Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood
by Aaron Latham


10 Madame Curie: Brave New Heroine

1

Aldous Huxley spread a batch of French newspapers on his desk for Fitzgerald’s inspection. Scott’s French was not very good despite those years on the Riviera, but it was good enough to catch the scent of scandal.

“If we could tell that story,” Huxley told Fitzgerald, “we might really have something.”

It had already occurred to Fitzgerald that working with Aldous might be more fun than trying to get on with the Hollywood hacks he had so often been teamed with. Now he was sure. Not that he really wanted to team with anyone. After all, he had not needed any help to write his novels nor had Huxley needed any help to write his, so why should they have to lean on one another like two cripples to put together a movie about Mme. Curie? But Hollywood was like that. At least he and Huxley spoke the same language.

Still, Huxley’s success at MGM must have been a little hard for Fitzgerald to take—all the more so because of the way he had gotten into the business in the first place. Scott had come three thousand miles from the East to try to break into pictures; Aldous had come to Beverly Hills for his health, not looking for a job at all, but Anita Loos was a good friend of his and before long she convinced him to help with the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. With Greer Garson as Elizabeth and Laurence Olivier as Darcy, the picture turned out to be a Hollywood classic. Huxley had made a brilliant beginning and was highly regarded at Metro.

After Pride and Prejudice, Huxley was assigned to Madame Curie along with Fitzgerald; the movie was to be based on Eve Curie’s biography of her mother. It was Hollywood typecasting: the author who had described the brave new world of the future was a natural choice to tell the story of the discovery of the brave new element, radium.

Huxley read Eve Curie’s book, but in the true scientific tradition he wanted to know more. He sent to Paris for all the back issues of French newspapers which had anything in them about his heroine. When the papers arrived, he found headlines about Mme. Curie’s new element and her Nobel Prize. But there were other headlines too, and it was among these that Huxley made his own discovery: a new element in the great Mme. Curie herself. She had had a love affair and reporters had turned it into a grand scandal. Huxley could almost see the little hunchbacks with their loads of papers moving through the cafes of Paris, crying the news to the patrons. This cafe society might not understand radium, but it would understand an affaire d’amour.

This was the story which Huxley told Fitzgerald. Marie Curie’s lover had been the young assistant in Pierre Curie’s own laboratory. He showed Scott a picture of a cheap hotel on the Left Bank of the Seine. There was another picture, one of a room inside the hotel—the room. It was a big box with no decorations, barren as the Curies’ laboratory itself, but with a bed pushed into one corner and above the bed a single picture, a photograph of Professor Pierre Curie. The young wife and the young assistant had hung the aging husband above the bed where (as Huxley later wrote) he “was… always looking at you, like Big Brother in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

If they could only tell that story. But of course as long as Joe Breen had anything to say about it, great lady scientists would act like ladies and not like tarts. In the movies you had to give the kids something to look up to.

For the time being, the two writers put aside these clippings and went to work on the story they could tell. Aldous was selected by producer Sidney Franklin to write the treatment. In short order he turned out a hundred-page outline which gave the movie people the Mme. Curie they wanted to see. His best scene showed Marie as a miserable young girl working as a governess to earn enough money to go to the university. Since she is so unhappy, she tells one of her charges, a little boy, the story of the Spartan boy who hid a young fox under his coat while at school and then let the fox bite him to death rather than cry out. Taking the story to heart, the little boy tells his governess, “I wouldn’t want to be a Spartan. Would you, Miss Marie?” Marie answers, “I wouldn’t want to be a crybaby.

Huxley soon tired of the regimentation of studio work and quit MGM to return to “literature.” Years later, however, he decided to put in writing the story which he could not tell in a moving-picture house: the story of a young wife and the young assistant who made love while a gloomy old scientist looked on from his place on the wall as if this were nothing more than another experiment. “Maybe the total reality is always too undignified to be recorded,” Huxley wrote in his novella The Genius and the Goddess, “too senseless or too horrible to be left unfictionalized. All the same it’s exasperating, if one happens to know the facts, it’s even rather insulting, to be fobbed off with Soap Opera.

