A man who feared, expected, and even dreamed of rejection, Scott Fitzgerald encountered it disconcertingly often. From the Princeton plutocrats who detected the intruder in their midst to Judge Anthony Dickinson Sayre who at death’s door declined to tell his son-in-law that he believed in him, Fitzgerald suffered a series of repudiations from men. For consolation, for validation of his very worth as a person, he turned to women.
Perhaps because his own mother’s approval was so easily won as to mean nothing, the young Fitzgerald coveted the approbation of his friends’ mothers. He paid them the kind of attention they rarely encountered from adolescent boys. The mother of Norris Jackson, who went to Princeton with Scott, thought his manners were excellent, since he actually seemed to care what she had to say. Other St. Paul mothers, perhaps sensing a trace of calculation, were not so sure about Fitzgerald. Marie Hersey’s mother had her doubts. So did Bob Dunn’s. “If your mother lives,” Fitzgerald wrote Dunn in the mid-1980s, “give her my eternal homage, unqualified by the fact that she was always skeptical of me.” While on holiday from Princeton he talked by the hour with Ruth Sturtevant’s mother. Mrs. Sturtevant thought him “a lonely boy, with strange ideas,” and did not entirely approve of the pale young man with the brilliant eyes and the half grin who was to remind an acquaintance, years later, “of a little boy who wanted to play but wasn’t quite sure of his welcome.”
Fitzgerald had better luck with daughters than with mothers, and pursued them assiduously throughout his life. The quest was inextricably tied up with success. If he could win the heart of the girl—especially the golden girl over whom hung an aura of money, beauty, and social position—surely that meant that he had arrived, that he belonged.
In November 1905, Fitzgerald’s ledger notes, he “went to dancing school and fell in love with Nancy Gardner.” He was nine, and had already embarked on the ritual of courtship that was to become an obsession. At eleven the girl was Kiddy Williams in Buffalo. Scared silly, Scott gave her a box of candy for Christmas. Two months later he had his reward at a party where he kissed her “a great deal.” Fitzgerald recorded such conquests laconically in his ledger, and at greater length in two extraordinary pre-puberty documents, “Girls I Have Known” written at twelve and his “Thoughtbook” written when thirteen and fourteen years old. Clearly, he saw the relations between the sexes in a competitive light. What counted were rankings. He felt a glow of triumph when he moved from third to first in the affections of the bewitching Violet Stockton, a Southern girl visiting St. Paul. He suffered the pangs of defeat when a rival supplanted him at the head of the list. Yet he understood that his real antagonists were not other boys but the girls themselves. One anecdote in “Girls I Have Known” ends as follows:
I smiled, and she said admiringly, “What I wouldn’t give to have your lovely teeth.” But she didn’t get them.
Fitzgerald’s “Thoughtbook,” a twenty-six page diary he kept between August 1910 and February 1911, noted his rise and fall in the teen-age sexual hierarchy of St. Paul. The entry for November 10 reads: “One day Marie Hersey wrote me a note which began either ’Dear Scott I love you very much / or I like you very much’ and ever since then she has been rather shy when she meets me,” Marie Hersey was Scott Fitzgerald’s first girl. Not the first he noticed, or the first he kissed, but his first “fixation,” as he put it, certainly his “first love. “ In dancing school, that winter of 1911, Fitzgerald developed “two new Crushes. To wit—Margaret Armstrong and Marie Hersey.” Margaret was the best talker, but Marie the prettiest and the most popular with other boys. “I am crazy about her,” he wrote. “I think it is charming to hear her say, ’Give it to me as a comp-pliment’ when I tell her I have a trade last for her.”
Marie’s popularity caused Fitzgerald a measure of concern. His ledger for March 1911 reads: “Dancing school. Marie. Love. The triangle. “ The next month he recorded a “Faint sex attraction” in connection with bicycling around the Ames’s back yard on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. These two notes coalesced in “The Scandal Detectives,” one of the Basil Duke Lee stories fashioned after Fitzgerald’s own adolescence.
Basil [Scott] rode over to Imogene Bissel [Marie] and balanced idly on his wheel before her. Something in his face then must have attracted her, for she looked up at him, looked at him really, and slowly smiled. She was to be a beauty and belle of many proms in a few years. Now her large brown eyes and large beautifully shaped mouth and the high flush over her thin cheekbones … offended those who wanted a child to look like a child…. For the first time in his life he realized a girl as something opposite and complementary to him, and he was subject to a warm chill of mingled pleasure and pain.
In the story Hubert Blair (Reuben Warner) takes Imogene-Marie away from Basil-Scott, largely because of his natural grace of movement. Scott could not compete with Warner’s physical gifts, but he was well-endowed for the competition in other ways.
According to a self-assessment at about this time, Fitzgerald considered himself physically handsome, mentally ingenious, and socially personable. He also believed that he “exercised a subtle fascination over women.” Much later he summarized the situation in his notebooks: “I didn’t have the two top things: great animal magnetism or money. I had the two second things, though: good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.” Or almost always.
