Scottie was angry as she came out of the telephone booth. There were tears in her eyes. She had gone gaily inside to call her father after our visit to the Errol Flynn set. Her friend, Peaches Finney, was with us, and the anger might have been partly for its effect on her sixteen-year-old friend from Baltimore. Scottie had been quite happy and thrilled to have her photograph taken with the swaggering star, but now her face was clouded, and the afternoon seemed spoiled.
I listened while she explained to Peaches, “Daddy was making fun of Errol. He's always trying to ruin things.” It wasn't true, but looking back to the summer of 1938, I have to admit that as the father of an adolescent girl, Scott Fitzgerald was a bust. He simply did not know how to deal with a girl of sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen. They had been friends when she was very young, and with Zelda's illness and her father's complete take-over of her life, they were even closer together. But now, emerging into adulthood, she was rebellious against parental authority as so many spirited teenagers are. Scott, himself, had said, “A good son usually kills his father” —metaphorically of course. It was worse with Scott and his daughter because he made every mistake in the book in hisdetermined effort to control her. “I must save her from the pitfalls that destroyed her mother.”
He was more like a stern headmaster than a father who loved his only child, and he really did love her. But he was emphatic that Scottie should not be like her mother, and he did not want her to be like him either, except in standards of principles and hard work. At one time he cautioned her that if he ever heard of her drinking hard liquor, he would go on such a binge that the world would know of it and censure poor Scottie as the cause.
Scott's exhortations to his daughter were mainly delivered by letter. Except for her few trips to Hollywood, Scottie was back East—first at the Ethel Walker School and then at Vassar—during the 1937-1940 years. Scott wrote her every week, and the collection of most of these letters reveals not only his hopes and fears for Scottie but also the ideals and obsessions that shaped his own experience. As Scottie remarked in a recent interview:
When the letters first came, I was just interested in the enclosed checks. But much later, when I wanted to learn exactly what made my parents tick, I went back to those letters. They've since made a big impression on me …
Rereading Scott's letters to Scottie from Hollywood, I am aware of his harping on certain themes: that life is exhaustible and therefore ought to be conserved—sensibly allocated to the future—while one is young; that youth is the most important time of life—the time of greatest intensity and also the time when one establishes either sound or destructive patterns of behavior. “Everything you are and do from fifteen to eighteen is what you are and will do through life,” he propounds in a letter of 1938, which continues still more ominously: “Two years are gone and half the indicators already point down—two years are left and you've got to pursue desperately the ones that point up.”
Scottie's behavior that prompted this dire warning was really quite innocuous—she was perhaps more interested in her social life than in her studies. But Scott looked back to what he now considered his own squandered youth, reinterpreting it all—his consuming interest in the Triangle Club at Princeton, his romances, his and Zelda's pranks—in terms of his “tragic sense of life.” He could then write puritanically to Scottie:
For premature adventure one pays an atrocious price. As I told you once, every boy I know who drank at eighteen or nineteen is now safe in his grave. The girls who were what we called “speeds” (in our stone age slang) at sixteen were reduced to anything they could get at marrying time. It's the logic of life that no young person ever gets away with anything. ... It was in the cards that … your mother should wear out young. I think that despite a tendency to self-indulgence, you and I have some essential seriousness that will manage to preserve us.
This from a man who had plunged so rashly into all extravagant experience, trying to save his daughter from similar waste. A letter of January 1940 begins:
Communications having apparently ceased from your end, I conclude that you're in love. Remember—there's an awful disease that overtakes popular girls at 19 or 20 called emotional bankruptcy. Hope you are not preparing the way for it.
Emotional bankruptcy—this is the exact phrase that Scott used so often to describe his own “crack-up.” Behind it is the notion that one's store of emotion, like one's money in the bank, can be thriftlessly consumed. With so little faith in self-regeneration of emotion, it is not surprising that he dreaded his own aging (though, paradoxically, it was his maturity that attracted me to him). For him, youth was the epoch of life to cherish and remember, the time of unspent idealism and energy. “What proms and games? Let me at least renew my youth!” he implores Scottie in one letter, when for a change he is not berating her for attending such proms and games. He wanted, however, to renew his youth with a difference. Like himself he felt Scottie had “a real dream of your own.” But she must “wed it to something solid before [it] is too late.” He envisions her as “useful and proud,” “among the best of your race.”
