Whenever I said something which Scott thought inane, he put me down as severely as an impatient professor would a stupid student. We were at Encino and there was a glorious sunset—a yellow and green and black and “hectic red” sky that I can still remember. Scott and I were standing outside his house taking it all in when I remarked, “Oh, isn't the sky lovely.” He silenced me sharply. “Don't ever tell me what the sky is like.” Perhaps he had been composing a description of that sky for his notebooks and I had interrupted his thoughts with my commonplace remark. I apologized but now I find his reproof somewhat harsh and my submission to it too compliant. But I was then—as now—in awe of his talent. I have always respected talent of any kind—a good secretary, a fine dancer, composer, artist, actor, cook, and above all an excellent writer.
I had not been much impressed with This Side of Paradise, which I read after Scott went to enormous trouble to find a second-hand copy for me because this, his first novel, was out of print—as were all the others. “Well,” I said, while he waited eagerly for my opinion, “it isn't Dickens.” He was naturally annoyed. How could I have been so tactless? And even though he told me in later years that he was embarrassed by his firstnovel, he had hoped I would find it interesting. At that time I knew nothing of American college life and, in addition, had no idea that he had based most of the characters in the book on real-life Princeton people—Bunny Wilson, John Peale Bishop, and his first love, Ginevra King.
Nor was I more enthusiastic about his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. The people seemed very silly to me, especially Anthony Patch and the girl modeled on Zelda. But I instantly loved The Great Gatsby, and I found some of the prose in Tender Is the Night as stirring as the poetry of Keats and Shelley. I was interested in what he read to me every night of The Last Tycoon, just a few pages each time. He worked slowly and dug deep into his gut, he told me, to make this novel about Hollywood's powerful film executives as compressed and cohesive as The Great Gatsby. I admired greatly some of the prose which I thought was as good as anything he had written, but I was reserving final opinion on the book—which was only half finished at the time of Scott's death.
I loved the short stories he picked out from the vast number he had written—about two hundred. My favorites were “Absolution,” which he preferred to all the others, “Babylon Revisited,” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” which we saw performed in the upstairs rehearsal hall of the Pasadena Playhouse. Also “The Baby Party,” based on a party given for the very young Scottie.
Some years after Scott's death, when I reread everything he had written, I realized that I had not done him full justice as a writer while he was alive. Except for a few short stories which he himself considered “trash”—especially some of the “Pat Hobbys,” I now admired all his work, including the copious notes for past, present, and future use and the first two novels, which I could now appreciate for their humor and knowing who the characters were. I decided Scott was right to place himself in the ranks of Henry James, Joyce, and Conrad, and I agreed with his estimation of the particular nature of his talent. “If I had lived in another age,” he had told me, “I would have been a poet. But there's no money in poetry now.” In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries poets were fashionable and well paid; in our day they got very little. “But I try to make my prose into a sort of poetry and still be paid as a prose writer.” Like Shakespeare and Samuel Butler, Scott was always aware of his financial worth to the public. Dr. Johnson said that a man was a fool if he did not write for money. Scott was not a fool, and he always needed money. He studied his market and wrote prose—remarkable for its poetic quality.
My love of poetry was emotional rather than analytic. Today, some of the sentences and paragraphs from Scott's work stir me as deeply as Keats' “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,” or Shakespeare's “Hid in death's dateless night”—two lines that Scott would repeat over and over again. And the last lines from The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” In such a sentence, it seems to me, Scott had realized the artistic ideal that he describes in a letter to Scottie:
If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has said before you, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend together as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.
I think that the whole of The Great Gatsby comes together in such a way. Singling out just a few of the passages that resound for me with such wholeness and with Keats' beauty and truth, I can quote: “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun.” “In his blue gardens, men and girls went and came like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” “I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal.” “Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch like silver dolls weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans.” If this isn't poetry, I don't know what is.