Above all, Fitzgerald understood how to woo with words. Atdances he would cut in on a girl and tell her immediately, “God, you’re adorable, you’re so beautiful.” He’d pique her curiosity by announcing, “I have an adjective for you.” He’d hint darkly that he was a reprobate who could only be saved by the love of a good woman. Not many held out against such blandishments.
Then there was the written word, and Fitzgerald carried on a wide correspondence with a number of socially prominent sub-debutantes. The Fitzgerald-Marie Hersey letters were particularly lively, since she shared with him a fondness and talent for doggerel.
My Very Very Dear Marie:
I got your little note
For reasons very queer Marie
You’re mad at me I fear Marie
You made it very clear Marie
You cared not what you wrote
Fitzgerald sent this letter late in January 1915, and Marie’s apparent annoyance with him may have traced to the previous Christmas vacation. Marie had asked her Westover schoolmate, Ginevra King, to visit St. Paul, and Fitzgerald had met her and fallen hard. Possibly in retaliation, Marie penned a satiric “Ode to Himself in which Fitzgerald supposedly remarks,
I am the Great Heart Breaker
And I am the Dreamer of Dreams
I am the Great Love-Maker
Neath the moon’s palest gleams
Girl-fusser and girl-forsaker
They come at my beck and call
And I am the Mover and Shaker
Of the whole world—after all!
Whatever its source, Marie’s annoyance did not last long. She and Scott had too much in common. Both were enamored of the game of love, and both played it well. “Dear Playmate,” she used to address him. At Westover, as she lamented in a mock-heroic ballad, her romantic inclinations were frustrated:
The crucial moment is at hand
Where is a hero to console?
The knock-kneed furnace man is near
I guess he’ll have to play the role!
On the bright side, her father had promised her a new car, and she’d begun to plan a hundred schemes: “(1) To run over every good looking boy I see, bring him home to recuperate then—(2) To have punctures whenever adventure seems available.”
They joked together about themselves and each other, yet remained the closest of friends. if you are not married, she wired him in November 1919, will you go to the assembly with me on DECEMBER 12th. The following spring, when Scott and Zelda were to be married, he sent his bride-to-be shopping with Marie for something more suitable to New York than her Southern frills and furbelows. And fifteen years later, when Fitzgerald published his “Crack-Up” essays in Esquire, Marie tried to rally his spirits with a cheering letter.
In the spring of 1915, however, Scott Fitzgerald was riding high. The academic axe had not yet fallen at Princeton, where he promised to become one of the leaders of his class. He also ranked first in the affections of Ginevra King, to whom he posted long, frequent, and intense letters. That did not prevent him—any more than it prevented her—from indulging in other flirtations. At Easter he met Ruth Sturtevant and Helen Walcott in Washington, and thereafter launched correspondence with both of them. Of the two, Scott was probably more interested in Ruth, a “tres bonne tonne” blonde who was attending Miss Porter’s school. He was writing her, Scott once insisted, while Ginevra’s letter lay unanswered on his desk. She was the only girl, he told her, who’d kept her color until the dance ended at 3 a.m. “If we both lived in St. Paul,” he assured her, “we would have a desperate affair.” Meanwhile, he was hoarding her special adjective. Ruth replied with some coolness. They hardly knew each other, she pointed out. Like her mother she thought Scott somewhat unsuitable. For one thing, he made it sound as if she were “the only nice girl” he’d run around with. Besides, he only stood to her shoulders and did not strike her as entirely masculine.
Helen Walcott, like Marie Hersey, understood how to play the game. When she’d visited Princeton in May 1915, Fitzgerald managed to monopolize her attention during a tea dance at Cottage. Apparently he was inveigled into revealing her special adjective (a word that invariably lost its magic upon revelation) and in atonement sent her one of the imitation Gilbert-and-Sullivan lyrics he’d twice turned out for Triangle shows:
I called you “Miss” Helen, addressed you as “Hey”
I hemmed and hawed and my accents I slurred
Till you kidded me, winked at me, almost said “Say!”
(But all in a highbrowish-Washington way)
And then, tho’ I’d known you only a day,
I uttered the terrible, horrible word.
Once again, as with Ruth Sturtevant, Fitzgerald made a point of mentioning Ginevra in this letter. Perhaps he did so to seem more attractive in Helen’s eyes; perhaps he simply wanted everyone to know. In any case, she responded with a highly flattering letter proclaiming Scott “a marvel” and reminding him of his promise to “look us up, next time you come thru Wash.” Helen knew how to handle young men. If she could get a man talking about himself, she told Scott, she had him “cinched and harnessed.” It was one of the lessons the nineteen-year-old Fitzgerald stressed when he instructed his younger sister Annabel in the art of attracting the opposite sex.
