Friday, December 12, 2014

"A Luckless Santa Claus" (short Christmas story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Christmas time at the Fitzgeralds’ in Paris (1925): "Nanny kept busily admonishing us about the French customs: how they did not give gifts at Christmas but at New Years. Then we had a tree on the Avenue McMahon which Nanny & I decorated between sips of champagne until neither we nor the tree could hold any more of fantaisie or decor. We kept our decorations for years in painted toy boxes and when the last of the tails wilted & the last house grew lopsided, it was almost a bereavement." -Zelda Fitzgerald

The Holiday Season is upon us and what fun F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum will have this Saturday! Their Annual Open House begins at 10:00am. Please join for holiday refreshments and enjoy free admission to the museum until 1:00pm. The event will be highlighted by a reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, "A Luckless Santa Claus," which will take place at precisely 12:00 noon. Fitzgerald wrote this when he was only 16-years-old, and it is truly a charming tale! Source:

"Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and—but I am getting ahead of my story. It was Christmas Eve. Salvation Army Santa Clauses with highly colored noses proclaimed it as they beat upon rickety paper chimneys with tin spoons. Package laden old bachelors forgot to worry about how many slippers and dressing gowns they would have to thank people for next day, and joined in the general air of excitement that pervaded busy Manhattan.

In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.

“Harry Talbot,” said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, “if you aren’t the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I’ll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!”

“Dorothy,” reproved the young man, “you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money.” “Your hard earned money, indeed!” scoffed Dorothy. “You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing—that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!”

“My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father.” “That’s not spending your money. That’s wasting it. Why, I don’t think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life.”

“But why on earth,” remonstrated Harry, “should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?” “Because,” explained Dorothy, “that would be real charity. It’s nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don’t know is something.” “Why, any old fellow can give away money,” protested Harry.

“Then,” exclaimed Dorothy, “we’ll see if you can. I don’t believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried.” “Indeed, I could.” “Then try it!” And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. “It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o’clock.” “But, but,” gasped Harry.

Dorothy was edging him towards the door. “How much money have you?” she demanded. Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills. “Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents.”

“Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don’t give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o’clock with no more than five cents in your pocket.”

“But,” declared Harry, still backing towards the door, “I want my twenty-five dollars.” “Harry,” said Dorothy sweetly, “I am surprised!” and with that, she slammed the door in his face. “I insist,” muttered Harry, “that this is a most unusual proceeding.”

He walked down the steps and hesitated. “Now,” he thought, “Where shall I go?” He considered a moment and finally started off towards Broadway. He had gone about half a block when he saw a gentleman in a top hat approaching. Harry hesitated. Then he made up his mind, and, stepping towards the man, emitted what he intended for a pleasant laugh but what sounded more like a gurgle, and loudly vociferated, “Merry Christmas, friend!”

“The same to you,” answered he of the top hat, and would have passed on, but Harry was not to be denied. “My good fellow”—He cleared his throat. “Would you like me to give you a little money?” “What?” yelled the man. “You might need some money, don’t you know, to—er—buy the children—a—a rag doll,” he finished brilliantly.

The next moment his hat went sailing into the gutter, and when he picked it up the man was far away. “There’s five minutes wasted,” muttered Harry, as, full of wrath towards Dorothy, he strode along his way. He decided to try a different method with the next people he met. He would express himself more politely. A couple approached him,—a young lady and her escort. Harry halted directly in their path and, taking off his hat, addressed them.

“As it is Christmas, you know, and everybody gives away—er—articles, why”— “Give him a dollar, Billy, and let’s go on,” said the young lady. Billy obediently thrust a dollar into Harry’s hand, and at that moment the girl gave a cry of surprise. “Why, it’s Harry Talbot,” she exclaimed, “begging!”

But Harry heard no more. When he realized that he knew the girl he turned and sped like an arrow up the street, cursing has foolhardiness in taking up the affair at all. He reached Broadway and started slowly down the gaily lighted thoroughfare, intending to give money to the street Arabs he met. All around him was the bustle of preparation. Everywhere swarmed people happy in the pleasant concert of their own generosity. Harry felt strangely out of place as he wandered aimlessly along. He was used to being catered to and bowed before, but here no one spoke to him, and one or two even had the audacity to smile at him and wish him a “Merry Christmas.” He nervously accosted a passing boy.

“I say, little boy, I’m going to give you some money.” “No you ain’t,” said the boy sturdily. “I don’t want none of your money.” Rather abashed, Harry continued down the street. He tried to present fifty cents to an inebriated man, but a policeman tapped him on the shoulder and told him to move on. He drew up beside a ragged individual and quietly whispered, “Do you wish some money?”

“I’m on,” said the tramp, “what’s the job?” “Oh! there’s no job!” Harry reassured him. “Tryin’ to kid me, hey?” growled the tramp resentfully. “Well, get somebody else.” And he slunk off into the crowd.

Next Harry tried to squeeze ten cents into the hand of a passing bellboy, but the youth pulled open his coat and displayed a sign “No Tipping.” With the air of a thief, Harry approached an Italian bootblack, and cautiously deposited ten cents in his hand. At a safe distance he saw the boy wonderingly pocket the dime, and congratulated himself. He had but twenty-four dollars and ninety cents yet to give away! His last success gave him a plan. He stopped at a newsstand where, in full sight of the vender, he dropped a two-dollar bill and sped away in the crowd. After several minutes’ hard running he came to a walk amidst the curious glances of the bundle-laden passers-by, and was mentally patting himself on the back when he heard quick breathing behind him, and the very newsie he had just left thrust into his hand the two-dollar bill and was off like a flash.

