When it becameclear that Tender Is the Night would not solve Fitzgerald’s financial problems, he once again undertook to write himself out of debt with magazine stories. In April 1934 he began working on a historical novel in the form of a series of stories that could be sold separately. Fitzgerald’s only mature attempt at historical fiction (aside from two Civil War stories written later), “The Count of Darkness,” or Philippe, stories, set in ninth-century France, were the chronicle of the recovery of his father’s territory by Philippe, the young Count of Villefranche. The hero was based on Hemingway, but not recognizably so. (If Hemingway saw himself in Philippe, his reaction is unknown.) Fitzgerald wrote in his Notebooks: “Just as Stendahl’s portrait of a Byronic man made Le Rouge et Noir so couldn’t my portrait of Ernest as Phillipe make the real modern man.” The plan was “tremendously ambitious—there was to have been Philippe as a young man founding his fortunes—Philippe as a middle-aged man participating in the Captian founding of France as a nation—Philippe as an old man and the consolidation of the feudal system. It was to have covered a span of about sixty years from 880 a.d. to 950.” Fitzgerald planned to call the novel “The Castle.” He invested a great deal of research time in the stories, compiling reading lists and preparing historical charts. When Louis Azrael dropped by the Park Avenue house one night, he found Fitzgerald constructing Philippe’s fort with building blocks. A history buff all his life, Fitzgerald kept a Histomap on his study wall and invented a game for Scottie played with picture cards of French historical figures.
Ober had difficulty placing the Philippe stories, but Edwin Balmer of Redbook agreed to take a chance on them. Fitzgerald wrote the fourPhilippe stories on alcohol, receiving $1,250 for the first and $1,500 each for the others. Redbook published the first three with increasing reluctance compounded by Fitzgerald’s inability to meet deadlines, but held “The Gods of Darkness” until after his death (The cover of the September 1935 Redbook lists Fitzgerald as a contributor, but the issue prints nothing by him). In the first story, “In the Darkest Hour” (published October 1934), twenty-year-old Philippe returns to his ravaged ancestral lands in the Loire Valley and organizes the peasants to defeat a Viking band. The second story, “The Count of Darkness” (June 1935), covers the building of Philippe’s fort. The third, “The Kingdom in the Dark” (August 1935), describes how Philippe gives protection to Griselda, the mistress of King Louis the stammerer. Although Philippe warns the king about a Viking ambush, Louis burns his fort. In the fourth story, “The Gods of Darkness,” Philippe rebuilds his fort and defends it against the Duke de Maine. When Philippe is threatened with being deposed by a witch cult, Griselda saves him by revealing that she is a priestess of the cult. In 1935 Fitzgerald planned four more stories for a total of 60,000 words:
The Philippe stories were among the worst fiction Fitzgerald ever published. He was proud of his knowledge of French history, but the stories never come alive because he could not work well with researched material. The mixture of archaisms and modern slang was intended to make the material less remote for the reader, but Fitzgerald’s attempt to render the speech of the Middle Ages is often inadvertently funny. The peasants sound like Southern sharecroppers, and Philippe talks like someone in a hard-boiled novel: “‘Call me “Sire!” … And remember; There’s no bedroom talk floating around this precinct!’” Moreover, all four stories are flawed by inconsistencies of characterization. It is remotely possible that the Philippe stories were intended as political allegory, that Fitzgerald was suggesting comparisons between the Middle Ages and the Depression; but thepoint is lost. He did not entirely abandon the project and several times revived the scheme of enlarging the stories into a book.
In May-August 1934 Fitzgerald wrote “No Flowers,” “New Types,” and “Her Last Case,” which the Post bought for $3,000 each—warning Ober that these stories were not what was expected from F. Scott Fitzgerald. During 1934 he found a market at Esquire, a new fifty-cent men’s magazine that enjoyed surprising success during the Depression by combining contributions of well-known writers, fashion material, and pinups. The editor, Arnold Gingrich, who was a staunch admirer of Fitzgerald’s prose, accepted nearly everything he submitted. In addition to its reliability as a source of emergency money, Esquire appealed to Fitzgerald because Ernest Hemingway was its star contributor. The drawback was that Esquire paid Fitzgerald a top price of $250. Fitzgerald dealt directly with Gingrich; Ober was not involved in the Esquire transactions. The relationship with Gingrich became personal as Fitzgerald’s dealings with Esquire were complicated by his pleas for advances. They did not become close friends, but the editor tried to help him for the rest of Fitzgerald’s life.
Fitzgerald’s first bylines in Esquire appeared on two articles written by Zelda and polished by him, which were credited to “F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”—“Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number—” (published May and June 1934) and “Auction—Model 1934” (July). Both were probably written at Craig House and are attempts to account for the squandered years. They are the most effective articles Zelda wrote because her style was suited to the mixture of nostalgic detail and wry humor.
“Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number—,” a catalog of the hotels they had stayed at, provides a cumulative impression of the quest for pleasure that had once been simple. Fitzgerald’s technique in polishing Zelda’s prose is shown by his holograph revisions in the typescript.
In Salies-de-Bearn, I took a cure and rested in a white pine room flushed with thin sun rolled down from the Pyranees. There was a bronze statue of Henry IV on the mantel in our room and many medicine bottles and a lone uncapturable fly. The casino was closed. The boarded windows were splotched with bird droppings and Salies awaited the return of its own special season. Idling along the smoky streets we bought canes with spears on the end and authentic beret Basques and whatever there was in the souvenir shops.
In Salies-de-Bearn in the Pyrenees, we took a cure for colitis, disease of that year, and rested in a white pine room in the Hotel Bellevue, flush with thin sun rolled down from the Pyrenees. There was a bronze statue of Henry IV on the mantel in our room, for his mother was born there. The boarded windows of the Casino were splotched with bird droppings—along the misty streets we bought canes with spears on the end and were a little discouraged about everything. We had a play on Broadway and the movies offered $60,000, but we were china people by then and it didn’t seem to matter particularly.
Fitzgerald’s revisions add details to Zelda’s impressionistic flow and point up the lesson in his final sentence.
“Auction—Model 1934” is an inventory of the possessions accumulated by the Fitzgeralds during their peripatetic years: “A white sweater next that really can’t be disposed of, though the front is clotted with darns and the back all pulled apart to make the worn places elsewhere meet; it was used while writing three books when the house grew cold at night after the heat went off. Sixty-five stories were forced through its sagging meshes.”6 This passage was almost certainly Fitzgerald’s interpolation.
Fitzgerald’s 1934 contributions to Esquire were an essay, “Sleeping and Waking,” and a pair of atypical stories. “The Fiend” analyzes the relationship between a man and the murderer of his wife and child as the desire for revenge turns into dependence. “The Night Before Chancellorsville” (Fitzgerald retitled this story “The Night of Chancellorsville” when he collected it in 1935.) is a whore’s uncomprehending report of a Civil War battle. These Esquire stories were an attempt to find new material, for he had pretty much exhausted the Post vein of gold. They had the attraction for Fitzgerald of being easy to write because Esquire did not use Port-length stories of 5,000 or 6,000 words. Fitzgerald’s Esquire stories ranged from 1,100 words to 2,250 words.