With Huxley gone, MGM decided to allow Fitzgerald to go it alone with Madame Curie—they were giving him one last chance. On this picture Fitzgerald got a break: a producer whom he continued to get on with very well. Sidney Franklin, whom Scott first met while working on The Women, had been one of Irving Thalberg’s most trusted lieutenants. Thalberg had picked Franklin to direct Norma Shearer in her second talkie, The Last of Mrs. Cheney. He also directed Miss Shearer, Fredric March, and Charles Laughton in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in The Good Earth. He was even entrusted with handling the famed stage performers Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in their first film, The Guardsman, a picture whose discarded rushes are said to have been more prized than the movie itself. It seems that Miss Fontanne was bathing while a camera trained on her nude back. When a phone rang the actress turned to see what it was—turned directly toward the camera as Franklin screamed, “Cut! Cut!” But Franklin was not only good with actors—he was good with writers, too. Even after Fitzgerald left Metro, he included Franklin on a list of movie executives “who do like me.” (He had a longer list of people who didn’t.)

One newspaper reported that “F. Scott Fitzgerald… has drawn the scenario writing assignment for which most Hollywood writers would have given a right arm… He is adapting The Life of Madame Curie for Greta Garbo.” It was a dream assignment, but if dreams are the stuff that movies are made of, they have little to do with the actual manufacture of pictures. To begin with, Eve Curie thought that Garbo, star of The Temptress and Flesh and the Devil, was too exotic to play her mother, so Greer Garson was cast in the role. Miss Garson, who described herself as “Metro’s Glorified Mama,” had played the wholesome bride in Goodbye Mr. Chips, as well as Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice; later she would play the title role in Mrs. Miniver. She seemed safe enough. But the trouble in finding a star forecast more trouble to come for this star-crossed picture.

2

Fitzgerald began work on the new script in a new house. Sheilah Graham had been afraid that the Malibu beach house would be too cold for Scott in the winter, so she rented a place in Encino in the warm San Fernando Valley. Their new home was located on actor Edward Everett Horton’s estate, which—to Fitzgerald’s dismay—was called “Belly Acres.” For years there had been people from Ernest Hemingway right through to Joe Mankiewicz who thought of Fitzgerald as a whiner. Now Scott could almost hear them laughing until their stomach muscles hurt. The Old Belly Acher had found his true home at last! “How can I tell anyone I live in ’Belly Acres?” he asked Sheilah, outraged.

There was a huge lawn and a garden full of roses all hemmed in by a picket fence; there was a swimming pool and tennis court and magnolia trees with deck chairs under them; a little way off stood a fir and birch wood. But Fitzgerald remained cold toward the place.

When Buff Cobb came for a visit, he asked her, “Don’t you think this is a rather uninspired house?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “The garden is lovely… And all those little pickets look like little gravestones in a Confederate graveyard.”

“Sheilah,” Scott called, running into the house. “She’s made the place livable! We’ve got romance in the house.

It was about this time that Miss Graham decided to read Fitzgerald’s books. “Scott,” she said one evening, “I feel badly. Here you are, a famous writer, and I’ve not read a thing you’ve written. I want to read every one of your books.”

“Do you really?” he asked, a little like a girl who has been kept waiting too long for a proposal. “All right, Sheilo,” he said. “I’ll get you my books. Let’s get them tonight.”

After dinner the couple paid a visit to Hollywood’s largest bookstore. “Have you books by F. Scott Fitzgerald?” the author asked.

“Sorry—none in stock,” the young clerk told him, and turned to a customer whose tastes were more up to date.

“Do you have any calls for them?” Fitzgerald insisted.

“Oh—once in a while,” the boy said. “But not for some time, now”.