The perspiration streamed from Harry’s forehead and he trudged along despondently. He got rid of twenty-five cents, however, by dropping it into a children’s aid slot. He tried to get fifty cents in, but it was a small slot. His first large sum was two dollars to a Salvation Army Santa Claus, and, after this, he kept a sharp lookout for them, but it was past their closing time, and he saw no more of them on his journey.

He was now crossing Union Square, and, after another half hour’s patient work, he found himself with only fifteen dollars left to give away. A wet snow was falling which turned to slush as it touched the pavements, and the light dancing pumps he wore were drenched, the water oozing out of his shoe with every step he took. He reached Cooper Square and turned into the Bowery. The number of people on the streets was fast thinning and all around him shops were closing up and their occupants going home. Some boys jeered at him, but, turning up his collar, he plodded on. In his ears rang the saying, mockingly yet kindly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

He turned up Third Avenue and counted his remaining money. It amounted to three dollars and seventy cents. Ahead of him he perceived, through the thickening snow, two men standing under a lamp post. Here was his chance. He could divide his three dollars and seventy cents between them. He came up to them and tapped one on the shoulder. The man, a thin, ugly looking fellow, turned suspiciously.

“Won’t you have some money, you fellow?” he said imperiously, for he was angry at humanity in general and Dorothy in particular. The fellow turned savagely. “Oh!” he sneered, “you’re one of these stiffs tryin’ the charity gag, and then gettin’ us pulled for beggin’. Come on, Jim, let’s show him what we are.”

And they showed him. They hit him, they mashed him, they got him down and jumped on him, they broke his hat, they tore his coat. And Harry, gasping, striking, panting, went down in the slush. He thought of the people who had that very night wished him a Merry Christmas. He was certainly having it. Miss Dorothy Harmon closed her book with a snap. It was past eleven and no Harry. What was keeping him? He had probably given up and gone home long ago. With this in mind, she reached up to turn out the light, when suddenly she heard a noise outside as if someone had fallen.

Dorothy rushed to the window and pulled up the blind. There, coming up the steps on his hands and knees was a wretched caricature of a man. He was hatless, coatless, collarless, tieless, and covered with snow. It was Harry. He opened the door and walked into the parlor, leaving a trail of wet snow behind him. “Well?” he said defiantly. “Harry,” she gasped, “can it be you?” “Dorothy,” he said solemnly, “it is me.” “What—what has happened?” “Oh, nothing. I’ve just been giving away that twenty-five dollars.” And Harry sat down on the sofa. “But Harry,” she faltered, “your eye is all swollen.”

“Oh, my eye? Let me see. Oh, that was on the twenty-second dollar. I had some difficulty with two gentlemen. However, we afterward struck up quite an acquaintance. I had some luck after that. I dropped two dollars in a blind beggar’s hat.” “You have been all evening giving away that money?”

“My dear Dorothy, I have decidedly been all evening giving away that money.” He rose and brushed a lump of snow from his shoulder. “I really must be going now. I have two—er—friends outside waiting for me.” He walked towards the door. “Two friends?” “Why—a—they are the two gentlemen I had the difficulty with. They are coming home with me to spend Christmas. They are really nice fellows, though they might seem a trifle rough at first.”

Dorothy drew a quick breath. For a minute no one spoke. Then he took her in his arms. “Dearest,” she whispered, “you did this all for me.” A minute later he sprang down the steps, and arm in arm with his friends, walked off in the darkness. “Good night, Dorothy,” he called back, “and a Merry Christmas!”

"A Luckless Santa Claus" (This story appeared in the Newman News on Christmas 1912).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 90th Anniversary of ‘The Great Gatsby’

In a few months, we’ll be celebrating the 90th Anniversary of The Great Gatsby, published for the first time in April 1925, although technically F. Scott Fitzgerald had completed his masterpiece in the winter of 1924. In June 1923, he had penned a genesis (referred by scholars as ‘Ur-Gatsby’) of what would become the Great American Novel, featuring the protagonist’s duality towards the figure of Father Schwartz —inspired by Father Fay, Fitzgerald’s headmaster at Newman college. The ‘Ur-Gatsby’ would be assimilated into his short story Absolution (June 1924).

Encouraged by his editor Maxwell Perkins to make new revisions, Fitzgerald had to “adumbrate” his Gatsby’s character, seen somewhat as “vague” by Scribner’s Publishing. On December 20, 1924, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Perkins from Hôtel des Princes in Rome, commenting about the novel’s chapter VII: “the trouble with Daisy — it may hurt the book’s popularity that it’s a man’s book.” While perfecting Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds had put a glittering tree with silver bells in their hotel room and attended a Christmas Eve party in honor of Fred Niblo’s Ben-Hur (the most expensive silent movie ever).