This remarkable ten-page document covered in detail such matters as conversation, posture, dress, personality, dancing, facial expression, smile, hair, and so on. Few young men could have written this set of instructions, which Fitzgerald later turned to fictional account in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair. “ Few men of any age could have imagined themselves so effectively in the position of the young woman. “Boys like to talk about themselves—much more than girls,” he advised Annabel. “Here are some leading questions for a girl to use… (a) You dance so much better than you did last year. (b) How about giving me that sporty necktie when you’re thru with it? (c) You’ve got the longest eyelashes! (This will embarrass him, but he likes it.) (d) I hear you’ve got a ’line’!(e) Well who’s your latest crush? Avoid (a) When do you go back to school? (b) How long have you been home? (c) It’s warm or the orchestra’s good or the floor’s good…” Annabel had splendid eyebrows, her brother told her, but she ought to “brush them or wet them and train them every morning and night” as he’d advised her “long ago.” Most men noticed such things subconsciously, he said. Fitzgerald noticed them, period.
Despite his expertise, Scott Fitzgerald could not compete with Ginevra King, for he was matched against a legend. It may seem foolish to use such terminology to describe a teen-aged girl, but there can be no doubt that the wide-eyed dark-haired beauty from Chicago appeared to Fitzgerald’s eyes as more than simply mortal. Her very name, with the aristocratic and lovely Gi-nev-ra preceding the royal surname, partook of the legendary, and it was the name that Fitzgerald heard—doubtless from Marie Hersey—a full two years before he met the girl herself. By then the name had become associated with a reputation for what passed, in those days, as sexual daring. It was rumored that Ginevra had kissed dozens of boys, and that almost all of them had fallen desperately in love with her. Her beauty and wealth were not in doubt. Fitzgerald stayed in St. Paul an extra day during the Christmas vacation of 1914-15 expressly to meet the girl who embodied the name and the reputation. He hoped to win her favor and was fully prepared to be smitten. He did and he was.
The meeting took place January 4, 1915, during a dinner dance at the Town and Country Club near the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The next day Scott went back to college, and there commenced a flurry of twenty-page letters from Princeton to Westover, accompanied by pangs of jealousy. After Scott left St. Paul, Ginevra had struck up a flirtation with his old rival Reuben Warner. In a chillingly light-hearted letter, Reuben regaled Fitzgerald with his account of one afternoon when he and Ginevra had outwitted Mrs. Hersey and another chaperone. “Well when I saw those two I said, ’Reuben no fun for you this after-noon.’” But Ginevra put her muff in her lap, her hands inside, nudged Reuben with “her sweet elbow and… looked down at her muff—Well! I just slid my massive paw in there and enjoyed the rest of the show. When I would squeeze, she’d squeeze back—hmm!—Swell!” He and Ginevra had takenseveral rides together and every time, Reuben reported, he’d “loved hell out of her, but no kissing.” Ginevra had even told Reuben she liked him best, but he was sure that she really preferred Scott. He wished he had the “drag” with Ginevra that Scott had, Warner wrote, and signed himself “Your downcast contender in love.” But he sounded anything but downcast. It would be better not to say anything to Ginevra about his letter, he pointed out, for if she came to St. Paul next summer “you and I want to have a hell of a time.”
It seems unlikely that Scott could have maintained silence about Reuben’s letter. But whether he chastised Ginevra through the mails cannot be known for certain, since she did not preserve his letters (he kept hers, and had them typed into a 227-page portfolio). Of necessity their contacts in 1915 and 1916 came largely through correspondence, since Westover girls were rarely allowed off premises and Fitzgerald had no automobile. They made the most of their few opportunities—a night at the theatre in New York, a dinner in Waterbury, two football games, a brief encounter in Chicago, a longer one in Lake Forest—but for every hour together they spent months apart. During much of this time Fitzgerald imagined “his girl” in the company of “some ’unknown Chicagoan’ with crisp dark hair and glittering smile” and conjured up visions of her riding regally in one young man’s electric or another’s Stutz Bearcat. The visions were accurate enough. At the time, as she later recalled, Ginevra “was definitely out for quantity not quality in beaux, and, although Scott was top man, I still wasn’t serious enough not to want plenty of other attention!” Nor would she be reproached. It was not her fault, she pointed out, that Scott had idealized her.
In the spring of 1916, Ginevra was expelled from Westover for talking to boys at night from her bedroom window. According to Marie Hersey, Ginevra was no more to blame than twenty other girls who had done the same thing, but the headmistress “picked on G. K.” and so her father came up to Connecticut and took her home. It wasn’t the same as getting fired at all, Marie wrote Fitzgerald. In his ledger, however, he simply noted, “Ginevra fired from school.” The incident did not diminish his ardor. That summer he visited her in Lake Forest, the summer home of Chicago’s veryrich and the playground, those years, of the debutantes who were known on Ivy League campuses as the “Big Four”: Courtney Letts, Edith Cummings, Margaret Cary, and Ginevra. The visit was not entirely successful, Fitzgeralds ledger indicated:
Lake Forest. Peg Carry. Petting Party. Ginevra Party.
The bad day at the McCormicks. The dinner at Pegs.
“Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”
It is not clear who made the remark about poor boys and rich girls, but perhaps, as critic Richard Lehan has suggested, the speaker was stockbroker and horseman Charles King, Ginevra’s imposing father and the likely model for Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. By the standards of Mr. King and his neighbors in Lake Forest, Fitzgerald was a poor boy indeed. Certainly he felt that way himself. “Once I thought that Lake Forest was the most glamorous place in the world,” he wrote his daughter Scottie in July 1940. “Maybe it was.”