There is also the last paragraph from “Absolution”:
The collapsed man lay there quite still, filling hisroom, filling it with voices and faces until it was crowded with echolalia and rang aloud with a steady shrill note of laughter … Outside the window the blue sirocco trembled over the wheat, and girls with yellow hair walked sensuously along roads that bounded the field, calling innocent, exciting things to the young men who were working in the lines between the grain. Legs were shaped under starchless gingham, and rims of the necks of dresses were warm and damp. For five hours now, hot fertile life had burned in the afternoon. It would be night in three hours, and all along the land there would be these blonde Northern girls and the tall young men from the farms lying out beside the wheat, under the moon.
For me Tender Is the Night is sheer poetry all through, though the story is not so tightly knit as Gatsby. The Last Tycoon Scott planned as a “constructed,” “dramatic” novel like Gatsby, and it is also full of his poetically powerful writing. I have recently reread it, and so many of the descriptions beat in my mind:
Across the four feet of moonlight, the eyes he knew looked back at him, a curl blew a little on a familiar forehead … An awful fear went over him and he wanted to cry aloud. Back from the still sour room, the muffled glide of the limousine hearse, the falling concealing flowers, from out there in the dark—here now warm and glowing. The river passed him in a rush, the great spotlights swooped and blinked.
And, to quote just one more passage:
The curtains blew suddenly into the room, the papers whispered on his desk, and his heart cringed faintly at the intense reality of the day outside his window … What would happen if he saw her again—the starry veiled expression, the mouth strongly formed for poor brave human laughter.
I could go on, but you must reread the books and short stories, and you'll find over and over again Fitzgerald's poetic felicity, his success in the creation of “a sincere yet radiant world” because what he has to say and his way of saying it blend together indissolubly as one matter.
“In a small way I was an original,” Scott wrote to Max Perkins in the late 30s, wistful at the eclipse of his reputation. It depressed him “to die so completely after having given so much.” No one today would dispute his claim to originality, except perhaps to argue that there were not enough books. But interestingly, the writers who disliked Scott, such as Robert Benchley, attacked him on the grounds of his unoriginality. It was Bob's complaint that Scott went about stealing other people's remarks. And certainly there was a modicum of truth in this. Scott was never without his little notebook, and whenever he heard a good observation, he would write it down. A number of my remarks appear in The Last Tycoon, as did Zelda's in The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night. Also Scott would make use of other people's experiences—Zelda's, the Gerald Murphys', Ring Lardner's, mine. Or if he heard a story from a casual acquaintance that he thought he might use he would pay for it—“about $30 for each anecdote,” he revealed to me.
Scott, nonetheless, was an original. His originality lay not in where his material came from but in how he fused it into his own vision and gave it his particular stamp of genius. It is indisputable that he made use of other people's lives, other people's words, and also for that matter of his own—more than from any other source he stole from his own behavior, creating himself into a character, then writing about this character's experiences. But his fiction was not just a matter of compiled anecdotes and observations. He was an extraordinarily conscientious writer, in league, he liked to think himself, with Flaubert in writing a taut story, making the right “imaginative leaps,” cutting unnecessary words, polishing until his mind was exhausted.
To gain some understanding of Scott's response to Hollywood as an author, one must appreciate the great respect he had for his own talent. He regarded it as Elizabeth Taylor would regard a jewel—it was precious, and when he hurt his talent, he was angry with himself and with anybody else who helped him to hurt it, such as Hollywood producers and collaborators. However, because of his undauntable faith in his ability, he was always excited over a new script project, sure that this time he would succeed and was able to dismiss from his mind all previous frustration and failure.
I think that if Scott could have worked alone on his scripts, as he wanted to do, and if his health and the system had permitted him to direct them, he would have been completely happy in Hollywood. As it was, he did not dislike the place as much as his despairing letters to friends might indicate. Scott's letters, addressed to posterity as much as to the recipient, always struck a dramatic note. Also, it was hard not to fall in with the stock attitude of his friends, who were always complaining how they hated working on film scripts and in the studios. Metro-Goldwyn-Merde—I believe the description was Dorothy Parker's. Scott, however, never shared Dottie's cynicism. He was a natural enthusiast, always eager to make the best of any new opportunity and, less fortunately, always vulnerable to the sting of new disappointment.