Armed with “sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world,” Fitzgerald felt “an enormous power, more than I’ve ever had.” The masculine ideal of the 1920s for Fitzgerald was “the old dream of being an entire man in the Goethe-Byron-Shaw tradition, with an opulent American touch.” Despite innumerable analysis, there is still an indefinite quality that confers The Great Gatsby value as a mystifying and illimitable work of art. Due to a serious matrimonial crisis (Zelda’s liaison with Edouard Jozan), Fitzgerald declared he’d “dragged” his most renowned book “out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery.” His conflicting sentiments during the Gatsby period emerged in a letter to Zelda: “no one believing in me except you… and then I was really alone with no one I liked.”

Much has been pondered about the enigmatic Daisy Fay Buchanan (whose conflated portrait was based on Fitzgerald’s old flame Ginevra King and his wife Zelda), although she is at moments almost a nondescript character, only defined by a minimal characterization. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says of Daisy’s catchy vocal tone, prompting Nick to embrace his second cousin’s “inexhaustible charm”. Daisy is “the king’s daughter, the golden girl,” wrapped in white clothes and luxury, sometimes only “a disembodied face [that] floated along the dark cornices.” Actually, Fitzgerald advanced that in Gatsby there was “no important woman character”. The story revolved mainly around the intriguing kinship between James Gatz (Gatsby) and Nick Carraway (the Narrator), both clashing against the East Egg faction represented by Tom Buchanan (Daisy’s unfaithful husband).

One of the alternative titles for Gatsby was Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, as if Fitzgerald –Malcolm Cowley writes in Fitzgerald: The Romance of Money (1973)– “were setting the two against each other while suggesting a vague affinity between them. Tom Buchanan, the brutalized millionaire, finds a mistress in the Valley of Ashes.”

“My characters are all Scott Fitzgerald. Even the feminine characters,” the complex author reckoned. In the recent critical essay Understanding Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (2014), Robert A. Albano clarifies: “Fitzgerald was able to incorporate the many sides of his own personality into the creation of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald himself was a romantic who ignored the reality in order to achieve a goal which many would have thought to be impossible.” However, Fitzgerald had confessed to John Peale Bishop: “I never at any one time saw him [Gatsby] clear myself — for he started as one man I knew and then changed into myself — the amalgam was never complete in my mind.”

The first kiss between Jay and Daisy (“the incarnation was complete”) is seen by Albano as a Biblical reference to God taking human form as Jesus Christ. Gatsby worships Daisy as his sacred duty: “the sacredness of the vigil.” Zelda remembered when she first danced with Scott (in 1918) in her dazzling novel Save Me the Waltz (1932): “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.”

In An Almost Theatrical Innocence (2014), John T. Irwin asserts that Gatsby exemplifies (“Gatsby had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice…”) how “the Pausanian and the Ovidian myth of Narcissus lie at the heart of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.” Irwin continues: “Fitzgerald would also have been attracted to the Pygmalion-Galatea myth because of its subtext, its parabolic evocation of the male artist’s relationship to his work of art considered as a female double.” Fitzgerald was, as his Princeton friend Alec McKaig observed, “absorbed in Zelda’s personality.” Zelda’s influence was key in the shaping of Gatsby‘s sensibilities.

Jay Gatsby’s description is more an abstract illustration than a realistically detailed portrayal: “an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” Daisy opines Gatsby resembles “the advertisement of the man,” alluding possibly to the models for J. C. Leyendecker’s drawings.

Inspecting the Chapter V, some parallels we find are chilling, like the apparition of Owl-Eyes (a character who attends Gatsby’s funeral following the departure of Nick and Gatsby’s father), “with enormous owl-eyed spectacles” at the Merton College Library. Owl-Eyes inevitably reminds us of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg (the phantasmagorical billboard “over the solemn dumping ground” — an Eliotesque Wasteland): “above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles.”

“I am too much a moralist at heart and want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them,” Fitzgerald explained. That’s the reason real events are inserted in Gatsby under a caustic light, such as the Black Sox Scandal (“one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people”), using Meyer Wolfscheim’s character as a variation of mobster Arnold Rothstein who conspired in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

“Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply,” ironizes Nick when he learns of Jordan Baker’s vapid and invidious personality. According to Rena Sanderson’s analysis Women in Fitzgerald’s fiction (2006): “Fitzgerald expressed his uneasiness at the feminization of American culture… a symptom of a larger disorder – the decline of the West. Like Carl Jung, D. H. Lawrence, and Oswald Spengler, whose theories he admired, Fitzgerald believed that men and women had complementary natures and feared that a loosening of binary gender distinctions simply encouraged each side to adopt the worst characteristics of the opposite sex.”

Zelda’s early letters echoed her concepts about bisexuality (“two souls incarnated together”) —based on her mother Minnie Sayre’s theosophical doctrines— and greatly aroused Fitzgerald’s imagination. Zelda’s casual rapport with the bisexual novelist Nancy Hoyt or female artists (Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney) could be misinterpreted as lesbian tendencies, especially when she obsessed with her ballet trainer Lubov Egorova. Fitzgerald’s attitude was of intense discomfort toward homosexuals (or ‘fairies’), observing in his Notebooks: “The great homosexual theses — that all great pansies were pansies.”

Zelda’s literary style showed her irrational, genially bended vision like a negative photograph of Fitzgerald’s elegiac pathos, most evidenced in Save Me the Waltz: “Asthmatic Christmas bells tolled over Naples. Alabama went to see the wax Nativities at Benediction. The gleam of gold damask on the altar was as warm and rich as what it represented. She said to herself that human beings have no right to fail. She did not feel what failure was.”