I doubt whether any young girl could live up to such high-minded ideals. It was only occasionally that Scott could relax about her sufficiently to be pleased with her actual accomplishments. Although he did not particularly want Scottie to be a writer, with its agonizing delving into the mind, he was excited when she sold an article to the prestigious New Yorker—they had written his profile on April 17, 1926. When she wrote to tell him about the acceptance of her piece, he called all his friends to tell them the good news.
I had a subscription to The New Yorker, and on the date given us by Scottie, he came over earlier than usual. I had scanned the magazine from beginning to end, and there was no article signed by Frances Scott, the name she was using as an authoress so as not to conflict with her father's. There had been a nasty scene in the Hollywood Brown Derby when Scottie had told him she was planning to be a writer. “You are not to trade on my name,” he admonished sternly. I was amazed. Why not make it easier for Scottie by allowing her to use Fitzgerald? But that was the point. Scott wanted her to struggle, to know that nothing came easily, that life was a succession of obstacles that required enormous effort to be overcome.
Scottie had written us the page her story would be on. I handed Scott the magazine silently, hoping that he could find what I couldn't. I watched his face—so eager and smiling as he turned the pages rapidly, then the surprise at not finding it where it should have been, then his going through the rest of the magazine and starting from the beginning again. We were both disturbed. Had Scottie imagined the whole thing, and if so, what could this portend? We never quite finished the surmise.
There was no need to have worried. In those years, The New Yorker sometimes had two editions, one for the East, one for the West. Scottie's article was in the Eastern, and she sent her father a copy after he wrote asking for an explanation.
I do not know whether Scott can be credited that Scottie emerged into the well-organized, completely charming person she became. The charm, certainly, can be linked with him. She has all that her father had—the ready smile, the sympathy, the ability to make the person whom she is with feel intelligent and at the center of what is happening. She also has an air of serenity that sets her markedly apart from her parents.
“I had a happy childhood,” Scottie insists. People, she complained to me, are always commiserating with her, saying what an awful time she must have had as a child. She knew that her parents loved her, and she seems not to have minded the constant upheaval of their lives as the Fitzgerald family drifted back and forth between America and Europe. Scottie, in fact, paints a picture of what heaven it was living in Paris, skiing in Switzerland, swimming in the Mediterranean, and making friends of her own age in Baltimore. Perhaps she was screened from the disorder, the desperation of these moves. A series of affectionate nannies took care of her, she attended elite schools, and she lived in her own sunny world.
Also I can understand how both her parents could have delighted her. After Zelda became ill, they were not close—by then, Scottie reports, her mother “loved to talk about the past and about flowers. There was little else.” But before her collapse, Zelda would sometimes exercise her sharp imagination in enhancing Scottie's world. There were wonderful birthday surprises—though often they were too adult for Scottie to appreciate—like the exquisite doll house with paper cut-outs of children climbing all over it, and marvelous dolls, too beautiful for her to drag around.
Scott also gave his best effort to amuse his “dearest pie.” On a trip to Quebec which he and Zelda took at the invitation of a Canadian travel bureau, he sent to her at Ellerslie a series of enchanting picture postcards, all featuring cartoon drawings of himself, “Mummy,” and “the man with three noses.” In the South of France he played for hours with his collection of toy soldiers for Scottie and the Murphy children. And his tricks with cards always amazed them.
Given all the drinking Scott was doing, it is hard to believe that Scottie's childhood was not sometimes darker. The photographs of the Fitzgeralds—Scott, Zelda, and Scottie—posing and laughing together on the Riviera beach cannot set its whole tone. But Scott, too, in the stories he had to tell me of early years with his daughter, dwelt on the bright and cheerful. One Christmas, he remembered, Scottie gifted her parents with a garbage bin, a discreet hint perhaps for careless Zelda. Then, he laughed, “Every morning she tiptoed to the bin to see if there was any garbage in it.”
The first crack in their good relationship occurred in Baltimore when Scottie was twelve. Scott told me he had been drinking. Scottie's independence was beginning to show. She was dressed for a party and was wearing a red dress of which he disapproved. In a sudden rage, Scott said, he tore the dress from shoulder to hem. When he told me this story, remembering how I was at the beginning of my adolescence, I told him somberly, “She'll never forget it or really forgive you.” He did not reply but I knew he wished he had not humiliated his daughter like that. Her subsequent rebellion from authority could have started then. (Actually, Scottie told me she has long since forgiven and forgotten.)