“Sleeping and Waking,” written in the fall, was the first of what would be a series of confessional articles for Esquire. An account of his struggles with insomnia, it evokes his feelings of guilt and loss as he assessed his life in the sleepless nights: “—Waste and horror—what I might have been and done that is lost, spent, gone, dissipated, unrecapturable.” Sleep comes with a happy dream:
In the fall of ’16 in the cool of the afternoon
I met Caroline under a white moon
There was an orchestra—Bingo-Bango
Playing for us to dance the tango
And the people all clapped as we arose
For her sweet face and my new clothes—
These six lines have become Fitzgerald’s best-known verse. He incorporated them in a six-stanza poem, “Thousand-and-First Ship,” which The New Yorker declined in 1935.
Fitzgerald sought other sources of income to supplement his falling magazine earnings. When Clark Gable came to Baltimore on a personal-appearance tour, Fitzgerald revised his stage act and tried to interest him in a sound remake of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald met George Burns and Gracie Allen, also on tour in Baltimore, and wrote a movie treatment for them on speculation, “Gracie at Sea,” which was not bought. He collaborated on the Burns & Allen project with Robert Spafford, who was working on the stage version of Tender Is the Night.
In September 1934 Fitzgerald approached Dean Gauss about the possibility of delivering eight formal lectures “on the actual business of creating fiction” under the sponsorship of the Princeton English Department, promising to stay sober while on campus. Gauss tactfully replied that the university was not prepared to sponsor these lectures and suggested that Fitzgerald speak to an undergraduate club instead. Fitzgerald wanted some recognition from the English Department and decided to wait for a proper invitation, which never came.
September 1933-September 1934 was the last year for which Fitzgerald wrote a summary in his Ledger, although he continued to make entries through 1936. For his thirty-seventh year he commented: “Zelda breaks, the novel finished. Hard times begin for me, slow but sure. Ill health throughout.” His income in 1934 was $20,032.33, of which all his books (including Tender Is the Night) contributed $58.35; $6,481.98 was listed as an advance against his next collection of stories. Part of this advance was in fact a loan from Scribners, and there were additional loans from Ober.
Perkins wanted to publish Fitzgerald’s next story volume as soon as possible to take advantage of the attention Tender had received. In May 1934 Fitzgerald proposed four possible plans: 1) an omnibus volume of collected and uncollected stories; 2) a volume of the Basiland Josephine stories with new stories that would bring the characters together; 3) a volume of stories written since All the Sad Young Men; 4) a collection of articles and personal writings. Perkins favored the Basil and Josephine plan, but Fitzgerald then decided against the volume because he was concerned that a collection of stories about teenagers would diminish his reputation and because he did not feel up to writing the new stories. He decided on a collection of previously uncollected stories, but told Perkins that it would not be ready for 1934 publication. There were some fifty stories to choose from, and it would take time to edit out the phrases and passages that had been incorporated into Tender. When Perkins advised him not to worry about the repeated material, citing Hemingway as a precedent, Fitzgerald took a firm stand: “The fact that Ernest has let himself repeat here and there a phrase would be no possible justification for me doing the same. Each of us has his virtues and one of mine happens to be a great sense of exactitude about my work. He might be able to afford a lapse in that line where I wouldn’t be and after all I have got to be the final judge of what is appropriate in these cases.”
Fitzgerald was pleased when Bennett Cerf asked him to write the introduction for a ninety-five-cent Modern Library reprint of The Great Gatsby in 1934 and used the opportunity to offer a defense of his career: “Reading it over one can see how it could have been improved—yet without feeling guilty of any discrepancy from the truth, as far as I saw it; truth or rather the equivalent of truth, the attempt at honesty and imagination. I had just re-read Conrad’s preface to The Nigger, and I had recently been kidded half haywire by critics who felt that my material was such as to preclude all dealing with mature persons in a mature world. But, my God! it was my material, and it was all I had to deal with.” Fitzgerald was not satisfied with his introduction and asked Cerf to let him rewrite it for a second printing, but The Modern Library discontinued The Great Gatsby because of insufficient sales.
Perkins visited Fitzgerald in July 1934 and took him to meet Elizabeth Lemmon in Middleburg, Virginia. Miss Lemmon was Perkins’s cousin, with whom he had a longstanding attachment. Fitzgerald was impressed by her intelligence and charm, and saw her in Virginia and Baltimore; but he was too burdened by worry and illness to maintain a close relationship. After a visit to “Welbourne,” the Lemmon family home, he rose to the occasion by writing “The True Story of Appomat-tox,” which he had printed to look like a newspaper clipping:
We have learned that when Grant had decided to surrender his milk-fed millions to Lee’s starving remnants and the rendezvous was arranged at Appomattox Court House, Lee demanded that Grant put his submission into writing. Unfortunately Grant’s pencil broke, and, removing his cigar from his mouth, he turned to General Lee and said with true military courtesy: “General, I have broken my pencil; will you lend me your sword to sharpen it with?” General Lee, always ready and willing to oblige, whipped forth his sword and tendered it to General Grant.
“Her Last Case,” a Post story about alcoholism written in August, is set at “Welbourne.”
In October, Perkins warned Fitzgerald that Scribners would not be able to make further advances against future books, but Fitzgerald continued to get small personal loans from Perkins. Concerned that Perkins was giving up on him, Fitzgerald defended himself against unspoken charges on 8 November 1934:
I know you have the sense that I have loafed lately but that is absolutely not so. I have drunk too much and that is certainly slowing me up. On the other hand, without drink I do not know whether I could have survived this time. In actual work since I finished the last proof of the novel in the middle of March, eight months ago, I have written and sold three stories for the Post, written another which was refused, written two and a half stories for the Redbook, rewritten three articles of Zelda’s for Esquire and one original for them to get emergency money, collaborated on a 10,000-word treatment of “Tender Is the Night”, which was no go, written an 8,000-word story for Gracie Allen, which was also no go, and made about five false starts on stories which went from 1000 to 5000 words, and a preface to the Modern Library edition of “The Great Gatsby”, which equalizes very well what I have done in other years. I am good for just about one good story a month or two articles.
Much of this work was wasted—two unsold movie treatments, five aborted stories, and one rejected story. Fitzgerald was working, but to little purpose and for little income. He again borrowed from his mother as his debts mounted. When Gertrude Stein, who was making an American lecture tour, came to Park Avenue with Alice B. Toklas during the 1934 Christmas holidays, and Zelda was upset that Fitzgerald insisted on giving them one of her paintings.
In December 1934 Ober felt compelled to tell Fitzgerald that his unreliability was destroying his magazine markets. Ober also complained about Fitzgerald’s attempts to interpose himself in negotiations with editors when he was drinking.
Up to a couple of years ago if you had sent me word that a story would arrive on a certain date, I would have been as certain that the story would arrive as that the sun would rise the next day. Lately when you have wired me that a story would be sent on a certain date I have no faith at all that it will come. … I do think it would be better if you would make it a rule not to call up or write editors, and while I am on the subject I think it would be better if you did not call up or write to moving picture executives… You are apt to use the telephone when you are not in your most rational state of mind and when you do call anyone up in that way it only adds to the legend that has always been ready to crop out—that you are never sober.