Sheilah suggested, “Let’s try another place,” but the second store was like the first.

At the third store they found a gray-haired man up on a ladder. He had no Fitzgerald in stock either but was good enough to suggest, “I believe I can get hold of a title or two. Which ones are you interested in?”

“I’d appreciate that,” Scott said and ordered This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night.

Shaken by this experience, Scott wrote to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, begging for a new life for his works:

Dear Max:
Since the going-out-of-print of Paradise and the success (or is it one?) of [Hemingway’s] The Fifth Column I have come to feel somewhat neglected. Isn’t my reputation being allowed to let slip away? I mean what’s left of it. I am still a figure to many people and the number of times I still see my name in Time and The New Yorker, etc., makes me wonder if it should be allowed to casually disappear—when there are memorial double deckers to such fellows as Farrell and Steinbeck.

I think something ought to be published this spring. You had a plan for the three novels… the recession is over for awhile and I have the most natural ambition to see my stuff accessible to another generation… A whole generation now has never read This Side of Paradise

You can imagine how distasteful it is to blow my own horn like this but it comes from a deep feeling that something could be done, if it is done at once, about my literary standing— always admitting that I have any at all.

The weeks passed and the Los Angeles bookstore finally located the Fitzgerald titles Scott had ordered. Sheilah took them and started her reading where the author had started his writing, with This Side of Paradise. When she had finished, he asked, “What do you think?”

“Well,” she said, “it’s not as good as Dickens.”

Scott was irritated. “Of course it’s not as good as Dickens,” he growled.

Sheilah liked the short stories, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night much better, and that pleased Scott. But it must have seemed to him that this girl with whom he now shared his life was the only one still reading his books. He desperately wanted to get his name back before the public, and if Scribner’s was not going to put him in the bookstores, then perhaps Metro would give the author who had been famous for twenty years that half second of fame which a screen credit represented. Fitzgerald knew what he had to do. As Joan Crawford might have put it, he had to write hard on Madame Curie.

3

To jog his imagination he would play Pierre Curie and Sheilah would play Marie, and they would act out the scenes together as if they themselves were on the trail of something new. They were. They were helping one another and that kind of in-harness cooperation was to be an important part of what the picture was about. In fact, the real subject of Fitzgerald’s screenplay was not so much the discovery of a new element as the discovery of a new kind of marriage, something unlike anything he had ever known with Zelda. The great experiment which absorbed the writer and his girl, like the Curies in his script, had to do with sharing work and love at the same time. To Fitzgerald that kind of partnership was like radium: very rare.

Sometimes when Scott played Pierre and Sheilah, Marie, they wouldn’t have much to say to one another—they could almost have been acting out their parts in different rooms. Perhaps Scott would say that he hoped that Sheilah didn’t whistle the way his last laboratory assistant had, and Sheilah would assure him that she did not; then silence again. That was the kind of picture the author wanted it to be—one with many quiet scenes which recalled the quiet of Infidelity. At the same time, however, he was learning more about how to use a sound track, so sound was to be as important in some scenes as silence was in others. He was moving in the direction of a balanced script, one not too loquacious but not too quiet either. He was also moving in the direction of a new heroine.

Within the spectrum of Fitzgerald’s women, Marie Curie is much closer to, say, Kathleen in Tycoon than she is to Fitzgerald’s earlier heroines, those in the tradition of Gloria Gilbert, who had to be cared for. Just as in his own life Fitzgerald had moved from Zelda, whom he took care of, to Sheilah Graham, who often had to take care of him, so in his writing he moved from Gloria Gilbert to Kathleen and Mme. Curie. In Tender Is the Night the hero had been a doctor to the heroine, but in “An Alcoholic Case,” a story which Fitzgerald wrote during his first year in Hollywood, the hero has fallen: now it is he who is nursed by the heroine. In this story Fitzgerald’s heroine had just been to see the movie Pasteur, and it brings back memories of her student nursing days when she and the other young nurses would “swing across the streets in the cold weather at Philadelphia General, as proud of their new capes as debutantes in their furs going to balls at the hotels.” It is this tradition to which Mme. Curie belongs: she is an anti-debutante.

