WEIRDLAND: September 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fred MacMurray & Ray Milland: rivals in "The Gilded Lily"

"The Gilded Lily" (1935) directed by Wesley Ruggles, starring Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray

"The Gilded Lily" (working title "One Night Like This") told the story of a New York stenographer (Claudette Colbert) who meets an Englishman (the rising Ray Milland) and falls in love with him. She finds out that the Englishman is a nobleman and is also engaged. There is a third character (the more pivotal male role, actually), a reporter and platonic friend, who writes a series of articles about the girl who refuses nobility. When the stories reach the mases Colbert's character becomes a member of café society. Ultimately, she must choose between the nobleman and the reporter.

The nobleman is not written as an out-and-out scoundrel, and, as played by Ray Milland, is quite attractive. But the pivotal role of the reporter hadn't yet been cast, and he had to be attractive enough to compete with the darkly handsome Milland. Paramount attempted to borrow Franchot Tone from MGM, but since they had just loaned him to Paramount for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" they were not about to allow Paramount to borrow him for a second picture in a row. There was some thought of 30-year-old Cary Grant for the reporter, but with his slight cockney accent he was not considered American enough.

Ruggles decided to try and enlist the support of Colbert behind Fred MacMurray. In his autobiography, George Murphy recalls that he is the one instrumental in getting Wesley Ruggles to select Fred for "The Gilded Lily." After Gary Cooper had proved unavailable for "Hands Across the Table" (1935) the studio had thought of Ray Milland for the part of Ted.

Mitchell Leisen had just worked on a picture with Milland: "Four Hours to Kill!" (1935) and felt that the actor could handle the job, but Milland backed off because at this point in his career, despite "The Gilded Lily," he felt uncomfortable performing comedy. Again, the studio thought of Franchot Tone, but when Lombard saw "The Gilded Lily" all bets were off. Lombard's biographer would later write, "Carole certainly knew who Fred MacMurray was. She had danced to music generated by local bands that employed him as a saxophonist, before she had made her first real dent in pictures."

Fred MacMurray's big 1938 release was William Wellman's production of "Men with Wings", an aviation film he starred in with Ray Milland. The Hollywood Reporter had at one time reported that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were locked into making this film. Wellman was one of Hollywood's supreme action directors and had a particular feeling and love for aviation films and he would go to great lengths on this film to get the kinds of aerial shots necessary as well. Fred MacMurray had thought of being a pilot when he was growing up and as things would turn out he would appear in several films as a pilot.

In 1941 while working on "I Wanted Wings" with William Holden, Ray Milland went up with the flight crew filming aerial scenes. While in mid-air Milland decided on the spur of the moment that he'd like the chance to do a parachute jump, but at the last minute the pilot decided that Milland would have to wait till next time, their fuel situation was getting to low to reach the proper altitude for a jump. It was a good thing too. When Milland got back on the ground he learned that the "parachute" he intended to use was really "just a prop."

Boo Roos (a financial advisor of Hollywood actors) soon found that Fred was the ideal client because of his incredible fidelity to the extraordinary budget that he often placed his famous clients on. Roos' Beverly Management paid the MacMurray's mortage and utility bills. Meanwhile, the bulk of Fred's money was invested. In the early 1940s Boo Roos and his seventeen-employee company, Beverly Management Corporation, was at its peak and had a client list which was the envy on Hollywood: John Wayne, Merle Oberon, Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, Red Skelton, Johnny Weissmuller, Lupe Velez, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich.