Blending Ginevra King’s flighty elitism and Zelda’s esoteric sensuality, Daisy is also a symbol of sexual illusion, since she’s not fitted anymore for the romantic soldier who had wooed her virginal version in 1917. In my book (pun intended), one of the scariest passages that damages Daisy’s aura irreparably: “in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, she laughed with thrilling scorn. The instant her voice broke off, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick… as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society.” Likewise, Gatsby’s dark side is exposed through his interminable self-delusion: he’s not the lovesick soldier with an ‘incorruptible dream,’ but a duplicitous shady businessman.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness,” Nick claims, convinced that Gatsby’s ideals have been replaced by inertia. Gatsby’s innocent flaw was turning his magic into a social acclivity, while searching for his identity in Daisy (a woman he doesn’t know anymore). In Sex & Character (1906), Otto Weininger philosophized: “A man’s attempt to find himself in a woman, rather than simply seeing her, presupposes a neglect [of her]. This is where the parallel between the cruelty of eroticism and the cruelty of sexuality becomes complete… Love is Murder. Those who ‘couldn’t care less’ are incapable of love. Love is the most modest of all requests, because it begs for the highest.”

Fitzgerald places the green light shining from Daisy’s dock and the green land as symbols of a mythical Shangri-La. In the United States, Fitzgerald believed, the greatest Americans have “almost invariably come from the very poor class – Lincoln, Edison, Whitman, Ford, Twain.”

According to Maureen Corrigan in So We Read On (2014): “The great theme running throughout all Fitzgerald’s writing and his life is the nobility of the effort to keep one’s head above water, despite the almost inevitable certainty of drowning.”

When Fitzgerald courted Zelda in Montgomery (Alabama), she had taken him to Oakwood cemetery. Among the Confederate graves and the glorious vestiges of the past, the prodigy writer proposed to the Southern Belle. In another legendary letter, Zelda had enskied their shared reverie: “All the broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels mean romances. Old death is so beautiful… We will die together —I know—Sweetheart.”

“He found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary but he didn’t realize just how extraordinary a ‘nice’ girl could be. He felt married to her, that was all.” —The Great Gatsby

Article first published as The 90th Anniversary of ‘The Great Gatsby’ on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Film Noir Collection, The Last Tycoon: F. Scott Fitzgerald & Irving Thalberg

"Double Indemnity" comes to us, in this release, as part of a grand set, "Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight Collection". This does not include all of the great films noir, of course; just titles from Paramount and Universal. The Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight Collection showcases a selection of defining movies including Double Indemnity, Touch of Evil, This Gun for Hire, Criss Cross, The Killers and more. Starring Hollywood legends such as Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, these classic films represent one of the most intriguing eras in cinema history.

Movies like This Gun for Hire with good-guy cop Bob Preston overpowered by leading lady Veronica Lake (singing Frank Loesser songs) and breakthrough star Alan Ladd as a psychotic murderer. Or The Big Clock with good-guy magazine editor Ray Milland holding his own against psychotic publisher Charles Laughton, with Maureen O'Sullivan. Elsa Lanchester is refreshingly delightful as a Dali-esque Greenwich Village painter. Also on hand are Ladd and Lake in both Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key and Chandler's The Blue Dahlia; Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in Ernest Hemingway's The Killers; and more. The ten films, on six DVDs in no-frills packaging, are capped by Orson Welles' fascinating and strange Touch of Evil. Source:

Deadline reports that Amazon is close to buying the script for The Last Tycoon, a drama based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final, unfinished novel. The script—by Captain Phillips writer Billy Ray—was previously shopped to HBO. That network passed on it for unknown reasons, probably because Fitzgerald’s pre-World War II sensibilities prevented him including the requisite level of nudity in the original text. Although Fitzgerald never completed the book (originally titled The Love Of The Last Tycoon), an edited version was published in 1941.

Decades later, Elia Kazan directed a film adaption written by Harold Pinter and starring Robert De Niro. The Last Tycoon revolves around movie executive Monroe Stahr, a loose analog for real-life producer Irving Thalberg, who worked for Universal and MGM in the ’20s and ’30s and had a hand in grooming stars like Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford. Source:

Fitzgerald knew success so early, as a young man in his early twenties, with This Side Of Paradise in 1920. It was a hit. He was the toast of New York. But he was also that Midwestern boy from St. Paul, Minnesota, whose parents didn't quite measure up to their neighbors. His parents never owned a home, for instance. Fitzgerald never owned a home. He always rented. He was always kind of on the outside looking in. And hoping to be good enough for Princeton, to be good enough for the crowd on the Riviera who he hung out with: Gerald and Sara Murphy, the Hemingways. I'm borrowing Fitzgerald's words from the end of the novel. Gatsby is a dreamer, and so he ties his dreams to Daisy. But ultimately she's about as empty as the Maltese Falcon is in Dashiell Hammett's great hard-boiled novel of 1930. She's something everybody is chasing. But she doesn't measure up. And most importantly, film noir, hard-boiled detective fiction and "The Great Gatsby," they're all stories that are obsessed with the presence of fate. There's a very fated feel to Gatsby. You know, things - events that occur in the novel, they're foretold many times. -Maureen Corrigan Source:

Irving Thalberg rarely confided in his peers, as F. Scott Fitzgerald observed during a January 1927 visit to the studio. Only esteem for the author of The Great Gatsby made Thalberg lean across a dining room table and reveal something of himself: "Scottie, supposing there's got to be a road through a mountain-a railroad, and two or three surveyors and people come to you and you believe some of them and some of them you don't believe, but all in all, there seem to be half a dozen possible roads through those mountains, each one of which, so far as you can determine, is as good as the other. Now suppose you happen to be the top man. There's a point where you don't exercise the faculty of judgment in the ordinary way, but simply the faculty of arbitrary decision. You say, 'Well, I think we will put the road there,' and you trace it with your finger and you know in your secret heart, and no one else knows, that you have no reason for putting the road there rather than in several other different courses, but you're the only person that knows that you don't know why you're doing it and you've got to stick to that and you've got to pretend that you know and that you did it for specific reasons, even though you're utterly assailed by doubts at times as to the wisdom of your decision, because all these other possible decisions keep echoing in your ear. But when you're planning a new enterprise on a grand scale, the people under you mustn't ever know or guess that you're in any doubt, because they've all got to have something to look up to and they mustn't ever dream that you're in doubt about any decision." Thalberg's unshakable self-possession would make 1932 his most accomplished year, but not without casualties, among them Fitzgerald. -"Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince" (2009) by Mark A. Vieira

Friday, December 05, 2014

F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner: Hollywood & the Deep South

Few major Hollywood names have failed to make at least one appearance at Musso’s. And we’re not talking just the directors and actors (Chaplin, Bogart, Bacall, Monroe), either, but also the writers – who habitually used the excuse of its proximity to the long-shuttered Stanley Rose Book Shop to slide in for a quick freshener or two. Raymond Chandler knew his way around the bar blindfolded, as did F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, back in the days when glamour, literary talent and heavyweight boozing were inseparable. The red-jacketed bartenders will recommend a martini in the classic style (with gin rather than vodka), while the furnishings glow with original noir-era authenticity. Source:

Hollywood income was money that compelled writers like William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Aldous Huxley to try their hands at screenwriting. As an employee at MGM, Fitzgerald was just another scenario-writing cog in the massive machine built and operated by Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind producer who oversaw the production of more than 400 films in 12 years.

“Part of our fascination with Fitzgerald involves his fall from grace,” noted Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker in 2009. “The man who commanded between $3,000 and $4,000 for a short story as late as 1930 was forgotten by the reading public six years later; in 1936, his total book royalties amounted to just over $80.” In his preface, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli wrote that “even in its preliminary and incomplete condition, The Love of the Last Tycoon is regarded as the best novel written about the movies.” Faulkner, Nabokov, Huxley and Fitzgerald were novelists in the postmodern tradition. They used prose to play with time and space, which is what filmmakers have been doing for the past hundred years. Innovators like Joyce, Beckett, Dos Passos, Woolf, and Proust used words to explore the dream-like experience of conscious — and unconscious — thought. Source:

Each character in "The Great Gatsby" represents some particular variety of moral failure; Lionel Trilling says that they are “treated as if they were ideographs,” a true observation; but the treatment does not detract from their reality as persons. Jordan Baker feels “safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible.” Tom Buchanan is wealth brutalized by selfishness and arrogance. Daisy Buchanan offers a continual promise “that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour”; but it is a false promise, since at heart she is as self-centered as Tom and even colder. When Daisy drives the monster through the valley of ashes, she runs down and kills Myrtle Wilson; then, by concealing her guilt, she causes the death of Gatsby. The symbols are not synthetic or contrived, as are many of those in more recent novels; they are images that Fitzgerald instinctively found to represent his characters and their destiny.

When he says, “Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape,” he is watching her act the charade of her self-love. We end by feeling that Gatsby has a double value: it the best picture we possess of the age in which it was written, and it also achieves a sort of moral permanence. Fitzgerald’s story of the suitor betrayed by the princess and murdered in his innocence is a fable of the 1920s that has survived as a legend for other times. Much of the endurance of The Great Gatsby results from its investigation of the American Dream as Fitzgerald enlarged a Horatio Alger story into a meditation on the New World myth. He was profoundly moved by the innocence and generosity he perceived in American history—what he would refer to as “a willingness of the heart.” Gatsby becomes an archetypal figure who betrays and is betrayed by the promises of America. The reverberating meanings of the fable have never been depleted.

Always sensitive to the moods of place, Fitzgerald examined the Deep South in several stories, later implying that he had anticipated Faulkner in discovering the literary uses of the South. (“It is a grotesquely pictorial country as I found out long ago, and as Mr. Faulkner has since abundantly demonstrated.”) Fitzgerald’s Southern stories drew on Zelda and the responses to her world that were generated by his love for her. -"Fitzgerald: The Romance of Money" (1953) by Malcolm Cowley and "Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald" (2002) by Matthew J. Bruccoli

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Early Vanity Fair, Zelda Fitzgerald: Flapper of a Dangerous Generation

A collection of a wide range of Vanity Fair articles ranging from 1914 to 1936, when the Great Depression forced the magazine to merge with Vogue. Some of these pieces are curiosities, while others capture a peculiar zeitgeist: America during wartime, the Roaring ’20s, the Depression. Others simply provide an example of the range of powerhouse writers who contributed to a magazine that captured the tastes and travails of a certain kind of middle-class urbanite. Among the many eminent writers who provide contributions are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, P.G. Wodehouse, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jean Cocteau, T.S. Eliot, Walter Winchell, Ford Madox Ford and Bertrand Russell. A series of Dorothy Parker “Hate Song” poems take aim at (and hit) targets ranging from men to actresses to relatives to offices. Whether read from cover to cover or dipped into occasionally, this collection serves as a fine primer to one magazine’s contribution to a golden age of American magazine writing. Source.

"Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation" (2013) by Judith Mackrell: A gripping biography of six extraordinary women who, in their very different ways, epitomise the decade they came of age - the 1920s. Glamorized, mythologized and demonized - the women of the 1920s prefigured the 1960s in their determination to reinvent the way they lived. Flappers is in part a biography of that restless generation: starting with its first fashionable acts of rebellion just before the Great War, and continuing through to the end of the decade when the Wall Street crash signal led another cataclysmic world change. It focuses on six women who between them exemplified the range and daring of that generation’s spirit. Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka were far from typical flappers. Although they danced the Charleston, wore fashionable clothes and partied with the rest of their peers, they made themselves prominent among the artists, icons, and heroines of their age. Talented, reckless and willful, with personalities that transcended their class and background, they re-wrote their destinies in remarkable, entertaining and tragic ways. And between them they blazed the trail of the New Woman around the world.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: Originally a small-town Southern belle from Alabama, her ‘slender supple’ grace and ‘spoiled alluring mouth’ had famously become the template from which her husband, the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, created his exquisitely modern heroines.

For birth-control campaigners like Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger, the key battle was for sexual freedom. Change was slow: pre-marital sex was still far from the norm for women in the 1920s, but while only 14 per cent of American women admitted to it in 1900, by 1925 the number had risen to 39 per cent. The fashionable chic attached to lesbianism in the 1920s might not have been a true reflection of public opinion, but it saw many more women daring to identify and acknowledge their sexual tastes.

One of the most brazen was Mercedes de Acosta, whose tally of lovers was said to include Isadora Duncan, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. ‘Say what you will about Mercedes,’ commented her friend Alice B. Toklas, ‘she’s had the most important women of the twentieth century.’ The Fitzgeralds' celebrity had been launched by Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, which had been published in March 1920. Advertised as ‘A Novel About Flappers, Written For Philosophers’, it had been heralded as the voice of post-war American youth, and had sold three thousand copies in just three days. The fact that its hero and heroine had been so evidently based on Scott and Zelda, and that their own lives threaded through its pages, enhanced their status as the couple of the moment. ‘They didn’t make the Twenties,’ the actress Lilian Gish later recalled, ‘they were the Twenties.’

Fitzgerald believed the early 1920s was a charmed era. ‘It was an age of art, it was an age of excess and it was an age of stature,’ he wrote later. It was ‘an age of miracles’ and he and his generation were ‘the great believers.’ Interviewed for the magazine Shadowland in January 1921, Scott had emphasized Zelda’s influence on the heroines of his stories, she’d been the original model for a type he’d dubbed the ‘mental baby vamp’. When Zelda went into labour on 26 October, it was long and hard and Scott swore in anguish that he would kill himself if she died. In her second article, ‘What Became of the Flappers’, Zelda suggested that this spirit was not as easily decoded as writers and advertisers might believe: ‘The best flapper is reticent emotionally and courageous morally. You always know what she thinks, but she does all her feeling alone.’ It was a telling remark. Back in Montgomery, Zelda could write to Scott, ‘You are the only person on earth, Lover, who has ever known and loved all of me.’ Scott himself had admitted as much to Edmund Wilson when he acknowledged that it was ‘the complete fine and full-hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda’, that remained the most potent influence on his writing.

‘A purely creative work,’ he assured his editor Max Perkins, ‘not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and radiant world.’ Jay Gatsby, a farm boy turned millionaire who lived by Scott’s faith in the necessary magic of illusions: ‘Illusions that give such colour to the world that you don’t care whether things are true or false.’ To Sara and Gerald Murphy they seemed ‘flawless’ on their return to Paris in 1925. According to Gerald, Zelda’s beauty was ‘all in her eyes’; of Scott, Gerald thought ‘he was really unbelievably handsome’. The Fitzgeralds began to argue, dangerously, about sex. Zelda baited Scott by saying that he was unimaginative in bed and in retaliation he said she could not possibly be satisfied by him or any other man because she was in love with Madame Lubov Egorova (Zelda's ballet teacher) and with half the women at rue Jacob.