From November 1934 to January 1935 Fitzgerald worked on assembling his fourth story collection. With some misgivings he titled it Taps at Reveille, expressing concern that women would not know how to pronounce “reveille.” The alternate titles included “Basil, Josephine and Others,” “When Grandma Was a Boy,” “Last Year’s Steps,” “The Salad Days,” “Many Blues,” “Just Play One More,” “Dance Card,” “Last Night’s Moon,” “In the Last Quarter of the Moon,” “Golden Spoons,” and “Moonlight in My Eyes.” After considerable juggling of the contents, Fitzgerald settled on eighteen stories: five Basil stories (“The Scandal Detectives,” “The Freshest Boy,” “He Thinks He’s Wonderful,” “The Captured Shadow,” “The Perfect Life”), three Josephine stories (“First Blood,” “A Nice Quiet Place,” “A Woman with a Past”), “Crazy Sunday,” “Two Wrongs,” “The Night of Chancellorsville,” “The Last of the Belles,” “Majesty,” “Family in the Wind,” “A Short Trip Home,” “One Interne,” “The Fiend,” and “Babylon Revisited.” Taps at Reveille was Fitzgerald’s largest collection. Despite the two uncharacteristic Esquire stories, “The Fiend” and “The Night of Chancellorsville,” it was a balanced volume, beginning with Basil and Josephine and including strong stories from the Thirties. Nonetheless, good stories were omitted—“One Trip Abroad,” “The Swimmers,” “Jacob’s Ladder”—because Fitzgerald had borrowed from them in Tender.
Published on 10 March 1935 in a printing of 5,100 copies, Taps was dedicated to Harold Ober. As was always the case with Fitzgerald’s story volumes, the reviews were mainly favorable; but a $2.50 book of stories was a luxury item in 1935, and the collection was not reprinted. The reviews by John Chamberlain in The Times and William Troy in The Nation were respectful appraisals of Fitzgerald’s career and material, expressing the hope that he would write more ambitious stories worthy of his social and moral insights. Chamberlain made apoint of defending Fitzgerald against the charge that his material was trivial, asserting that his characters were no more futile than those of Faulkner, Proust, Flaubert, or Lewis.
Zelda repeatedly attempted suicide at Sheppard-Pratt. During one of his visits Fitzgerald prevented her from throwing herself under a train while they were taking a walk. John O’Hara stopped off in Baltimore to see Fitzgerald early in 1935 and later described a Sunday afternoon when “I had Scott and Zelda in my car and I wanted to kill him. Kill. We were taking her back to her Institution, and he kept making passes at her that could not possibly be consummated. We stopped at a drug store to get him some gin. The druggist would not give it to him. I had to persuade the druggist to relent, and he got the gin. But I wanted to kill him for what he was doing to that crazy woman, who kept telling me that she had to be locked up before the moon came up.” Although Fitzgerald’s behavior with Zelda was sometimes cruel or irrational, he retained a fidelity to their past, a sense of regret that was not always distinguishable from self-pity. He wrote in his Notebooks: “The voices fainter and fainter—How is Zelda, how is Zelda—tell us—how is Zelda&”. In grieving over her insanity he was also mourning the loss of his happiness. “Lamp in a Window,” a poem addressed to Zelda which The New Yorker published in March 1935, shows this mixture of regret, nostalgia, and self-pity:
Do you remember, before keys turned in the locks
When life was a closeup, and not an occasional letter,
That I hated to swim naked from the rocks
While you liked absolutely nothing better?
Do you remember many hotel bureaus that had
Only three drawers? But the only bother
Was that each of us argued stubbornly, got mad
Trying to give the third one to the other.
East, west, the little car turned, often wrong
Up an erroneous Alp, an unmapped Savoy river.
We blamed each other, wild were our words and strong,
And, in an hour, laughed and called it liver.
And, though the end was desolate and unkind:
To turn the calendar at June and find December
On the next leaf; still, stupid-got with grief, I find
These are the only quarrels that I can remember.
On 3 February 1935,feeling desperate and concerned about his lungs, Fitzgerald took Scottie out of school and went to the mountains of North Carolina, which was an area for the treatment of tuberculosis. He picked the resort town of Tryon because he knew Nora and Lefty Flynn there. Nora was one of the celebrated Langhorne girls from Virginia and the sister of Lady Astor. Fitzgerald believed that Nora was in love with him. A former Yale football star and movie actor, Lefty Flynn had an alcohol problem and was on the wagon. Scottie stayed with the Flynns while Fitzgerald was at the Oak Hall hotel. The Flynns were talented musicians, and the entertainment at their house featured their performances. Lefty and Fitzgerald acted in a comic playlet, “Love’s Melody,” which Fitzgerald wrote for the occasion. Nora tried unsuccessfully to persuade Fitzgerald to accept Christian Science treatment for his alcoholism. He carefully noted in his Ledger for February: “Went on wagon for all liquor + alcohol on Thursday 7th (or Wednesday 6th at 8:30 P.M.)”. Fitzgerald’s 1935 story, “The Intimate Strangers,” was a thinly disguised account of the Flynns’ marital histories. They recognized themselves in the story, but were not upset. McCall’s bought it for $3,000.
In February, Fitzgerald wrote a story about his domestic and financial predicament. In “Lo, the Poor Peacock!” a returned expatriate whose business has been ruined by the Depression tries to raise his daughter while his wife is hospitalized (though she is not a psychiatric case). The story was declined by the Post and Ladies’ Home Journal and was not published until 1971 (The 1971 Esquire text was revised by an editorial hand. Fitzgerald’s text was first published in The Price Was High,1979). It is loosely organized and obviously padded as Fitzgerald tried to stretch it to commercial length. Structure and plotting became a problem in Fitzgerald’s stories after 1934. They no longer came to him as 5,000-word units, and he had to fill them in with nonfunctional incidents or scenes. He observed in his Notebooks: “It grows harder to write because there is much less weather than when I was a boy and practically no men and women at all.”
After a couple of weeks in Tryon, Fitzgerald and Scottie returned to Baltimore. Fitzgerald’s tuberculosis had been considered inactive because sputum tests failed to show acid-fast bacilli, but x-rays revealed progressive lung damage. By April 1935 it was active. Dr. J. W. Pierson’s 23 April 1935 report on Fitzgerald’s x-rays in Baltimore reads: “Examination of the chest shows that a much more extensive involvement of the lungs has taken place since the previous examination of June 26, 1933. An area of infiltration is seen in the upper left lobe and the center of infiltration is not as dense as the peripheral portion, which would indicate the presence of a cavity. Large areas of infiltration are seen in the right, middle and upper lobes.” He returned to North Carolina for the summer, staying at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville while Scottie was at camp. Although he was trying to economize, Fitzgerald selected an expensive hotel by Depression standards and spent money on hotel meals which he rarely finished. He was supposed to be resting and writing stories in Asheville, but he needed company—someone to listen to him, to be impressed by him. At the Grove Park Inn he met Laura Guthrie, who was working there as a palmist; the encounter intrigued Fitzgerald because he was writing “Fate in Her Hands,” a gimmick story about a fortune teller, which was sold to The American Magazine. Mrs. Guthrie had literary ambitions and was separated from her husband; she soon became Fitzgerald’s typist, companion, and confidante. There was no romance, but she spent long evenings with him while he drank beer—up to twenty bottles a day—and talked about himself. When they went to the movies, he restlessly changed seats and went out for quick beers.
