Scott burst in, his eyes dancing with excitement. He had seen a notice in the Los Angeles Times that the Pasadena Playhouse was to present the play version of his short story, “A Diamond As Big As The Ritz.” We were going to the opening—we’d make a festive occasion of it. Dress in evening clothes, dine at the Trocadero, and go on to Pasadena—not in his bouncy little Ford but in a sleek, chauffeur-driven limousine he’d hire for the night. I was as enthusiastic as Scott. A play based on one of his short stories! And at the Playhouse, which was sometimes a prelude to Broadway!
At the Trocadero, Scott was in excellent humor. He looked dapper in his best white dinner shirt and tuxedo. I wore my gray and crimson evening gown decorated with a lovely corsage he had sent me in honor of the occasion and, very proudly, a silver-fox jacket he had bought for my birthday. This was the first genuine fur piece I had ever possessed. Scott laughed as I sat forward in my seat lest I wear down the fur.
It had been weeks since Chicago. Metro had picked up his option, assuring him an additional twelve months of employment, and he was once more on his Coca-Cola and coffee regimen. We had spent much of our time going to the movies, Scott watching the screen with the rapt attention of a student. He considered motion pictures a powerful medium for the writer: he was determined to master the technique of screen writing. Twice before he had tried his hand at it in Hollywood, in 1927 and 1931, but only briefly.
This time he would really devote himself to the task. He had once studied short stories in the same fashion, he told me, analyzing the plots of a hundred Saturday Evening Post stories. Now, at Metro, he had pictures run off daily in order to study them. Hollywood itself—its people and its habits—he found fascinating. The studio had talked to him about writing a new Joan Crawford picture. He told me about it gleefully. “Their first title was ‘Infidelity’; now they’ve changed it to ‘Fidelity.’ “ This amused him. He had been amused, too, by his first meeting with Miss Crawford. Quite humWy he had told her, “I’m going to write your next picture.” She had smiled at him. “Good,” she had said, fixing him with her burning eyes. “Write hard, Mr. Fitzgerald, write hard!” Scott, teUing it, threw back his head and laughed.
He was very interested, he said, as our limousine took us to Pasadena, in the struggle going on between the forces of Irving Thalberg, who died at the age of thirty-seven a year before, and those of Louis B. Mayer. He saw this as a war between art and money, between the unselfish boy genius, represented by Thalberg, and the ruthless industrialist, represented by Mayer. The idea of a novel had been simmering in Scott’s mind, he told me, ever since he met Thalberg, on a previous visit to Hollywood. “No one’s yet written the novel on Hollywood,”
Scott went on. Until now, most writers had approached Hollywood almost sneeringly, treating it as though it were a cartoon strip peopled by one-dimensional comic-book characters—every producer gross and illiterate, every writer charmingly unstable, every star an overgrown child. Scott would write a serious novel about Hollywood: he would build it around Thalberg, and the struggle for power—the creative versus the commercial, would be its basic theme.
It occurred to me that I was of some value to Scott, for I could never tell him too much about Hollywood. He was fascinated when I told him a classic story. Upon Thalberg’s death, an invitation to be a pallbearer at the funeral had been sent by mistake to Harry Carey, a onetime Western silent screen star who was no longer busy in films. The invitation had actually been meant for Carey Wilson, a well-known producer. But Harry Carey had received it: when all Hollywood turned out for Thalberg’s funeral, there was Harry Carey among the pallbearers carrying the body of Thalberg. The next day Harry Carey’s phone never stopped ringing. He was offered one job after another. From that day he began a new, successful career. “A perfect story,” said Scott. He was not interested in gossip as gossip, but only as it illuminated the character of those in power. It was all material for the book yet to be done. He repeatedly whipped out his notebook to jot down an observation, dialogue he had overheard, a phrase or sentence that had come to him. “A writer wastes nothing,” he once told me.
He talked about “A Diamond As Big As The Ritz;” He knew that someone had turned it into a play but nothing had come of it. Now that it was being put on by the Playhouse, he began to have hope again. He had telephoned the Playhouse, telling them he was the author of the story, and asked them to reserve two seats for him “somewhere near the back.”