In August 1941, Roos took MacMurray, John Wayne, Ray Milland and Ward Bond in his forty-foot cabin cruiser on what had been called a 'pleasure cruise' to Mexico. While they were in Acapulco, Roos convinced the foursome to invest in a 28-room resort hotel which stood high above a cliff along the Acapulco beach. Many of the investors would often come and stay or allow their friends to stay for free. All but Fred, who believed if enough people stayed for free the hotel would eventually lose money. Bo Christian Roos would one day become a controversial figure when some of his clients found that the investments that he had made on their behalf were bad and they lost their fortunes and had to start over again. John Wayne is the primary example of this. At one time he was one of Roos' most famous clients but when Wayne was financing his dream project, the film "The Alamo" in the late '50s, he asked Roos to give him a report. Roos eventually had to admit the awful truth that Wayne had lost virtually everything. -"Fred MacMurray: A Biography" (2007) by Charles Tranberg

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Something to Live For" (1952) directed by George Stevens

Advertising executive Alan Miller (Ray Milland), a reformed alcoholic who now does interventions on behalf of Alcoholics Anonymous, is called by Billy (Bellaver), the elevator operator of a residential hotel, to come and intervene in the case of one of the guests, struggling actress Jenny Carey (Joan Fontaine). Alan takes her out and manages to sober her up. By the end of the evening, though, even if they’re not admitting it—and especially because Alan is married with two small kids—they’ve fallen in love.

Milland was of course no stranger to movies about alcoholism, having starred in the far better known Billy Wilder piece The Lost Weekend (1945). For that matter, Fontaine had already appeared in a classic of doomed love, Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948).

But, while Something to Live For has far less of a reputation than either of those, in certain aspects it far transcends them. The chemistry between Milland and Fontaine (who much of the time here uses a throwaway diction that seems almost to anticipate mumblecore) is excellent, nowhere more so than in the movie’s most romantic scene. Source:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Happy Anniversary, Howard Hughes!

"I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I’m a billionaire." -Howard Hughes

In one extravagant gesture, Hughes spent $250,000 to coax blond bombshell Virginia Mayo into the cockpit with him. The occasion was the February 1946 launching of the Hughes-designed TWA Constellation liner, and the ostensible purpose was to introduce America to the luxuries built into the new plane. Howard planned this star-studded flight to center around the romance he envisioned with Mayo, the former showgirl turned statuesque star of Samuel Goldwyn spectacles. Howard's agent pal, Johnny Maschio, engineered the luxurious trip, which was to begin with a cocktail party in Los Angeles and to end with ten days of nightclubbing in Manhattan. The celebrities were invited in pairs, except for Mayo, who was escorted to the very first seat in the firstclass section.

The trip boasted a passenger list that included Cary Grant, William Powell, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and Celeste Holm, all of whom signed on for the full ten days. When the plane encountered head winds over the Rocky Mountains, it bounced up and down, buffeted by the air currents. Crusts of ice formed on the windows.

William Holden, Veronica Lake, Constance Moore and Ray Milland in "I Wanted Wings" (1941).

When Hughes sauntered through the plane and asked for a large tumbler of Dave Chasen's 90 proof vodka, Maschio's wife, the musical star Constance Moore, was alarmed. Grabbing her husband's arm, she asked, "My God, is Howard drinking? We must really be in trouble. Howard never, ever drinks." Maschio headed for the cockpit, where he found Hughes de-icing the windshield with a vodka-soaked towel. Said Howard matter-of-factly, "Works every time." The junket garnered headlines and newsreel attention. But it failed to impress Mayo, who lasted about five minutes in the cockpit. The air turbulence so affected her that she was dangerously dehydrated by the time the plane landed in New York. After seeing a physician, she immediately took a cab to Grand Central Station and a train for Los Angeles.

"I was too sick to realize that I was to have been his date," Virginia Mayo later recalled. Once back in Hollywood, she was admonished by her boss, Samuel Goldwyn. Shaking his head, he noted, "You were crazy to come back. He could have done a lot for you." More often than not, though, Howard's cockpit courtships were successful. -"Howard Hughes: The Untold Story" (2004) by Peter Harry Brown & Pat H. Broeske

Monday, September 22, 2014

"I Wanted Wings" starring Veronica Lake

-"There's no doubt I was a bit of a misfit in the Hollywood of the forties. The race for glamor left me far behind. I didn't really want to keep up. I wanted my stardom without the usual trimmings. Because of this, I was branded a rebel at the very least. But I don't regret that for a minute. My appetite was my own and I simply wouldn't have it any other way." -Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake photographed by Eugene Robert Richee for "I Wanted Wings" (1941)

"I Wanted Wings" (1941) directed by Mitchell Leisen is notable for winning an Academy Award for Best Special Effects and for containing Veronica Lake’s first major role - filmed in the summer of 1940, she was only seventeen years old. It is frequently said that she stole every scene she was in and her career took off shortly after. The same year, she was put into leading roles starting with her part in "Sullivan’s Travels." She would become one of the most popular and successful actresses of the early 1940s.