While I liked Scottie, I began to dread her letters to Scott, which often upset him, and even more to dread her visits to Hollywood. Father and daughter tried to refrain from antagonizing each other, but they always did. Only Scottie's first visit, at the end of July 1937, could be called a success. Scott was strictly on the wagon. He took Scottie to the homes of Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford for tea. Scottie was amused when Joan, trying to entertain her young guest, showed her a large album full of her own photographs, all beautifully posed, not a bad angle among them. Afterwards, Scottie asked me, “Wouldn't you think she was tired of seeing her own face?” “Actresses never tire of that,” I assured her. We were a foursome for dinner with Jimmy Stewart. He was amusing and nice to her. Scott had invited him because of their Princeton heritage. But Scottie's other few visits were almost total failures.
I had rented a house for Scott at Malibu, believing that the sun and the sea would make him stronger and less likely to resort to alcohol, though, of course, I didn't tell him this. But away from the scrutiny and gossip of Hollywood, he drank much more, and he rarely went into the sun or the sea. He was the palest man in that tanned beach resort. In between drinks, we played ping pong. That, with an occasional visit to the local store where there was a bowling alley, was the only exercise he took in those last years of his life. I swam, I played tennis—he had done both with Zelda—while he remained indoors.
I was pleased when he told me that Scottie and Peaches were coming west to spend a few weeks with him at the beach. But I was dreadfully hurt when he asked me to collect my things and move out. (I had only been coming for weekends and had hired a good housekeeper-cook to look after him —how I loved her cookies!)
I understood why he had asked me to leave. The girls were sixteen years old, and in 1938 it was considered very improper for a married man to have a pretty young lady friend sleeping in his house even though we had separate bedrooms, as we always did.
But now I was to clear out as though I were a casual woman in his life. I could come down for the day, but I was to leave before night. I am sure that this was done more for Peaches and the report she would give her family than for Scottie, who knew that I was close to her father and had written me many letters thanking me for this or that. I sometimes saw her looking at me with her father's eyes, wondering how I could possibly be in love with such an old ogre of a man.
I was shattered, and it came home to me painfully that I was involved in an irregular situation. Zelda had been a remote shadow far away in her sanitarium, but now she came closer. She was Scott's wife and the mother of his daughter. I was merely his girl, who could be turned out as circumstances decreed. It was all right for me to take Scottie and her friend to the studios. It was fine for me to get tickets to the premieres for all of us, but I must not seem to be an integral part of his life.
In the week preceding the visit, I punished him with brooding silences. Perhaps, I thought defiantly, he will believe that I, too, am mad. Serves him right. What am I doing wasting my life like this? Perhaps I really was off balance. But mostly I understood. I have always been able to see both sides of a situation. Unfortunately.
After the girls left, I brought back my beach clothes, and I soon forgot my feeling that I had been abandoned in the name of respectability. There had been some stormy scenes between Scottie and her father, but life did not now become as peaceful as I had hoped. Scott was drinking like a thirsty man in the desert who sees water for the first time in weeks. This was his habitual reaction after and during Scottie's visits to him and his to Zelda. Scott simply could not cope as a husband or a father. Soon after his death I wrote Scottie this letter:
1443 North Hayworth Avenue, Hollywood, California
May 27, 1941
Something has been bothering me. I think I'm partly responsible for the existing idea that Scott drank more and chiefly when he saw you. Yes, he drank the last few times he saw you—but not because he saw you. It was merely that the tension of his life would be strained when anything new or unusual came into it. The tension was caused by past grief and present exasperation inflicted by studios on sensitive writers. You, personally, were not the cause of any drinking bout with perhaps that one exception—poor old Dorothy Burns. (I feel like a traitor to Scott when I write “poor old”.) But even this had its roots outside of the incident. It goes back to nerves that had been worn out with repeated battering during a period (and after) when it was the thing to be more spectacular than your neighbor. And Scott with his good looks, charm, enthusiasm, gaiety, and tenderness was a natural leader. So don't ever think that you caused him to drink.
He was pleased that you had opinions of your own. Not for anything would he have exchanged you—if he could—for a supine, sweet thing whose “yes” and “no” followed the crowd. Of course, when your opinions clashed with his own, he liked them less—don't we all? When we think we are right, we are sure the other person is wrong. But he watched the unfolding of your mind like an ardent horticulturist with a cherished flower.
I'm not quite sure why I've gone on like this, but I was wakeful in the plane coming back here thinking about you and Scott, and how if you'd only had more time together, what a lot you'd have had from each other.
It was sweet to get your letter. I'm delighted about the possibility of working for “Time.” Max Perkins told me about it and was sure that if you saw them the job was practically yours. I do hope so. The people there seem “alive, alert, allergic”—to gooey gush —not good—but I've just come from a studio where I've been trying to get something above a one syllable speech from Rita Hayworth. She's making a picture now with Fred Astaire, who has practically no hair left.