Mrs. Guthrie kept a journal of her days and nights with Fitzgerald which includes an account of his affair with a married woman that summer. Beatrice Dance was a wealthy Texan staying at the Grove Park Inn with her sister, who was suffering from nervous problems. Fitzgerald flirted with Beatrice—as he did with most attractive women—and she fell in love with him. According to Fitzgerald’s reports to Mrs. Guthrie, Beatrice pushed their affair further than he wanted. It was not a casual infidelity for her; but he made it clear that he wouldnever abandon Zelda, whom he referred to as “my invalid.” The sister’s resentment of Fitzgerald precipitated her nervous collapse. When Beatrice’s husband came to Asheville, her indiscreet conduct revealed that she was involved with Fitzgerald, and there was a confrontation. The affair turned messy, but Fitzgerald seems to have enjoyed himself. In addition to the reassurance provided by Beatrice’s love, he liked being the center of attention and advising people. Beatrice left Asheville in August, and Fitzgerald closed their affair with a firm letter:
This is going to be as tough a letter to read as it is to write. When I was young I found a line in Samuel Butler’s Notebooks—the worst thing that can happen to a man is the loss of his health, the second worst the loss of his money. All other things are of minor importance.
This is only a half truth but there are many times in life when most of us, and especially women, must live on half truths. The utter synthesis between what we want and what we can have is so rare that I look back with a sort of wonder on those days of my youth when I had it, or thought I did.
The point of the Butler quotation is that in times of unhappiness and emotional stress that seemed beyond endurance, I used it as a structure, upon which to build up a hierarchy of comparative values:
—This comes first.
—This comes second.
This is what you [Beatrice], are not doing!
Your charm and the heightened womanliness that makes you attractive to men depends on what Ernest Hemingway once called (in an entirely different connection) “grace under pressure.” The luxuriance of your emotions under the strict discipline which you habitually impose on them makes that tensity in you that is the secret of all charm—when you let that balance become disturbed, don’t you become just another victim of self-indulgence?—breaking down the solid things around you and, moreover, making yourself terribly vulnerable?—imagine having to have had to call in Doctor Cole in this matter! The indignity! I have plenty cause to be cynical about women’s nervous resistance, but frankly I am concerned with my misjudgment in thinking you were one of the strong—and I can’t believe I was mistaken.
The tough part of the letter is to send you this enclosure—which you should read now—
—now you’ve read it?
There are emotions just as important as ours running concurrently with them—and there is literally no standard in life other than a sense of duty. When people get mixed up they try to throw out a sort of obscuring mist, and then the sharp shock of a fact—a collision seems to be the only thingto make them sober-minded again. You once said, “Zelda is your love!” (only you said “lu-uv”). And I gave her all the youth and freshness that was in me. And it’s a sort of investment that is as tangible as my talent, my child, my money: That you had the same sort of appeal to me, deep down in the gut, doesn’t change the other.
The harshness of this letter will have served its purpose if on reading it over you see that I have an existence outside you—and in doing so remind you that you have an existence outside of me. I don’t belittle your fine intelligence by supposing that anything written here need be said, but I thought maybe the manner of saying it might emphasize those old dull truths by which we live. We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.
—You have got to be good.
—Your sense of superiority depends upon the picture of yourself as being good, of being large and generous and all-comprehending, and just and brave and all-forgiving. But if you are not good, if you don’t preserve a sense of comparative values, those qualities turn against you—and your love is a mess and your courage is a slaughter.
Fitzgerald included a dependent letter from Zelda, probably this one written from Sheppard-Pratt:
Dearest and always
I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell. The thought of the effort you have made over me, the suffering this nothing has cost would be unendurable to any save a completely vacuous mechanism. Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that of all my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end.
You have been so good to me—and all I can say is that there was always that deeper current running through my heart: my life—you.
You remember the roses in Kinneys yard—you were so gracious and I thought “he is the sweetest person in the world” and you said “darling.” You still are. The wall was damp and mossy when we crossed the street and said we loved the south. I thought of the south and a happy past I’d never had and I thought I was part of the south. You said you loved this lovely land. The wistaria along the fence was green and the shade was cool and life was old.
—I wish I had thought something else—but it was a confederate, a romantic and nostalgic thought. My hair was damp when I took off my hat and I was safe and home and you were glad that I felt that way and you were reverent. We were gold and happy all the way home.
Now that there isn’t any more happiness and home is gone and thereisn’t even any past and no emotions but those that were yours where there could be any comfort—it is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams. Your song.
I wish you had a little house with hollyhocks and a sycamore tree and the afternoon sun imbedding itself in a silver tea-pot. Scottie would be running about somewhere in white, in Renoir, and you will be writing books in dozens of volumes. And there will be honey still for tea, though the house should not be in Granchester—
I want you to be happy—if there were justice you would be happy— maybe you will be anyway—
Oh, Do-Do Do-Do—
Fitzgerald corresponded with Beatrice for the rest of his life, and she sent him gifts.
Fitzgerald became friendly with Tony Buttitta, the young proprietor of the bookshop in the George Vanderbilt Hotel in Asheville. Buttitta was an aspiring writer and took notes on their conversations, which he published forty years later in After the Good Gay Times. Fitzgerald made Buttitta privy to his affair with Beatrice and lectured him about literature. At Fitzgerald’s request Buttitta introduced him to a call girl. He told her about his sexual difficulties with Zelda, and she assured him that he was normal—repeating Hemingway’s diagnosis that Zelda had been trying to destroy his confidence.
During 1935 Fitzgerald sold seven stories: two to the Post, two to McCall’s, and others to the American, Liberty, and Esquire. The magazine work he had once done so dependably—if grudgingly—had become so hellishly difficult for him that his stories were labored and unconvincing. Two of the 1935 pieces are baffling. “Shaggy’s Morning” in Esquire is a narration by a dog that may or may not have been intended as a parody of Hemingway, “The Passionate Eskimo,” for which Liberty paid $1,500, is a weak story about an Eskimo at the World’s Fair. Some magazines were still willing to pay for Fitzgerald’s name, but not for long.
Since he was now writing to raise fast money for pressing debts, Fitzgerald was submitting what were really working drafts. The inevitable result was that his stories became harder to sell, forcing him to write more stories hastily. Dorothy Parker once remarked that although Fitzgerald could write a bad story, he couldn’t write badly; butin 1935 his style was losing its distinction because he didn’t have time to polish his prose. His plots had become loosely constructed and his characters were unconvincing. He was a sick, tired, depressed man of thirty-eight who thought he had lost the capacity to feel people intensely. For the first time in his career he was producing what was really hack work—as distinguished from commercial work. He explained to Ober in the summer of 1935 why he couldn’t grind out successful commercial stories: “… all my stories are conceived like novels, require a special emotion, a special experience—so that my readers, if such there be, know that each time it’ll be something new, not in form, but in substance (it’d be better for me if I could write pattern stories but the pencil just goes dead on me. I wish I could think of a line of stories like the Josephine or Basil ones which could go faster + pay $3000. But no luck yet. If I ever get out of debt I want to try a second play. It’s just possible I could knock them cold if I let go the vulgar side of my talent.)” His search for story material reopened the Zelda-Jozan wound in “Image on the Heart,” wasting his intense emotion on a minor story for McCall’s.