During the filming of 'I Wanted Wings' Veronica Lake didn't get along with Constance Moore, the film's female lead. Veronica shared living quarters with Moore when the filming shifted to San Antonio, Texas. Each had their own private bedroom with connecting bar and living rooms. Moore was known between her contemporaries as the last of the Texas Swingers, a social butterfly who parried nightly until four or five the next morning. Veronica didn't attend these social gatherings because she took her work very seriously, retiring early to bed. In the meantime, Moore held her all-night bashes on the floor above, keeping Veronica up all hours of the night. The assistant director said he could move her quarters to the sixth floor.

Ray Milland and Brian Donlevy were natural in their roles as wartime pilots and actually flew their own aircraft during many of the film's scenes. Mitchell Leisen turned out to be a good friend of Constance Moore and her husband, top film agent Johnny Maschio. Moore informed Leisen to keep a watchful eye on Veronica since she was a 'troublemaker.' Although Constance considerated Veronica an alcoholic, at this point in her life, Veronica kept her drinking as private as the rest of her personal life. During the final phase of production, Leisen became antagonistic. In fact, when Veronica flubbed a dance sequence with Ray Milland, Leisen tore into her, calling her 'the dumbest bitch I've ever seen.' Veronica broke down in tears.

Ray Milland came over and sympathetically put his arm around Veronica to console her. He told her: 'Never cry. Once they spot any flaw in the armor, they'll take advantage of you every time.' Remembering this lesson, Veronica tried becoming stronger, more withdrawn, and more unreachable. William Holden told her: 'Don't let them get you down, Miss Lake.' Veronica plotted her revenge. The next day, filming began on schedule, but Veronica was nowhere to be found. Leisen was dumbfounded. Veronica had hopped in her 1939 Dodge and headed for Gallup, New Mexico. It was her way of telling Hollywood, its gossip columnists, its star system, and Mitch Leisen 'to go to hell.' -"Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake" (2001) by Jeff Lenburg

Constance Moore: "It was an important film for me because not only was I the top-billed female lead in a cast including Ray Milland and William Holden, but I was playing a young woman who was patterned after an idol of mine, the great wartime photo journalist Margaret Bourke-White."

But the film is stolen by newcomer Veronica Lake with her "peek-a-boo" hairdo. Thirty years later Lake would write vindictively of Moore, claiming that the actress turned the director Mitchell Leisen against her, gave all-night parties which kept her awake, and supported a grasping and vulgar mother. Leisen called Veronica's autobiography “the most vicious thing I've seen... every word of it is untrue. Connie was pregnant, and the heat at the San Antonio location was really getting to her and we were afraid she would lose the child, which ultimately happened. So you can be sure that, under those circumstances, Connie wasn't fooling around while we were on location.” Moore commented, “Veronica Lake was her own worst enemy... Despite all this, 'I Wanted Wings' remains one of my favourite pictures.” Source:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Babylon (Hollywood) Revisited: F. Scott Fitzgerald & Charles R. Jackson

Paramount intended to make The Great Gatsby when the prevailing political and censorship restrictions were more liberal. In 1949, crime is to be obvious, not glamourised and well and truly punished on screen. Therefore, requiring some changes in the story, to satisfy the censors who were against letting the picture being made at all. Nevertheless, this film remains true to the novel's theme of power, greed, betrayal, love, the American dream and social class. Truly, a forgotten adaptation and yet according Alan Ladd's son, David, the character of Jay Gatsby most paralleled his father's life. They were both self-made men who pulled themselves up out of poverty.

