitled "Temperature", dated July 1939. Long thought lost, the manuscript was found by a researcher in the archives of Princeton University, Fitzgerald's alma mater. The story recounts the illness and decline of an alcoholic writer among Hollywood idols in Los Angeles, while suffering lingering fevers and indulging in light-hearted romance with a Hollywood actress. In 2017, two years later, Scribner's published a rediscovered cache of Fitzgerald's short-stories in a collection titled I'd Die For You.
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