Our car drew up before the theater and the chauffeur helped us out. It was strange to see no cars discharging other first nighters, no activity at the box office. “Could I have gotten the date wrong?” Scott asked me, perplexed. With a sinking feeling I waited in the deserted lobby while he went off to find someone. When he returned, his walk wasn’t quite as jaunty. “It’s the students—they’re giving the play in the upstairs hall,” he said, trying to be casual. I said nothing as we climbed the stairs and found ourselves in a small hall with a little stage and perhaps fifteen rows of wooden benches. No one else had arrived.
We sat on a bench in the back, waiting, and I tried to chat animatedly of what I had done during the day, to ask countless questions about Three Comrades, about the disagreements over the script he had been having with Joe Mankewicz, its producer, about his plans for “Fidelity” or “Infidelity” or whatever its final title would be.
About ten minutes before curtain time a few students amved, women and girls wearing mostly slacks and skirts—perhaps a dozen in all. They looked curiously at us sitting alone on a bench in full evening clothes. The lights finally went down, the curtain parted, and the play began. It was an amateur performance but Scott laughed while the students giggled and in the end his applause outlasted theirs. They wandered off and we were left alone again. Scott rose. “I’m going backstage,” he said. “It might encourage them to know the author came to see them.”
He returned a few moments later and we went down the stairs to our waiting limousine. We drove back to Hollywood and did not talk much. At first Scott said, almost cheerfully, “They were all nice kids—they seemed a little awkward when I introduced myself. I told them they’d done a good job.” As we rode on, however, despite what chatter I could manage, Scott grew more and more glum, and finally sat silent and depressed next to me. Of course they were awkward, ran through my mind. They were embarrassed to meet a man ±ey had thought dead.
Bob Benchley had told me, “Scott doesn’t like parties.” It was true. The only ones he cared to attend were those given by his friends, the writers. Even then, when too many strangers were present, a curious lackluster settled over him. His eyes grew dull, he seemed to shrink into invisibility so that he became unnoticeable in a room. At a party given by Alan Campbell, Somerset Maugham was the guest of honor. Before he left he said to Alan, “I’m told F. Scott Fitzgerald is in Hollywood. I should like to meet him.” “You did, tonight—here,” said Alan. Maugham had no memory of him. Scott had been introduced to him with the usual mumbling of names and then, in his characteristic self-effacing manner, had retreated to join me in the corner of the room. We had sat there very quietly for a while, and then as quietly we had left.
Sitting in the comer of the room at parties became a habit with us. Some of this was due to Scott’s natural reserve; some to his awareness of my fear that I might embarrass myself and, therefore, him. Scott’s friends were addicted to the kind of witty parlor games I’d suffered through in New York. They enjoyed charades, or contests involving intricate puns and plays on words, literary characters and historical events—in all of which I was beyond my depth.
Among these people, America’s top writers, composers, and playwrights, I knew I could not get by with a smile and small talk about a piece of cheese, or what a ridiculous hat Paulette Goddard wore the other night. Even Benchley, who took little seriously, made me feel he was enormously learned; I often found him, between scenes in his pictures, sitting in a comer of his set immersed in a book. Once, at a gathering, I had tried to poke fun, Benchley fashion. A young woman was speaking eloquently about Willa Gather. I asked gaily, “And who is Willa Gather?” She looked at me. “Doesn’t Willa Gather’s name mean anything to you?” I said airily. “Oh, well, we never heard of her in England.” Someone chuckled and suddenly I realized with acute embarrassment that I must have made an inexcusably stupid remark. Thereafter, I tried to hide behind a fagade of vivacity. I would burst into a party to relate an incident at the studio, or a choice bit of gossip. Finally, Scott rebuked me. “Sit back,” he said. “Let them come to you. Don’t be too eager—it makes you unattractive.”
“I can’t help it,” I said. “I don’t mind parties at the homes of the stars, but I dread the ones given by your friends. I can’t keep up with them.” At the Ira Gersh-wins’, the Donald Ogden Stewarts’, the Nunnally Johnsons’, I would sit at the dinner table with my hands clenched and damp in my lap.