According to his son David, The Great Gatsby was the film Alan Ladd was most proud of even though his favourite was the 1953 western classic, Shane. Paramount did not promote or push its acceptance, treating it as a low budget melodrama. Paramount did not allow copies of the 1949 version; future reproductions or promotions, including DVD, letting it slide into oblivion with the release of the 1974 Robert Redford film. As Redford's big screen adaptation is readily available; he is frequently compared with DiCaprio's portrayal of Gatsby. However, very few people have seen a DVD of Ladd's 1949 film. Warner Baxter was the first Jay Gatsby in Paramount Picture's 1926 silent version of The Great Gatsby. Only one minute of this film survives, preserved by the Library of Congress (AFI/Jack Tillmany collection) in the USA, and sadly makes it rather difficult to review Baxter's performance. However, the only adaptation made in his lifetime resulted in F. Scott Fitzgerald walking out on the film before it had finished. The history of the commercial release of Alan Ladd's 1949 adaptation of The Great Gatsby is as much of a mystery as Jay Gatsby himself. Source:

Maureen Corrigan, the “Fresh Air” book critic, seems eager to downsize Fitzgerald to contemporary tastes. In “So We Read On: How ‘The Great Gatsby’ Came to Be and Why It Endures” (Little, Brown & Co.), she has an infectious sense of excitement about the novel, the furthest thing from academic deadness imaginable. She can be shrewd and clear-eyed—rightly pointing out that Daisy, for all Gatsby’s idealization of her, is intended to be an empty shell, not a dream girl, a zero in whom Gatsby has overinvested. Corrigan has also done some terrific reporting; Sylvia Plath, she surprises us, was a Fitzgerald fan, densely annotating her copy of “Gatsby.”

Yet, though she loves the book, she seems reluctant to take it on its own terms. She devotes an entire chapter, called “Rhapsody in Noir,” to the notion that “Gatsby” is a herald and variant of the kind of hardboiled pulp fiction that was then coming into favor. Fitzgerald had an affection for pop fiction, including bad historical novels and detective stories, but there’s little evidence in his letters that he really emulated or learned much from such things as The Black Mask, the detective-story monthly that, Corrigan notes, H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan sponsored as a money-making alternative to their taste-making The Smart Set. The stylishly distinctive noir novels of Cain and Dashiell Hammett came out long after “Gatsby” was published and Fitzgerald’s style was fully formed.

She even reverse-engineers the connection from the noirish forties Alan Ladd movie version of the novel, which the studio tried to make look like a fashionable thriller of that later period. (At another moment, she repeats the idea that the long dash on the last page of “Gatsby” is a deliberate attempt to evoke Gatsby’s dock, thereby marking “one of the first graphic novel moments in American literature.”) In truth, Fitzgerald’s tastes and his ambitions for his writing, and for “Gatsby” in particular—as well documented as any writer’s have ever been—were resolutely high-minded and literary. His masters were the Edwardian novelists John Galsworthy, Compton Mackenzie, and Joseph Conrad.

It was Mackenzie’s Oxford novel “Sinister Street” (1914), with its sinuous, slightly overripe autumnal chiaroscuro, at once elegantly mysterious in its atmosphere and innocently romantic in its aspirations, that gave Fitzgerald the model for the self-consciously lyrical sections of “Gatsby”, while Galsworthy’s disabused take on middle-class manners is the tannins in the wine, and helped give Fitzgerald the courage to write the adultery sections with such blunt realism. “Gatsby” is a deeply Conradian novella, in its fable-like tone; in the play of dark and light between the ash heap and the parties, between the heightened, unreal action and the cool, mordantly ironic tone of the narration. What was seen as weak was exactly his strength. Romanticism under stress always becomes expressionism—what happened to Poe is also what happened to Fitzgerald. When a lyric writer cracks, there’s a new kind of dissonant music in the breaking. The best passages in Fitzgerald’s novels always worked better as fable and fairy tale than as realistic fiction. There is very little second-rate champagne in Fitzgerald. He lives in his sentences, which is where writing lives, in sentences and human sympathy. Source:

The 100 best novels: No 51 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). When Fitzgerald died in Los Angeles, from a heart attack, aged just 44, his publisher's warehouse still held copies of the first edition. There was, as Fitzgerald had predicted, no second act in this American life. Just immortality. The Great Gatsby, in short, becomes a tantalising metaphor for the eternal mystery of art. Hemingway wrote: "I did not know the terrible odds that were against him. We were to find out soon enough." The reviews were not as bad as people claim, and the sale of 20,000 copies was above average. Eliot, for one, was full of praise, but the novel did not match the expectations inspired by Fitzgerald's celebrity. Thereafter, Scott and Zelda's lives began to unravel. She had a breakdown and would end up in an asylum. He went to Hollywood to reverse his fortunes, completed Tender is the Night, and sold some confessional Esquire pieces, later published as The Crack-Up. "My God," he wrote to Zelda, "I am a forgotten man." Source:

In 1940, a New York Times editorial remarked that when the Americans of the turn of the century “spoke of the American Dream, they meant the American hope, the American aspiration, the American ideal. When people wrote of the American Dream after 1930, they meant the American mirage, the American illusion… the American lie.” In less than a decade, the American dream had been so absorbed into the national imagination that America’s paper of record thought it was a phrase that dated back centuries – that only recently had the American dream been revealed as a lie. But it was a recent invention, and as Adams predicted, each generation would need to relearn the lessons of inequality and disappointment, an innocence we keep losing anew. Fitzgerald understood in the midst of the 1920s what most would only see in retrospect: that “the dead dream” will always fight on, as we try to touch the intangible, “struggling unhappily, undespairingly” towards what we keep losing. Source:

Other than one five-week stint in 1931, F. Scott Fitzgerald had not worked in a film studio since First National Pictures had paid him $3,500 to write a modern romance for its young star Constance Talmadge in 1927. Fitzgerald returned to Hollywood in 1937 after an absence of nearly a decade, determined to make a success of his third attempt at screenwriting. Fitzgerald and Zelda had spent several months circulating in Hollywood society, but they left after First National shelved the project, disappointed in his script. Once in Los Angeles, Fitzgerald earnestly schooled himself in scriptwriting and the visual language of film. “He liked pictures,” Budd Schulberg, his screenwriting collaborator and friend, later recalled, “and felt his talent was well suited to the medium.”

Robert Young, Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone in "Three Comrades" (1938), directed by Frank Borzage, scripted by F. Scott Fitzgerald from the book by Erich Maria Remarque

Acutely aware of the potency of the image, Fitzgerald – who as a young man had worked in advertising – could never quite promote himself to best advantage in the film industry, yet for all his misgivings he remained attuned to the glamour and power of cinema, and in three periods of his career he experienced Hollywood’s inner workings firsthand. Fitzgerald’s timing almost always proved prescient, and signature events in his personal life were often uncannily linked to the wider social scene.

In the 1920s, he would brand popular culture, an emerging youth culture, consumerism, and the Jazz Age into the American literary consciousness; his third novel prophetically warned an overindulgent, frenetic country of the hangover to come; and the unraveling of the Fitzgeralds’ personal lives almost perfectly coincided with national collapse at the onset of the new decade. While defining the writer’s lifelong connection with movies as “shifting and frequently ambivalent,” Ruth Prigozy observes that “no other author of his time was as enraptured with the medium as Fitzgerald,” charting the early trajectory from childhood matinees of westerns in Buffalo through frequent visits to Broadway movie houses during prep school and at Princeton, and his “worship” of silent-film director maestro D. W. Griffith. -"F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context" (2013) by Bryant Mangum