In September 1935 Ober found Fitzgerald the assignment to write a short antiwar radio drama, “Let’s Go Out and Play,” for the World Peaceways program. Fitzgerald was paid $700 and began considering other radio projects. He outlined a thirteen-week series about a father and his daughter, called “With All My Heart,” but Ober was unable to sell the plan. Fitzgerald’s thinking about the radio series yielded the idea for a Post series about a widower raising his teenage daughter. The girl, Gwen, was based on Scottie, and Fitzgerald hoped his feelings as a sole parent would make the Gwen stories as successful as the Basil and Josephine stories. In 1935 and 1936 he wrote four stories about Gwen. The Post took “Too Cute for Words” and “Inside the House” at $3,000 each, but declined the other two and recommended that Fitzgerald discontinue the series. The material was thin because Fitzgerald did not respond intensely to Scottie’s interests, but the main difficulty with the Gwen stories was that they were hastily written. They were freighted with too many incidents and the plots were labored. By this point Ober was functioning as editor and even collaborator because the versions Fitzgerald sent him weren’t in salable form. For one of the Gwen stories, “The Pearl and the Fur,” Ober sent Fitzgerald a list of twenty-nine recommendations for revisions. The two Gwen stories rejected by the Post—“The Pearl and the Fur” and “Make Yourself at Home”—were sold for $2,500 and $1,000 to thePictorial Review with the names of the characters changed, but they were not published there. “Make Yourself at Home” seems to have been resold to Liberty, where it appeared as “Strange Sanctuary” in 1939. Some of the stories written in 1935-37 were not marketable at any price. A 1935 story called “I’d Die for You” was rejected by thePost, American, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Collier’s, and Woman’s Home Companion. (The unsold stories written during 1935-37 included “Travel Together” (1935), “Lo, The Poor Peacock!” (1935), “I’d Die for You,” “The Legend of Lake Lure” (1935). “Cyclone in Silent Land” (1936), “Thank You for the Light” (1936), “They Never Grow Older” (1937), “The Vanished Girl” (1937), and “Offside Play” (also titled “Athletic Interview” and “Athletic Interval,” 1937).
Fitzgerald was treated in Asheville by lung specialist Dr. Paul Ringer. During August 1935 he drank steadily, and Dr. Ringer put him in the hospital in September to dry out. Upon his discharge Fitzgerald returned to Baltimore. For a while during the fall he had two apartments—one at the Cambridge Arms on Charles Street across from the Johns Hopkins University campus and another two blocks away at 3300 St. Paul Avenue. The Cambridge Arms became Fitzgerald’s Baltimore residence after December 1935.
When the Princeton Triangle Club came to Baltimore during its Christmas tour, Fitzgerald organized a theater party for Scottie and some of her friends, including Peaches Finney. He had a pre-theater chicken dinner sent to the Cambridge Arms and proceeded to give the boys a carving lesson using two carrots. His guests could not decide whether the demonstration was inspired by drunkenness or whether it was intended as an entertaining performance.
Fitzgerald felt the strain of being the sole parent of a teenager. He claimed that Scottie had played the record of “Cheek to Cheek” (which he called “Cheek by Jowl”) so many times that every note was engraved on his innards. But he was interested in her friends and entertained them with stories when they came to the house. Always concerned about providing her with a career, he considered enrolling Scottie in a New York drama school, but she refused to leave the Bryn Mawr School.
In November 1935Fitzgerald fled the Baltimore winter and went to Hendersonville, North Carolina. During his absences from Baltimore Scottie stayed with the Finneys or with Mrs. Owens. Taking a cheap room in the Skyland Hotel, Fitzgerald washed his own linen and lived on canned food. “But it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing that I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a $13. deficit at my bank.” Here he wrote “The Crack-Up.” He had been asking for advances from Esquire, but Gingrich explained that he could not send money without something to show the accountants. “I suggested that he put down anything that came into his head, as automatic writing in the Gertrude Stein manner, or that, if even that were beyond his powers of concentration, he simply copy out the same couple of sentences over and over, often enough to fill eight or ten pages, if only to say I can’t write stories about young love for The Saturday Evening Post” The first of these articles was “The Crack-Up,” followed by “Pasting It Together” and “Handle with Care,” which appeared in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Esquire (When Edmund Wilson edited The Crack-Up in 1945, the titles for “Pasting It Together” and “Handle with Care” were transposed). These confessional pieces became Fitzgerald’s best-known essays and provided the name for his 1935-37 period.
In the “Crack-Up” series Fitzgerald analyzed his emotional bankruptcy and produced the irony of a writer writing brilliantly about his inability to write because of the loss of his capacity to care about the things and people he had once responded to so completely. Beginning with the proposition that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” Fitzgerald diagnosed that he had become depleted by “mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt.” After describing the blows and failures that had produced his emotional bankruptcy in “Pasting It Together,” he announced in “Handle with Care” that he intended to survive by becoming just a writer—not a person giving himself to people. Nonetheless, the contempt with which he described this new man revealed that it was impossible for him to altogether relinquish “the old dream of being an entire man in the Goethe-Byron-Shaw tradition, with an opulent American touch, a sort of combination of J. P. Morgan, Top-ham Beauclerk and St. Francis of Assisi.”
The reactions to the “Crack-Up” series further undermined Fitzgerald’s position as a commercial writer. Public confession is contemptible to many people, and Fitzgerald had admitted that he was a broken man. Ober found that the magazine editors became even more suspicious of Fitzgerald’s ability to deliver good stories, and the movie people who had expressed interest in hiring him now thought he was washed up.
The “Crack-Up” articles dramatized Fitzgerald’s condition, but they did not exaggerate it. He had suffered a lesion of confidence. With his facility for expressing the mood of an era in his life and work, he seemed to personify both the excesses of the Boom and the anguish of the Depression. Not only did he appear to be finished as a writer, but his name seemed to evoke shameful aspects of American experience. His friends were appalled by the articles, finding in them a mixture of self-pity, egotism, and exhibitionism. It seemed to some of them that Fitzgerald was enjoying his humiliation. John Dos Passos rebuked him: “I’ve been wanting to see you, naturally, to argue about your Esquire articles—Christ, man, how do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about all that stuff? If you dont want to do stuff on your own, why not get a reporting job somewhere… We’re living in one of the damndest tragic moments in history—if you want to go to pieces I think its absolutely o.k. but I think you ought to write a first rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces for Arnold Gingrich—” Perkins found the “Crack-Up” articles embarrassing and wished Fitzgerald had never written them. Hemingway regarded them as cowardly and shameful.
Fitzgerald knew that he and Hemingway would never again be close, but he continued to think of their 1925—2-6 friendship as one of the high spots of his life and kept in touch with him. Approaching the peak of his reputation as the most famous living writer, Hemingway was unable to generate much sympathy for Fitzgerald. His tactic was to kid Fitzgerald’s troubles with bullying humor. When Fitzgerald sent him a depressed letter, Hemingway replied in December 1935 by offering to arrange for him to be killed in Cuba so that Zelda and Scottie could collect the insurance.
… and I’ll write you a fine obituary that Malcolm Cowley will cut the best part out of for the new republic and we can take your liver out and give it to the Princeton Museum, your heart to the Plaza Hotel, one lung to Max Perkins and the other to George Horace Lorimer. If we can still find your balls I will take them via the Ile de France to Paris and down to Antibes and have them cast into the sea off Eden Roc and we will get MacLeish to write a Mystic Poem to be read at that Catholic School (Newman?) you went to. Would you like me to write the mystic poem now. Let’ see.