By the time Ginevra came down to Princeton for the Yale game in the fall, the rift between them was widening. “After the game,” she recalled in 1974, “we all rode the train back to New York. My girlfriend and I had made plans to meet some other, uh, friends. So we said good-bye, we were going back to school, thanks so much.
“Behind the huge pillars in the station there were two guys waiting for us—Yale boys. We couldn’t just walk out and leave them standing behind the pillars. Then we were scared to death we’d run into Scott and his friend. But we didn’t. I think they’d just headed for the bar.”
In January 1917, they met again but she was no longer interested. That summer, when Scott asked for his letters back, she told him she had destroyed them, adding that she “never did think they meant anything.” And she wrote him again the following summer, when she was about to be married. “I’m surprised I remembered to write him,” Ginevra recalled. “I had quite a few other letters to write, because I was engaged to two other people then. That was very easy during the war because you’d never get caught. It was just covering yourself in case of a loss.”
Ginevra took no risks with Scott Fitzgerald. He was one of the many beaux of her youth, and when it came time she dropped him. In response to inquiries from biographers and others, Ginevra consistently referred to their romance in an offhand manner. She must have kissed Scott, but “it wasn’t exactly a big thing” in her life. She was sorry she hadn’t kept any letters, but she did “have his Triangle pin if that is any use to anyone.” In 1947 she sent the pin, along with two undergraduate pictures of Fitzgerald, to biographer Arthur Mizener, and wiped the slate clean.
For Fitzgerald it was a very different story. Ginevra King was the love of his young life. The hurt of losing her never left him, and thinking about it invariably brought tears to his eyes. Furthermore, his rejection by Ginevra motivated much of his fiction. Time after time he attempted to exorcise—and, paradoxically, to keep alive—that pain in story and novel. In This Side of Paradise, she became Rosalind Connage (and, earlier, Isabelle Borge). As he observed in 1938, in that novel he was writing “about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.” He cast Ginevra as Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams” (inspired, so he observed, by the “fascination of a visit to… Lake Forest. Also my first girl 18-20 whom I’ve used over and over and never forgotten”). Ginevra sat for most of Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and for much of Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night. She modeled for Josephine Perry in his Josephine stories. But the wound would not heal, no matter how often he cauterized it.
Ginevra King, in short, was the golden girl that Fitzgerald, like his male protagonists, could not have. When she wired him from Santa Barbara in 1937 to arrange a meeting, he fell half in love with her over lunch and off the wagon immediately afterwards. It was too bad, she thought. She’d found him amusing until he began to drink. He found her “still a charming woman,” and still unavailable.
In pursuing Ginevra he had reached beyond his grasp, for she came from a different social world. A newspaper article Fitzgerald pasted in his scrapbooks suggests just how different. Headed “These Charming People” and datelined Chicago, the society page piece takes as its peg the portrait of Ginevra (then Mrs. William H. Mitchell, III) “by the great painter Sorine.” The article goes onto describe Ginevra’s “truly natural beauty. No tinting of eyelids, darkening of eyelashes, or rouging of cheeks in her line. Here is a fresh, radiant quality that does your heart good to see.” Her eyes “are enormous, deep brown sparkling lights. Her lashes sweep downward and then abruptly up, giving her eyes a sparkling look which almost shocks you when she looks at you suddenly. She laughs a lot and her teeth are very white…. She is vibrant. She is energetic.” What’s more, Mrs. Mitchell was to be admired for managing “to run her life in a way which combine[d] a tremendously gay amusing time with a thoughtful organized existence.” Ginevra drifted around the country on her way to Aiken or Palm Beach or Santa Barbara, but she was also “one of the props and stays” of St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago and a supporter of every worthy charity. In addition, she was “a grand and courageous horsewoman” and ran her house “to the queen’s taste.’ How could a middle-class boy like Fitzgerald fit into that world?
In the summer of 1917, Fitzgerald visited his Princeton friend John Peale Bishop in Charles Town, West Virginia, and attempted to bolster his wounded ego by courting Fluff Beckwith. They swam in the Shenandoah, she saw him thrown by a livery-stable horse, and they danced the evenings away in her big ivy-walled house. Fluff did not especially like Fitzgerald’s technique. “He was always trying to see how far he could go in arousing your feelings,” but only with words, she observed in her memoir. Unlike the Southern boys she’d known, who were “more aggressive and physically satisfying,” Fitzgerald just “wasn’t a very lively male animal.” Instead, he gave her a copy of a poem, “When Vanity Kissed Vanity,” and declared he had written it for her. In 1945, she discovered the poem in The Crack-Up, dedicated, in print, to Fitzgerald’s much-admired cousin Cecilia.