A survey conducted among 2,200 middle-class American women in the late 1920s revealed that many had experienced lesbian impulses: nearly half of those interviewed said they’d experienced a close emotional relationship with another woman, while a quarter admitted to those relationships being sexual. In a generation that had suffered the loss of millions of young men, many women had turned to their own sex for physical contact. The entry in Fitzgerald's ledger at the end of 1929 was stark: ‘Crash. Wall Street. Zelda.’ Certainly Zelda’s mental state was now deteriorating badly, her behaviour was erratic and she seemed to have trouble connecting to people and events around her. -"Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation" (2013) by Judith Mackrell

Monday, December 01, 2014

The World of Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Ftzgerald's bloody romanticism

Raymond Chandler not only helped to invent the quintessential private eye of genre fiction, he did as much as anyone to define the movies' noir sensibility, particularly the corrupt glamour of pre- and post-war Los Angeles. On Tuesday, December 2, The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day from Chandler's letters and interviews, will hit bookshelves, further illuminating the author's feelings about what it means to be a writer, his experiences working with the best filmmakers of the era, and his own moviemaking fandom: "Anyone who doesn't like Hollywood is either crazy or sober," he once wrote. The 4 Must-Sees From the Raymond Chandler Canon: "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), "The Long Goodbye" (1973) Source:

Unlike Chandler’s first major film, The Blue Dahlia has entered film history as much for its difficult birth as for its quality. It is recognised as a good example of film noir but has never troubled the likes of Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep for the crown of best in genre. From the start, it is clear that The Blue Dahlia is firmly located in Raymond Chandler territory. The opening shot, after the credits have rolled, shows the destination board of a bus reading, simply: Hollywood. Raymond Chandler saw the act of writing as an act of physical endurance. In a letter to Alex Barris, a Canadian journalist, Chandler harks back to his early inspiration, Ernest Hemingway.

In a letter to Hamish Hamilton in 1951, Chandler worried about having missed out on something, expressed in similar thoughts about F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Fitzgerald is a subject no one has a right to mess up. Nothing but the best will do for him. I think he just missed being a great writer, and the reason is pretty obvious. If the poor guy was already an alcoholic in his college days, it’s a marvel that he did as well as he did. He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, a real distinction, the word is charm – charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It’s not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It’s a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartets. Yes, where would you find it today?" -"A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler" (2013) by Tom Williams

“Hawks Do Not Share,” the second Fitzgerald sketch in A Moveable Feast, introduces Zelda Fitzgerald at “a very bad lunch” in the Fitzgeralds’ “gloomy” apartment. From the start there was mutual distrust between Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway was disgusted by Zelda’s influence over Fitzgerald. Zelda may not have regarded Hemingway as a threat to her dominion, but she was immune to his charm and had reservations about his character. “Bogus” was one of her judgments on him, amplified with “materialistic mystic,” “phony he-man,” and “pansy with hair on his chest.” The encounters between Fitzgerald and Hemingway during spring-summer 1929 generated new strains from which their friendship never recovered. The animosity between Zelda and Ernest was compounded by Pauline Pfeiffer’s disapproval of the Fitzgeralds. Zelda’s intense ballet efforts in Paris left her strained and fatigued, and her behavior became markedly erratic. The Fitzgeralds were having sexual problems. Hemingway blamed Scott’s “damned, bloody romanticism” and “Irish love of defeat.” Some time later when Hemingway challenged Hammett to a spoon-bending contest in the Stork Club, Dashiell Hammett said, “Why don’t you go back to bullying Fitzgerald? Too bad he doesn’t know how good he is. The best.” -"Scott and Ernest: The authority of failure and the authority of success" (1978) by Matthew J. Bruccoli

In The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald's major theme, as Edmund Wilson indicated, is the meaninglessness of life. The story shows, or was meant to show, the "decay" of his hero, Anthony Patch: "a man of delicate organization in revolt against the inexplicable tragedy of existence." As Fitzgerald was to realize later, H. L. Mencken's "idea" of literature was "ethical rather than aesthetic." All superior literature must, he thought, reflect a prescribed "tragic" attitude toward life. Since this philosophical attitude (the "fiats of destiny" are meaningless and the "mandates and vagaries of God" are unintelligible) results in an inner struggle, "the theme of the great bulk of superior fiction," Mencken concluded, is "character in decay." In this general tragic view Mencken found the common meeting ground of Dostoievsky, Balzac, Hardy, Conrad, Flaubert, Zola, Turgenieff, Goethe, Sudermann, Bennett, and Dreiser. "In nearly all first-rate novels the hero is defeated. In perhaps a majority he is completely destroyed."

Thomas Boyd’s 1922 description of Scott Fitzgerald: “His eyes were blue and clear; his jaw was squared at the end which perceptibly protruded; his nose was straight and his mouth, though sensitive looking, was regular in outline. His hair which was corn-colored, was wavy. His were the features that the average American mind never fails to associate with beauty. But there was a quality in the eye with which the average mind is unfamiliar.” That last quality is, of course, intellect, or genius, and Fitzgerald sought to portray himself as both hedonistic and intellectual at the same time. Boyd concludes, “To be with him for an hour is to have the blood in one’s veins thawed and made fluent.” Years later, when Fitzgerald could no longer control his own public persona, he was to read Michel Mok’s notorious description for The New York Post which stands in such stark and painful contrast to those of a decade earlier: “His trembling hands, his twitching face with its pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.” -Sources: "The Fictional Technique of F. Scott Fitzgeral" (1957) by James E. Miller and "The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald" (2001) by Ruth Prigozy

Friday, November 28, 2014

Loretta Young ('Born to be Bad'), Sheilah Graham, F. Scott Fitzgerald & Zelda: 'Invented Lives'

"Born to Be Bad" (1934) is an early production from the recently formed 20th Century Pictures that winds up feeling a lot like a pre-Code release from producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s former employer, Warner Bros. After Zanuck split from Warners in 1933, he and Joseph Schenck of United Artists formed 20th Century, a company whose earliest releases included outrageous titles such as The Bowery, Blood Money (both 1933), and this film, Born to Be Bad. Zanuck produced the films at 20th Century and Schenck distributed them through United Artists. The company released almost two dozen features through 1935, when 20th Century split from United Artists to merge with Fox films, creating 20th Century-Fox.