Lines To Be Read At the Casting of Scott FitzGerald’s balls into the sea from Eden Roc (Antibes Alpes Maritimes)
Whence from these gray
Heights unjockstrapped wholly stewed he
Push tenderly oh green shoots of grass
The gray moving unbenfinneyed sea depths deeper than
our debt to Eliot
Fling flang them flung his own his two finally his one
uprising lost to sight
not artificial no ripple make as sinking sanking sonking sunk
Despite his falling magazine prices, Fitzgerald earned $16,845.16 in 1935, a good income in a Depression year; but his debts mounted ashe continued to borrow from Ober and obtained small loans from Perkins and John Biggs. On 28 December he wired Ober: HAVE TRIED LIFE ON SUBSISTANCE LEVEL AND IT DOESn’T WORK STOP I THOUGHT IF I COULD HAVE THIS MONEY I COULD HOLD MY HEAD UP AND GO ON STOP WHAT YOU SUGGEST POSTPONES BY HALF A YEAR THE LIQUIDATION WE BOTH WANT STOP PLEASE CARRY ME OVER THE SECOND GWEN STORY AND GIVE ME TWENTY SEVEN HUNDRED
During their 1930 trip to North Africa the Fitzgeralds had met L. G. Braun, manager of ballerina Olga Spessivtzewa. In 1936 Braun was in America trying to arrange a movie contract for Spessivtzewa with Samuel Goldwyn. Fitzgerald became interested in writing a screenplay for her, believing that Zelda’s ballet experiences had provided him with material. He had probably already written a ballet synopsis called “Lives of the Dancers.” (“The Lives of the Dancers” is in the “Unclassified” section of the Notebooks (#1599). Its story line follows the Russian ballet to Paris and America after the 1917 revolution). Fitzgerald asked Ober to arrange a meeting with Goldwyn, which did not occur; and in March 1936 he wrote a treatment for the movie called “Ballet Shoes,” which combined a benevolent rumrunner, a “little waif,” a long-lost father, and a great deal of coincidence. Fitzgerald expected to “deliver something entirely authentic in the matter full of invention and feeling,” but his treatment offered the far-fetched situations that he believed the movies required. Nothing came of the project. Another movie possibility was a treatment for boy soprano Bobby Breen, suggested by Ober; Fitzgerald came up with an idea but was not encouraged to work on it.
In March 1936 Simon & Schuster, in response to the attention the “Crack-Up” articles were receiving, approached Fitzgerald about the possibility of publishing a volume of his autobiographical articles. Fitzgerald cleared the offer with Perkins, who suggested that Fitzgerald instead write “a reminiscent book,- not autobiographical, but reminiscent” for Scribners. Believing that it would be as much work to write this book as a new novel, Fitzgerald tried to persuade Scribners to take over the autobiographical collection. Perkins felt the articles volume would spoil the chance for a book of reminiscences, but indicated that he would publish the collection if Fitzgerald insisted. The project was dropped in June after Gilbert Seldes wrote Fitzgerald arguing against it—almost certainly at Perkins’s request.
Still hoping to develop a series for the Post, Fitzgerald in May 1936 wrote “Cyclone in Silent Land,” the first of a projected series of stories about a nurse nicknamed Trouble. The Post declined it, and Fitzgerald wrote a second nurse story, “’Trouble,’” in June. “’Trouble’” was reluctantly accepted, but the Post discouraged continuation of the series and advised Fitzgerald to invent a new character. The story was held until the March 1937 issue and was the last of Fitzgerald’s sixty-five Saturday Evening Post stories. George Horace Lorimer retired from the Post at the end of 1936. He was succeeded by Wesley Winans Stout, with whom Fitzgerald had no connection.
Zelda did not improve at Sheppard-Pratt and was experiencing a religious mania. On 8 April 1936 Fitzgerald transferred her to Highland Hospital at Asheville, where the minimum monthly fee was $240. Dr. Robert S. Carroll, the director of the sanitarium, had developed a treatment for mental problems on the theory that they resulted from toxic substances. (Fitzgerald had proposed a similar theory to Dr. Forel at Prangins.) The regimen at Highland was based on controlled diet and exercise. Fitzgerald gave Dr. Carroll copies of Tender Is the Night and Save Me the Waltz with a letter about Zelda’s novel in which he claimed that he could have beat Jozan in a fight: “Parts of it made me angry—at the time of my quarrel … with her French friend I could have annialated him in two minutes. I boxed for some months with Tommy and Mike Gibbons [The Gibbons brothers were St. Paul professionals. Mike claimed the middleweight title, and Tommy fought Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight championship. Fitzgerald’s boast that he sparred with them is unsubstantiated] as a young man + this kid didn’t know his left hand from his right. This is vain statement but the truth.” Again hoping to provide Zelda with an outside interest to alleviate the dull routine of her sanitarium life, Fitzgerald asked Ober to investigate the possibility of publishing a book of Zelda’s letters, but Ober was not encouraging.
Zelda responded to the course of treatment at Highland. There were no further suicide attempts; her religious mania became less intense, although she still prayed a great deal. Her abandoned ballet career remained a permanent regret, and she would dance to the point of exhaustion unless stopped by a nurse. She often spoke wistfully about the lost days of her youth and celebrity.
After settling Zelda at Highland Hospital, Fitzgerald returned to Baltimore—partly to be near his mother, who was terminally ill in Rockville, Maryland. In the summer of 1936 he was back at the GrovePark Inn, but he saw Zelda only a few times because he broke his right shoulder in July. The accident occurred while he was diving, and Fitzgerald insisted that the shoulder actually broke before he hit the water. Placed in a body cast with his right arm elevated, he tried to work by dictation and then wrote on an overhead board. One of the stories Fitzgerald produced in his cast was originally titled “Thumbs Up,” based on his father’s Civil War recollections. It was declined by thirteen magazines before Kenneth Littauer of Collier’s paid $1,500 down in 1937 against an acceptable rewrite. Another setback came when Fitzgerald fell in the bathroom while in the cast; he developed arthritis in the broken shoulder as a result of lying on the tile floor.
When his mother died at seventy-six in August 1936, Fitzgerald was unable to attend her funeral. He was not deeply affected by his mother’s death, but he recognized that he had not been a good son. In a letter to Beatrice Dance he explained: “She was a defiant old woman, defiant in her love for me in spite of my neglect of her, and it would have been quite within her character to have died that I might live.” Before she died, Fitzgerald wrote an obituary for his mother in the September 1936 issue of Esquire. “An Author’s Mother” describes the death of an old woman who is confused by the modern world (Fitzgerald was undecided as to whether “An Author’s Mother” was an article or a story). Though proud of her son, a successful writer, she does not understand his books. Her favorite authors are the nineteenth-century sentimental poets Alice and Phoebe Cary, who at the end “had come to call upon her, and taken her hands, and led her back gently into the country she understood.”
His mother’s death brought Fitzgerald the expectation of temporary relief from his financial problems because his half share of her estate was $22,975.38 (less the $5,000 he had borrowed from her). Under Maryland law he had to wait six months for his inheritance, and by that time he had encumbered most of it—borrowing $7,500 from his St. Paul friend Oscar Kalman and $2,000 from Scribners. When his personal debts were paid, Fitzgerald was left with about $5,000. He spent $75 of his inheritance on a 1927 Packard roadster, which he kept in Asheville.
By the summer of 1936 Fitzgerald owed Scribners $9,000, and his debt to Ober had reached $11,000. Ober’s business, like most others, was suffering from the Depression. He had two sons to educate andwas concerned about the mounting total. It did no good to explain that he could not keep advancing money; Fitzgerald continued to wire desperate pleas for $50 or $100 when his bank account was overdrawn. In August, Fitzgerald secured $8,000 of his debt to Ober with an insurance assignment, at the same time that he assigned $1,500 to Scribners in return for payment of two premiums. Since he carried only $60,000 in life insurance, he was jeopardizing Zelda’s and Scottie’s security by depleting the amount of money that would be available to them.