Like his fictional nurse, Fitzgerald too had seen the movie about Pasteur, had been moved by it. That was the kind of film he wanted Madame Curie to be. At the beginning of the project, he addressed a note to his bosses: “As one who believes that such a production as Suez set pictures back by three years—insulting the public it gained in Zola and Pasteur by distorting history into grotesque musical comedy—I approach this book [the biography of Mme. Curie] with honest reverence.” He wrote that Mme. Curie represented “work and the creation of the modern woman,” adding that “from the Victorian lady who specialized in China painting and refined music we travel, in the course of one lifetime, to the achieved perfection of Madame Curie.”

“The picture will be doing a great wrong,” he said, “if [we] do not present Madame Curie as an image of everything the woman of the future should aspire to. We must frighten no one away by a moral tale, but we must send them off at the end of two hours feeling that they spent that time with someone so fine that they will remember it for months and years.

Some of Fitzgerald’s earlier heroines had had much in common with that “Victorian lady” who painted dishes, but his new heroine, “the woman of the future,” would “aspire to” much more, would pour out her art and energy on a stage much greater than a china dinner plate.

Fitzgerald worked on Madame Curie because he had been assigned to it, not because she was the one person in the world whom he most wanted to write about. And yet a real empathy comes through in his descriptions of her, for the problems which she faced were in some ways the problems which he faced, too. “It is not a story for cheap sentimentality,” he wrote.

We must be true to Mme. Curie, who did not like fools— in high places or low. We must dramatize the fact that much of the great work of the world is done in loneliness and neglect—and to do that we must concentrate, as she did, upon the work itself, and its glory. We must see her as a gorgeous instrument of human achievement. We must not ape the public that she ran away from by making a goddess of her—a great impossible close-up of a monster, what the public calls a genius. No, we must pull aside a curtain and let others see as individuals what they would like to have seen in Marie’s lifetime—what it was that made her so great and fine and good, so that those who came to adore remain to love.

Once courted, once called “genius,” Fitzgerald too knew what it was like to labor in loneliness and neglect. He too was trying to “concentrate” upon the “glory” of work, to be a serious writer.

Fitzgerald’s new heroine led the writer naturally to a new kind of love scene, one where the prom or country club or villa is replaced by a scientist’s laboratory. Pierre Curie and the then Marie Sklodowska are strangers to one another when, by chance, they are assigned to share the same lab. Their first interest in one another depends not upon one human being’s need for another, but upon their common need for a particular scientific scale. There is only one such scale in their laboratory and Marie and Pierre soon learn that they must share it.

Fitzgerald wanted to begin his courtship scene by showing a close-up of Marie at the balance. She is carefully removing a mineral specimen from one pan, a weight from the other when Pierre appears in the frame.

PIERRE: May I?

He picks up the scales and weights and carries them to his own workbench. A few moments later Marie, working in a wrinkled white smock, misses something she needs and begins to look for it. Remembering, she crosses the laboratory to Pierre’s side.

MARIE: May I?

She picks up the balance and carries it back to her own table. Not long after, Pierre reappears at Marie’s bench to retrieve it, but she is busy weighing a grain of uranium.

PIERRE: Don’t hurry.

While he waits, he tries to tell the girl about something Professor Becquerel discovered that day. Marie waves him silent as she notes something down, then looks up. A little snubbed, Pierre takes up his story of the uranium which Becquerel wrapped in sensitized paper, placed in a dark drawer, and promptly forgot.

PIERRE: When he opened it, there was an impression of its shape on the paper.

His story finished, Curie indicates the scales and asks:

PIERRE: Through?

Marie is, and Pierre disappears with the balance. A few moments later, however, he returns, carrying the instrument. Marie looks up, surprised, as he replaces the scales on her table.