When Fitzgerald and Fluff (then Mrs. Paul MacKie) renewed their acquaintance in Baltimore during the early 1930s, he resumed the courtship. His talk had coarsened somewhat. “Are your breasts standing up like that for me?” he asked her. But still it was all words and no action. With the screendoor closed between them, he told her, “I have never had you, but I believe we get the things we most want.” It was, she concluded, typical of his approach. Fluff particularly remembered a dinner party in the spring of 1932 atBrian and Ida Lee Dancy’s, for it seemed as if two Scott Fitzgeralds had come: the charming young man shed known in Charles Town and the foul-mouthed drunk of the present. Fitzgerald brought along the actress Osa Munson, who was visiting him. As soon as dinner ended, he got up, announced he was going home to hug his pillow very tight, and departed with Miss Munson.
Through the years there was almost always someone besides Zelda. Jean Bankhead in Westport, Helen Buck in Great Neck, Olive Burgess in Paris, Sara Murphy and Marice Hamilton on the Riviera, Dorothy Parker there and in New York—these names like many others found their way into Fitzgerald’s ledger of significant encounters during the 1920s. Just how significant these encounters were is difficult to determine, though Dorothy Parker in Denver once telegraphed Fitzgerald in New York: “DEAR SCOTT THEY JUST FORWARDED YOUR WIRE BUT LOOK WHERE I AM AND ALL MARRIED TO ALAN CAMPBELL AND EVERYTHING… DEEPEST LOVE AND ALL THOUGHTS ALWAYS FROM BOTH OF US.” If no fires were set, Fitzgerald certainly provided his share of smoke. During an evening in Paris with the James Joyces, he first humbled himself before the author of Ulysses, and then began expounding on the beauty of Nora Joyce. Finally Fitzgerald “darted through an open window to the stone balcony outside, jumped up on the eighteen-inch-wide parapet and threatened to fling himself to the cobbled thoroughfare -below unless Nora declared that she loved him, too.” She hurriedly complied, and later remarked—to produce a smile from her husband—“Ah, he’s a good lad. I think I’ll do a bunk with him some day.” At a party in Hollywood, his approach was still more direct. “Miss X, meet Mr. Fitzgerald,” Carmel Myers remembers introducing him. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” Fitzgerald told Miss X.
Miss X could have been anyone, but Fitzgerald actually did fall in love with an actress during a Hollywood sojourn in the winter of 1927. He was thirty and the blonde Lois Moran only seventeen when they met. Despite her youth, Lois circulated in a crowd that included Carl Van Vechten, John Barrymore, and Richard Barthelmess, in addition to Carmel Myers. Still she was young enough to be amused by the outrageous behavior of both Scott and Zelda, who attended a “come as you are” party in their nightclothes andat another party collected everyone’s jewelry and boiled it in tomato soup. HOLLYWOOD COMPLETELY DISRUPTED SINCE YOU LEFT, she wired the Fitzgeralds on their departure. BOOTLEGGERS GONE OUT OF BUSINESS COTTON CLUB CLOSED ALL FLAGS AT HALF MAST EVEN JOHN BARRYMORE HAS GONE OUT OF TOWN BOTTLES OF LOVE TO YOU BOTH.
Zelda knew who the bottles were meant for. Lois and her husband were obviously fascinated with each other. Lois had even arranged for Scott to take a screen test in hopes that they might make a film together. As Zelda wrote Scottie, putting the best possible construction on the situation, “Daddy was offered a job to be leading man in a picture with Lois Moran!! But he wouldn’t do it. I wanted him to, because he would have made so much money and we could all have spent it, but he said I was silly.” In fact, the relationship rapidly progressed beyond the stage of casual infatuation. One morning during the Hollywood visit Fitzgerald burst into Arthur W. Brown’s room at the Ambassador, awakened him, and said, “Say hello to Zelda.” But it was Lois Moran, and not Zelda, on his arm. Scott asked Brown to cover for him. If any questions were asked, Brown was to say that they’d spent the day together at First National Studios.
Fitzgerald also invited Lois to a weekend house party at Ellerslie, his house outside Wilmington. Come she did, “a young actress like a breakfast food”—so Zelda described her—“that many men identified with whatever they missed from life since she had no definite characteristics of her own save a slight ebullient hysteria about romance. She walked in the moon by the river. Her hair was tight about her head and she was lush and like a milkmaid.” To please Lois and the other guests, Fitzgerald involved them in concocting a play. The rich and famous Tommy Hitchcock, a war hero and one of the world’s premier polo players, was delighted by the proceedings and proposed a return engagement the following year. “I understand Lois Moran is coming East the end of July,” he wrote Scott in May 1928. “Could we not have a weekend then at Sands Point, with you and Zelda, and write the second act of Polo Balls?”
For Lois Moran, as for Rosemary Hoyt in Tender Is the Night, an affair with an older man could be chalked up to experience. In fact, she seemed to regard Fitzgerald as a charming if somewhatchildish mentor. He recommended books for her: David Garnett’s The Sailor’s Return, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Paul Morand’s Open All Night. In letters addressed to “Darling, dumbbell, upsetting, adorable Scott,” she reported on her reading, stirred the coals by remarking on “the very satisfactory kisses” of her leading men, and signed off, “Au revoir, cher enfant.”