When Scott was first told that he would be writing Three Comrades in tandem with Ted Paramore, Jr., he was fairly pleased, having known Ted in the East and respecting him as a good writer. But Scott's ideas for the script and Ted's were completely different. He expelled his frustration when he saw me. “Paramore's a hack. They've taken away his originality and talent.”
Three Comrades was important to Scott. He needed the precious screen credit for his option to be taken up, when his salary would jump for another year to $1,250 a week. And, of course, he wanted the script to be good. Determined to keep the project under his and not his collaborator's control, he wrote Paramore a long letter, part of which I reproduce. It is dated October 24, 1937. They had been working together for just a few weeks:
I'd intended to go into this Friday but time was too short. Also hating controversy, I've decided after all to write it.
First let me say that in the main I agree with your present angle, as opposed to your first “war” angle on the script, and I think you have cleared up a lot in the short time we've been working. Also I know we can work together even if we occasionally hurl about charges of pedantry and prudery.
But on the other hand I totally disagree with you as to the terms of our collaboration. We got off to a bad start and I think you are under certain misapprehensions founded more on my state of mind and body last Friday [he was still weak from the big binge in Chicago (Oct 1937)] than upon the real situation. My script is in a general way approved of. [The director, Joe Mankiewicz, told Scott it was the best script he had ever read, sending Scott to heights of joy, but when it was turned in, Joe rewrote three-quarters of it, sending Scott to the depths of misery and a new drinking spree.] There was not any question of taking it out of my hands … The question was who I wanted to work with me on it and for how long. That was the entire question and it was not materially changed because I was temporarily off balance.
At what point you decided you wanted to take the whole course of things in hand—whether because of that day—or because when you read my script you liked it much less than did Joe or the people in his office—where that point was I don't know. But it was apparent Saturday that you had and it is with my faculties quite clear and alert that I tell you I prefer to keep the responsibility for the script as a whole … This letter is sharp but a discussion might become more heated and less logical. Your job is to help me, not hinder me… .
And so on.
Mankiewicz, not Paramore, proved the real spoke in the wheel. But in spite of the director's rewrite, the credits for Three Comrades read, in smallish print, “Screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edward Paramore, Jr.” It was at least half a credit, and the only one for Scott in those three and a half Hollywood years. (Nor were there any from his previous times in Hollywood in 1927 and 1931.) How he would have enjoyed seeing his name alone in big letters on the big screen in the recent remake of The Great Gatsby. It made me sad at the New York premiere that this had not happened for Scott when he was alive. Today, most of the studios where he worked are digging into their vaults to resurrect some of the scripts he wrote. Arthur Knight, the film critic for The Saturday Review, discussed with me at a private showing of a film that we should find all of Scott's film scripts and put them into a book.
If Scott had little success in putting his ideas across to directors and producers, at least he could laugh at Hollywood's absurdity. One day he came home full of amusement at something he had learned that day—a stock bit the writers used in their scripts called “The Pratfall.” He demonstrated it to me several times, laughing as he did so. It was what in The Last Tycoon he describes as “a double wing.” This meant flapping both arms out, slapping the thighs, sort of crowing like a rooster, then falling down.
Another funny incident occurred in a story conference with George Cukor, then directing the much-directed Gone With the Wind. Cukor had asked Scott to make visual Aunt Pitty bustling quaintly across the room. “How,” he asked me, “do you bustle quaintly across the room?” I gave him a demonstration with my rear end swinging from side to side, but it only made him laugh more. “They won't change a word of the book,” he complained. “They think Margaret Mitchell is Shakespeare.”