MARIE: Thank you.

This scene is in the right setting, the laboratory, with the right unhurried pace, characteristic of scientific investigation, and Fitzgerald gives us the right visual metaphor, the scientific balance. Marie and Pierre’s love for one another will soon grow to be as delicately “balanced” as the piece of scientific machinery which brought them together. We see in this one scene Fitzgerald’s matured definition of marriage. The Curies are a sharing couple: they share a balance, a laboratory, and later their life work. There will be no room in the Curie’s laboratory or in their lives for someone like Gloria Gilbert, someone who would tip the scales in her own direction. Appropriately, the scene also reveals another kind of balance, a technical one: the poignant use of silence is married to a few lines of simple dialogue.

Near the end of Fitzgerald’s unfinished screenplay, Marie’s extravagant love for her father and her Polish fatherland force her to abandon a brilliant scientific career and the genius who could have helped her forge it. She plans to return to Poland to become a tutor, and Pierre believes that he will never see her again. On the way to the train which will carry Marie into self-exile, the two lovers pause in a courtyard. In a well-worn room above them, a tired man at a piano plays Chopin’s Waltz in C Minor. The pianist is Ignace Paderewski, a Polish refugee living in poverty who will later become prime minister of a liberated Poland. The music strengthens what Fitzgerald called the “emotional backbone” of his story and yet it is introduced without relying on the contrived device of background music. The piano is a part of the story, a voice, and its lines are as important as any others.

Marie boards her train and begins the trip which carries her farther and farther from Pierre and physics, but halfway home, she writes a letter to the man left behind in Paris. “I realized that half of me was missing,” she tells him. “I could never be a complete person alone. So I am coming back in the fall—and we will solve the equation together.” To Fitzgerald, who was aged beyond his years, the proper metaphor for life was no longer “paradise.” It was an equation, a problem, which could not even be attempted alone.

4

“I am intensely busy. On the next two weeks, during which I finish the first part of Madame Curie, depends whether my contract will be renewed. So naturally I am working like hell—” Fitzgerald had written his daughter around Christmas, then added, “—though I wouldn’t expect you to understand that— and getting rather bored with explaining the obvious over and over to a wrong-headed daughter.” In other words, Scottie was behaving more like an early Fitzgerald heroine than like a Marie Curie, and Scott was displeased.

Perhaps he sensed that he was failing at MGM just as he had failed at Princeton twenty years before, and so he naturally assumed that Scottie, so much like him, would be failing out of Vassar too. In his panicky frame of mind he felt it his duty to warn her. “The whole damn thing about going to the college is to keep it in proportion,” he wrote. “Did you ever hear of a college boy, unless he were an idiot, racing from Smith to Vassar to Wellesley? There are certain small sacrifices for a college education or there wouldn’t be any honor in having gone to college.

In his next letter the father gave a kind of play-by-play of the fall he foresaw for his daughter:

Knowing your character, here’s about the way things will go in the next month. You have four weeks before Christmas and probably you intend to try hard, but at the moment you have gotten into some entanglement in Baltimore that you either want to go deeper into or get out of, or put on ice— in any case, that will require two or three days of letter writing absorption. Then you will do well for three days— until the reply to your letter sets you off again. By now your impetus will be exhausted and you will have a good three-day low—the movies and New York, forget to hand in a theme, or something like that. Two weeks gone. Then, alas, one of those things will happen against which only the wisest will guard— a two-day cold, an unexpected change of Christmas plans, some personal trouble or upset. Then there’s only a week left and despite frantic hours you will have another failure on your hands. Don’t you see that this is just how it happens? Where’s that “common sense” that you boast about?

And then a little later:

Your letter came. Touched that you wish I wouldn’t worry about the marks and enlightened to know why freshmen are marked hard. “I don’t see why you’re so furious because I’m not brilliant” is a sentence that touches my heart. I don’t know whether it’s the thought or the style that impresses me most.