The parallels between Charlie Wales (protagonist of "Babylon Revisited", published in 1931) and Fitzgerald himself are the ones most marked and commented upon in biographies and criticisms of his life and works; Fitzgerald put his own past into Charlie Wales (alcohol is the number one connection between Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales, but Fitzgerald's preoccupation with money and his love of football emerge as well), and what he no doubt hoped might be his own future. Fitzgerald's disdain for homosexuals is shown in a 1930 letter to Edmund Wilson: "Paris swarms with fairies and I've grown to loathe it and prefer the hospital-like air of Switzerland where nuts are nuts and coughs are coughs"; this emerges in Babylon Revisited as: "Charlie watched a group of strident queens installing themselves in a corner. 'Nothing affects them,' he thought. 'Stocks rise and fall, people loaf or work, but they go on forever.' The place oppressed him."

Preliminary plans for the film version of Fitzgerald's screenplay treatment of Babylon Revisited had Cary Grant in the role of Charles Wales, and "Scott strutted, mimicking the star's British accent" and said, "Baby, can't you see me as the gorgeous Cary Grant?" -"F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited': A Long Expostulation and Explanation" (1995) by Thomas A. Larson

Fitzgerald met Sheilah Graham less than a fortnight after coming to Hollywood at a party celebrating her engagement to the Marquess of Donegall. He saw her again a week later, at the Screen Writers Guild dance. On July 24 they had dinner together for the first time. Within a month they were lovers. Her engagement was called off, and, though they kept separate residences for propriety’s sake, they began to spend their evenings together. The arrangement lasted until Fitzgerald’s death. "I lost my capacity for hope on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanatorium," said Fitzgerald, by then sunk deep in debt.

In her blonde beauty, Sheilah resembled Zelda—that was what first attracted Scott—but she came from a totally different world. What’s more, she pretended to a status in that world Zelda did not have. According to her story, she had been born to an upper-class English family, but had become a showgirl and a journalist because she found society boring. Not entirely persuaded, Fitzgerald kept prying for details. Eventually she told him the truth. Her name was Lily Sheil. She’d been born in London’s East End slums and raised in an orphanage. She’d been married before, to a much older man who urged her to go on the stage and did not object when wealthy men took her out, since it provided them both with an entree to the upper strata of society.

Attractive and bright, Sheilah was soon moving in those circles; she was even presented at court. With her marriage failing, she came to America and landed a job writing a syndicated column on Hollywood for the North American Newspaper Alliance. She was twenty-eight, made $160 a week on her column, and only dimly understood what she was getting into as Fitzgerald’s companion. When she first told him her story, he asked how many affairs she had had. Sheilah didn’t know what to say. Eight affairs, she told him, and “he was really quite shocked,” she recalls, and then intrigued, and then extremely jealous. In the course of her work she routinely met and talked to the leading actors and directors and producers in Hollywood.

Some of them, finding her attractive, flirted or made passes at her. When this happened—when John Boles or Randolph Scott or Errol Flynn indicated their interest in her—Fitzgerald became furious and resorted to an old method to punish her. He got drunk. At the end of a Sunday afternoon party he and Sheilah gave, Scott drunkenly ordered everyone home and told the last guests— screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and his wife—that he knew they’d never come back, since he was living with his “paramour.” It was a curiously stilted and old-fashioned word; on the back of his framed picture of her, he was more explicit: “Portrait of a Prostitute,” he wrote. These devastating accusations have been interpreted as examples of Fitzgerald’s puritanical streak, but he was also concerned about the impropriety of their relationship.

He sometimes spoke to Sheilah of divorcing Zelda and marrying her. On one occasion, he went so far as to seek reassurance about this plan from Nora Flynn. Go ahead, she advised him. Nora was sure he was doing the right thing. The time had come for him to have a life of his own, and she had “a strange feeling” that Sheilah was the right person for him. He’d be of more use to Scottie if he were happy and “living, so to speak, again.” But the mores of the times, his guilt feelings, and his sense of propriety all conspired against divorcing the woman who had once meant everything to him.