He would have been the first to insist on changing some of the phrases, beautiful as they were in print, in the last Gatsby movie. In a film you cannot block the action with literary description even if it is by Shakespeare—or Fitzgerald. Scott was never asked to write the script for the first version of Gatsby—a silent in 1926 with Warner Baxter. There was a second in 1949 with Alan Ladd. It was awful.
Except for working on the script of his own story, “Babylon Revisited,” I think he was happiest writing the film for Madame Curie. She was in line with his new type of heroine—a worker, not too beautiful, and “endowed with a little misfortune.” Hunt Stromberg was a producer he admired—he had done some polishing for him on Marie Antoinette. Scott was cheerful when he came to see me in the evenings after work. He was sure of a credit this time. He discussed Madame Curie's noble character with me. It made me yearn to be as fine as she was and to discover something as beneficial for humanity as radium. But after a few weeks, the inevitable happened. Someone else took over the script, although Scott continued to be paid for the rest of the three-month contract. I went to the preview and a few of his touches had been left in. But other writers had the screen accolade.
Strangely, the producers would be fascinated when he told them of his plans. But when it came to the writing, he would sometimes change what had impressed them—for the better, I thought—and they would dislike the new ideas. I especially remember the case of one of his last jobs in 1940—the scripting of The Light of Heart, from the play by Emlyn Williams.
The hero, to be played by John Barrymore, was a lush—the reason perhaps why Zanuck chose Scott for the job. But Scott refused to approach this sadly. He infused humor into the pathetic story of a drunk who had dropped his daughter, portrayed by Ida Lupino, when she was a baby, crippling her for life. He made his alcoholic amusing, having him in one scene dressed as Santa Claus, in line to meet a sitting Santa. That might have been kept in, but I don't think so. What I remember is Scott's gloom when they took him off the script and gave it to Nunnally Johnson, whom he had advised to leave Hollywood before it corrupted him. I have seen Nunnally quoted as saying Scott's script was unscreenable. I didn't think so then, nor do I now—although I haven't read it for some time.
Scott's most enjoyable work in Hollywood was also the worst paid. He had broken with Harold Ober as his agent (Harold could not lend him any more money and Scott took this to mean that his agent had lost faith in him) before he made a ridiculous deal with Lester Cowan, a former prize fighter turned producer. Harold had been generous, lending Scott money in many previous years, but finally he had to say, “No more.” He had a wife and family to look after, and no one was sure at this time that Scott was capable of sustained writing. No one except Max Perkins, his secretary, and me, that is. We knew how painfully he was dredging up the prose-poetry in The Last Tycoon from the depths of his being. Scott angrily crossed off Harold's name as one of the executors of his will, a change which could have made the will invalid. It was decided that Judge Biggs would be the sole executor.
Scott made the deal himself with Mr. Cowan for “Babylon Revisited.” One thousand dollars for every conceivable film right and $400 a week for ten weeks of work. Scott thereby earned a not-so-grand total of $5,000, less the writer's sweat and blood. But the money was a godsend for him, as at this time he had almost no cash at all. The $1,000 plus the salary enabled him to pay his rent and to look after Zelda and Scottie.
At first, Scott and Lester got on very well. The author admired the producer for his tough background. He was grateful for the assignment and determined to make the project a success. It was his own work, and, as he wrote to Zelda on May 11, 1940:
I think I've written a really brilliant continuity. It had better be for it seems to be a last life line that Hollywood has thrown me. It is a strong life line—to write as I please upon a piece of my own, and if I can make a reputation out here (one of those brilliant Hollywood reputations which endure all of two months sometimes) now will be the crucial time… .
But with Lester's daily phone calls that went on for hours and hours, Scott became exhausted. He dreaded the ring of the telephone which he must answer.
The film was planned for Shirley Temple to play the little girl, Honoria (named for the Murphys' daughter but based actually on Scottie), and for Cary Grant to play her father, Charles Wales (Scott). “Baby, can't you see me as the gorgeous Cary Grant?” Scott strutted, mimicking the star's British accent. (Scott's attempt at a British accent was atrocious, but because I loved him I found it amusing.) He had met Shirley at the home of her parents and was impressed with her brightness. She was eleven or twelve at the time but looked younger and could pass for the eight-year-old in the story. “She reads Time magazine,” Scott told me. “She's intelligent and will be very good.”
But Mr. Cowan caught the prevailing disbelief in Scott and hired the Epstein brothers to rewrite his script. The film was not made during or after Scott's lifetime. So exit even a partial credit. Some years after Scott's death, Lester sold the Epsteins' script to M-G-M for $100,000. They retitled it The Last Time I Saw Paris. And, instead of Shirley and Cary, it starred Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson! Mr. Cowan still has Scott's original script and has announced that he will finally put it into production. But I am not holding my breath, as Lester hasn't made a movie for about 20 years.
For his three and a half years in Hollywood, with Scott receiving just the one-half screen credit for Three Comrades, he came to detest the studios' handling of writers—the system of throwing them together and playing them off against one another. It was not that he disliked the notion of a helping hand. Quite the opposite, Scott always cherished a strong sense of comradeship with other writers. He was ready to help anyone he thought had talent. And in his keenness to encourage new writers, he sometimes allowed unknowns to work on his manuscripts, as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo might allow a pupil to paint in a leaf or a fingernail. I heard after Scott's death that Gary Moore had worked with him a bit on Tender Is the Night. And he allowed Bill Warren to make a film script of Tender although it was not sold to the movies until 1947 when David Selznick paid $27,500 for the book as a vehicle for his wife, Jennifer Jones. By the time it was filmed, Miss Jones was too old for the role, and Jason Robards with his gloomy, hound-dog face was totally wrong for the hero based on Gerald Murphy-Fitzgerald. It was a typical example of Hollywood miscasting.
What Scott loathed about his position in Hollywood was being at the mercy of ignorant producers and untalented colleagues. He felt particular disdain for the writers who had turned out just one successful book, then rushed to Hollywood where they failed to produce anything further of importance. They remained for the money, their enthusiasm clipped by the system of team writing, one set of collaborators taking over from the team up front, sometimes even before the preceding group had finished their work. Irving Thalberg had initiated this system of piggy back writing. Sometimes the writers would endeavor to inject a little of what they believed into the scripts. But they were a small part of a big machine. The director could change everything on the set, and the producer could fire the writer at any point. Most of them had more or less given up and were satisfied to do as little as they could.
Ted Paramore, Jr, was such a man, and Scott came to despise him. What he saw of Ted and of similar types at M-G-M and the other studios gave birth to Pat Hobby, the hack who spends his time conning producers. Pat was a shallow, rather despicable man who had no business to call himself a writer. He has been long ago found out by the producers who treat him with contempt. So, as he has to make money somehow, he cringes before them and serves as a butt for their jokes.
Scott wrote the bulk of the seventeen “Pat Hobby” stories—Esquire paying him $200 a piece for them—while he was at Encino during the summer and fall of 1939. It was a bad time for him—he was desperately hard up, and the studio people were not rushing to his door. It was known generally that he was drinking and most were afraid to take a chance on him. Nonetheless, Pat Hobby was definitely not based on Scott. Some people have imputed this. Such a suggestion would have made Scott furious. He always knew that he was a superior writer. Even when he felt discouraged with his chances of success within the system, he still meticulously did his best on each new assignment. His only hack work in this period, rather ironically, was some of the Pat Hobby stories which he wrote when he was drinking.
A few days after Scott's death, I wrote to Arnold Gingrich about four of these stories which the editor had in hand but had not yet published:
1443 North Hayworth Avenue, Hollywood, California
December 24, 1940
Dear Mr. Gingrich:
You know how much Scott meant to me three years ago when I called for your help in Chicago. What he meant to me has multiplied by three more years with him. He died alone with me.
I want to tell you something about the “Pat Hobby” stories that I am almost sure Scott would have wanted me to. In the first place, it was a life-saver financially to have you buy them all, promptly and without question. And this includes the time of his row with you, I think last year. When he came to himself, I know he appreciated having the “Esquire” market. Now you know, and he knew, and I know that some of these were very good, some fair, and some confused and not good. Most of the good ones at his request were published first. I don't know which were the two in the two last editions. He wouldn't let me see them and was quite embarrassed when I asked him to show them to me. He said they were terrible. So I let it go. All of the previously published Pat Hobbies he had wanted me to read. I'd already read them in manuscript form.
Before talking about the Pat Hobbies you still have, I don't know whether you knew he was writing a novel? He was three-fourths of the way through the first draft. It had brilliant passages, but, of course, he had intended to polish. But I know the finished result would have been as brilliant as anything he ever published. It might have been more brilliant. We'll never know. I tell you this because I hope you will do something that I know Scott would want. I think you have four Pat Hobbies left. Against two of them—“Two Old Timers” and “Mighter Than the Sword”—on the copies of these he had written Poor”. As for “College Days”—this was written during a drinking period, and he did not read it to me so I don't know whether it was as good as the best Pat Hobby or as bad as the worst. I think you still have “Fun In An Artist's Studio” to publish. This one he liked very much. Would it be asking an awful lot of you to refrain from publishing the two Pat Hobbies he had marked “Poor”? And, if you think “College Days” not good, to refrain from publishing that one as well? It breaks my heart to have people, young people who didn't know how good a writer Scott could be, to read those bad ones and say, “Oh, so that was the sort of thing he wrote. I wonder why they made all that fuss about him?”
About a week ago I read the “Great Gatsby” again, and he was a great, great writer. I told him at the time that if he never wrote another line again, his place in literature was fixed for all time on “Gatsby”. And, of course, there were passages in “Tender Is the Night” that are the best I've ever read, and I've done a lot of reading.
I'll tell you the story he liked best of all the recent stories he sent you—“Between Planes”, which I believe you were going to publish under another name. Of course, there's no need to hide the identity now. I know he would appreciate it if you could publish that one next, because the next story by him that appears will naturally have a wider interest, and I think this one is the best of those you have. I think he quite liked “A Woman from 21”, and I've forgotten how he felt about “On An Ocean Wave”.
Yours sincerely, Sheilah Graham
December 27, 1940
Dear Miss Graham:
I appreciate your letter very much and I may write you again about these remaining Pat Hobby stories after I have had a chance to re-read them. Meanwhile, however, my instinct is to publish them for, as I remember them, I feel that they are all better than average. Scott was such a perfectionist that he was sometimes prone to exaggerate both minor excellencies and minor defects out of their proportionate importance to the readers. This is not to say that I feel that the Pat Hobby stories were of anywhere nearly uniform excellence, and I was guilty of winking at a couple of them because I felt that Scott needed the money more than the customers needed their money's worth, but I feel that we have already published the weakest ones, and my feeling on the matter now is that I would like to keep his banner waving as long as possible.
Scott meant much more to me for all of twenty years than I could ever possibly hope, at any time, to mean to him. It was with a true sense of personal pain and loss that I read of his death. Probably you will feel that I don't know you well enough to talk about this, but I can't refrain from thinking out loud to the extent of telling you that if he had had your influence ten years sooner he might have lived 20 or 30 years longer.
You are quite right, of course, about The Great Gatsby. It is one of the best books of our time. The fact that it was barely mentioned in most of the obituaries was infuriating. Tender Is the Night was a magnificent failure. It tried to combine two books that were like oil and water to each other. And yet, even as it stands, there are great hunks of it that are as hauntingly beautiful prose, as prose, as any ever written. Scott drew the finest tone from the English language (as a violinist draws a tone from his instrument) of any writer this country ever had. That's why it burns you up to see his passing commented upon in the papers as if he were a verbal equivalent of John Held, Jr. That, of course, is something that neither you nor I can set right but that time will finally rectify, because The Great Gatsby will be read and studied a centuryhence when Gone With the Wind has long lived up to its title.
Well, let's call this an acknowledgment rather than an answer to your letter. I will read the scripts at my earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, thanks very much for your interest.
Arnold Gingrich, Editor
Every one of the Pat Hobbys not only appeared in Esquire, but inevitably they were published as a collection, introduced by Mr. Gingrich. Some were very good, some very bad. But I know that all were interesting to admirers of Fitzgerald. Perhaps I was wrong in my initial desire to suppress the poorer ones. Some of them, though, really made me wince, as they did Scott.
Scott would have been more surprised than anyone that the Hobbys merited their own volume, for he never regarded any of them as his best writing. Still, it amused him to put everything he disliked about the studio writers onto Pat's back. It relieved some of his own frustration against “the practiced mediocrity.” He could stand away from himself and look at the others with a tolerant smile.
Sometimes in his dealings with other writers, I thought Scott was a bit hypocritical—or perhaps he just wanted to be encouraging. The time he had criticized Thomas Wolfe, suggesting that he adopt a less verbose style, Wolfe wrote back citing Shakespeare and other wordy models and saying in effect, “What do you know? One can be too brief as well.” This interchange dissuaded Scott from trying to offer further helpful criticism. Ernest Hemingway sent him an early copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls. This was well after the allusion to “Poor Scott” in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” but still at a point that Scott believed he and Hemingway could never again be close. As he had written to Max Perkins in a letter of 1935:
I always think of my friendship with him as being one of the high spots of life. But I ... believe that such things have a mortality, perhaps in relation to their excessive life, and that we will never see very much of each other.
Scott was disappointed with the new novel. “Ernest wrote it for the movies,” he commented to me with a mixture of disdain and a small bit of envy. But he sent Hemingway a warm letter of appreciation, pronouncing For Whom the Bell Tolls “a fine novel, better than anyone else writing could do.”
Likewise, Scott expressed varying opinions to me and to the author after reading Budd Schulberg's book What Makes Sammy Run. Never underestimating the competition, he had been somewhat apprehensive when Budd said he was writing the story of an unlikeable opportunist who becomes a Hollywood producer. Scott received a copy of the manuscript, read it carefully, then with relief said to me, “The book about Hollywood still has to be written.” But he wrote Budd a letter of praise to be used as a quote on the book cover.
Scott knew his superiority to a writer such as Schulberg, but this never made him smug or ungenerous. It was his instinct to encourage and to see the best in others. His letters show this very well. They vaunt his own achievement but alongside that of his contemporaries. To Max Perkins, for example, he writes in 1925, “Together with 'the enormous room' and I think 'Gatsby,' it [Boyd's Through the Wheat] is much the best thing that has come out of American fiction since the war.” And another letter to Perkins, this one written in 1934, deliberates:
This morning before breakfast I read Tom Wolfe's story in Scribners [The House of the Far and Lost]. I thought it was perfectly beautiful and it had a subtlety often absent from his work, an intense poetry rather akin to Ernest … What family resemblance there is between we three as writers is the attempt that crops up in our fiction from time to time to recapture the exact feel of a moment in time and space, exemplified by people rather than bythings—that is, an attempt at what Wordsworth was trying to do rather than what Keats did with such magnificent ease, an attempt at “a mature memory of a deep experience.”
(I could write the same for this book.)
Scott believed that certain writers of his generation such as Hemingway, Wolfe, and himself were the equals of the great masters. Other writers, such as Zelda and myself, he encouraged just as avidly, but also somewhat patronizingly, never losing sight of the distinction between our achievement and his own. Zelda disliked the patronage and resented the use of only his name on stories they had written together or that she had written with Scott just editing. I didn't mind at all, thankful for his interest in my writing and for the improvements he made.