What he wrote her in response is not known, but they did meet in New York, Hollywood, and Baltimore on several occasions prior to her marriage in 1935. Yet once the first flush of romance had passed, it was never the same, and the very words of love rang false. Lois telephoned him on the day of her marriage to airline executive Collier Young, and he sent her a congratulatory letter that concluded, “Anyhow I love you tremendously always.” But losing Lois did not hurt as losing Ginevra had. Besides, it was not as if they were free to choose. In stories like “Magnetism” and “Jacob’s Ladder” and “The Rough Crossing,” as well as in Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald sublimated his yearning by emphasizing the inappropriateness of a “middle-aged” man (and a married one as well, except in “Jacob’s Ladder”) falling heels over head for a girl about half his age.
Still, it was more than Lois’s youth that attracted Fitzgerald, though at thirty he may have been especially vulnerable. It was more, too, than the prospect of intimacy with a girl whose image on the screen could thrill a million men.
The secret of Lois Moran’s particular appeal to Fitzgerald was that she made him feel like a man of accomplishment who was also a gentleman of charm and distinction and social position. As Fitzgerald worked it out in a long self-analysis written in 1930, “with Zelda gone to the Clinique,” he’d begun to think of himself during 1925 and 1926 in France as a man of the world and had decided “that everybody liked me and admired me for myself but I only liked a few people like Ernest [Hemingway] and Charlie McArthur and Gerald and Sara [Murphy] who were my peers.” Then that euphoric mood faded. “I woke up in Hollywood no longer my egotistic, certain self but a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career—and Charlie McArthur with a past.” Gerald Murphy belonged to a social elite, or Fitzgerald thought he did. Hemingway was a roughneck writer and MacArthur a playwrightwithout family background, or so Fitzgerald believed. What he wanted was to combine the two, become a literary man of the world, a gentleman artist. “Anybody that could make me believe that, like Lois Moran did, was precious to me.” It was not by accident that he invited Tommy Hitchcock to Ellerslie on the weekend Lois was visiting.
The Fitzgeralds left Delaware to spend the summer of 1928 in Paris, and abandoned Ellerslie entirely to move abroad the following May. By this time Scott’s drinking was out of control, and friends of earlier expatriate days tended to avoid the Fitzgeralds. Scott found new companions in the sexual demimonde depicted in Tender Is the Night. These people followed but one rule: No Rules. Anything went. As Fitzgerald observed to Margaret Turnbull in 1932, a girl who had enough money could easily change husbands these days “or live in Paris and not even bother.” On the fringes of this world, he came to know Emily Vanderbilt.
The daughter of a “New York banker, horseman and clubman,” Emily Davies had married William H. Vanderbilt, son of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, in 1923. When Fitzgerald saw her in Paris five years later, she was in the process of divorcing Vanderbilt. In December 1928, she married theatrical producer Sigourney Thayer, prominent figure in New York and Boston society, but that marriage lasted less than a year. When Fitzgerald lunched with her at Armenonville in the spring of 1930, Emily Vanderbilt (or Mrs. Davies Vanderbilt Thayer, as she then styled the name) was clearly in distress. Rebecca West, who had come to the same restaurant with her son, remembered the day vividly.
… very few people were there and we sat down by the lake. Presently Scott Fitzgerald appeared with a woman from New York whom I knew, called Emily Vanderbilt. She was very handsome, I think she had the most beautifully shaped head and the most cunningly devised hair-cut to show it off that I have ever seen. They sat down at a table still nearer the lake than we were, with their backs to us. She was telling him some long and sad story, and going over and over it. He was leaning towards her, sometimes caressing her hands, showing this wonderful gentleness and charity which I remember as his great characteristic. Finally he stood up and seemed to be saying, “You mustn’t goover this any more.” His eyes fell on us, and he said to her, “Emily, look who’s here,” and they finished their lunch with us. I can’t remember a thing we said. I think we did what is the great resort for people finding themselves in emotional crises near water, we fed some birds with bread. But he was gay and charming, and we all laughed a lot. And then he took her off to her car, her arm in his, jerking her elbow up, telling her to cheer up. I have always remembered this scene with emotion, for later Emily Vanderbilt committed suicide.
At the Val-Mont clinic, Zelda resented Scott’s attentions to Emily Vanderbilt. “You know that I was much stronger mentally and physically and sensitively than Emily,” Zelda wrote him, “but you said… that she was too big a poisson for me. Why? She couldn’t dance a Brahms waltz or write a story—she can only gossip and ride in the Bois and have pretty hair curling up instead of thinking—Please explain—I want to be well and not bothered with poissons big or little and free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person.”
“Please explain.” But couldn’t Zelda see? Emily swam in the big pool. She was brought up in society. She belonged to the 400 in New York and had a cottage in Newport. In Pittsburgh, where her mother came from, her grandfather had published the Dispatch. And she had walked out on a Vanderbilt. Not even Ginevra could match that.