“I’ll give you something to hang on to,” Scott said one evening as we set off for the home of Albert and Frances Hackett, two of Hollywood’s most distinguished playwrights. “When we get there, pretend that everyone there bores you. That will give you just the right distance and you’ll lose that overeagemess.”
I tried it. All evening I sat there saying to myself, “George F. Kaufman bores me. Oscar Levant bores me. Ogden Nash bores me.” It worked, after a fashion: I felt more relaxed, I knew that my mouth was not turned up in the strained smile of one too anxious to please. When Mr. Kaufman or Mr. Levant or Mr. Nash wandered by, I looked up, calmly and sweetly, and let it go at that. “You don’t have to prove anything,” Scott had said. I was beginning to realize that I could be accepted at a gathering without making a contribution—literally, that it was not necessary for me to perform as my price of admission.
But generally Scott protected me. He mingled briefly with his friends and then found his place beside me in a comer of the room, and there we remained, quite content, while the wit and repartee flowed about us. Once Alan Campbell came up to us to say, almost enviously, “You two always look as though you had a secret you were going to talk about later.” He was right. Our secret was us.
I remembered how apprehensive I felt after telling Scott the truth about myself. I had watched for any betrayal, any lessening of his chivalry, his thoughtfulness, the gaiety of his little notes. Now that he knows I’m only Lily Shell, will he still respect me? Will he love me as much? Two or three nights afterward we were in my living room, I working on my column, Scott immersed in a book of Tennyson’s poems. Without preface he began to read aloud. I stopped my work and listened:
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white, Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font. The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
He paused, to look at me for a moment and then go on, in a voice of infinite tenderness:
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up And slips into the bosom of the lake. So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip Into my bosom and be lost in me,
“Oh, Scott—” Tears sprang to my eyes. He took me in his arms and I rested there. I looked into his face, searching it, trying to find its mystery, its wonder for me, and I said, almost prayerfully, “If only I could walk into your eyes and close the lids behind me, and leave all the world outside—”
He held me close and I clung to him…
Our secret was ourselves. At night, when we did not go out, we put on records and danced as we had done at the Clover Club: wheeling and pirouetting, or tap dancing together cfr separately, brushing past each other and bowing with an elaborate, “Pardon me,” if we touched. Or as I watched choking with laughter, Scott performed his own little stiff-legged dance while reciting Swinburne’s “When the Hounds of Spring.” Or we’d box together, Scott bouncing about me on his toes, making ferocious faces as he sparred with me: “Sheilo, keep your chin in or I’ll slug you!” Or, while I prepared coffee, he whipped together a batch of fudge in my kitchen and we gorged ourselves, as happy, as uncomplicated, as two children together.
By early 1938 we were virtual recluses in Hollywood. I attended few evening events or industry parties. So that I could be with Scott, Jonah Ruddy for a weekly fee covered these occasions for me. We rarely went out: it was enough for us to be together, and when we were not together hardly an hour went by that Scott did not make me aware of his presence. He telephoned me five and six times during the day. “What are you wearing?” he would ask. “How do you look?” I almost blushed, thinking, this is like my magic mirror at the orphanage. At this moment, as though he could see me, he would ask, “What are you thinking of?” And, “When will I see you?” Always a gentle question, always his constant, reassuring attention. Each evening, when he came in the door, I would run to him eagerly. I wanted him to know how much he was wanted. My living began when he arrived.
If his telephone calls slackened, there were always his notes of endearment, which like a treasure hunt he left about my house for me to find. Or a little card accompanying a bouquet of violets, “For Sheilah—from her chattel, Scott.” Or a message when we were separated for twenty-four hours: “Missing you is a luxury like everything about knowing you, lovely, lovely, Sheilah.” Or a note an hour after we quarreled over I know not what: “Darling, I am sorry I was difl&cult tonight. You are dear Sheilah and nothing can change that. Please feel better dear sweet Sheilah. Dear face, dear heart, dear, dear, dear Sheilah.” I felt bathed and laved in an endlessly flowing devotion.
Sometimes I might say, a little wistfully, “Scott, I’d like to go on a visit to New York.” Then Scott would sit down and lead me through a gentle catechism.