The Clipper leaves for Lisbon (if it hasn't been invaded by that time) July 15th. And I'll be in New York for about six days before that, and I'll call you at the Obers.
All my love,
Even when Scottie was not present to exacerbate him, he could work himself into a frenzy over her supposed misconduct. There was the time she and a friend thumbed a ride from the Ethel Walker School to New Haven. Scottie had graduated but was staying on to take her entrance exams for Vassar. It was boring with most of the students gone; the two girls had some friends at Yale, and they decided to pay them a surprise visit. Scott was frantic when he was informed of the escapade. He wrote his sternest letter to date, informing Scottie that she was rushing down the path to hell. His over-reaction was because he feared she would not now be accepted at Vassar. Scottie was only sixteen years old, and when I mentioned this, trying to soften him toward her, he fumed, “That makes it worse. They'll think she is too immature for college.”
He wrote her a very nasty letter. You have not read it in the various collections because I made him change the letter. I was aghast when he read it to me. “What are you trying to do?” I demanded. “Alienate her forever, or help her in these very difficult years?” He rewrote the letter and commanded Scottie to read it twice because he had written it twice. The letter is dated July 7, 1938. This preceded her visit with Peaches.
I don't think I'll be writing letters many more years, and I wish you would read this letter twice—bitter as it may seem. When I'm talking to you and you think of me as an older person, an “authority” and when I speak of my own youth what I say becomes unreal to you—for the young can't believe in the youth of their fathers. But perhaps this little bit will be understandable if I put it in writing…
Scott goes on to explain how Zelda had ruined both herself and his “dream” by her idleness and bad habits. Then, drenching Scottie in the moral of this fall, he continues:
… For a long time I hated her mother for giving her nothing in the line of good habits—nothing but “getting by” and conceit. I never wanted to see again in this world women who were brought up as idlers. And one of my chief desires in life was to keep you from being that kind of person, one who brings ruin to themselves and others. When you began to show disturbing signs at about fourteen, I comforted myself with the idea that you were too precocious socially and a strict school would fix things. But sometimes I think that idlers seem to be a special class for whom nothing can be planned, plead as one will with them—their only contribution to the human family is to warm a seat at the common table.
My reforming days are over, and if you are that way I don't want to change you. But I don't want to be upset by idlers inside my family or out. I want my energy and my earnings for people who talk my language.
I have begun to fear that you don't. You don't realize that what I am doing here is the last tired effort of a man who once did something finer and better. There is not enough energy, or call it money, to carry anyone who is dead weight and I am angry and resentful in my soul when I feel that I am doing this. People like —— and your mother must be carried because their illness makes them useless. But it is a different story that you have spent two years doing no useful work at all, improving neither your body nor your mind, but only writing reams and reams of dreary letters to dreary people, with no possible object except obtaining invitations which you could not accept. Those letters go on, even in your sleep, so that I know your whole trip is one long waiting for the post. It is like an old gossip who cannot still her tongue.
You have reached the age when one is of interest to an adult only insofar as one seems to have a future… .
and on and on.
It was a gloomy letter for a young girl to receive but much better than the original epistle. This was more in sorrow than in anger, but its effect was about the same. Poor Scottie and poor Scott.
She was accepted at Vassar, to Scott's relief. He was always measuring her behavior and progress against Zelda's, even though these were the late 30s when young people did not behave as their parents had in the 20s. Children of a severe depression, they were sober, reacting against the preceding decade. Still, Scottie was lively and full of her father's gaiety when he was young and life was so full of promise. At Vassar she was voted the most popular girl of her class. She wrote a musical performed by the drama club and started the Oh My God It's Monday Club. This was enough for Scott to warn sternly of what had happened to himself at Princeton when he had been so involved with the Triangle Club. He was the most anxious father I have ever known, but I sympathized with him in his desire for Scottie to avoid the dangers of his and Zelda's recklessness. And perhaps his sternness is why Scottie has developed into the responsible person that she is.
It was even worse when Scottie took off for a weekend in Baltimore without asking his permission or letting him know. Talk about the Oh My God It's Monday Club! This was Oh My God, It's Daddy's Saturday and Sunday Anguish. Scott, who always seemed to know when Scottie was doing something he did not approve of, had telephoned her at Vassar and learned she had gone away for the weekend. He tracked her down late on the Sunday. Her allowance was halved for the next three months. I felt sorry for Scottie but apprehensive that her father would start drinking again, which of course he did. In time the flouting of his authority was forgiven but never forgotten. From now on they were wary of each other, Scottie trying not to provoke her father, Scott stern and hoping vainly they could resume the relationship of their earlier years.