Scottie, who would be fifteen in October, was accepted by the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1936. The tuition was $2,200 a year, but Fitzgerald arranged for a reduction. From this time on the Obers became her foster parents. They visited her at school, and she stayed with them in Scarsdale during holidays. Fitzgerald maintained a steady flow of letters to Scottie in which he lectured her about self-indulgence and frequently warned her against following in the footsteps of her parents. He selected her courses and tried to prepare her for scientific studies—for which Scottie had no aptitude.
Now, insofar as your course is concerned, there is no question of your dropping mathematics and taking the easiest way to go into Vassar, and being one of the girls fitted for nothing except to reflect other people without having any particular character of your own. I want you to take mathematics up to the limit of what the school offers. I want you to take physics and I want you to take chemistry. I don’t care about your English courses or your French courses at present. If you don’t know two languages and the ways that men chose to express their thoughts in those languages by this time, then you don’t sound like my daughter. You are an only child, but that doesn’t give you any right to impose on that fact.
I want you to know certain basic scientific principles, and I feel that it is impossible to learn them unless you have gone as far into mathematics as coordinate geometry. I don’t want you to give up mathematics next year. I learned about writing from doing something that I didn’t have any taste for. If you don’t carry your mathematics such as coordinate geometry (conic sections), you will have strayed far afield from what I had planned for you. I don’t insist on the calculus, but it is certainly nothing to be decided by what is easiest. You are going into Vassar with mathematical credits and a certain side of your life there is going to be scientific.
Apart from theGwen series, the only high-priced story Fitzgerald sold in 1936 was “ ’Trouble,’ “ for which the Post paid $2,000. There were nine stories and articles for Esquire in 1936 (which brought only $2,250), including two masterfully written essays that continued the “Crack-Up” articles—“An Author’s House” and “Afternoon of an Author.” “An Author’s House” allegorizes the rooms in terms of the influences that made him a writer and the conditions of a writer’s life. There is a fresh grave in the cellar: “ ’That is where I buried my first childish love of myself, my belief that I would never die like other people, and that I wasn’t the son of my parents but a son of a king, a king who ruled the whole world.’ “ The August 1936 Esquire carried “Afternoon of an Author,” an account of a tired and lonely writer trying to get an idea for a story: “The problem was a magazine story that had become so thin in the middle that it was about to blow away. The plot was like climbing endless stairs, he had no element of surprise in reserve, and the characters who started so bravely day-before-yesterday couldn’t have qualified for a newspaper serial.” The irony that the critics have referred to him as “indefatigable” brings tears to his eyes (The writer recalls Stonewall Jackson’s last words, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”—which were also the source for the title of Hemingway’s novel Across the River and Into the Trees (1950). The lead story in the same issue of Esquire was Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” about a dying writer’s loss of integrity, which included a contemptuous reference to Fitzgerald: “The rich were dull and they drank too much or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ’The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, Yes they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.” Though cruelly hurt by Hemingway’s public betrayal of their friendship, Fitzgerald sent him a restrained letter on 16 July:
Dear Ernest: Please lay off me in print. If I choose to write de profundis sometimes it doesn’t mean I want friends praying aloud over my corpse. No doubt you meant it kindly but it cost me a night’s sleep. And when you incorporate it (the story) in a book would you mind cutting my name?
It’s a fine story—one of your best—even though the “Poor Scott Fitzgerald ect” rather spoiled it for me.
Ever Your Friend
Riches have never facinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction.
Hemingway felt that by whining in Esquire Fitzgerald had relinquished his right to consideration. His lost reply to Fitzgerald has been described by Gingrich as “brutal.”
The anecdote about the crushing rejoinder to Fitzgerald—“Yes, they have more money”—has become a standard element in Fitzgerald lore, with Hemingway identified as having delivered the coup de grace. Perkins explained to Elizabeth Lemmon (but not to Fitzgerald) in August, commenting on what he called the “contemptible” reference to Fitzgerald in “Snows,” that it was Hemingway who had been the recipient of the squelch. Perkins, Hemingway, and critic Mary Colum were lunching together when Hemingway remarked, “I am getting to know the rich.” Mrs. Colum replied, “The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” If Hemingway felt so crushed by this exchange that he had to assign it to someone else, then “poor Scott” was a target of opportunity because of “The Crack-Up.” Beyond publicly shaming Fitzgerald, “Snows” did so in Esquire—his last dependable market. Hemingway told Perkins that the reference to Fitzgerald was intended to help him by shocking him out of his self-pity.
On 15 September, Fitzgerald wrote Beatrice Dance that he had resisted continuing the quarrel with Hemingway: “… I wrote him a hell of a letter that would have been sudden death for somebody the next time we met, and decided, hell let it go. … He is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is towards megalomania and mine toward melancholy.” Four days later Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins:
I feel that I must tell you something which at first seemed better to leave alone: I wrote Ernest about that story of his, asking him in the most measured terms not to use my name in future pieces of fiction. He wrote me back a crazy letter, telling me about what a great Writer he was and how much he loved his children, but yielding the point—’If I should out live him—’ which he doubted. To have answered it would have been like fooling with a lit firecracker.
Somehow I love that man, no matter what he says or does, but just one more crack and I think I would have to throw my weight with the gang and lay him. No one could ever hurt him in his first books, but he has completely lost his head and the duller he gets about it, the more he is like a punch-drunk pug fighting himself in the movies.
When “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was collected in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938), Hemingway wanted to retain “Scott” while dropping “Fitzgerald.” It required Perkins’s intervention to have the name changed to “Julian.”
“Snows” was followed by another public humiliation in September 1936. Michel Mok of the New York Post interviewed Fitzgerald on his fortieth birthday when he was drinking and sick at the Grove Park Inn. Mok’s front-page article appeared on 25 September, headlined: “The Other Side of Paradise/Scott Fitzgerald, 40,/Engulfed in Despair/ Broken in Health He Spends Birthday Re-/gretting That He Has Lost Faith in His Star.” Fitzgerald was described as a drunk with the “pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.” When asked how his generation had turned out, Fitzgerald replied:
“Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors.”
His face twitched.
“Successful authors!” he cried. “Oh, my God, successful authors!”
He stumbled over to the highboy and poured himself another drink.
When Fitzgerald saw the article, he was so miserable that, as he reported to Ober, he swallowed an overdose of morphine, which he vomited up. The newspaper article was picked up by Time, and Fitzgerald was concerned about preventing Scottie from seeing it at school. Surprisingly, he turned to Hemingway for support, asking him to respond to Mok. Hemingway replied from Montana that he had not seen the article but was ready to help. Fitzgerald acknowledged his offer: WIRED UNDER IMPRESSION THAT YOU WERE IN NEW YORK NOTHING CAN BE DONE AT LONG RANGE AND ON COOLER CONSIDERATION SEEMS NOTHING TO BE DONE ANYHOW THANKS BEST ALWAYS SCOTT.
Always needing the attention and admiration of women, Fitzgerald developed friendships in Asheville with his nurse, Dorothy Richardson, and with Martha Marie Shank, the proprietor of a secretarial service whom he enlisted as his business manager. (Miss Shank preserved his working drafts and later donated them to Princeton). The Grove Park Inn regarded Fitzgerald as a troublesome guest and refused to allow him to stay without a nurse after he fired a revolver in a suicide threat. Since he was not confined to bed, Miss Richardson’s duties mainly involved trying to limit his drinking and providing company. Inevitably he prepared reading lists for her. At about this time Fitzgerald drafted a memo for Scottie on “How Would I grade my Knowledge at 40”—in which he gave himself a B+ in literature and attendant arts, B+ in history and biography, B- in philosophy, C in psychiatry, D+ in military tactics and strategy, D in languages, D in architecture, D in art, and D in Marxian economics. “Everything else way below educated average including all science, natural history, music, politics, business, handicrafts ect ect.—save for some specialized sport knowledge—boxing, football, women ect.”