“Why do you want to go to New York, Sheilah?”
“I’m not really sure why. To go to the Stork Qub and ‘21’ and places like that.”
“Why do you want to go to the Stork Qub and ‘21’ and places like that?”
I thought. “To see the people, I guess.”
“But who are the people you see at such places? They’re not real. I have been there. I have given all that up. What can you get from such people? What can you get from New York?”
“Oh ...” I could not find the words. “New York excites me. It thrills me.”
He shook his head. “Sheilah, what you are looking for, you have found. You are locking for love, for someone to understand you. You have me. I love you and understand you. There’s no need for you to go to New York.”
And I thought: of course, he is right. All my life I have been seeking excitement. Now I have the excitement engendered by Scott. I have him. It is enough, and I am content. There is no need to go in search.
Yet I did not realize how carefully Scott guarded what was between us until a letter came one Monday morning from Margaret Brainard. She was coming West. She had taken a position with the newly opened Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills. She would arrive at the end of the week. I told Scott about her, how warm and understanding she had been when I first came to America, how close we had been, what confidences we exchanged. “I’m so happy she’s coming, Scott. I’ve already written her that she must stay with me for the first few weeks—I want to show her a wonderful time, introduce her to people—”
Scott listened, strangely subdued. “When will she be here?” he asked. “She arrives Saturday,” I said. He changed the subject. On Wednesday he chose a moment to say, “I’ve been thinking about Margaret staying with you, Sheilo. Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Oh, of course,” I said. But his tone led me to wonder, is it really a good idea?
On Thursday he said, “Dear, let’s go away this week end. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.”
I stared at him. “Scott, we can’t. You know Margaret is coming on Saturday. I’m going down to meet her and bring her here.’^
He went on doggedly. “But I would like to go away. I’m tired—I must get away. I could use a week end out of town—”
“But Margaret—” I began again.
He said, “Well, you know, I think Margaret would be happier in her own apartment. These last few days I’ve been looking for one for her.”
“You have?” I said, nonplused.
He nodded. “I’m sure she’ll be happier in an apartment.”
“I think that would hurt her feelings terribly, Scott.”
“No,” he said firmly. “I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, she can move in the moment she arrives. It’s all set.” He produced a key. He had rented an apartment for Margaret and paid a deposit. It was very convenient, he said, a block from Saks Fifth Avenue. “Just what she’d want.” I stared at the key. “If she were with you all the time, Sheilah,” Scott was saying, “perhaps I couldn’t see you as much. And I do want to get away this week end. Now that she has an apartment, we can go. You leave this key for her with a note.”
I went to Santa Barbara with Scott that week end. I left a note for Margaret saying that I would return Monday, that an apartment waited for her, and here was the key. I wrote that I was sorry I could not meet her as I had promised.
This Scott made me do to my best friend. He was jealous of her. He was so obviously unhappy, I could not refuse him. Had he feared she might say: Sheilah, this isn’t the man for you. He is married, with a nife in an institution. He can never marry you. Is this what you want, Sheilah? What of your dream, your longing for a husband and children, for the family you never had?
On one occasion his distress at the thought of anyone coming between us led me to take utterly ridiculous measures. I had received a wire from John Wheeler that he was on a tour of newspaper publishers taking the NANA service and would be in Los Angeles for two days.
Scott at once became nervous and apprehensive. “You’re not going to see him, are you?” he asked. I said, “Of course I am, Scott. I have to see him. He’s my boss.”
As the day of Wheeler’s arrival approached, Scott grew more and more glum. He would not be reassured. And as had happened many times before when I found myself in difficulty, inspiration came. The night before Wheeler arrived, I went into the Good Samaritan Hospital for a minor operation, something my doctor had said could be done “any time—no hurry about it.” I chose this time so that I would be too ill to see John Wheeler. Scott took me to the hospital, reassured at last.
When I came out of the ether I found he had written on a memo pad next to my bed. “So glad it went well, my blessed. Will be back when you wake up in the late afternoon.” And below it: “Second note. I am here—it is 5:30—and you are getting rapidly out of the ether and very sick. You asked me several questions and said you couldn’t believe they did it while you were asleep. I love you and I am coming back in the morning quite early and sit with you. It has been a day for all of us and I must go eat and get a bit of sleep. Thank God it is over and you’re well again.”