When Scott complained in October that the beach was too cold for him—it seemed he was always cold, wearing woollen sweaters and his old raincoat even when the weather was warm—I found him a house in Encino in the valley where it was ten to twenty degrees warmer than in Malibu. It was a large house on the Edward Everett Horton estate, one of three homes there in addition to the main residence. Mr. Horton, famous for his “double take” in his films, called his property “Belly Acres,” a name which the fastidious Fitzgerald loathed. “You're not to tell anyone,” he cautioned. There was an empty swimming pool which Scott paid to have filled up for me, a tennis court where I played for hours on the weekend with Mr. Horton's brothers. In the house there were two enormous bedrooms upstairs and a smaller room which Scott used for his study with a large adjoining balcony. If I awakened at night, I could hear him pacing up and down, up and down. At three or four in the morning, he took several sleeping pills and the pacing stopped. There was quiet until nine or ten in the morning, then pills to pep him up to work.
Scottie came to visit in the summer of 1939 and slept in the extra bed in my room. A boy she knew from the East telephoned, and he brought a whole group of his Pasadena friends to stay. The girls slept on the floor in my bedroom, and I liked that. I felt like everyone's mother. The boys slept downstairs in the large living room. There were jokes and much laughter and confident youth. Scott managed to control his drinking. But he had some fierce undertone arguments with Scottie, correcting her, worrying over her, telling her how to behave with boys.
One of his suggestions, however, delighted her. He asked her to take a series of driving lessons. “I want you to know how to drive,” he said, “in case you are ever in a car with a drunk, and then you can take over. I don't want you coming home with a broken back.” At Princeton Scott had seen a man killed in a car accident and he could not forget the horror. Of course Scottie was never to take the wheel from him. And it wasn't necessary. Sober, Scott rarely drove more than twenty miles an hour. And drunk he had the good sense to drive alone—usually to the nearest liquor store.
Scottie was to see her father one more time when we came East the following spring for the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. We were in high spirits—not alcoholic, because Scott was totally on the wagon. Scottie was eighteen, she had slimmed down and was angelically pretty. It was a beautiful day and I can still see Scottie raising her arms to the sky and exclaiming, “I wish I could be eighteen forever.” Scott smiled at me over her head, remembering his own passion for youth. He was now forty-three. We went to the station with Scottie, who was returning to what she called her “intellectual Turkish bath,” and that was the very last they would see of each other.
Scott wisely did not attend his daughter's “coming out” in Baltimore—he could not cope with such self-conscious occasions and usually ended up disrupting them. Also he had emphasized so often that he wanted Scottie to be a worker, to have a career, that the social event seemed at odds with his aims for her. She was to be presented to society at the Baltimore Cotillion with her friend Peaches. His cash was low, and without telling him I sent Scottie the money for her dress. I teased him about it: “I'm surprised that you want her to be a debutante—I thought that now you didn't believe in that sort of thing.” “It's just in case,” he hedged. I didn't ask him what the “in case” meant. I suppose it was just in case she preferred to be social, to have an entree to the best society.
Around this time, however, Scottie's subsequent great interest in politics was burgeoning. In one of her letters to her father, she expressed strong opinions about government and social reform. “You see,” he almost shouted with excitement. “She's growing up. She's maturing. She's thinking about things outside herself.”
Scott's letters to Scottie were now in a softer vein, and one time he telephoned her to explain why he had been so strict with her. “It's because I want you to be different from your mother.” “Well,” flipped Scottie, “Why doesn't she change?”
Scott's last letter to his daughter, on December 21, 1940—he died an hour after writing it—was signed by me, but the words are his. I was sending her some of my clothes and didn't want her to think I was patronizing her by sending cast-off stuff. “Will you tell me what to write?” I asked him. He was delighted to do so:
Dear Scottie, [he dictated]
I bought this dress to go to Dallas for “The Westerner.” The winter is slipping away and because of my natural unpopularity I find no reason to use it. So there it sat in my closet, losing style week after week. I mentioned this to your father and he told me you burned up dresses at the rate of one a month and suggested that instead of selling it down the river I contribute it to the conflagration. The coat also seems to have been waiting in my closet for the victory celebration and I don't think now we will win before 1943. By that time it will be unusual for English people to wear furs… .