During the fall and winter of 1930 and 1931, while Zelda was confined to Dr. Oscar Forel’s sanitarium at Prangins, in Switzerland, Fitzgerald apparently carried on affairs with at least two other women. One of them, Bijou O’Connor, rather loudly confessed as much in 1975. “We had a roaring, screaming affair,” the daughter of the English diplomat Sir Francis Elliott said. Fitzgerald was fascinated by Bijou’s spy-story background. An entry in his notebooks reads: “Bijou as a girl in Athens meeting German legacy people in secret. Representing her mother.” The two met during September 1930 in Lausanne, where Fitzgerald was living to be close to the sanitarium. The next month they both moved to Lausanne’s Hotel de la Paix, where—according to Bijou’s recollection—she used to watch him happily typing away “and consuming bottle after bottle of gin.”
Bijou left Switzerland in November, and over the Christmas holidays in Gstaad Fitzgerald became interested in Margaret Egloff. They were naturally drawn together, for two reasons. Both were spending the holiday season as single parents with children in tow, Fitzgerald with Scottie and the young American with her two children from a marriage about to be dissolved. In addition, both were interested in psychiatry, Scott because of Zelda’s illness and Margaret as a medical student about to launch a career in the field. After Christmas Margaret went to Zurich to study with Jung, while Fitzgerald stayed in Lausanne. But there were frequent meetings during the next six months when they spent long hours talking about literature and psychology and she came to know him “very intimately.” The two of them also took trips together to the Italian lakes and to France, where they startled the John Peale Bishops by showing up on their doorstep as traveling companions. Then they went their separate ways, Margaret to remarry, and met only once more, surreptitiously, in the Washington train station in the mid-1930s.
Fitzgerald put both women into stories, Bijou as Lady Capps-Karr in “The Hotel Child” and Margaret as Emily Elliott in “Indecision.” The second story was revealing because of the way Fitzgerald altered the facts to suggest his basic loyalty to Zelda, or at least to the Zelda Sayre he had fallen in love with in Montgomery, twelve years earlier. The most significant change he made had to do with age. Tommy McLane, the not especially likable Lothario of the story, is trying to carry on simultaneous flirtations both with Emily Elliott, twenty-five years old and divorced, and with eighteen-year-old Rosemary Merriweather, “a blonde, ravishing, Southern beauty” who flirted recklessly with European men and could not be persuaded to act sensibly. In the end Tommy makes his choice. He asks Rosemary (the Zelda of 1918, not 1931) to marry him and as he does so the image of Emily “faded from his mind forever.”
In life if not in fiction, Scott Fitzgerald almost always carried around more than one woman’s image inside his head. In the decade after Zelda’s breakdown in 1930 he attracted the love and admiration of many women, including members of two particular professions. “Excepting for trained nurses,” as he observed in oneof his last stories, “an actress is the easiest prey for an unscrupulous male.” It was a generalization based on experience. As his health declined and he tried to dry out from drinking, Fitzgerald frequently required nursing—in Baltimore, in Asheville, and in Hollywood. “Trained nurses on duty,’ he confided pointedly to his notebooks, “should not be allowed to talk in their sleep.”
Fitzgerald needed the love of women, and the acceptance and approval that came with it. Ideally, the woman should have been Ginevra King or Emily Vanderbilt or another charter member of a club to which he was not vouchsafed admission. But any admiration he could command served to reassure him of his importance or, to use the existential term, his authenticity. At length the compulsion to attract love grew wearing. “Enough, Enough My Masters,” he scrawled atop one of his last notebook entries. Below ran a list of seven women in his thoughts, including Zelda and Sheilah Graham.
In an early newspaper interview, Fitzgerald insisted that he thought men much nicer than women, “more open and aboveboard, more truthful and sincere. Wouldn’t you a whole lot rather be with a bunch of men,” he asked the interviewer, “than with a group of women?” In groups, Fitzgerald may have preferred men, but he was very much a ladies’ man himself. He talked their language. He was sensitive to shades of meaning and half-concealed feelings. He knew how to flatter. He paid attention when women talked. He treated them with the courtly manners of an earlier age. And of course they responded. “He liked women,” Zelda wrote after Scott’s death, and they “usually lionized him, unless he was intolerably scandalous: which was rare; then they usually forgave him because he kept all the rites and sent flowers and wrote notes world without end and was most ingratiating when contrite.” No one was in a better position to know.
42 mother… manners: SD, interview with Norris and Betty Jackson, 8 August 1978.
42 “eternal homage”: FSF to Robert R. Dunn, summer 1936, Letters, p. 536.
42 “a lonely boy”: Ruth Sturtevant Smith to AM, 3 September 194?.
42 “little boy … welcome”: Dwight Taylor, “Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood,” Harper’s 218 (March 1959), p. 68.
43 “fell in love” … candy: FSF, Ledger, pp. 160, 162.
43 Violet… “lovely teeth”: FSF, “Girls I Have Known,” AM notes, Cornell.
43-44 Marie … Margaret: “Scott Fitzgerald’s ’Thoughtbook’,” introd. John Kuehl, Princeton University Library Chronicle, 26 (Winter 1965), 102-108.
44 “Dancing School… sex”: FSF, Ledger, p. 165.
44 self-assessment: Mizener, p. 23.
44 “top girl”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 205.
45 “adorable”: AM, interview with Richard Washington, 19 December 1947.
45 “Very Dear Marie”: FSF to Marie Hersey, 29 January 1915, Correspondence, p. 7.