In the morning when I was still asleep he sat at my bedside for a while, and when I awoke I found still another note: “Rest well, darling.” Three days later I was out of the hospital. John Wheeler had come and gone.
It was in the midst of Scott’s unceasing tenderness that he came one evening to say, “Zelda wants to see me. I must go and visit her again.” He added, “You don’t mind, do you?”
I was touched that he should ask me, but the truth was that I minded terribly. He was going to his wife, I had no call upon him, yet I dared say, more in complaint than demand, “Scott, must you go?”
He did not grow angry. “I must take out my poor Zelda—I cannot abandon her there.” It was the most he had said about her until now. He added, “I won’t write you while I’m away.” And he was gone.
Suddenly the devotion that had enveloped and sustained me was no more. I had no idea how long he would be away. Six days passed, eight days, ten days. I woke with a leaden heart each morning. The fact that Margaret was in town meant nothing. For ten days I had no lunch or dinner with Scott, no word from him, no telephone calls, no messages, no evidence that he was in the very air about me waiting only the invoking of his name to materialize and be at my side. I knew what desolation was.
On the eleventh morning a telephone call. “Sheilo!” It was Scott, at the airport. He sounded gay, excited, happy. “We’re going to be married!”
I could not catch my breath. When I found my voice I echoed him mechanically: “We’re going to be married?”
He said, “I’m getting a divorce. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.” He went on eagerly, “Wait for me— I’ll be right over.”
I hung up in a dream. Something must have happened. I remembered the strange stories I had heard about Zelda. Someone, having known her a few years before, described her as an Ophelia, wandering about in the shapeless, waistless dresses she had worn fifteen years before, a thin, silent woman of unpredictable moods, now lost and withdrawn, now shaken by sudden violence and despair. What could have happened? I sat down at my desk and slowly began writing my name: “Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald.” I will be Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Then Scott arrived. His face was flushed, his hair disheveled, his shirt untidy. “Baby!” he cried, gaily, and clasped me in a bear hug. He has been drinking, went through my mind, and my heart was leaden again. “Are you getting a divorce?” I asked. “Have you told her?”
“Yes, I am, I am!” He was emphatic. “I haven’t told her yet but I will!” He released me and began pacing back and forth, growing more angry as he did so. “I’m through. I’ve tried to do my best. Why should I have all this responsibility?” He lit a cigarette with a trembling hand and inhaled deeply. “Do you know what she did this time?” he demanded. “Tried to get me committed. Called a doctor and said I was insane and should be put away.”
I had to sit down, suddenly weak. I was appalled at this sudden, overwhelming glimpse of human suffering. “Oh, Scott—” I said helplessly.
He sat down, agitated. “I’m sick of this situation. I should have ended it long ago.” He jumped up. “Back in a minute,” he said. He dashed out to his car, to return more flushed than before. He had taken another drink.
I said, heartsick, “They’ll find out at the studio you’re drinking and you’ll lose your job.”
He became dramatic. “Don’t tell anyone!”
I persuaded him to go back to the Garden of Allah and sleep it off. He left, unsteadily.
At two A.M. that morning my doorbell rang. It rang continuously. Someone’s finger was on the button and was not being taken off. I hurried down and opened the door. Scott stood there, swaying, holding his shoulder. Behind him a cab waited, its motor running. “I think I’ve broken my shoulder,” he said thickly.
I threw on a coat and helped Scott into the cab and took him to the Queen of Angels Hospital. He protested. Why was I taking him to a hospital? “Stop babying me!” In his time he’d broken nearly every bone in his body. He would not go to a hospital. I said, “If you want me to talk to you ever again, you be good and let me get this shoulder set for you.”
As we waited in the reception room, he suddenly bolted for the door. I raced after him and held him back with all my strength. “Scott, you can’t go, you’ve got to have this set. Stop behaving so stupidly!”
The superintendent, a tall, serene nun, broad and beautiful, approached us. “Sister, he wants to go, he won’t stay,” I almost wept. “He has to have his shoulder set.”