I added a request for her to send her father a recent photograph, wished her a happy Christmas and New Year, and, happily, “Your father has not been well but he's getting better now. He hasn't had a drink for over a year.”
The coat referred to in my letter was the fox fur jacket that Scott had given me for my September birthday in 1937, the same coat he had written into his script for Joan Crawford, and stolen in our last quarrel in 1939, sent to Scottie, and then had to ask it back from her. Now of my own choice I was sending it to Scottie once again. Scott's own letter, written earlier, concerned the receipt of this present:
There has reached you by this time I hope, a little coat. It was an almost never worn coat of Sheilah's that she wanted to send you. Frances Kroll's father is a furrier and he remade it without charge! So you must at once please write the following letters: i) to Sheilah, not stressing Mr. Kroll's contribution, ii) to Frances, praising the style, iii) to me (in the course of things) in such a way that I can show the letter to Sheilah who will certainly ask if you liked the coat ... A giver gets no pleasure in a letter acknowledging a gift three weeks late even though it crawls with apologies…
I went to New York soon after Scott died and spent many hours with Scottie, who came down frequently from Vassar to see me. She wanted to know more about her father and asked me many questions. Why had he been so strict with her? What made him drink so much? Did I think he would be remembered as a writer? We were both angry about him not living long enough to finish The Last Tycoon, and both glad that Scribners was planning to publish the book in its half-finished state with Edmund Wilson to edit and put it together. As for trying to explain his anxieties as a father, I gave her diplomatic replies, not of course stressing his fears that Scottie would be a disorganized idler like her mother.
While Scott was alive, I had liked Scottie really more for her father's sake than for her own. It is true that I had acted as her champion and go-between with Scott, but this was to prevent him from being upset. I had found her a pleasant girl, but I had also thought she was a bit snooty with me. Once when she was spending the night at my home in Hollywood, she asked me for something to read. I was at this time well into the “Education” and, proud of my mastery of Proust, I offered her the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past. “Oh,” she said, “I'd rather read it in French.” So would I, I realized much later, if my French had been as good as hers.
After her father died, Scottie became the remnant of Scott for me, which I clung to. She also became someone I enjoyed for herself. And we have been friends ever since. I am pleased that she likes me because I consider her an honest, intelligent person with high standards of conduct. Also I think my satisfaction in the friendship goes back to my wanting to be respected. For Scott's daughter to believe that I'm a good person means that I'm being accepted by a member of the respected classes. Scottie is respected both as her father's daughter and as an enterprising, charming woman in her own right.
I kept in touch with Scottie during her last year at Vassar. As far as I could see, I was trying to carry on for Scott, trying to make sure his daughter was not unhappy and not in need of money, helping her to buy what she might need. From Vassar after Easter 1941, she wrote me:
Please forgive me for not writing before. I feel doubly guilty since the reason I have not written has been largely the result of your magnificent present. I was just wondering whether to give up the idea of going to Florida when your check came. So, a couple of days later, I was on the train bound for Fort Lauderdale, the most beautiful place that looks like the French Riviera, with cabanas and colored umbrellas and boardwalks. It was without a doubt the most wonderful vacation I have ever spent, and I feel all happy and healthy again after a perfectly dismal winter. In Baltimore on the way back I had to see Mr. Coe about all the stuff in storage, and he told me he had talked to you on the phone in California and that you had been sick. Sheilah, I'm sorry to hear that, and I hope that you aren't lonely and unhappy. These months must have been terrible for you. When are you coming East? Soon, I hope. Thank you again for my present. If you knew how brown I was and how healthy and what fun it was down South, you'd feel like the angel Gabriel.
Much love, Scottie
Almost to the day of the first anniversary of Scott's death, unable to cope with the unexpected terrifying memory, I married Trevor Westbrook in Arlington, Virginia. It was shortly after the “infamous” December 7, 1941—Trevor was in Washington with Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, and all the armament experts. I had met him when I went to England in July 1941 as a war correspondent. Not long after our marriage, he returned to London, and I found out I was pregnant. Scottie immediately announced that she would be the baby's godmother. A letter from Vassar, sent to me shortly before her graduation in 1942, reads:
Really I'm so happy about the baby and I know it will be adorable. I have got my knitting needles out of mothballs and am madly making tiny garments. Only two more weeks of classes now, and it will all be over. Life is so very easy and so very removed from Hitlerian agitation up here that it makes me sad to leave. Then I am coming to consult you. You probably hate playing Dorothy Dix, but I sure admire the way you've ordered your life, and I'd like to get some psychological tidbits from you… .