When Perkins urged him to use the inheritance from his mother to write an autobiographical book, Fitzgerald explained on 16 October that he needed at least $18,000 a year for living expenses. “I have a novel planned, or rather I should say conceived, which fits much better into the circumstances, but neither by this inheritance nor in view of the general financial situation do I see clear to undertake it. It is a novel certainly as long as Tender Is the Night, and knowing my habit of endless corrections and revisions, you will understand that I figure it at two years.” Nothing is known about the subject of this projected novel; the circumstance that Fitzgerald mentioned it a month after the death of Irving Thalberg is intriguing. But Fitzgerald felt condemned to “this endless Post writing” for ready money. His carelessness with money was compounded by the conviction that penny-pinching would smother his response to experience. “Such stray ideas as sending my daughter to a public school, putting my wife in a public insane asylum, have been proposed to me by intimate friends, but it would break something in me that would shatter the very delicate pencil end of a point of view.”
In the fall of 1936 Perkins asked Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to look up Fitzgerald while she was in North Carolina. At that time the Florida writer had published two books with Scribners but had not yet written her great success, The Yearling (1938). Since Rawlings had overcome bouts of depression, Perkins hoped she would be able to encourage Fitzgerald. The two writers liked each other and exchanged admiring letters after their meeting in Asheville, but geography prevented the development of a closer friendship.
Fitzgerald’s total earnings fell to $10,180.97 in 1936. He continued to borrow from the reluctant but loyal Ober. In December he returned to Baltimore to give a tea dance for Scottie, at which he got drunk and ordered the guests to leave. Scottie was visiting her Baltimore friend Peaches Finney, and the two girls were taken home by Peaches’s father. After the dance was over, Fitzgerald paid the band to keep playing while he sat alone in the middle of the Belvedere Hotel room with a bottle of gin. He spent the Christmas holidays in Johns Hopkins Hospital recovering from flu and drying out. In January 1937 he returned to the Oak Hall hotel in Tryon, where he struggled with stories that were unsalable to the high-paying magazines. When Contemporary American Authors sent him a biographical form in February, he listed his hobbies as “Swimming, mild fishing, history, especially military, bucolic but civilized travel, food and wine, imaginary problems of organization, if this makes sense.” He sold five stories to Esquire and an excellent article, “Early Success,” to American Cavalcade. Reassessing his career from the lowest point of his fortunes, Fitzgerald evoked the period “when the fulfilled future and the wistful past mingled in a single gorgeous moment—when life was literally a dream.”
—America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. The whole golden boom was in the air—its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the torturous death struggle of the old America in prohibition. All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them—the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blewup, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy’s peasants. In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business these people thought—this generation just younger than me.
Three of the 1937 Esquire stories—“The Honor of the Goon,” “In the Holidays,” and “The Guest in Room 19”—were distinctly poor; but “Financing Finnegan” was one of his best in Esquire. Partly a private joke about Fitzgerald’s financial dependence on Perkins and Ober, the story describes the efforts of an editor and agent to subvene disaster-prone author Finnegan. “His was indeed a name with ingots in it. His career had started brilliantly and if it had not kept up to its first exalted level, at least it started brilliantly all over again every few years. He was the perennial man of promise in American letters—what he could do with words was astounding, they glowed and corruscated—he wrote sentences, paragraphs, chapters that were masterpieces of fine weaving and spinning.” After the Post declined the story because the editors thought it would not interest enough readers, it went to Esquire for the standard $250.
Fitzgerald calculated his minimum expenses in Tryon at $101 a week: $35 for himself, $41 for Zelda’s reduced fees at Highland, and $25 for Scottie’s reduced tuition at Ethel Walker. He was spending more than that, of course, and his earnings from Esquire did not support him. Through the spring of 1937 he sent Ober wires pleading for money to cover checks. On 11 May: TO REMAIN HERE AND EAT MUST HAVE ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY TODAY PLEASE ASK PERKINS.
“Financing Finnegan” ends with the statement that “the movies are interested in him—if they can get a good look at him first and I have every reason to think that he will come through. He’d better.” Ober had been trying to get Fitzgerald on salary with a studio since 1935, but Fitzgerald had resisted the plan because he hated the collaborative writing system. As his earnings for the first half of 1937 fell to under $3,500, he admitted that he needed Hollywood. Ober’s Hollywood associate H. N. Swanson—who had published the Fitzgeralds when he was editing College Humor—set about finding a movie job for him. In 1937 the movie people were reluctant to take a chance on hiring him because of his reputation as a hopeless alcoholic—a reputation which the “Crack-Up” articles and the New York Post interview seemed to confirm.
By June of 1937 Fitzgerald had not sold a story, except to Esquire,for almost a year. Despite Ober’s repeated reminders that he had lent him much more than he could afford, Fitzgerald continued to call on him as his debt climbed past $12,000. One of the unsalable 1937 stories was “They Never Grow Older.” The magazine readers’ reports were blunt in their judgment that Fitzgerald had lost the ability to construct a story:
One of the most cockeyed nightmarish stories I have ever read.
It is a confusing muddled story about a famous cartoonist, the girl he has loved since college days, and a rival who has also loved her all his life. For some reason which the author may know but I couldn’t discover the cartoonist never proposes and the girl waits around until she is forty before they finally decide to get married. Just by way of pretending that it is a story, a madman breaks into the cartoonist’s studio and shoots him in the middle of the story. This particular scene reminds us that Fitzgerald can write but it has very little connection with what should be the thread of the story.
In May, Fitzgerald sent Ober “That Kind of Party,” an unpublished Basil story with the characters’ names changed. He was trying to launch another series, but the story was declined by the Ladies’ Home Journal and Pictorial Review because the magazine editors felt it gave too much attention to kissing games. In any case, it was not up to the standard of the Basil stories. That month Fitzgerald managed to raise enough money to take Zelda on a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. So desperate was his situation by June that he and Ober considered a feeler from the Pontiac Varsity show for him to serve as master of ceremonies on the radio program, which toured college campuses.
On 4 June 1937 Hemingway delivered a denunciation of fascism at the meeting of the American Writers’ Congress in Carnegie Hall. Fitzgerald was in New York that day, apparently having made a special trip from North Carolina to see him. They discussed Hemingway’s next book, and Fitzgerald—reverting to his role as literary godfather—urged him to beef up To Have and Have Not with short stories. That day Carl Van Vechten photographed Fitzgerald in front of the Hotel Algonquin. He is wearing a checked jacket and a knit club tie with a white button-down shirt. His hair had darkened and thinned; the eyes appear older than forty years and eight months; his half-smile seems timid. The dapper outfit and the haunted expression suggest the specter of the author of The Great Gatsby.
Later in June, Fitzgerald returned to New York to be interviewed byM-G-M story editor Edwin Knopf, who had written The Wedding Night (1935), a thinly disguised movie portrait of Fitzgerald. Knopf reported to M-G-M that Fitzgerald was in good shape, and he was hired in July for six months at $1,000 per week with an option for another year at $1,250. Fitzgerald made his will on 17 June 1937 in North Carolina, appointing Biggs and Ober as executors.