She said, “Come,” and Scott followed her like a lamb.
I sat, waiting, thinking, why could 1 not have her calmness, her sureness? Why must I become emotional? I cannot help him if I am always emotional when he is in trouble.
Fortunately, Scott had only sprained his shoulder. When he left me earlier that night, he had returned to the Garden of Allah as he had promised. But someone had invited him to the bar; he had been drinking there for some time. Then, trying to park his car, in some fashion he had wrenched his shoulder. Then he had come to me.
I took him back to the Garden of Allah. I pleaded with him. He must do whatever was necessary to stop his drinking, as he had done before. He looked up, unexpectedly contrite. “All right,” he said. “I’ll get the doctor. I can quit whenever I want. You know that, don’t you?” I nodded. “I know it, Scott.” “All right,” he said. “Now, don’t come to see me—I don’t like anybody around when—I’ll telephone you—”
I helped him to his room and left him there.
For three nights I could not sleep. What am I to do? About him? About myself? He was not tiddly —he was drunk. He was not tiddly in Chicago—he was drunk. Face the awful word! When will he drink again? How many times before had he been drinking and I had not known? The horror I had fled—the floundering man in the gutter, the East End with its sickening odor of beer, its reeling men, its cursing and brawling and violence through the night—was this to be mine again? I thought, I can’t bear it. I can’t bear this irrationality, this insecurity. I must make things normal and right.
But I cannot give him up, I realized desperately. And then, with a great sense of release, the idea came to me. I will cure him. I will take him away from the Garden of Allah, away from his drinking friends and the temptation of the bar; I will take him to the sea. I will find him a home by the sea where he will get all the fresh air and sunlight he needs, where he can swim and walk and relax and regain his health. As far back as I could remember the sea had had the power to make me whole. It will make Scott whole, too.
On the third day, I drove to Malibu and looked for a beach house. I found a charming white clapboard cottage with green shutters and a captain’s walk. To its side was a little garden, entered through a latticed white archway from which hung a tiny seafarer’s lantern. There was a sunroom, dining room, four bedrooms, and vases of fresh flowers everywhere. There would be a place for me to work and sleep on week ends. As 1 entered the spotless kitchen, a motherly looking colored woman was baking cookies: the air was fragrant with their aroma. Outside, the waves broke gently on a sun-drenched beach. I fell in love with the place. It could be had on six-months’ lease for two hundred dollars a month, and Flora, the cook-housekeeper, would remain for another fifty dollars a month. Scott would actually save money, for his rent was three hundred dollars monthly at the Garden of Allah. I said to Flora, “If Mr. Fitzgerald takes this place will you promise to keep the cookie jars filled?” She smiled. “Oh, yes, ma’am!”
The owner turned out to be Frank Case, who managed the Hotel Algonquin in New York and knew Scott. He’d be happy to rent to him. Enormously pleased, I drove back to Hollywood.
On the afternoon of the next day, flowers arrived from Scott. That evening he telephoned. “Sheilo, when can I see you?” His voice was weak and far away. “Can you come to see me now? I want to see you now, Sheilo.”
I found him sitting up, his face pale. He was dressed neatly, with a perky polka-dot tie and a pink shirt. “That’s a daring tie, Scott,” I said. He smiled at me. “I hope you weren’t too lonely,” he said. It was as if nothing had happened. I said, because I still did not know what alcohol was, “Scott, please don’t drink any more. I don’t like you when you drink. It frightens me.”
He said, gently, don’t let’s talk about it.
I told him about the house at Malibu. He would be able to work there in peace. At the Garden of Allah, guests came in at all hours of the night. It would be healthful. He’d not have to go out for meals. It would be only a forty-five-minute drive to Metro. I could come down evenings and week ends. If he had to remain in town he could always stay at my house.
He wanted to please me. “If you think so, Sheilah,” he said.
On a spring afternoon in 1938, I helped him move out of the Garden of Allah to the beach house at Malibu. He had little luggage and many books and papers. On the way we stopped at a florist and I piled the back of the car high with flowers. I would keep the beach house gay for Scott. Malibu would mark the beginning of a new life for both of us.