Six weeks before the end of my pregnancy, Scottie and I spent a weekend with the Gerald Murphys at their attractive home in East Hampton, Long Island. It was the very late summer of 1942, and I was quite large. My dear Dr. Rubin tried to restrain me from overeating, but I'm afraid that in having a baby I had found a wonderful excuse to eat whatever I desired. The Murphys had lost their two teen-aged sons, Baoth and Patrick—I had visited their graves and sat on the stone bench for visitors in the cemetery at East Hampton. Which reminds me of a discovery I recently made at the Princeton Library, something which has been overlooked previously by all the professors and biographers. They assumed that Scott was referring to himself when he wrote:
For BAOTH 2nd stanza poem
There was a flutter from the wings of God
And you lay dead
Your books were in your desk
I guess and some unfinished
Chaos in your head
Was dumped to nothing
By the great janitress
How could they all have missed the dedication to Baoth? But, coming back—Scottie and I returned to New York by train, and some college boys, seeing my obvious condition, whistled a popular song of the time, something about spurs that jingle and I'm glad to be single. We laughed, but I was a bit embarrassed.
When my daughter Wendy was born, Scottie sent her one of those snug baby cover-alls, sewn at the bottom to keep the feet warm and with a hood for the baby's head. When she had the first of her children, we exchanged toys. I remember the tiny painted chair that Scottie brought to my house after she had visited New Mexico.
Soon after Wendy's birth, I returned with her to California and to my Hollywood job, while Scottie went to work in New York for Time. We continued to write, keeping up closely with one another's lives. I shall quote from a few of Scottie's letters as I think they not only communicate what we both were doing at the time but also convey the feeling of our friendship. From her office at Time, she wrote:
I just loved the picture of Wendy and was glad to hear from you as I had come to the conclusion that Errol Flynn had got you and you were done for—no more leaving his motor on while he saw you to the door.
(Errol had called on me after I interviewed him on the set at Warners. Luckily I was all dressed to go out when I answered the bell and soon got rid of him. It was John O'Hara who kept the engine running while he saw me to the door. He was suffering with a social disease at the time, but I remember saying to myself, “Does he think I'm going to rape him or something?”)
Your description of Hollywood is marvellous … and your address is very glamorous—if South Palm Drive is where I think it is, it is a pseudo tropical fairyland and I envy you the tennis.
(Actually the small stucco Spanish-style house was on the wrong side of the tracks. I didn't make the right side until 1945 when I had a radio show as well as my column.)
But how on earth do you get from studio to studio? I picture you on a motor cycle with Wendy strapped to your back like a papoose, drifting from M-G-M to Paramount.
Things back East are much the same with fashionable refugees in every hotel lobby. I don't hear from Jack any more …
(Scottie had become engaged to Samuel [Jack] Lanahan, III. He was exactly the man Scott would have chosen for his son-in-law—a Princetonian, from a well-to-do, good, Baltimore family and very handsome.)
… and conclude he is in the Solomons. The job is marvellous, I really am ecstatic… Sheilah I miss our long analyses of all phases of existence. Was going through Daddy's folder in the Time library the other day and came across a note by one of the reporters: “Contacted Sheilah Graham—she is very beautiful and charming.” There is a folder about me which I think might amuse you—one clip says “Born Frances Scott etc. etc.” then a yellow slip of paper saying, “As yet shows no artistic leanings”—and that's all! That's a hell of a classification is all I can say.
Much love to you and Wendy…
Here is another letter with the March of Time letterhead:
…I loved my Christmas present and couldn't believe my eyes! Nor my legs when I got them on. It was the first time I had a pair of nylons in six months
(It was hard to get them in the war.)
…Saw your friend the other day in the elevator of Time and he looks very sad without you. I suspect he has joined the bread line of broken hearts waiting for the crumbs of interest you have in anything but Wendy (block that metaphor)… I say this nastily as I am jealous of all these admirers you have. It is preposterous that a woman should all her life have the equivalent stag line at her feet as a girl of seventeen!…
Before long I was hearing from her on notepaper with her new initials, F.S.L.:
(We had thought Zelda was attending which is why I couldn't.)
… so it was very neatly settled … Sheilah, I loved my wedding dress and you were wonderful to buy it for me …
(Nancy Milford, in her book Zelda, erroneously stated that Mrs. Ober had bought the wedding gown. I asked her to correct this in future editions, but so far as I know, she didn't.)