For Three Comrades, the prize-winning film that earned Fitzgerald his only screen credit, producer Joe Mankiewicz did the final polishing over Scott’s vigorous objections. Mankiewicz had removed “all shadows & rythm,” he felt. Fitzgerald summed up Hollywood policy toward writers in these terms: “We brought you here for your individuality but while you’re here we insist that you do everything to conceal it.” Subsequent assignments at MGM did not change his opinion, as he was put on a couple of projects that never reached the screen and pulled off others that did, notably The Women. The money he made from films would go to finance the serious writing that he’d been placed on the earth to do. And even though Hollywood itself was a dump, a “hideous place… full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement,” it generated the material for the first of those books. “My great dreams about this place are shattered,” he wrote in the spring of 1940, “and I have written half a novel and a score of satiric pieces that are appearing in the current Esquires about it.”

The satiric pieces focused on Pat Hobby, hack screenwriter; the novel on Monroe Stahr, producer and last tycoon. Moreover, in The Last Tycoon Fitzgerald established what John Dos Passos called “that unshakable moral attitude… that is the basic essential of any powerful work of the imagination.” Throughout his life Fitzgerald was driven by a strong sense of right and wrong. Katharine Tighe, one of his oldest friends in St. Paul, always thought of him “as someone intrinsically and deeply good.” Fitzgerald attacked the hypocrisy and stupidity of the older generation but not its basic values. Charlie Wales, the reformed playboy in Babylon Revisited, wishes he could “jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element.” So did Fitzgerald, for all around him he saw people who “had no principles.”  During the worst moments of his Hollywood years, Sheilah Graham recalled, he even demanded reassurance from strangers. “I’m F. Scott Fitzgerald, the very well-known writer,” he’d brashly announce, and hope for a glimmer of recognition. But that nonsense stopped with his last bender. -"Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald" (2001) by Scott Donaldson

“He took down The Great Gatsby and ran his finger over the fine green binding,” Charles R. Jackson wrote of Don Birnam’s riveting lecture before a room of rapt, phantom students. “There’s no such thing,” he said aloud, “as a flawless novel. But if there is, this is it.” He nodded. The class looked and listened in complete attention, and one or two made notes. “People will be going back to Fitzgerald one day as they now go back to Henry James. Apart from his other gifts, Scott Fitzgerald has the one thing that a novelist needs: a truly seeing eye.” The Lost Weekend is set in 1936, and Fitzgerald had been dead for almost two years when Jackson began writing it in 1942. Thus, on one hand, Jackson retrospectively invoked the author as a cautionary figure, whereas in 1936 he’d actively worried about his hero’s wellknown alcoholism and wondered whether his latest novel, Tender Is the Night, would also prove to be his last. Indeed, to Jackson’s self-referential mind, the book seemed to mirror both Fitzgerald’s deterioration and his own, and to some extent The Lost Weekend was conceived in homage to that flawed, brilliant novel in particular.

When Tender Is the Night was published, in 1934, Jackson stayed up all night reading it (“It’s fatal to open the book at any page, any paragraph; for I must sit down then and there and read the rest of it right through”), and afterward managed to run the author to ground, by telephone, in the little town of Tuxedo: “Why don’t you write me a letter about it?” said a weary Fitzgerald, “I think you’re a little tight now.” In 1964 Jackson mentioned that phone call in a letter he wrote his family from Will Rogers Hospital in Saranac Lake, where he’d bumped into a former Princeton classmate of Fitzgerald; the man had mentioned that Fitzgerald had once been beaten by police in Rome, just like the drunken Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night, which left Jackson admiring his favorite author all the more for making “beautiful and heart-breaking” art out of such material. Fitzgerald’s work was almost entirely out of print when The Lost Weekend was published in 1944 and Jackson had meant to be “deliberately prophetic” in calling attention to a writer he considered the foremost chronicler of “the temper and spirit of our time.”