45 “Great Heart Breaker”: Marie Hersey to FSF, n.d., Firestone.
46 “crucial moment”: Marie Hersey to FSF, n.d., Firestone.
46 “To run over…”: Marie Hersey to FSF, n.d., Piper, p. 59.
46 “GO… assembly”: Telegram, Marie Hersey to FSF, 22 November 1919, Scrapbook, Firestone.
46 frills … furbelows: Mizener, pp. 119-120.
46 adjective... “nice girl”: FSF to Ruth Sturtevant, May 1915, Correspondence, pp. 9-10; Ted (?) Eaton to AM, 28 July 1948.
47 “’Miss Helen”: FSF to Helen Walcott, 18 May 1915, Scrap-book, Firestone.
47 “a marvel”: Helen Walcott to FSF, 21 May 1915, Scrapbook, Firestone.
47 “cinched and harnessed”: FSF, “Babes in the Woods” Apprentice, p. 125.
47 remarkable … document: FSF, “Babes in the Woods,” Apprentice, pp. 124-131.
48 the name: FSF, Ledger, p. 167.
48-49 light-hearted letter: Reuben Warner to FSF, early 1915, Firestone.
49 Ginevra… “quantity not quality”: Turnbull, pp. 54-60; Mizener, p. 52.
49 no more to blame: Marie Hersey to FSF, 15 May 1916, Firestone.
49-50 “Ginevra fired”… Poor boys: FSF, Ledger, p. 170.
50 speaker.. .Charles King: Richard D. Lehan, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966), p. 92.
50 “most glamorous”: FSF to SF, 12 July 1940, Letters, p. 84.
50 “After the game …”: Elizabeth Friskey, “Visiting the Golden Girl,” Princeton Alumni Weekly (3 October 1974), pp. 10-11.
50 “never did think”: Mizener, pp. 51-53, 62.
51 “Triangle pin”: Ginevra King Pirie to HDP, 12 May 1946.
51 “haemophile”: FSF to Frances Turnbull, 9 November 1938, Letters, p. 578.
51 “my first girl”: FSF, “Comments on Stories,” Miscellany, p. 177.
51 Santa Barbara: Telegrams, Ginevra King Mitchell to FSF, 9 October 1937 and 10 October 1937, FSF to Ginevra King Mitchell, 9 October 1937, Firestone; Mizener, p. 300.
51-52 society page piece: Martha Blair, “These Charming People,” Scrapbook, Firestone.
52 “to see how far”: Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie, memoir, Firestone.
52 “Are your breasts”: Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie, Notes, Firestone.
53 Osa Munson: Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie, Notes, Firestone
53 “all married”: Telegram, Dorothy Parker to FSF, 6 July 19??, Firestone.
53 Nora Joyce … “bunk”: Herbert Gorman, “Glimpses of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” memoir, Firestone.
53 “I love you”… Miss X: Carmel Myers, “Scott and Zelda,” Park East (May 1951), p. 32.
54 jewelry … boiled: Mizener, p. 222.
54 Hollywood … love: Telegram, Lois Moran to FSF, 14 March 1927, Firestone.
54 “Daddy … leading man”: ZF to SF, 1927, quoted in Nancy Milford, Zelda (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 129 (hereafter Milford).
54 “Say hello …”: Arthur W. Brown to AM, 27 June 1951.
54 “breakfast food”: Quoted in Milford, p. 249.
54 “Polo Balls”: Tommy Hitchcock to FSF, 26 May 1928, Firestone.
55 “Darling, dumbbell…”: Lois Moran to FSF, n.d., Firestone.
55 “Anyhow… always”: FSF to Lois Moran Young, 8 March 1935, Correspondence, pp. 403-404.
55-56 The secret… “precious”: FSF, “Written with Zelda gone to the Clinique,” summer (?) 1930, Correspondence, pp. 239-40.
56 change husbands: FSF to Margaret Turnbull, 21 September 1932, Letters, p. 434.
56-57 Rebecca West… remembered: Turnbull, p. 196.
57 “too big a poisson”: ZF to FSF, 1930, Firestone.
57 walked out… Vanderbilt: AM, Interview with Xandra Kalman, 13 December 1947.
57 Bijou … “gin”: Hans Schmid, “Switzerland of Fitzgerald and Hemingway,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1978, p. 262; FSF, Notebooks, p. 104.
58 Egloff…mid-1930s: Margaret C. L. Gildea to Andrew Turnbull, 16 December 1958; Margaret C. L. Gildea to SD, 20 September 1979.
58-59 “easiest prey”: FSF, “Last Kiss,” in FSF and ZF, Bits of Paradise (New York: Scribner’s, 1973), p. 378.
59 “nurses… sleep”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
59 “Enough, Enough”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
59 “men… nicer”: B. F. Wilson, “All Women Over Thirty-Five Should Be Murdered” (interview with FSF), Miscellany, p. 266.
59 “lionized him...”: ZF to Elise---------, 1944-45, Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1975, pp. 4-5.
Published as Fool For Love: A Biography Of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson (New York: Congdon & Weed, 1983).