The father went on to make fun of a play Scottie had written. “Which was your philosophical poem?” he asked. “’Be my little little little, little wife?’” A year later—after Fitzgerald had calmed down—he liked his daughter’s poem better, so much better in fact that he used it in his best screenplay, Cosmopolitan.

Scottie, of course, managed to stay at Vassar much longer than Scott stayed at Metro. No one still alive seems to remember just why Fitzgerald was fired halfway through Madame Curie. He had known that the renewal of his contract depended on how well the Curie script went, but it seemed to be going brilliantly. On the other hand, Scott was not a brilliant diplomat. He never had been. At Newman, when he was in his teens, he had been “the freshest boy,” the one who knew it all and told you so. He had also been the loneliest boy there. Now he was the freshest screenwriter. Not that he really said that much to anyone, but he was always writing an endless succession of bitter letters and memos, indelible angry words which remained on his bosses’ desks long after verbal outbursts would have faded into silence. The angry boss who finally bounced Fitzgerald was probably Bernie Hyman, or at least Scott thought so. Hyman, one of Metro’s College of Cardinals, hardly fit the central casting stereotype of a Hollywood impresario: he was modest, soft-spoken, and even a little shy. But Fitzgerald was sure that “Bernie Hyman quite definitely doesn’t like me. I don’t know why because I’ve scarcely exchanged two words with him.

Fitzgerald explained his removal from Madame Curie to his agent as follows: “We [Scott and producer Franklin] were bucking Bernie Hyman’s preconception of the thing as a love story. Hyman glanced at what we had done and shelved the whole project. Franklin had been very interested up to that time.” When Madame Curie was taken out of Scott’s hands, he wired Hyman:

RESPECTFULLY SUGGEST THE BEST WAY TO GET $5000 WORTH OF USE OUT OF MY CONTRACT IS TO ORDER A 1200 WORD ORIGINAL FOR SOME SPECIAL ACTORS STOP I HAVE AN IDEA FOR BEERY AND GARLAND AND COULD CERTAINLY PRODUCE A COMEDY OF MANNERS IDEA FOR SOME YOUNG ACTRESS STOP AM AT YOUR SERVICE OF COURSE BUT ORIGINAL IDEAS ARE PART OF MY STOCK IN TRADE THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET TAPPED STOP

No original was ordered. Fitzgerald was through at MGM. In his notebook, he wrote, “Mayer started as a junk dealer—now he is again.”

The love-science equation which Hyman thought Fitzgerald had failed to solve went on to become a legendary writer-breaker. No one seemed to be able to get it right— right being defined as the way Hyman wanted it. As an unnamed Metro executive told a New York Times reporter, “One [writer] would get carried away with the romantic elements of the Curies’ life and would stress that to the detriment of the scientific features. Another, scientifically minded, would be too intent on the physicist angles, and the romance would suffer.” As the years went by, writer after writer worked on the script, only to be fired or transferred to another picture.

The war began and still the work on Madame Curie dragged on. Sometime toward the beginning of 1942, a CalTech physicist named Dr. Rudolph M. Langer was called in as a consultant. He set up a laboratory at Metro where he and Franklin re-enacted the major experiments which had led the Curies to radium.

The problem of making desperately static laboratory experiments dramatic on the screen at first led the movie makers to help on some visual melodrama. Stealing from all those mad-scientist movies, they planned to fan the drama by showing sparks sizzling about the lab as the Curies searched for the new element. Fortunately Dr. Langer was on hand to complain that “it would be false to science.

Soon everyone at MGM was calling the good CalTech professor “I-Don’t-Like-It-Dr.-Langer.” When asked whether his reasons for disliking certain scenes were scientific or dramatic, he would usually reply, “Both.” When pressed, he would explain, “Scientists don’t act that way.” By this he generally meant that no matter how tense the moment, a scientist would always remain calm. It is not hard to imagine what he would have thought of the movie that Huxley wanted to make, the one about the wife and the assistant.

A final shooting script written by Paul Osborn and Hans Rameau was not ready until Christmas 1942, some four years after Huxley and Fitzgerald had first been assigned the picture. Then, after so much writer trouble, the picture developed director trouble. Albert Lewin quit and all of the footage which he had shot was scrapped. Work stopped completely for two weeks until Mervyn Le Roy took over.

Madame Curie did not open until December 1943, by which time Fitzgerald was already three years dead. Begun in 1938, it had taken longer to make the movie (five years) than it had for the Curies themselves to carry out the experiments which led to the discovery of the radium (four and one half years). Of course the $1,400,000 which the long-delayed picture cost would have bought and sold many times over the leaky shack which the Curies used as their radium lab.

After all that time and money, the picture as finally made was much like the picture Fitzgerald had originally hoped for. Almost none of his words survived the years and years of rewriting, but the rewritten script captured the same spirit which Scott had captured. If Bernie Hyman had wanted a love story only, in the end Franklin won and was allowed to make a film which was true both to the Curies’ romance and to their work, the one always depending on the other. And the critics generally appreciated what Franklin had made of his story.

Bosley Crowther, who replaced Frank Nugent as the New York Times film critic wrote:

Behind the discovery of radium, and behind the long years of patient toil which eventually contributed to humanity one of the greatest of all the elements, lay a story of personal devotion and loyalty to a high ideal which should be a lasting inspiration to all those who hold mankind in true regard. And it is this story—the story of the Curies, a French scientist and his famous little wife—which Metro has told impressively and with fine cinematic restraint… The most absorbing action of the picture is that which has to do with the search for the elusive radium—and this is the more surprising because of the dramatic problem involved… [The film] has made [the Curies’] absorption in science as comprehensible as the urge to read good books, and it has pictured their collaborative union as a warm and richly rewarding love.

Time wrote, “Madame Curie emphatically establishes Director Le Roy in Hollywood’s top drawer, and frail, modest Producer Franklin in the seven-league shoes of the late Irving Thalberg.” The magazine went on to say:

[The movie] devotes itself to dramatizing matters seldom attempted on the screen: the beauty, dignity, and calm of a marriage earnestly, rather than romantically, undertaken, the binding and illuminating power of a rare intellectual companionship and a grinding work performed in common. Madame Curie is probably as unerotic and maturely human a romance as Hollywood has yet attempted.

One could almost believe that Time was reviewing the script Fitzgerald himself had written nearly five years before.

With Sheilah Graham, Fitzgerald must have hoped to have a romance which would rival the romance he had written for the Curies—a romance where the lovers solved all their equations together, where each partner was half of a delicate balance. He ministered to Miss Graham’s mind, teaching her literature, history, music, philosophy, in their College of One; Sheilah for her part took care of Scott’s health and tried to keep him away from alcohol. They even worked together writing her radio broadcasts and filling his notebooks for the Hollywood novel he was going to write. But all too soon the balance’s strong right arm began to weaken. The trouble began in earnest when Scott was fired from MGM.

Years before when Amory Blaine had received an envelope from the Princeton dean and had known that a blue slip meant failure and a white one a passing grade, he had torn the cover off and waved the slip in the air, shouting, “Blue as the sky, gentlemen.” But in California where the sky was really blue, Fitzgerald no longer had that kind of strength. Eddie Knopf, the man who had hired him in the first place, had already told him what was coming. When the notice finally arrived, signed only by the Metro treasurer—and not even an explanation—he tucked it away out of sight. He made no speeches. No one remembers his last words at the studio—perhaps he left without saying anything to anyone. He cleared out his desk and then toppled the long line of empty Coca-Cola bottles. They had done their job for a year and a half, but they would not be able to protect the alcoholic much longer.


Next: Chapter 11 Free-Lancing

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