“You’re bad, bad all the way through. You’re just a beautiful bad girl.”

Thanks to stars Loretta Young and Cary Grant, Born to Be Bad may be the best known of 20th Century’s pre-merger output, but it is far from that company’s best release, and was the only one of those few films that actually lost money. It suffered production woes, as producer Zanuck tried to wrestle a messy story into better shape, but timing also dealt a blow. Born to Be Bad’s May 1934 release resulted in boycotts and it was even banned from a few theaters in the weeks leading up to full enforcement of the Production Code. Source:

"On one tipsy occasion Fitzgerald told his secretary that he preferred the Loretta Young type of good looks to mine. She had a more fragile beauty, he insisted. Another time he compared me with Zelda, to my disadvantage. When he was sober, he felt only pity for Zelda. 'If only you and I had met earlier,' he used to say, 'Zelda and I were wrong for each other from the start.' But I might not have liked him at all in those early years of his success, although, if we had met, he might not have been that kind of man. The question is, would he have been as good a writer? He might not have started as a novelist without the compulsion to make money to marry Zelda. He idealized women. He could never be promiscuous. It was necessary for him to have only a woman, dedicated to her. I was a bad swimmer, and while the only time I saw Scott in the water was at Malibu when he was wildly drunk and he jumped into the ocean fully dressed, he thought it essential to teach me to swim. He paid Mr Horton thirty dollars a month to keep his pool clean and filled with water. Scott would stand on the shady side of the concrete border of the pool; he was convinced the sun was bad for his TB. I tried to copy his movements, but it was difficult with him on land and me in the water. Scottie was delighted with the pool when she stayed with her father in the summer of 1939. It was her last visit to California and the last time they saw each other." -"College of One" (1967) by Sheilah Graham

Researchers at a British university found that men with higher IQs place greater value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity than their less intelligent peers. But the connection between conventional sexual morality and intelligence is not mirrored in women, it seems. The researchers could find no evidence that clever women are more likely than the general population to remain faithful. The patterns were uncovered by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science in a paper published in the March edition of the journal Social Psychology Quarterly. He concluded: "As the empirical analysis ... shows, more intelligent men are more likely to value monogamy and sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men." Dr Kanazawa claims that the correlation between intelligence and monogamy in men has its origins in evolutionary development.

"Scott had been faithful to Zelda, he said, until her breakdown in 1930. Scott was remarkable for the wholeheartedness and fidelity of his devotion. He made one woman of absolute importance to him, lavishing on her all his charm, energy, and time. His approach to women, moreover, both in life and in his fiction, was on a spiritual rather than sexual plane. The only important extramarital affair which Scott described to me occurred during that 1935 summer. The woman, Beatrice Dance, was a married belle from Memphis. I have often had the thought that Scott's nature was more spiritual than my own, which I always considered earthy. Zelda drew a similar comparison; she claimed that she was more sensual than Scott. Certainly he was an aesthetic, finely tuned man. But this did not preclude a healthy sexual appetite. As a lover, in terms of giving physical pleasure, he was very satisfactory. “Where did that gorgeous face come from?” he would ask, his head on one side, his loving eyes taking in every feature and expressing the wonder that he had been so lucky as to find me." -"The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald: Thirty-Five years later" (1976) by Sheilah Graham

Dorothy Parker's cynicism about love is evident in her poem "The Dark Heart of Love" ("life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea; and love is a thing that can never go wrong; and I am Marie of Rumania.") One of her lovers was F. Scott Fitzgerald, though the affair was brief (in 1934) and according to columnist Sheilah Graham (Fitzgerald's long-time companion) their affair was motivated "by compassion on her part and despair on his". It was not Parker's only extra-marital relationships and in between affairs she married twice. Dorothy Parker avoided Carl Van Vechten (writer, photographer and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein) at all cost. Once, spotting him in a Philadelphia hotel, she fled through the nearest door (the entrance to the men's room).

Van Vechten was in his forties when he met the Fitzgeralds. In his novel The Blind Bow Boy (1923), Van Vechten had included some of his subjects from the Jazz Age: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein. Fitzgerald professed The Blind Bow Boy was better than Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay (1923). Zelda's enthusiasm for Van Vechten's arch humor was genuine. Van Vechten tended to romanticize the Fitzgeralds's public squabbles and devotion: "[they] tortured each other because they loved one another devoutedly."

Van Wyck Brooks (the historian of American literature) kept an image of Scott & Zelda as romantic lovers. Fitzgerald's drunken generosity was confirmed by Ernest Boyd. Fitzgerald met Scots journalist James Drawbell in a speakeasy. Both had much in common and they talked about women. Drawbell was not inclined to be promiscuous. "I've had all the fun," Fitzgerald said, "but in my heart I can't stand this casual business. With a woman, I have to be emotionally in it up to my eyebrows, or it's nothing... When I love, I love. It has to be my life." -"Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald" (1984) by James R. Mellow