… My dress was sort of lavenderish dusky pink, very pale and beautifully floaty, and came from Milgrims. It was $55…
(I had sent her a check for $100.)
… so I return the surplus with many thanks …
(I sent it back for her to buy some luggage—you could do so much more with less money in 1943.)
… I really do wish so you'd been here, after all our discussions about men, marriage and life! I wish Wendy had been a boy so if I could have had a daughter in the next couple of years they could have gotten married. Perhaps your son, who I maintain will be born before very long, will still have the jump on little Cecelia as my daughter will be called … Very much love and thanks again many times for my beautiful wedding dress …
I shall quote from just one more of her letters, although I have many others. I always keep letters I like.
I've been waiting for pictures of the wedding, so I could send one along with a letter. Apparently they are never coming …
(I can't remember receiving one but I must have eventually.)
… I want to thank you again for your superb wedding present. All this and the wedding dress too. And of course I used the charming little suitcase on what I shall laughingly call my honeymoon (two days). Anyway your fine present is neatly tucked away in The Bowery Savings Bank—of all unromantic sounding places, and will buy much fine glass and china after the war. Lately I've been doing much thinking about Daddy because I've had to go through reams and reams of correspondence before turning the impersonal part over to the Princeton Library. It has been absorbing but has left me so confused I doubt whether I shall ever completely know him. I can't figure out whether he was wise or foolish, rational or irrational, etc. etc. and would very much like to talk to you some more very soon. The further away from me it gets, the more curious I become to reallyunderstand him as a person, not as a father I didn't get along with. I long to see you Sheilah—please come East soon. At least write me a long letter please.
Love to Wendy
Rereading Scottie's letters to me, I seem to be boasting about my generosity to her. This is not my intention. I am generous only for the pleasure that I get—so there's no merit in that. It gratified me to be of help to Scottie, especially since she received no immediate legacy from her father. When Scott died he left $706 in cash, of which $613.25 went for burial expenses, $13 in a drawer in his desk “For emergencies,” and an insurance policy for $250,000 that had dwindled to $30,000 through much borrowing against it and nonpayment of premiums —barely enough to keep Zelda in the sanitarium. It was only because some of Scott's friends—the Murphys, Judge Biggs, and Perkins—paid for Scottie's tuition at Vassar that she was able to finish her college education. She herself wanted to quit school and get a job. But I—eager to see Scott's wishes adhered to—impressed upon her and upon Judge Biggs, Scott's overriding concern that his daughter have her graduation.
Scottie reaps the advantages of being Scott's daughter, while I suffer some of the disadvantages of not having been married to him. This is a fact, but it has never clouded our friendship. I was so pleased with her letter to Weekly Variety, late in 1958, after the paper intimated that Beloved Infidel had annoyed her: “Not only did I love the book,” she wrote, “but there is nothing that Sheilah Graham could ever do that could make me angry with her.” She must have told something of this to her children, because they have always treated me with affection.
I wish Scott had been alive to know Scottie's children. I am sure he would have been far less strict with them than he was with her. But he would have taken them over as he did everyone else he loved.
I know, too, that he would have been delighted with Scottie as she is today. She is a good human being, relaxed and popular. Also, she is a great organizer and gracious hostess in Washington society. She and her husband “Jack” Lanahan gave a party for Adlai Stevenson the night of the 1956 presidential election. They had hoped he would win—Scottie worked hard for his campaign. When he lost the party continued.
The only adverse effect of her parents that I can see on Scottie is a vagueness about dates and such. For instance, when I came to Washington in 1959 to talk to the Women's Press Club about Beloved Infidel, Scottie wanted to meet me. I gave her the time of arrival, but she went to the station two days before and was sure I had given that date. Perhaps the vagueness was necessary to put a sheet of lead between herself and her adolescence.
That first time in Washington, Scottie had wanted me to stay with her, but I was jittery and preferred to be by myself in a hotel. I was nervous about the next day's talk because I knew those gals would be laying for me, and they were. A gossip-columnist mistress to write a book about her experiences with a famous author! But with Scottie sitting next to me at the head table on the dais, the worst question I was asked was, “Why did you have a collaborator?” It was because I wasn't sure I could do Scott Fitzgerald justice, and I wanted an expert to help me put the book together.
One Easter I brought my son and daughter to Washington to see the great capital. Scottie took us all in tow—to the Congress, Senate, subway, Lincoln Memorial, etc. Does anyone wonder why I like Scottie with all her affection, sweetness, and friendship.