More than twenty years later he finally received credit for having played a key role in the so-called Fitzgerald Revival: “Indeed, no author has been more outspoken or more generous than Jackson in his admiration of Fitzgerald’s work,” wrote Henry Dan Piper in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait (1965), which Rhoda gave Charlie for Christmas that year. While in Hollywood in 1944, Jackson got a call from a thirty-year-old novelist and Navy lieutenant, Budd Schulberg, who was drinking with his father at Romanoff’s, and wondered if Jackson would join them. Both father and son had “gone crazy about” The Lost Weekend, and now Budd regaled its author with the tale of his chaotic collaboration with Fitzgerald on the movie Winter Carnival (1939).

Ann Sheridan and Richard Carlson in "Winter Carnival" (1939).

F. Scott Fitzgerald, originally assigned to write the picture, was dismissed in a humiliating scene in front of the Hanover Inn during the 1939 Carnival. Budd Schulberg was also fired off "Winter Carnival" with Fitzgerald. It all started with two bottles of champagne that Budd's father, B.P. Schulberg, the former head of Paramount, had given to Budd and Fitzgerald as a bon voyage gift at the train station in Los Angeles as they headed east to Dartmouth. Schulberg did not know that Fitzgerald was a struggling alcoholic.

In the summer of 1944, Jackson was also summoned by the English gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, a total stranger who had been Fitzgerald’s mistress in his final years: “Well, we met—” Jackson wrote a friend afterward, “a three hour lunch at the Beverly Wilshire—and she poured it all out, poor girl: what he was like in bed, how big, how many times, and you’d be surprised.”

Also, while relaxing at the actress Patricia Collinge’s house, Jackson had pleasantly caught the attention of Bette Davis (“Who’s that sweet little man on the couch?”), with whom he’d be reunited in Hollywood. The MGM contract that would make this possible was still months in the future, but something of the sort was already in the air (“on account of the reputation the book will shortly earn me”) when Jackson demanded a raise of ten dollars per script from Blackett-Sample-Hummert. “Jackson’s purpose is to describe, not to explain,” the critic Granville Hicks wrote. “The result, it seems to me, is as extraordinary a study of psychosis as I have ever read.” Only Don can save himself, and yet (as William Seabrook and other fellow sufferers are apt to foresee) he almost certainly won’t. Already he’s passed the threshold where cumulative remorse becomes unbearable.

For The Lost Weekend (1945) Wilder and Brackett wanted Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, or Ray Milland, in that order, while Jackson had hoped for Robert Montgomery (the two had hit it off at a party chez Brackett), who, he thought, had the “charm” and “knowledge of 'psychopathia'” to do justice to such a difficult role.

Wilder knew how desperate Ray Milland (who had been a contract player at Paramount for a decade, considered a light comedian) was to be tested, even at the expense of forfeiting a glamorous image, and gave him a copy of Jackson’s novel. “I took it to bed with me that night,” Milland recalled, “but after a dozen pages I fell asleep.” Waking in the wee hours, he forged ahead, though he found the subject repellent: he himself “could not abide” drunks, and hardly ever took a drink himself. “Talk about neat, pat, cheap endings,” Jackson wrote a friend; “but also talk about betrayal.”

The Lost Weekend (the movie) now ended with Helen’s talking Don out of suicide by getting him to believe in himself as a writer again; when an inscrutable silence ensued,  Jackson wrote to Brackett & Wilder: "The final scene, as you sent it to me, with the hero working out his problem by writing a book (the implication being that the novel is the very movie we are seeing and the book we have read) is an out-and-out Judas kiss." Jackson was resigned, though he would “derive a small satisfaction” from an advance review in Variety, which mildly faulted the ending of what was otherwise hailed as an “outstanding achievement.” -"Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson" (2013) by Blake Bailey

-Don: Whatever became of your manicurist job? -Gloria: It's too tough on your eyes, all those little hangnails. He's just an old friend of the folks. Lovely gentleman. Buys me dimpled Scotch. -Don: He should buy you Indian rubies, and a villa in Calcutta overlooking the Ganges. -Gloria: Don't be 'ridic'. (Ray Milland as Don Birnam and Doris Dowling as Gloria in The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder)