In January 1937, the month he consoled Gerald Murphy about the death of his son Patrick, Fitzgerald moved back to the Oak Hall Hotel in Tryon, North Carolina, where he had lived in February 1935. In that remote and tranquil setting he waited with mixed feelings for the call from Hollywood. Speaking of the hero of The Vegetable (1923), who has temporarily disappeared, one of the characters remarks: "Maybe he's gone to Hollywood to go in the movies. They say a lot of lost men turn up there." Twelve years later, when Fitzgerald was considering the possibility of a film offer, he had told Ober: "I hate the place like poison with a sincere hatred. It will be inconvenient in every way and I should consider it only as an emergency measure." Now it was his last hope.
Fitzgerald knew that his previous trips to Hollywood in 1927 and 1931 had been, despite the enormous salary, bitter failures. But he now owed $40,000, had written no significant fiction since the publication of Tender Is the Night in 1934 and was desperately eager to be offered a screenwriting job. He refused to put Zelda in a public insane asylum or place Scottie in a public school, and had to find some way to pay their enormous bills. The publication of "The Crack-Up" essays, as all his friends realized, made it difficult for him to get work in the movie business. As the director Fred Zinnemann observed: "alcoholics or people regarded as troublemakers found it very hard to get a job in any studio. Warnings traveled fast on the bush telegraph."1 Despite his past failures and battered reputation, Fitzgerald's fiction was still respected in Hollywood. In July 1937, after he had spent an idle six months in Tryon, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered him a six-month contract at the extremely high salary of $1,000 a week.
Fitzgerald believed "there are no second acts in American lives." But he also thought he could find a way to beat the studio system and exert control over his own work. Though his former patron Irving Thalberg had died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven in September 1936, Fitzgerald rather naively told Scottie that he intended to "find out the key man among the bosses and the most malleable among the collaborators-then fight the rest tooth and nail until, in fact or in effect, I'm alone on the picture. That's the only way I can do my best work." In fact, he was crushed by the system and it was never possible for him to do his best work. He had no influence with the studio executives, got stuck with a series of unsympathetic co-authors and collaborated with as many as fifteen writers on Gone with the Wind.
During his last trip to Hollywood-a life sentence-he failed as a screenwriter. He worked on sixteen films between 1927 and 1940 as one of the highest-paid writers in the business, but received only one credit. He polished two scripts, worked on three for less than a week, labored on ten that were either rejected or not produced, and was dismissed from three of them. It was a dismal record.
Despite this failure, Fitzgerald was rescued, not ruined, by going to Hollywood. Though he did not publish anything while working on six scripts for MGM during 1937-38, he earned $88,500 in eighteen months and achieved most of his aims. He revived his career, supported his family, paid off his debts and saved enough money to buy time for his next novel, which was based on his experience in Hollywood.
Fitzgerald arrived in early July and moved into the Garden of Allah, a hotel and writers' hangout at 8152 Sunset Boulevard, where he lived for the next nine months. (Thomas Wolfe, when writing to Scott, refused to believe there really was such a place.) Originally built as the residence of the silent film star Alla Nazimova, it had two-story Spanish stucco bungalows surrounding the main house, the patio and the swimming pool, which was shaped like the Black Sea to remind the actress of her birthplace in Yalta. Fitzgerald paid $300 a month for half a bungalow with a small but pleasant parlor, bedroom and bath. He believed the sun was bad for his tuberculosis, and never sat outdoors or swam in the pool.
As restless as he had always been, Fitzgerald moved frequently during his three and a half years in Los Angeles. In April 1938 he rented for $200 a month a cheaper and healthier green-shuttered, clapboard cottage-with four bedrooms, a sunroom, a dining room, a captain's walk and a small garden-at 114 Malibu Beach. Six months later, when Malibu became too cold and damp in the winter, he moved to a small house on "Belly Acres," the estate of the actor Edward Everett Horton, at 5521 Amestoy Avenue, Encino, in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Hollywood. He found the Valley too hot in summer, and when his lease expired in May 1940 made his final move to a modest $110-a-month flat at 1403 North Laurel Avenue, around the corner from Schwab's drugstore in Hollywood.
Fitzgerald was enthusiastic at first and wrote Anne Ober, who acted as surrogate mother to Scottie, announcing that he had soberly rejected the glamorous life to devote himself to hard labor:
I have seen Hollywood-talked with [Robert] Taylor, dined with [Fredric] March, danced with Ginger Rogers … been in Rosalind Russell's dressing room, wise-cracked with [Robert] Montgomery [whom he had insulted at Thalberg's party], drunk (ginger ale) with [the studio executives] Zukor and Lasky, lunched alone with Maureen O'Sullivan, watched [Joan] Crawford act… .
This is to say I'm through. From now on I go nowhere and see no one because the work is hard as hell, at least for me and I've lost ten pounds. So farewell Miriam Hopkins, who leans so close when she talks, so long Claudette Colbert as yet unencountered, mysterious Garbo, glamorous Dietrich, exotic Shirley Temple-you will never know me… There is nothing left, girls, but to believe in reincarnation.
By the end of his stay, degraded and thoroughly disillusioned by the film stars and the movie business, he asked another friend: "Isn't Hollywood a dump-in the human sense of the word? A hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement."2
In the beginning, however, he seemed content and saw many old friends. On June 4 Fitzgerald had heard Hemingway give a stirring anti-Fascist speech to an audience of 3,500 at a writers' congress in New York. Five weeks later Hemingway flew to Los Angeles to show his idealistic film, The Spanish Earth, at the house of Fredric March. The evening was a great success and Hemingway's speech inspired the small number of guests, including Fitzgerald, to contribute $17,000 to buy ambulances for Spain. "Ernest came like a whirlwind," Scott told Perkins. "I felt he was in a state of nervous tensity, that there was something almost religious about it."
Hemingway's impressive appearance once again emphasized the striking contrast between them. Ernest was one of the few writers to resist the temptation of the film industry (Faulkner wrote the screenplay of To Have and Have Not). Unlike Scott, he had been a journalist and had war experience. His robust health and high energy now allowed him to report the war in Spain and support the Loyalist cause with The Spanish Earth, while Scott had come to Hollywood to collaborate on mediocre movies. Hemingway now enjoyed the independence and prestige that Fitzgerald had sacrificed. Aware of the disparity between them, Scott shied away from Hemingway during this visit and was reluctant to speak to him until he had achieved success with his next novel.
Though they never met again, Fitzgerald kept close watch on Hemingway's triumphant career and occasional mishaps. In August 1937, after Hemingway's physical fight with Max Eastman in Scribner's offices had provoked some bad publicity, Fitzgerald (recalling his own recent humiliation by Michel Mok) emphasized Ernest's megalomania but expressed sympathy for him in a letter to Perkins. "He is living at the present in a world so entirely his own that it is impossible to help him even if I felt close to him at the moment, which I don't. I like him so much, though, that I wince when anything happens to him, and I feel rather personally ashamed that it has been possible for imbeciles [in the press] to dig at him and hurt him."
Fitzgerald's relations with eminent authors in Hollywood-Donald Ogden Stewart, the "precious lazybones" Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash, S. J. Perelman and his brother-in-law Nathanael West, as well as the English novelists Anthony Powell and Aldous Huxley-were much more cordial. They welcomed him to parties in private homes and at the Garden of Allah and to the writers' lunch table at the MGM studio. Still sensitive about Hemingway's and Bishop's criticism that he was "a suck around the rich," Fitzgerald had condemned Stewart (whom he had first met in St. Paul) for taking "a long pull at the mammalia of the [millionaire] Whitneys." But Stewart had changed dramatically. After marrying Lincoln Steffens' widow, he became a leftist and helped organize the screenwriters' union. Before being blacklisted and forced into exile by the Hollywood witch-hunts that took place during the Cold War, Stewart had an extremely successful career as a screenwriter and would win an Academy Award for the film version of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story in 1940.
In July 1937 Fitzgerald lunched with Anthony Powell at the canteen in the Metro studio. Powell, who admired his work, later wrote that in those days Fitzgerald, "as a novelist, was scarcely at all known in the United Kingdom. The Great Gatsby had appeared in England in 1926, making no stir at all. Indeed, when Tender Is the Night followed in 1934, the London publisher [Chatto & Windus] did not even bother to list Gatsby opposite the title-page." Powell has also described Fitzgerald's variable moods and surprising lack of awareness about the subtle gradations of English society: "I thought he was obviously extremely bright, and not in the least broken down, as generally described at that period, but no doubt I struck a good day, as he could be very tiresome if you met him on a bad one. He said, and obviously thought, he would never go over in England. He was very obsessed with England, and inclined to lay down the law about life there, of which he had not the faintest grasp: social life, who was grand, and so on."3
In 1934 Fitzgerald had written a film treatment of Tender Is the Night with a young Baltimore protege, Charles Warren. He then provided Warren with letters of introduction and sent him to Hollywood to sell the project. Though Warren was unsuccessful in this mission, his enthusiastic letter of October 1934, which reported that Fitzgerald still had a great reputation in Hollywood, undoubtedly encouraged him to make a final assault on that citadel: "your name is big and hellishly well known in all the studios. You rate out here as a high-brow writer but you [also] rate as a thoroughbred novelist and not a talkie hack, and therefore people look up to you." Powell gave a more realistic assessment of Fitzgerald's status when, confirming Arnold Gingrich's view, he observed: "one could not fail to notice the way people in Hollywood spoke of Fitzgerald. It was almost as if he were already dead."
All Fitzgerald's writer friends noticed a radical alteration in his character, after his misfortunes and nervous breakdown, which manifested itself in shyness with Hemingway, awkwardness with Powell (he apologized for wisecracks about English aristocrats after learning that Powell's wife was the daughter of an earl) and extreme insecurity-intensified by temporarily going on the wagon-with everyone else. Ring Lardner, Jr., who as a child had known Fitzgerald in Great Neck, saw him with Dorothy Parker and her new husband, Alan Campbell, at the opening of A Star is Born in 1937. He recalled that Scott had asked, with a strange combination of sophistication and naivete: "are there going to be any movie stars here?" Lardner had "never seen quite such a change of personality, from a brash, cheerful, optimistic, ambitious, driving young man to this withdrawn, very quiet, shy man that he had become."4
John O'Hara, who had first met Fitzgerald in Baltimore in 1935 and saw him again in Hollywood, agreed that he "was completely alone, had lost confidence, was wounded, insecure and uncertain." Anita Loos attributed his change of personality to the difficult process of drying out after years of hard drinking and said he "had taken on that apologetic humility which is often characteristic of reformed drunks." Though most friends felt Scott was now sweeter and more sympathetic than he had been during his wild years, Loos pointed out that he had lost the ability to excite and entertain. She remarked that "between being dangerous when drunk and eating humble pie when sober, I preferred Scott dangerous."
Fitzgerald's ambiguous status in Hollywood-as the author of The Great Gatsby and a self-proclaimed failure, respected by his fellow writers and treated callously by the bosses-led him to question (as Zelda had done) the very nature of his being. In 1932 he had told Perkins: "Five years have rolled away from me and I can't decide exactly who I am, if anyone." In "The Crack-Up" (1936) he proclaimed: "there was not an 'I' any more." And in the summer of 1937, soon after he arrived in Hollywood, he emphasized his loneliness and the Poe-like split in his personality by writing a strange and disturbing postcard to himself: "Dear Scott-How are you? Have been meaning to come in and see you. I have [been] living at the Garden of Allah. Yours. Scott Fitzgerald."5
Fitzgerald's profound confusion about himself and his lack of self-confidence undermined his prospects for success in the studio, which paid writers well but did not respect their work. The intelligent, Austrian-born Fred Zinnemann, who witnessed the hypocrisy and power struggles at MGM for seven years, said the studio "was earnest and sanctimonious; there was an aura of people being wary and suspicious." Anthony Powell, who hated Hollywood and left very quickly, roundly condemned the inefficient but omnipotent studio bosses as "grasping, stupid, wasteful, procrastinating collectively in their business; the fact that their own morals were rarely to be held up as an ideal standard did not prevent them from being hypocritical, unctuous, Pecksniffian in the highest degree."
Nathanael West, who brilliantly satirized Hollywood in The Day of the Locust (1939), also attacked the system that forced a writer to come to the studio every day and work like a drudge in an office from nine to five: "There's no fooling here. All the writers sit in cells in a row and the minute a typewriter stops someone pokes his head in the door to see if you are thinking." Like Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler at first thought he could beat the collaborative system, which produced an endless series of revisions and completely destroyed the integrity of the original work. But he too was forced to concede defeat:
I was convinced in the beginning that there must be some discoverable method of working in pictures which would not be completely stultifying to whatever creative talent one might happen to possess. But like others before me, I discovered that this was a dream. Too many people have too much to say about a writer's work. It ceases to be his own. And after a while he ceases to care about it. He has brief enthusiasms, but they are destroyed before they can flower.6
Fitzgerald was extremely conscientious in his duties. Just as he had once turned himself into a professional writer by studying the techniques and audience of the slick magazine market, so he now (rather belatedly) took the same mechanical approach to screenwriting. He saw scores of old movies, summarized the plots and diagrammed the structure. He even, in a rather misguided attempt to learn the craft, bought from a nearby bookstore three copies of Georges Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations (1921). His laborious efforts led the director Billy Wilder to compare him to "a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job. He did not know how to connect the pipes so the water would flow."
The most convincing explanation of Fitzgerald's failure was made by Nunnally Johnson, who wrote the highly successful scripts for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobacco Road (1941). He felt Fitzgerald had abandoned fiction, which he had mastered, to grope around in a medium for which he had no instinct or training. His transformation from professional novelist to amateur screenwriter, even when adapting his own fiction, led Fitzgerald, who had no belief in films as an art form, to debase his talent and offer the kind of work he thought was required:
This amateurism of Fitzgerald's led him into all kinds of naive enthusiasm about his own work in pictures, which so far as I could see was never very good. He was immensely proud of a script that he did [in 1940] from his short story "Babylon Revisited," one of the very best he or any other American short story writer ever wrote, but I read it a few years ago and to me it is unusable. To me he managed to destroy every vestige of all the fineness in his own story. He padded it out with junk and nonsense and corn to an unbelievable extent… .
He floundered badly as a screen writer and his failure here was no miscarriage of justice… He was next to useless. He had wit in his conversation and he had wit in narration but what he set down for wit in his dialogue always seemed to me rather trifling wisecracks.
Johnson also believed that Fitzgerald-like James and Conrad before him-could not master dramatic dialogue and failed to justify his high salary:
The explanation for his continual failure as a screen writer is that he was simply unable to understand or turn out dramatic work… He wasn't the first novelist who was unable to master the technique of dramatic writing… .
His biggest misfortune, which I doubt he ever realized, was that they paid him fat money at the very beginning. And even though he blew his chances with inadequate work he believed that he should continue to draw such salaries or even larger ones.7
Fitzgerald was clearly unsuited-by experience, knowledge and talent-for many of the films to which he was assigned. He spent the first eight days on A Yank at Oxford, presumably because Jay Gatsby had been briefly educated at that institution; and later worked on Marie Antoinette, though his understanding of eighteenth-century France was confined to his portrayal of the "scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles" in Myrtle Wilson's tasteless New York apartment.
His most substantial and significant work, from August 1937 to February 1938, was on the film script for Erich Remarque's anti-Nazi novel, Three Comrades (1937). The producer of the film, who hired Fitzgerald after getting the approval of the head of MGM, Louis Mayer, was the magisterial and well-respected Joseph Mankiewicz. He began his career as a screenwriter at Paramount in the late 1920s, produced Fury and The Philadelphia Story at MGM in the 1930s, and went on to win four Academy Awards in two years as both writer and director of Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).
Mankiewicz explained, shortly before his death in 1993, that in 1937 Fitzgerald was not a washed-up has-been, but an attractive symbol of the vanished 1920s. Though everyone in Hollywood knew about his alcoholism and crack-up, his name still brought considerable prestige to the studio. Insecure, unkempt and a little frayed, Fitzgerald would appear at MGM with patches of stubble on his badly shaved cheeks. But he was still handsome and had considerable style.
Though the political element in Remarque's novel was alien to Fitzgerald and his film dialogue was weak, Mankiewicz employed Scott to create the continental atmosphere and enhance the romantic aspects of the story:
I hired Scott for Three Comrades because I admired his work. More than any other writer, I thought he could capture the European flavor and the flavor of the twenties and early thirties that Three Comrades required. I also thought that he would know and understand the girl.
I didn't count on Scott for dialogue. There could be no greater disservice done him than to have actors read his novels aloud as if they were plays. Mr. Hemingway, Mr. Steinbeck, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Sinclair Lewis-all of them wanted to write plays and none of them could write one to save [his] soul. After all, there is a great difference between the dialogue in a novel and in a play. In a novel, the dialogue enters through the mind. The reader endows it with a certain quality. Dialogue spoken from the stage enters through the ear rather than the mind. It has an emotional impact. Scott's dialogue lacked bite, color, rhythm.
On September 9 Fitzgerald completed the first draft and returned to the east coast to take Zelda on a trip to Charleston. Although Mankiewicz disliked the script, he sent a telegram complimenting Scott on it and assuring him that he would not have to work with a collaborator. Later on, he defended his duplicity by saying he had to reassure Fitzgerald to prevent him from going on an alcoholic binge.
When Fitzgerald returned from his trip, Mankiewicz, following the common practice, provided Edward Paramore, an old acquaintance, as his collaborator. Handsome, hard-drinking and a great ladies' man, Paramore came from Santa Barbara, had attended the Hill School with Edmund Wilson and had graduated from Yale. After the war, while sharing a New York apartment with Wilson, Paramore had an affair with Margaret Canby, who later became Wilson's second wife. In The Beautiful and Damned Fitzgerald had satirized him as the rather pompous Frederick E. Paramore, who had been to Harvard with the hero Anthony Patch. When the fictional Paramore, a social worker at a settlement house in Stamford, Connecticut, is asked what he has been doing since college, he replies: " 'Oh, many things. I've led a very active life. Knocked about here and there.' (His tone implies anything from lion-stalking to organized crime)."8
Mankiewicz thought Paramore was a solid, run-of-the-mill writer-good on the first draft. According to Wilson, Fitzgerald had requested Paramore as a collaborator when he first came to Hollywood; according to Budd Schulberg, Paramore resented working with a tyro like Fitzgerald. Scott was soon discouraged by the extreme banality of Paramore's ideas and appalled when he had an angry German sergeant say: "Consarn it!" Their draft lacked both Fitzgerald's imagination and Paramore's technical expertise.
In "A Flash-Back in Paradise," which concludes the first chapter of The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald disrupts the realistic tone of the novel by having Beauty (or Gloria) sent to earth by The Voice. A similarly fanciful failure occurs in his script of Three Comrades. He again violates reality and invents an absurd scene in which Robert Taylor calls Margaret Sullavan for a date and the switchboard is operated by an Angel and Saint Peter:
One moment, please-I'll connect you with heaven.
THE PEARLY GATES
St. Peter, the caretaker, sitting beside another switchboard.
St. Peter (cackling)
I think she's in.
On January 20, 1938, after Mankiewicz had rewritten the script Fitzgerald had collaborated on with Paramore, Fitzgerald pleaded with him to restore the original version. He began by referring to his (now-tarnished) literary reputation: "For nineteen years, with two years out for sickness, I've written best-selling entertainment, and my dialogue is supposedly right up at the top." But this argument, weakened by "supposedly," carried no weight with his boss, who knew the difference between fictional and cinematic dialogue. "I am utterly miserable," Fitzgerald continued, "at seeing months of work and thought negated in one hasty week. I hope you're big enough to take this letter as it's meant-a desperate plea to restore the dialogue to its former quality-to put back … all those touches that were both natural and new. Oh, Joe, can't producers ever be wrong? I'm a good writer-honest. I thought you were going to play fair." Fitzgerald's pathos and premises-based perhaps on his relations with Perkins-were both misconceived. Producers were never wrong, he was not an effective screenwriter and it was naive to expect "fair play" in Hollywood, where time, money and commercial interests were paramount.
Mankiewicz claimed he never received this letter. But Gore Vidal, in one of the best essays on Fitzgerald, has shown that Mankiewicz did in fact follow Fitzgerald's suggestions when revising and improving the screenplay. Vidal does not mention one significant detail: that Mankiewicz also improved Fitzgerald's version by lifting a line from The Great Gatsby (" 'What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?' cried Daisy, 'and the day after that, and the next thirty years?' ") and having Robert Taylor ask: "What on earth are we going to talk about for the rest of our lives?"9
Fitzgerald was in the extremely awkward position of being, at the same time, an experienced novelist and an apprentice screenwriter. Instead of accepting his own limitations, the collaborative system and the power of the bosses, he rebelled, pleaded and was defeated. After breaking with Beatrice Dance he had told Laura Guthrie: "I never saw a girl who had so much take it all so hard." But in his Notebooks, he admitted that he also took "things hard-from Ginevra [King] to Joe Mank." His quarrel with Mankiewicz and failure with Three Comrades transformed his initially positive attitude into a bitter hatred of Hollywood. It also drove home a fundamental truth about the business. Like every serious writer who had ever gone there, he finally realized that "conditions in the industry somehow propose the paradox: 'We brought you here for your individuality but while you're here we insist that you do everything to conceal it.' "
Fitzgerald's anger and bitterness prevented him from seeing the defects in his own work and admitting that Mankiewicz was more skillful and experienced than he was. Mankiewicz later declared that Fitzgerald's work was not sacred and that revisions had to be made: "I personally have been attacked as if I had spat on the American flag because it happened once that I rewrote some dialogue by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But indeed it needed it! The actors, among them Margaret Sullavan, absolutely could not read the lines. It was very literary dialogue, novelistic dialogue that lacked all the qualities required for screen dialogue. The latter must be 'spoken.' Scott Fitzgerald really wrote very bad spoken dialogue." Mankiewicz also explained that in his first major film project Fitzgerald was both inflexible and rather desperate. He stood on his past reputation, imitated himself, was blind to his own faults and could not make the necessary changes.10
When the troublesome film was finally completed, it ran into political problems. Remarque's novel condemned the ideology and militarism of the Nazis. Though the Hollywood establishment was almost entirely Jewish, the studio executives, ignorant of politics and worried about their commercial interests in Germany, were unwilling to criticize the Nazis. Budd Schulberg reported that when Louis Mayer heard that a friend was going to interview Hitler, he innocently urged him "to put in a good word for the Jews." Before releasing the film, the studio showed it as a courtesy to the German consul in Los Angeles, who strongly objected to the anti-Nazi theme. Mayer and Joseph Breen, the movie censor, wanted to solve the problem by changing the Nazis to Communists. Mankiewicz refused to do this, but the anti-Nazi theme was finally deleted. Instead of remaining in Germany to fight the Fascists, the two surviving comrades withdraw to a non-political life in South America.
Two-thirds of the final screenplay was by Mankiewicz, the rest by Fitzgerald, who thought the whole thing was awful. Despite its fake studio sets and the wooden performance by Robert Taylor, it received wonderful reviews, became a commercial success and was considered one of the ten best films of 1938. The mawkish Margaret Sullavan was nominated for an Academy Award and won the New York Film Critics Award for the best actress of the year. Most important of all Fitzgerald, through Mankiewicz's efforts, got his first and only screen credit, which in December 1937 led to the vitally important renewal of his MGM contract for another year at $1,250 a week. Fitzgerald stressed the irony of the situation in a letter of March 1938 to Beatrice Dance: "I am now considered a success in Hollywood because something which I did not write is going on [the screen] under my name, and something which I did write has been quietly buried."
Fitzgerald's film work for the rest of 1938 was comparatively trivial. From February to May he was assigned to Infidelity, which was to star Joan Crawford. When she heard he had been put on her film, she urged him to "write hard, Mr. Fitzgerald, write hard!" "Of course, infidelity," Fitzgerald told Beatrice Dance, who was experienced in this matter, "in the movies is somewhat different from infidelity in life, being always forestalled in time and having beautiful consequences." But the script, though bland, still encountered censorship problems. Despite an expedient change of title to Fidelity, the film was never made.
From May to October Fitzgerald was engaged on the script of Clare Boothe Luce's play The Women (1936), a satire on wealthy Americans. It was, he cynically said, "a rather God-awful hodgepodge of bitter wit and half-digested information which titillated New York audiences for over a year. Most of the work has been 'cleaning it up' for [Thalberg's widow] Norma Shearer."11 She had sent the kindly telegram, after he made a fool of himself at her party, to soften the blow of his humiliation and imminent dismissal by her husband.
In late 1938 Fitzgerald, who had failed his science courses at Princeton, worked on a screenplay about Madame Curie, who had discovered radium. The script had originally been written by Aldous Huxley, another resident of the Garden of Allah. Reviewing Crome Yellow in 1922, Fitzgerald had called Huxley, after Max Beerbohm, "the wittiest man now writing in English." Ten years later the English novelist achieved international acclaim with Brave New World. In The Last Tycoon Huxley appears as Boxley, an eminent author, "looking very angry in a British way." He vehemently objects to being teamed with two hack writers who spoil his fine work and is given a useful lesson in screenwriting by the head of the studio, Monroe Stahr. But Huxley's wit and eminence did him little good in Hollywood. When the talented Salka Viertel took over from Fitzgerald in the relay writing, she asked the MGM executive Bernie Hyman what had happened to Huxley's work: "Embarrassed, he admitted that he had had no time to read it but had given it to Goldie, his secretary, who told him 'it stinks.' "12
Fitzgerald fared no better than Huxley. The producer Sidney Franklin felt there was only one good speech in his version of Madame Curie. After receiving a renewal and a raise in December 1937, Fitzgerald was shocked and horrified when MGM did not renew his all-too-lucrative contract in December 1938. He was cut adrift without a salary and now had to scramble for free-lance work in Hollywood.
While struggling to make his way in pictures, Fitzgerald had to support three different households-in California, North Carolina and New York-just as he had done in France and Switzerland after Zelda's breakdown in 1930. During this time he made extraordinary-though often unsuccessful-efforts to be a good father to Scottie and a good husband to Zelda, and to stimulate and direct the lives of his wife and daughter. He persuaded Scottie during her last years at Ethel Walker to take difficult courses like chemistry and physics, which he had hated, though she preferred (like him) to write stories for the school magazine and plays for the dramatic society.
In June 1937 Scottie got into serious trouble at school. While studying for her college entrance exams, Scottie and a friend broke the strict rules, went to New Haven, had dinner with two Yale students and were caught coming back at nine o'clock that night. Scottie was suspended, and Fitzgerald felt she had ruined her chances of getting into Vassar. He wrote her an angry letter but also pleaded on her behalf with the dean at Vassar, and did not entirely forgive his daughter until she was finally admitted to Vassar the following spring.
In August 1937 the actress Helen Hayes, who was married to Fitzgerald's old drinking companion Charles MacArthur, took Scottie to visit her father in Hollywood. To avoid friction with him, Scottie stayed with Helen Hayes at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Fitzgerald introduced Scottie to many movie stars and tried to give her a good time, but was tense and on edge with her. He embarrassed his friends by his overbearing attitude and unfair criticism of his daughter.
The following summer, after Scottie had graduated from prep school and traveled to war-threatened Europe with Fitzgerald's old Paris friend, Alice Lee Myers, she made a second trip to Hollywood with Peaches Finney. While they were all living in Malibu, he got into a great fight with Scottie about her college roommate, whom he hated and called "a bitch." When Peaches, shocked by his behavior, boldly told him that it was awful to talk to his daughter like that, he became contrite and seemed to accept her criticism.
Fitzgerald probably chose Vassar for Scottie because he knew and respected four graduates: the romantic poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had been Edmund Wilson's mistress; Fitzgerald's childhood companion Marie Hersey; his St. Paul friend Katherine Tighe, who had given him excellent editorial advice and shared with Wilson the dedication of The Vegetable; and Margaret Banning, whom he had met in Tryon in 1935. Having failed out of college himself, he vicariously participated in Scottie's experiences at Vassar, and his hectoring letters emphasized that she was now in the same precarious financial position that he had been in at Princeton.
He tried to compensate for Zelda's absence by playing the roles of both father and mother, but was unnecessarily strict and domineering. Scottie told Mizener that Fitzgerald "didn't want me to have the fun of making my own mistakes-he wanted to make them for me." She also mentioned that he "gave up in despair trying to nag & bully me into [becoming] a worthwhile character." When his criticism became intolerable, Scottie sought the help of her adviser at college, who defended her (as Peaches had done) and told him: "I was horrified by your letter … because I can't see how a [seventeen]-year-old girl could have behaved badly enough to merit so much parental misgiving and despair-such dark bodings for the future." Scottie finally stopped reading his intensely irritating letters (though she thought enough of him to save them) and merely extracted the checks-if any-from the envelopes. Fitzgerald unintentionally hurt Scottie because he loved her so much.
He also tried to help Zelda, but his relations with her were no more successful than those with Scottie. He wanted more freedom for Zelda and urged Dr. Carroll to let her use Highland as a base and remain outside the hospital for as much as half the time. Dr. Carroll disagreed and felt she should be confined for all but six weeks a year. After many arguments, Fitzgerald followed his advice. The Sayres, however, who had first blamed him for her breakdown, now insisted that he was responsible for keeping Zelda in the hospital against her will.
Since Fitzgerald believed he was Zelda's lifeline to reality, he made frequent flights across the country to take her away from the clinic on brief holidays-during which time he did not receive any salary. They went to Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, two months after he arrived in Hollywood, in September 1937; to Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, in January 1938; with Scottie to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and to see his cousins in Norfolk, in March 1938; and to Cuba in April 1939. These expensive trips disrupted his work, were physically exhausting and emotionally devastating, and upset him for several weeks afterward.
These holidays did not help Zelda and seemed to make things worse for both of them. His feeling for her diminished and confirmed the impossibility of an equitable reunion. He felt that making love to Zelda was like "sleeping with a ghost." On the disastrous trip to Norfolk, she quarreled with Scottie, he got completely drunk, and Zelda ran up and down the corridor of their hotel telling everyone that he was a dangerous madman who had to be carefully watched. The following month he told Dr. Carroll that Zelda merely reminded him, in the most painful way, of the past happiness they had forever lost: "each time that I see her something happens to me that makes me the worst person for her rather than the best, but a part of me will always pity her with a sort of deep ache that is never absent from my mind for more than a few hours: an ache for the beautiful child that I loved and with whom I was happy as I shall never be again."13
Scott had sought to escape his difficulties with Zelda-before their marriage, after her infidelity with Jozan and during her mental illness-in affairs with a surprising number of beautiful and talented women. Though he was puritanical and repressed, sexually insecure and even sexually inept, his good looks, charm, wit, sympathetic character, literary reputation and sometimes pathetic condition made him attractive to Rosalinde Fuller in 1919, Lois Moran in 1927, Bijou O'Conor in 1930, Dorothy Parker in 1934, Nora Flynn, Beatrice Dance and Lottie of Asheville in 1935, his nurse Dorothy Richardson in 1936 and his last love, Sheilah Graham, in 1937. Though often hostile to both the English and the Jews, he soon forgot his prejudice with good-looking women. Rosalinde Fuller and Bijou O'Conor were English, Dorothy Parker was Jewish, and Sheilah Graham was both.14
Sheilah had been working as a gossip writer in Hollywood for over a year when Fitzgerald first met her. On July 14, 1937, a few days after Hemingway showed The Spanish Earth, Fitzgerald saw her for the first time at Robert Benchley's party at the Garden of Allah. A week later Scott danced with her at the Writers' Guild dinner at the Ambassador Hotel. After a brief courtship, they became lovers. He had been attracted to Nora and Beatrice because they shared Zelda's recklessness. He said he was attracted to Sheilah because of her physical resemblance to Zelda. Their attachment developed because they both were eager to put the past behind them, to establish a new identity in the alien and rather ruthless society of Hollywood, and to gain financial security. In addition to romance, Sheilah offered him warmth, companionship and devotion.
Like Jay Gatsby, Sheilah sprang from a platonic conception of herself and invented a glamorous past and a new identity to disguise her humble origins. When Fitzgerald met her, she had established herself as an upper-class Englishwoman and consistently maintained this role in her professional life. During her three and a half years with Fitzgerald, and for many years afterward, she kept up this carefully constructed public persona. But Fitzgerald soon sensed that the image she presented was false. Like Joel Coles with the actress Stella Calman in "Crazy Sunday," he "couldn't decide whether she was an imitation of an English lady or an English lady was an imitation of her. She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and the most blatant of impersonations." Under his persistent interrogation, she gradually confessed the truth about her background to him, but she revealed nothing about her past in public until she published Beloved Infidel in 1958. Ostensibly a memoir of her relationship with Fitzgerald, this book was also her first attempt at autobiography. She was to repeat or recycle this account in seven books and in numerous articles and interviews that were partly or entirely about Fitzgerald.15
According to her own, often false accounts, she was born Lily Sheil (in 1904, though she never gave her real age) in a poverty-stricken tenement in the East End of London. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was an infant, her sickly mother was a cook in an institution. Unable to support Lily, the youngest of a large family, Mrs. Sheil placed her at the age of six in the East London Home for Orphans, where she spent a miserable eight years. After working in a factory and as an under-housemaid in Brighton, she began her career by demonstrating toothbrushes at Gamage's department store in Holborn, London, where she met her first husband, Major John Graham Gillam, and by selling fancy goods in his small import company.
After rejecting the proposal of an elderly millionaire, and while still in her teens, she married Gillam. This paternal businessman, twenty-five years her senior, was impotent. He came from a comfortable middle-class family but lacked commercial skill, and his company eventually failed. He supported Sheilah's ambition to go on the stage and paid for her brief training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She invented a new past and changed her name by adapting her own last name and taking her husband's middle name.
The attractive Sheilah then became one of C. B. Cochran's "Young Ladies," a chorus girl in popular musical comedies of the Noel Coward era. She substituted for the sick leading lady and wrote her first newspaper article about breaking out of the chorus line. With her husband's acquiescence, she was entertained by aristocratic admirers after the musicals and eventually taken up by English society. She played tennis at a smart club, went riding and skiing, and was, with her husband, "presented at Buckingham Palace."
In June 1933 she emigrated to America-where she could more easily convince people of her new identity-in order to escape the burden of her past, make a better living and get away from a failing marriage. For the next two years she worked as a journalist and wrote a gossip column, "Sheilah Graham Says," for the New York Evening Journal. In late 1935 she was hired to write a Hollywood gossip column by the North American Newspaper Alliance (which sent Hemingway to report the Spanish Civil War) and flew to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. She divorced the elderly Gillam in early 1937, and became "engaged" to the playboy Marquess of Donegall, who was also a gossip writer, in July. When Fitzgerald first met her, she was making $160 a week as a journalist and he was earning $1,000 a week as a screenwriter.
Sheilah's journalistic ambitions were powered by two concerns: a deep shame about her background and an equally profound fear of poverty. She wanted to be a success in order to have complete financial security. In Hollywood, social class, good breeding and education had little to do with success; beauty, energy and a ruthless vulgarity were much more important. Sheilah had all these-and, like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the best-known gossip writers of the day-she understood the mentality of those who, like herself, had risen from obscurity to create for the eager public a new and glamorous version of themselves.
Sheilah is virtually the only source of information about the events of her life before she came to America. Though she claimed to reveal the truth about herself, her series of gossipy autobiographies tell a number of deliberate lies. This is scarcely surprising in a woman who described herself as a "purveyor of glamour" and who distorted the facts of her life to achieve the most effective public image. When some of the crucial facts are checked, Sheilah's version of her personal history starts to crumble. She said, for example, that she had been "presented at Buckingham Palace," and to substantiate this story reproduced in Beloved Infidel a studio photograph of herself and Major Gillam in court dress. However, the Lord Chamberlain's Office in Buckingham Palace has disproved this claim by reporting that "a thorough search of our records has been made and sadly no reference to the Gillams has been found."
Sheilah also claimed, in the BBC documentary about Fitzgerald, that before meeting Scott she had already bought notepaper bearing the Donegall coronet. But her "engagement" to the sixth Marquess of Donegall is equally fraudulent. A year older than Sheilah, graduate of Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and later on, war correspondent and lieutenant colonel during World War II, Donegall would have been a formidable rival to Fitzgerald. But he must have looked into Sheilah's background at least as carefully as Scott did, and his widow categorically states: "Sheilah Graham was never engaged to 'Don' officially. He didn't marry his first wife until he was forty [in 1943] and got himself 'engaged' to quite a lot of women before-in fact he had [already] been 'engaged' to his first wife fifteen years before then! When it was taken too seriously-he always managed to get out of it. Miss Graham-being a great self-publicist-made a meal of it!"16
Sheilah's darkest secret was the fact that she was Jewish. In the London of the 1920s, as in the Hollywood of the 1930s, it seemed expedient to disguise the Jewish background that would impede her career. Though the rich and powerful studio heads were largely Jewish, country clubs, schools and many hotels were still restricted, and film actors consistently cultivated a gentile and genteel image. Sheilah, who had very little religious or family loyalty, consigned both her poverty and her Jewishness to the same black hole of denial. But Fitzgerald was capable of using this information against her. During one of their many drunken quarrels (he was the drunkard; she rarely drank) he betrayed her confidence by screaming out all her secrets and telling his nurse that Sheilah was really a Jew.
Ring Lardner, Jr., who worked with Sheilah on the New York Daily Mirror in the early 1930s and was not favorably impressed by her genteel pretensions, thought "she sometimes exaggerated her posh accent and overdid her greatest role, but usually concealed her lack of background quite well and seemed terribly upper-class British." Sheilah's affected manner and liaison with Donegall intensified Fitzgerald's antipathy to the British. Mocking her origins, he would say, "Amedican… You Amedicans," and "used to put on a horrible Cockney accent until [Sheilah] exclaimed: 'Oh, my God, that's awful, you mustn't do that.' " While living with Sheilah in the summer of 1940, however, he was strongly impressed by the gallant English spirit at Dunkirk-inspired by Winston Churchill, with whom he had dined in 1921-and, adopting English slang, told Perkins: "The only cheerful thing is the game scrap the British are putting up."17
Most of Fitzgerald's friends thought Sheilah-though deceitful, ambitious and calculating-was genuinely in love with him. She took care of him, encouraged him to stop drinking and finally enabled him to complete a significant portion of The Last Tycoon. Frances Kroll-a gentle, intelligent nineteen-year-old brunette, who became Fitzgerald's secretary in November 1938-saw a great deal of Sheilah and came to know her well. Frances said she had big dark eyes, beautiful skin and a bright smile. She was not a natural blonde, but always tinted her hair tastefully and looked attractive. She had good legs, was athletic and played tennis on the Horton estate in Encino. Though Sheilah's livelihood depended on being assertive and aggressive, she could also seem breathless, fey, even quite helpless in order to manipulate men in a socially acceptable way.
After clawing her way toward the top of her profession, Sheilah accepted a quiet life with Fitzgerald. They rented modest houses and flats, and lived simply among the rich of Hollywood. They were fairly reclusive, saw few friends and did not entertain. But they went to a few parties, and to many movies and restaurants. Sheilah recalled that they used to eat in "a Jewish delicatessen, and he would ask the names of things. I think knish just floored him. He would ask again and again for it just to hear it pronounced."
Sheilah had English charm, was quick-witted and good at dissimulation, but Frances Kroll disliked the fake and superficial side of her character. She never believed in Sheilah, whose entire career was based on gossip, who exploited people and who was ignorant about everything but the ability to survive. Sheilah took a lot of abuse from Fitzgerald, who even tried to destroy her career, but she put up with his drunken rages because he was the first man who had ever really loved her. He knew that she was ignorant, shallow and rather vulgar. But she gave him a sense of peace and well-being.
Other friends who knew Sheilah were also ambivalent about her. Budd Schulberg thought she was clever and sharp-minded, created an effective public image and wrote a good bitchy column. Attractive and seductive, she was also materialistic, grasping and self-serving. Though helping Fitzgerald was out of character, she seemed to love him sincerely. Joseph Mankiewicz took a more cynical view. He called Sheilah "a chorus girl who missed the bus" and thought Fitzgerald showed poor taste when he took her as his girl. She was rather bright, had a wonderful laugh and was good fun. She also had a masochistic need to care for a great (or once-great) man and was proud to be with Fitzgerald when they walked into a room-though he often had to be carried out.18
Sheilah described the handsome but rather sad and weary Fitzgerald, who was forty when they met, as having "hair pale blond, a wide attractive forehead, grey-blue eyes set far apart, set beautifully in his head, a straight, sharply chiseled nose and an expressive mouth that seemed to sag a little at the corners, giving the face a gently melancholy expression." His hair was thinning on top and he carefully combed it over his bald patch. Aware that tuberculosis (which had killed her father) was infectious, he warned her not to use the same cutlery and dishes as he did. But he did not, paradoxically, think it dangerous for Sheilah to become his lover. His craving for sweets, when he gave up alcohol, was insatiable; he drank endless Coca-Colas and gorged himself on fudge. He also went in for exotic dishes like turtle soup and chocolate souffle. Insomniac and addicted to barbiturates, he took a heavy dose of chloral and two or more Nembutals to put himself to sleep, and needed several benzedrine pills to wake up.
Fitzgerald frankly told Sheilah he would never abandon Zelda. He felt he had no right to monopolize Sheilah and thought he was unworthy of her. He feared people would pity him as a has-been author, and once told an airline stewardess: "I'm F. Scott Fitzgerald, the very well-known writer." An incident that took place late in 1938 reveals Fitzgerald's difficulty in accepting his status as a once-famous and now forgotten writer, who was both respected and scorned in Hollywood.
After seeing a notice in the Los Angeles Times announcing that the Pasadena Playhouse was to present a dramatic version of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," Fitzgerald, eager for recognition and considering it a prelude to a Broadway production, told Sheilah they would attend the opening and make it a festive occasion. They would "dress in evening clothes, dine at the Trocadero, and go on to Pasadena-not in his bouncy little [second-hand] Ford but in a sleek, chauffeur-driven limousine." As their automobile pulled up to the theater, they were surprised to find no other people or cars arriving for the grand event. Fitzgerald made inquiries and explained to Sheilah: " 'It's the students-they're giving the play in the upstairs hall [rather than in the theater itself],' 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… About ten minutes before curtain time a few students appeared, 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."19
Though Sheilah always hid her age and Jewish origins, and gave extremely distorted versions of her early life, she was in her later books remarkably frank about her sexual relations with Fitzgerald. Soon after they met, the ever-inquisitive Scott asked Sheilah how many lovers she had had, and when she responded with an extremely conservative estimate of "eight" (including the director King Vidor), the worldly puritan was visibly shocked. They were both rather shy, despite their extensive sexual experience, and never saw each other completely naked. Embarrassed about her large breasts at a time when many glamorous women were extremely thin, she made things rather difficult for Scott by always keeping her bra on in bed.
Sheilah did not believe that he had ever asked Hemingway to check out the size of his member. "He could say and do outrageous things when he was drunk," she declared, "but never about his own person." Well informed about all shapes and sizes of male sexual organs, she found the tubercular, drug-addicted and often alcoholic Fitzgerald a creditable performer-"very satisfactory … in terms of giving physical pleasure." After lovemaking, they would lie happily in each other's arms for a long time.
Scott's hostile portrait of Sheilah in "Last Kiss," written in 1940 when they were quarreling, captures the contradictory aspects of her character, in which "so much innocence and so much predatory toughness could go side by side behind this gentle English voice."20 In The Last Tycoon Kathleen Moore (who was based on Sheilah) is a beautiful young English girl who reminds Monroe Stahr of his dead wife-just as Sheilah reminded Scott of Zelda. Stahr falls in love with Kathleen and becomes her lover, but she marries another man-as Sheilah claimed she would marry Donegall.
Fitzgerald's fictional tribute to Sheilah could scarcely compensate for the violent and vituperative quarrels-much fiercer than those he had with Zelda-that took place when he became depressed and turned to alcohol. As Sheilah remarked: "The two things I feared most were drunkenness and insanity. With Scott, I had both." The gentle Helen Hayes thought Sheilah was good to Scott, but that he treated her badly because (as Mankiewicz had implied) "she represented to Scott's fevered mind the second-rate he had fallen into." He abused Sheilah's kindness and tested her love as he had previously done with the Murphys.
Fitzgerald was not drinking when they met, and she did not notice at first that his hand trembled when he lit a cigarette. But, as his Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich pointed out, "being his friend was almost a full-time career. He had amazing charm and personality. But you never could tell when he would turn on you-and for no reason … [He was] a vicious drunk, one of the worst I have ever known."21 Sheilah, like many others, vividly evoked the image of a demonically buffoonish or aggressive Fitzgerald, "his face flushed, a filthy handkerchief in his breast pocket, smiling devilishly, organizing everyone, and being completely compelling, until he fell flat on his face or started a fight."
When he became depressed, could not sleep and got drunk, Fitzgerald fought bitterly with Sheilah. He screamed abuse, threw a bowl of soup against the wall, kicked his nurse, slapped Sheilah, threatened to kill her with a gun and sent her a melodramatic telegram that said: "Get out of town, Lily Sheil, or you will be dead in 24 hours." He also behaved badly in front of strangers. During a weekend at Cottage Club just after his wedding in April 1920, he had told all his friends that Zelda was his mistress. At Ellerslie in November 1928, he had told Hemingway that the black maid serving dinner was the best piece of tail he ever had. And during a drunken flight to Chicago in the fall of 1937, accompanying Sheilah, who was to make a national radio broadcast, he told all the passengers what "a great lay" she was. After calling Sheilah "a silly bitch" and punching her sponsor at the radio studio, Fitzgerald summoned Gingrich to his room in the Drake Hotel. As the editor sobered him up by shoveling steak into his mouth, the food dribbled onto his bib and he tried to bite Gingrich's hand. Though completely incapacitated, he kept saying of Sheilah: "I just got to have this cunt." Sheilah screamed: "You have ruined me! I hate you, I never want to see you again!" (On another occasion, when he threatened to kill himself, she said: "Shoot yourself, you son of a bitch. I didn't raise myself from the gutter to waste my life on a drunk like you.")22 After Sheilah left, he tried, for the second time in two years, to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Fitzgerald always managed to win her back when he had sobered up. Filled with contrition, he made sincere and abject apologies. In a characteristic conclusion to a particularly venomous fight, he got the tactful Frances Kroll to intercede with Sheilah and offer, on his behalf, to make any restitution that would satisfy her. "Everything he did seems perfectly abominable to him," Frances said. "He wants to know if it will be any help if he leaves Hollywood for good. He has … no intention of trying to see you. He merely wants to remove as much of the unhappiness as is possible." Fitzgerald's own letter to Sheilah blamed himself for all their difficulties. He condemned his character and was so pitiful that she forgave him and resumed their affair. "I'm glad you can no longer think of me with either respect or affection," Scott wrote. "People are either good for each other or not, and obviously I am horrible for you. I loved you with everything I had, but something was terribly wrong. You don't have to look far for the reason-I was it. Not fit for any human relation… I want to die, Sheilah, and in my own way. I used to have my daughter and my poor lost Zelda. Now for over two years your image is everywhere… You are too much for a tubercular neurotic who can only be jealous and mean and perverse."
Sheilah later rejected Helen Hayes' statement that Fitzgerald had treated her badly. Sheilah could have left him whenever she wished, but felt she would rather be Scott's mistress than someone else's wife. He once gave her a copy of This Side of Paradise with the tender inscription: "For my darling Sheilah-after such a bad time, from Scott."23 But just after his death she received a great shock. When she examined a photograph she had given to him, she discovered his hidden scorn for her in the bitter words scrawled on the back: "Portrait of a Prostitute."
Fitzgerald's complex relations with Sheilah had one other significant aspect. Anthony Powell had noticed the didactic element in Fitzgerald: "He loved instructing. There was a schoolmasterish streak, if at the same time an attractive one; an enthusiasm, simplicity of exposition, that might have offered a career as a teacher or a university don." Just as Isak Dinesen's lover, Denys Finch-Hatton, "taught her Greek, acquainted her with the Symbolists, played Stravinsky for her, tried to inform her taste for modern art," so Scott found in Sheilah a much more eager and docile pupil than Scottie had been. He formed their "College of One," drew up extensive reading lists (she had never read any of his books when they met), and compensated for his own lack of education, as well as for hers, by patiently teaching her to understand the books that he loved.
In the fall of 1938 Fitzgerald took Sheilah to visit his old friends on the East Coast-the Murphys, Perkins, Ober and Wilson. Like Fitzgerald's Hollywood friends, Wilson was struck by the great change in his character. He attributed Scott's new normality and tameness to Sheilah, who had urged him to give up alcohol. At the same time (and retrospectively) Wilson held Zelda responsible for Scott's crazy behavior. But, as he told Christian Gauss, Fitzgerald, though now calm, had also lost a good deal of his old vitality: "He doesn't drink, works hard in Hollywood, and has a new girl, who, though less interesting, tends to keep him in better order than Zelda… He seems mild, rather unsure of himself, and at moments almost banal."24 Gerald Murphy was also surprised to see Scott wearing a homely pair of overshoes, which he took off and miraculously remembered to put on again when he left.
Wilson's brilliant wife, Mary McCarthy, was astonished by Fitzgerald's colossal ignorance, found him boring and was struck by Wilson's arrogant condescension toward his old friend. Fitzgerald seemed to find this quite normal and, after this meeting, resumed his youthful role as Wilson's disciple. "Believe me, Bunny," he wrote, stressing as always Wilson's superior intellect, "it meant more to me than it could possibly have meant to you to see you that evening. It seemed to renew old times learning about Franz Kafka and latter things that are going on in the world of poetry, because I am still the ignoramus that you and John Bishop wrote about at Princeton."
Wilson's intellectual influence continued until the end of Fitzgerald's life. When working with Budd Schulberg on the screenplay for Winter Carnival, he frequently and respectfully referred to Wilson in their conversations. Trying to develop his political awareness in the troubled 1930s, Fitzgerald would sit in the California sunshine reading Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire "like an eager sociology student bucking for an A in Bunny Wilson's class in social consciousness." Despite his apparent political naivete, Fitzgerald resisted the Zeitgeist. He never swallowed, as did the more sophisticated Wilson, the illusory bait of Communism. As he shrewdly told Perkins, while attempting to explain Wilson's gloom: "A decision to adopt Communism definitely, no matter how good for the soul, must of necessity be a saddening process for anyone who has ever tasted the intellectual pleasures of the world we live in."25
The unusual calm that Wilson noticed in Fitzgerald had been achieved only after a desperate struggle to give up drink. Fitzgerald was disciplined and could work whenever he needed the money; but he could not work and drink at the same time, and would shift to Coca-Cola when he had to write. As Frances Kroll, whose duties included disposing of Scott's gin bottles, told Mizener: "Drink, in small quantities, acted as a stimulus and did not affect the quality of his writing. Although he continued to write when he was roaring drunk, as well, most of the effort had, in the long run, to be discarded, though it had a kind of humor that would be hard to duplicate under normal conditions."
Fitzgerald gradually realized that alcohol hurt his work, damaged his reputation, ruined his health and almost destroyed his relations with Sheilah. Remembering the sad fate of the original Edgar Poe, he told his Princeton classmate and Baltimore lawyer, Edgar Allan Poe, Jr.: "It seems to be the fate of all drunks that in the end they have to give up not only liquor but a whole lot of other good things." Refusing at first to admit that he was an alcoholic, Fitzgerald drank secretly or switched to beer. He had also tried every conceivable method to cure his disease-stopping suddenly or gradually, smoking or eating candy when he got the urge-but nothing had worked. Finally, he hired a doctor and nurses, forced himself to endure an agonizing three-day cure, was fed intravenously, could not sleep and retched miserably throughout the night. At last, he was able to report that even a single drink made him deathly sick. In May 1937 he proudly (if prematurely) told Ober: "since stopping drinking I've gained from just over 140 to over 160. I sleep at last and tho my hair's grey I feel younger than for four years."26 Despite all these efforts, he was not able to give up drink completely until the last year of his life, when he raced against time to complete The Last Tycoon.
1. Fitzgerald, The Vegetable, p. 117; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 216; Fred Zinnemann, A Life in the Movies (New York, 1992), p. 46.
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon, [ed. Edmund Wilson] (1941; New York, 1986), p. 163; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 31; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 330; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 624.
3. Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 238, 241; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 570; Anthony Powell, "Hollywood Canteen: A Memoir of Scott Fitzgerald in 1937," Fitzgerald-Hemingway Annual, 3 (1971), 75; Letter from Anthony Powell to Jeffrey Meyers, November 12, 1991. For Powell's favorable critical judgments, see "Fitzgerald," Miscellaneous Verdicts (London, 1990), pp. 211-223. See also pp. 235-237.
4. Letter from Charles Warren to Fitzgerald, October 12, 1934, Princeton; Powell, "Hollywood Canteen," p. 75; Interview with Ring Lardner, Jr.; Ring Lardner, Jr., in the BBC documentary on Fitzgerald, script and video courtesy of Ian Hamilton and Jill Evans.
5. Henry Dan Piper, Interview with John O'Hara, Princeton, February 6, 1950, courtesy of Professor Piper; Anita Loos, Kiss Hollywood Good-by (1974; New York, 1975), p. 124; Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 177; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 477.
6. Zinnemann, A Life in the Movies, p. 44; Powell, Miscellaneous Verdicts, p. 213; Jay Martin, Nathanael West: The Art of His Life (New York, 1970), p. 205; Raymond Chandler, Selected Letters, ed. Frank MacShane (London, 1981), p. 237.
7. Maurice Zolotow, Billy Wilder (New York, 1977), p. 72. Nunnally Johnson, Letters, ed. Doris Johnson and Ellen Leventhal (New York, 1981), pp. 80, 249.
8. Interview with Joseph Mankiewicz, Bedford, New York, March 15, 1992; Quoted in Aaron Latham, Crazy Sundays (1971; New York, 1972), pp. 120-121; Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned, p. 265. Paramore died in a freak accident in 1956: "He was sitting in a car which had been raised in a garage on one of those elevators which they use when making repairs. The contrivance fell and killed him" (Edmund Wilson, The Twenties, ed. Leon Edel, New York, 1975, p. 31).
9. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Three Comrades, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (New York, 1978), p. 51; Fitzgerald, Letters, pp. 583-584; Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p. 118; Fitzgerald, Three Comrades, p. 249. See also Gore Vidal, "Scott's Case" (1980), The Second American Revolution (New York, 1982), pp. 3-23.
10. Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 163; Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 255; Jacques Bontemps and Richard Overstreet, "Measure for Measure: Interview with Joseph Mankiewicz," Cahiers du Cinema in English, 18 (February 1967), 31; Meyers, Interview with Joseph Mankiewicz. Mr. Mankiewicz wittily inscribed my copy of Three Comrades: "For Jeffrey Meyers-from the 'despoiler' of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Screenplay, Joseph Mankiewicz, Bedford, 1992."
11. Interview with Budd Schulberg; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 489, 516.
12. Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 129; Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon, p. 30; Salka Viertel, The Kindness of Strangers (New York, 1969), p. 223.
13. Interview with Margaret McPherson; Letters from Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan to Mizener, January 21, 1964 and March 22, 1948, Princeton; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 314; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 495.
14. See Jeffrey Meyers, "Scott Fitzgerald and the English," London Magazine, 32 (October-November 1992), 31-44, and Jeffrey Meyers, "Scott Fitzgerald and the Jews," Forward (New York), February 12, 1993, pp. 9-10; reprinted in Midstream, 39 (January 1993), 31-35.
15. Fitzgerald, "Crazy Sunday," Stories, ed. Cowley, p. 410. See Sheilah Graham: Beloved Infidel (1958), The Rest of the Story (1964), College of One (1967), The Garden of Allah (1970), A State of Heat (1972), The Real Scott Fitzgerald (1976) and Hollywood Revisited (1984). Her last, all-too-familiar word on Fitzgerald was "The Room Where Scott Died," New York Times Magazine, July 26, 1987, pp. 20-21.
16. Lord Chamberlain's Office, Buckingham Palace, to Jeffrey Meyers, December 18, 1992; Maureen, Marchioness of Donegall, to Jeffrey Meyers, December 14, 1992.
17. Interview with Ring Lardner, Jr.; Sheilah Graham, in the BBC documentary on Fitzgerald; Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 265.
18. Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 413; Interviews with Frances Kroll Ring, Budd Schulberg and Joseph Mankiewicz.
19. Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank, Beloved Infidel (1958; New York, 1959), pp. 132, 152, 160, 162-163.
20. Graham, A State of Heat, p. 143; Graham, The Real Scott Fitzgerald, p. 120; Fitzgerald, "Last Kiss," Short Stories, p. 761.
21. Sheilah Graham, College of One (New York, 1967), p. 57; Quoted in Latham, Crazy Sundays, p. 185; Henry Dan Piper; Interview with Arnold Gingrich, Chicago, March 29, 1944, courtesy of Professor Piper; and Latham, Crazy Sundays, p. 130.
22. Graham, State of Heat, p. 144; Graham, Beloved Infidel, p. 227; Quoted in Latham, Crazy Sundays, p. 131; Graham, The Real Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 104, 19.
23. Letter from Frances Kroll to Sheilah Graham, December 10, 1939, Princeton; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 564; This Side of Paradise, inscribed by Fitzgerald to Sheilah Graham, Princeton.
24. Powell, "Hollywood Canteen," p. 77; Judith Thurman, Isak Dinesen (New York, 1982), pp. 156-157; Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, pp. 313-314.
25. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 368; Budd Schulberg, "Old Scott: The Myth, the Masque, the Man," Four Seasons of Success (Garden City, New York, 1972), p. 126; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 249.
26. Letter from Frances Kroll Ring to Mizener, June 14, 1948, Princeton; Letter from Fitzgerald to Edgar Allan Poe, Jr., December 26, 1939, Princeton; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 315.
Next: chapter 13.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).