Scott never involved himself with my column—except to help me in my fight in early 1940 with Connie Bennett. But under his aegis I wrote several short stories which he then edited. My first short story, which I titled “Beloved Infidel,” written in 1939, concerned a woman who marries a compulsive gambler. The night after the wedding he goes off to gamble and is mortally stabbed in a brawl. Scott made many corrections, including changing the husband's name from John O'Brien to Carter O'Brien, and slightly altering the story's ending. My last paragraph was as follows:
He was dead before the hospital was reached. Mara remembered saying to the surprised porter, “I'm going to faint.” She did not know how much she had lost until three weeks later and the doctor told her she was all right now.
Scott changed the last line to:
… and the doctor told her she was sure to be all right. He was quite sure that she would be alright.
It emphasized that she would not be all right.
Determined to make me into a first-class writer, Scott decided that under his guidance I should set to work on my autobiography. He bought me a big, lined ledger and marked the pages with months and years for me to remember all the details. The first page had me at three months. But as I grew up, more pages were allotted to each section. I stopped my story when Scott died and instead wrote what I remembered of him—it's easy to forget and I didn't want to forget Scott Fitzgerald. The notes on my time with him and on my own earlier story—about 100,000 words in all—were useful when I started to write Beloved Infidel. So in a way I did, with Mr. Frank's help, finish the task that Scott had set me.
An equally ambitious project was our play, Dame Rumor (included in the Appendix). Scott thought I had a good ear for dialogue and for sharp dramatic remarks. I was to do the first draft and he would undertake the revisions. Also, he wanted me to taste some of the success he had enjoyed in the 20s, and he judged that the fastest way for me to make a reputation and money was to write a successful play.
I learned recently that Scott had asked Mr. Ober to make out a contract between us. It was never signed, but it gave each of us 50 percent and stipulated that all decisions about everything were to be made by him. I am still wondering why Scott concealed this from me. At the time I would have signed it readily. Today, I'm not as sure—oh, of course I would still sign it.
Our first task was to settle on a subject. What did I know most about? As I was always in hot water for my sharp remarks in the column, we both thought the play should be about a Hollywood columnist who gets into trouble through knowing and publicizing too much about the stars. He loved the name Judy (which I used in Not in the Script—see Appendix) and that was the name for the girl. His title was Institutional Humanitarianism, but after some discussion with me it was changed to Dame Rumor.
As I knew absolutely nothing about writing plays, Scott bought me Baker's Dramatic Technique—I believe that Baker had taught drama at Yale. I read it carefully and painfully, absorbed some of it, then set to work. Scott was to have done more of the writing, but he was tied up all day at a studio—thiswas about a year after we met, while he was still under contract to M-G-M—and he was too tired in the evenings to look too closely at what I had written. I had hoped that he would write a great deal of it because I had infinite faith that with his writing and some of mine the play would be a success. But after his massive correction of the prologue he simply did not have the time to do much to the rest (see Appendix).
We were on a weekend in La Jolla, I remember, when he read the prologue, made many changes, and encouraged me to continue. Thus I floundered on, trying to recall what Baker had instructed. There had to be a strong curtain for the end of each act, and at the beginning of the first act, the characters had to explain who they were, what they were doing and where. But it must not be laid on with a trowel.
I enjoyed writing the play. Visions of fame and money filled me with delight. But it was more daydreaming than anything else. And after correcting the prologue and the two acts I had finished, Scott decided the project should be abandoned. It would be impossible for him to do more than correct what I had written, and the material, he deemed, wasn't really good enough.
I had forgotten all about the play until I received a letter in 1965 from Professor Dan Piper, a Fitzgerald biographer. Going through the papers at Princeton, he had found the play. Rereading Dame Rumor recently, I thought it wasn't bad, especially the prologue, here reproduced.
There were to be three acts for Dame Rumor. Two were completed plus a prologue and the outline for the third act which consisted of 16 scenes! Herewith the prologue. (Act I, Scenes I and II are reproduced in the Appendix.)