Fitzgerald’s telephone rang. Lester Cowan, the independent producer, was at the other end. He invited Fitzgerald to lunch. They went to one of those dark Hollywood restaurants which, like the dark Hollywood sunglasses, help protect the prominent from the stares of the curious. Not that Fitzgerald was afraid of being recognized—not anymore. What worried him was not the anonymous crowd but the man across the table. Cowan was not a big man, but he looked like and sometimes acted like a fighter, a bantam pugilist, and Scott simply did not trust him. He knew that a clever producer could loot the finer furnishings of a screenwriter’s mind the way less talented Hollywood crooks cleaned out Beverly Hills homes. Scott was trying to remember to keep all the doors and windows locked. He had already said more than he planned to.
Fitzgerald ate quickly, but not Cowan. The producer lingered over dessert, over coffee, over his many questions, most of which had to do with Scott’s ideas for turning his story “Babylon Revisited” into a full-length motion-picture. Where would he begin? What material would he add to stretch his short, evocative tale over an hour and a half? The producer was always fascinated with Fitzgerald’s answers, wanted always to hear more, his appetite insatiable. Scott, sipping cup after cup of black, highly sweetened coffee, grew more and more nervous.
The next day the telephone rang. It was Cowan again. He and Liam O’Flaherty wanted Fitzgerald to go to the racetrack with them, but the author was afraid that he might lose more than the money he bet on the horses. “I told him,” Scott later recalled, “I was otherwise engaged.” After Cowan hung up, the author wrote his new agent, William Dozier, for help. One more long conversation, Scott complained, and Cowan would have “a good piece of me in his pocket for nothing.”
From then on Cowan had all his talks, not with the writer, but with his agent. A deal was finally made in late January; Fitzgerald sold his screen rights to his story for a thousand dollars, and agreed to do the adaptation for three hundred a week. By Hollywood standards, he was keeping a five-and-dime store. As he wrote Scottie, “You earned some money for me this week because I sold ’Babylon Revisited,’ in which you are a character, to the pictures (the sum received wasn’t worthy of the magnificent story—neither of you nor of me—however, I am accepting it).” A few months later, still sore about the money but not unhappy, he wrote her, “I am working on this ’Babylon Revisited’ picture at a rotten salary but it is rather fun and may amount to something.”
Now it was Fitzgerald’s turn to call Cowan. He wanted to read the producer the scene where the father in his story, wasted by alcohol and the prisoner of a hospital bed, is unexpectedly reunited with his daughter.
“How are you, dear? I’ve thought a lot about you. Haven’t been very well,” Scott read into the receiver, playing Cary Grant’s role. Still in character, he pretended to shout at a nurse, “Bring me a comb. I asked for a barber.”
Changing roles, playing Shirley Temple now, he read, “Perhaps you’d better rest, Daddy.”
“Rest, rest. What’s all this about rest? Is it something you take like a pill? I don’t want to rest. I want to do something and go somewhere. Do you think that just lying down makes you sleep? Doctors and nurses seem to believe that all you have to do is say ’rest,’ and immediately sweet sleep comes. My Heaven! They’ve given me every pill in their bags, and the miracle just doesn’t happen. I’m going to Italy this afternoon… I want you to help me get dressed. I want to get out of here.”
When he hung up the phone, Fitzgerald turned to his secretary Frances Kroll with a strange look on his face. He thought for a moment before telling her what Cowan had done. “He cried.”
After that “the two seemed to get along well,” Miss Kroll remembers. “Cowan would come up to the apartment to talk. Sometimes he would come up for lunch. I would fix them sandwiches and they would work.”
Now that their lunches were more relaxed, Fitzgerald enjoyed answering Cowan’s questions. “Cowan had intelligence,” says Miss Kroll. “He wasn’t like the others. And Fitzgerald respected that. Cowan was very respectful, too; he had a sense of regard for Fitzgerald’s talent.”
Since Fitzgerald did not sleep very much, he would think through his scenes at night. Mornings, he would put on his old bathrobe and walk back and forth as he dictated. He wrote very fast, setting himself deadlines and trying to meet them.
“Fitzgerald loved his screenplay, really,” his secretary recalls. “He had complete control over it and Cowan always let him work at home. It was very different from going to the studios.”
Fitzgerald had needed this job desperately. He had gone without work all through the winter. It was during a pinched January that he had written Leland Hayward, his agent at the time, that chilling letter which began, “Once Budd Schulberg told me that, while the story of an official black list is a legend, there is a kind of cabal that goes on between producers around a backgammon table, and I have an idea that some such sinister finger is upon me.
Fitzgerald’s only regular income during these months came from the Pat Hobby stories which he sold to Esquire at two hundred fifty dollars apiece. Scott said they were “done to pay the grocer.” Budd Schulberg remembers him coming down the stairs of the Encino house one night and announcing to a group of friends, “I’ve just finished an awfully good story.” He wanted to know if they would like to hear it. They would. He hurried upstairs and fetched it down. Some of the Pat Hobby stories were at least fine anecdotes, but not this one. Schulberg remembers that it was embarrassingly unfunny. The scene was reminiscent of that 1931 party at Irving Thalberg’s house where Scott had flopped with his song about a dog, but this time, at least, he had had the good sense to flop in his own home.
Yet while Fitzgerald was chronicling Pat Hobby’s misadventures with his left hand, with his right he was composing some of his finest prose. “Look!” he wrote his daughter in late October 1939, “I have begun to write something that is maybe great…”
In general Scott was very secretive about his new novel, but he told Budd Schulberg about it. “It’s coming well,” he said. “Just a few pages a day, except for a spurt when I wake up with a little of my old pep. But at least it’s coming.” He said that he hoped to finish a first draft before too much longer.
“Marvelous, I’ll bring champagne,” Budd kidded.
“Oh, God, not this time!” he laughed. “This time I know— I’ve got no choice—I’m on the wagon forever, baby.”
The prose in the new novel, The Last Tycoon, was so alive that it almost seemed to get up and walk, and yet Scott wrote most of it lying flat on his back. He was nursing his tuberculosis. He had a writing board and, sitting up in his bathrobe, he covered yellow pages with a scrawl that looked like a string of lopsided balloons. As he finished each sheet, he pushed it out of bed onto the floor.
When his doctor would call to give the author vitamin injections and other medication, he would climb the stairs, walk carefully across the floor trying to keep from stepping on the masterpiece, and sit down beside the bed while Scott continued to write, oblivious of his visitor. Sometimes minutes would pass before the writer would look up.
“Oh, hello,” he would say. “Been waiting long?”
“No,” the doctor would answer. “Only a minute or two.”
In November Scott took time off from being a novelist to become Sheilah’s speech writer. Her syndicate, the North American Newspaper Alliance, had booked her for a two-week publicity tour of all the major cities where her column appeared. She wrote out a speech entitled “Now It Can Be Told” which was just the kind of talk it sounded like. Scott read the thing and informed Sheilah, “This really isn’t very good. I can’t let you do a lecture like this.” Solution: Scott wrote a lecture for her.
Fitzgerald made the director the hero of his Hollywood talk just as he would later make a director-producer, Stahr, the hero of his Hollywood novel. Scott, who had come to Hollywood hoping eventually to work his way up to a position where he himself could direct, knew that the directors and not Sheilah’s much-publicized stars really stood at the center of the Hollywood stage. The lecture began:
A few months ago I visited the enormous back lot of the Goldwyn studio. The picture was The Real Glory—the scene a Philippine village on the banks of a swift river. After a minute of absolute silence there was a quiet command from the man sitting under the camera. This was echoed through a loud microphone by his assistant—“All right, we’re rolling”—and then a wild uproar filled the air. Filipinos jumped to the walls of the village, rifles crackling; screaming Moros rushed from the jungle; men were catapulted through the air from bent trees; David Niven died at the feet of Andrea Leeds; and down the raging stream came Gary Cooper on a raft. “Cut,” said the director Hathaway quietly. “Print it.”
In the sudden lull I said, “It must be wonderful to be back of all this. It must give you a great sense of power.”
That sense of power and creation flowing together—that chance to command an army of stars, technicians, and extras and yet be an artist at the same time—still tantalized Fitzgerald as it had for so long. He was a thwarted soldier, a thwarted actor, who saw in the motion-picture director a special symbol:
On the stage the director is merely the man who says, “Now, Miss Cornell, you cross left at this point. You’ll have an amber spot following you.”
The duties of the motion-picture director are on an infinitely grander scale. From the first day of shooting until the word “printed” is uttered after the last take, he is the picture. He is its life, its heart and soul.
Where Sheilah’s now-it-can-be-told gossip had once been, Fitzgerald wrote in some of the lessons he had learned as a Hollywood screenwriter. One of the most important had to do with that old gulf between show and tell, between writing pictures for the screen and pages for the bookshelf. “A writer’s instinct is to think in words,” he said.
The director has got to work with the writer and turn the writer’s words into visual images for the camera. We can do without speeches, but we’ve got to see, for on the screen, seeing is believing, no matter what the characters say.
Fitzgerald pointed out that in most great pictures “we are absorbed in seeing rather than hearing,” but he went on to add:
This accent on the visual need not mean we have to blow up a city or have schooners sailing the seven seas. The focus may be on something as small as the famous “kitten and boots” gag in Harold Lloyd’s Grandmas Boy. You may remember that Harold Lloyd had greased his boots with a special ointment which proved unexpectedly attractive to cats, and at the crisis of his love affair, sitting on the sofa with his girl, a family of kittens kept licking at his boots.
Fitzgerald had watched the masters, done his homework. If his chance to direct ever came, he would be ready.
Toward the end of the talk, however, the fun of the kittens attacking Lloyd’s boots as if they were size-nine mice was forgotten, and some of Scott’s disappointment showed through. The movie industry is “too big for any of us,” he wrote, “too big for most of the people who direct its destinies. Once in a while a great figure has appeared on the horizon and led it through a mighty exodus. Griffith was one, Thalberg was another. There is no such person now in Hollywood…”
Sheilah went on her publicity tour, leaving Scott behind. She couldn’t write and yet she was being read all over the country. Scott was out of print. He was so anxious to get back before the public that when he finished the first chapter of The Last Tycoon, he had his secretary drive it to the airport and mail it to Colliers from there. The magazine had offered thirty thousand for the serial rights—if they liked it. Just as Sheilah was returning from her talk tour, word came. Collier’s wanted to see more. It wasn’t really a rejection but Scott took it like one. Furious at the magazine, he wired his old friend Maxwell Perkins: I HAVEN’T SEEN A PIECE OF FICTION IN THERE FOR SEVERAL YEARS THAT WOULD SERVE THE PURPOSES OF A SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOGUE. Rather than submit more of his story to the ungrateful Collier’s, he shipped his chapter off to an old ally, The Saturday Evening Post. They wanted to see more, too. Scott started to drink.
Drunk, he threatened Sheilah’s life. It happened one night when Scott invited a couple of dead beats to the house and Sheilah threw them out. “Being rude to my friends—never so insulted in my life—” He picked up a bowl of soup she had made for him and hurled it against the wall. When his nurse attempted to come to Miss Graham’s rescue, he whirled and kicked the nurse in the legs. Sheilah tried to leave the room, but Scott stopped her. “You’re not going,” he said. “I’m going to kill you.” But nothing was working out for the author those days—he couldn’t find his gun. He asked Sheilah, “Where’s my gun?” but she wouldn’t tell. He called his secretary, but she wouldn’t tell either. Then Sheilah called the police.
A few days later, Scott slipped into Sheilah’s Hollywood apartment and took the silver-fox fur he had given her—the one which made a short appearance in his draft of The Women. The next day Miss Graham’s insurance agent called the author and informed him, “You have five days to return it. Then we—not Miss Graham—will start criminal action.” Scott said that it might take more than five days. He had mailed the coat to his daughter as a Christmas present.
The new job adapting “Babylon Revisited” for the movies brought the couple back together. They even began to act out some of the scenes in the new script the way they had done with Madame Curie and Gone with the Wind. This time the dramas staged in the Belly Acres Playhouse (their living room) went better than had Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler on the staircase. Perhaps that was because their new roles were almost more than roles. Sheilah played the little girl in the story, Scott the father whom she looked up to. In a sense they had been rehearsing these parts as long as they had known one another.
He would slouch and shamble and say: “How would you like to see anybody walk like this?”
SHE: “Oh, Daddy.”
HE: “You should try to walk like a queen.”
SHE: “How do queens walk?”
HE: “Well, I’ve only met one queen, and she was an awful stumblebum.”
During his boom days, Scott had had trouble finding even one quiet room in which to work. People, usually trailing bottles, were always bursting in on him. But Encino was different. The room was quiet, the house was quiet, even the spreading Valley seemed a giant bowl of silence. There was only one noisy neighbor, an RKO Western lot which you couldn’t see from the house but which you could sometimes hear. From faraway a voice: “Ev’rybody quiet! Camera—shoot!” And then the sound of hoof-beats and gunfire would roll up the valley. Now Fitzgerald enjoyed a little noise.
One night when it was quiet—all the RKO badman were being good that night—the silence was intruded upon by something other than noisy make-believe. The telephone rang loudly. It was Budd Schulberg, still at the hospital. His wife had just borne him a baby girl. They were calling her Victoria. Scott said that in her honor he would change the name of the little girl in his screenplay from Honoria to Victoria.
When the mother and baby returned home, Scott sent over a package. It did not matter to him that most babies cannot read: the present was a copy of Tender Is the Night with the inscription, “For Victoria Schulberg—in memory of a three-day mountain-climbing trip with her illustrious father—who pulled me out of crevices into which I sank and away from avalanches— with affection to you both.”
By May, Fitzgerald was enthusiastic about what he had accomplished so far. “My movie progresses,” he wrote Scottie, “and I think it’s going to be damn good.”
But then in mid-June, with the writing and the finances both going well the weekly checks from the studio suddenly stopped with the screenplay only about half finished. Fitzgerald was forced to write his daughter:
Here is your round-trip fare to Montgomery. I’m sorry it can’t be more, but while my picture is going to be done, the producer is going to first do one that has been made for the brave Laurence Olivier, who will defend his country in Hollywood (though summoned back by the British government). This affects the patriotic and unselfish Scott Fitzgerald to the extent that I receive no more money from that source until the company gets around to it: so will return to my old stand-by Esquire.
Although the money stopped, Fitzgerald didn’t. As he wrote Maxwell Perkins, “I finished the job for Shirley Temple, working the last weeks without pay on a gamble.”
Ignored as a novelist, Fitzgerald had determined to try to go beyond the novel. In a letter to Perkins the author said that he was enjoying his new movie “because it [is] my own picture Babylon Revisited and may lead to a new line up here.” He sent off a letter to Zelda in her hospital which declared that his script, which he called Cosmopolitan, was his “great hope for attaining some real status out here as a movie man and not a novelist.”
To move beyond the novel, however, Fitzgerald took a page from one of his own books, The Last Tycoon. In that unfinished novel Stahr tries to teach the writer Boxley the difference between novels and pictures. To illustrate his point, the producer tells that story about the secretary who empties her purse on a table, spilling forth “two dimes and a nickel—and a cardboard match box.” In the first pages of his screenplay, which opens in Paris, Fitzgerald turned the device upside down: his eleven-year-old heroine, Victoria, packs a bag rather than emptying one. Socks, underwear, a toothbrush, and a comb all go into her book bag instead of schoolbooks; then when she leaves the house, she goes not to her classes but to the railroad station, the Gare de l’Est, where she boards a train bound for Switzerland. In The Last Tycoon, the girl in Stahr’s story “takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it, and puts them inside… just as she lights the match, you glance around very suddenly and see that there’s another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes—” In Cosmopolitan there are no gloves in the stove, of course, but we are still surprised when Victoria looks out her compartment window and sees a strange man watching every move she makes. As the train pulls out of the station, the man steps on board. Fitzgerald had learned something about making audiences ask— as Boxley asks Stahr—“What happens?”
At this point a flashback—one which Victoria herself helps to narrate—transports us back to New York harbor during the summer of 1929. Victoria and her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wales, are about to sail for Europe. Wales, who is retiring from the stock market, is the kind of broker whose colleagues tell him, “You play the market by ear… but you sure can play!” (Edmund Wilson once wrote of Scott, “It is true that Scott Fitzgerald plays the language entirely by ear. But his instrument, for all that, is no mean one.”) Wales’ former business partner, Dwight Schuyler, comes down to the dock to see the family off and to try to persuade Wales to stay. A baby carriage breaks down near the group and the nurse hands the infant to Victoria to hold. The adults do not notice.
Fitzgerald had learned to write books which were told from a particular point of view as early as 1925, when he wrote The Great Gatsby as seen through the eyes of Nick Carraway. By the time he wrote Cosmopolitan he had learned to tell moving-picture stories the same way. But rather than one point of view, as in Gatsby, in Cosmopolitan there are two. Fitzgerald had planned to have his camera view the world in about half the shots from the child’s point of view; the other contrasting shots were to be taken as if through the eyes of an adult.
All of the adult dialogue in the dockside scene is literally over Victoria’s head, as Fitzgerald makes clear with his use of the camera:
CAMERA COMES DOWN TO VICTORIA’S LEVEL.
The men’s faces are out of shot.
SCHUYLER: In other words, you’re quitting.
WALES: Let’s say it’s on account of Helen. She needs me… She’d probably be all right if she didn’t hear the ticker in her dreams all night.
A Western Union messenger arrives with the latest stock quotations. Wales, who is supposed to be getting out of the stock market, snatches the telegram out of Schuyler’s hand and says:
WALES: Gaines is forming a pool. Don’t let ’em fool you.
While her elders discuss stocks and mental illness, Victoria is preoccupied with taking care of her temporary charge. The child’s vision has become a kind of test of the adult vision. All that is over her head becomes suspect. Her eyes are on what matters, the child and the buggy, and she does what she can to help the infant, rather than ignoring it as her elders ignore her. Here the technique and the moral are welded together. Fitzgerald used to enjoy quoting Conrad’s dictum that it is the author’s job “to make you see”: here Fitzgerald, working as a screenwriter, satisfies both the literal and the implied meanings of “see.” We see the picture, and seeing it, see its meaning.
On shipboard a day later, the captain and the retired tycoon meet and talk stocks—the captain has heard that rails are going up—while the camera, along with Victoria, peers at a pig’s head with an apple in its mouth. As in the other scenes, the stage direction “over the, shot” appears frequently, indicating that while we see one thing, we hear something else; when we hear the captain asking advice about the market, we see the little girl looking at the pig. Fitzgerald was stretching the movie medium so that the sound and the picture play off against one another, so that they give us the child’s and the adult’s world simultaneously. And in that one sight/sound experience he shows/tells us that the child is hungry for food while the piglike captain is hungry for money.
Later that night, while Wales is in the ship’s brokers’ room trying to help a friend save his investment, his neglected, demented wife throws herself into the ocean. The tycoon’s boom, like America’s, is over. In fact, when Wales says, “making money… making money… then a breakdown,” his words seem to describe both himself and his country. His wife had seen him as a living stock ticker in her dreams, ticker tape pouring out of his mouth—the Market—incarnate, and the year 1929 was about to undo both the man and what he symbolized. Wales now faced what Fitzgerald himself had long feared, “emotional bankruptcy,” just as his nation faced economic bankruptcy. Moreover, man and market would crash for the same reason: they had been living on margin, or as Fitzgerald put it in The Crack-Up, “drawing on resources that [they] did not possess… mortgaged… to the hilt.” Wales had ignored once too often the madness to which he was wed—and surely the twenties had taken the same bride—and that madness would now destroy everything. Wales, who in many ways stands for the author himself, was doomed, like “one of those delicate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away,” to record all the heart-shaking booms and busts of his era.
The idea of a 1929 crash which was personal as well as national had already been worked out, although not in such detail, as early as 1931 when Fitzgerald wrote “Babylon Revisited.” But then he had not dreamed how bad the crash would be or how long the Depression would last. In fact, Scott’s short story had really been about Zelda’s crash, not his own. It was she who had gone into a mental institution in 1930, just as many of America’s corporations were going into receivership. Scott felt a great loss, but in some ways it was the kind of loss a man feels when a stock hits bottom: his treasure had been smashed to bits but he himself was still intact. Four years after “Babylon Revisited” was published, however, the incredible happened: Scott’s own head cracked. So in 1940, as he worked at turning “Babylon Revisited” into a movie, the author had a slightly different story to tell—the story of his own crack-up.
Actually, the carry-over from “Babylon Revisited” into Cosmopolitan was surprisingly slight. The mock courtship scene between father and daughter appears in the screenplay much as it does in the story. Wales says, “I want to get to know you… Who are you please?” And Victoria answers, “[Victoria] Wales, rue Palantine, Paris.” “Married or single?” “No, not married. Single.” And in both picture and story Victoria begs her father, “Daddy, I want to come and live with you… I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don’t you, now that mummy’s dead?” “Of course I do,” the father says. “But you won’t always like me best, honey. You’ll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy.” “Yes, that’s true.” Then there is Marion’s denunciation of Charles. “My duty is entirely to Helen,” she says in both stories. “I try to think what she would have wanted me to do. Frankly, from the night you did that terrible thing you haven’t really existed for me. I can’t help that. She was my sister.” Almost all the rest of the dialogue in the screenplay Fitzgerald had to create fresh out of his imagination.
The basic situation, the problem, in both stories is the same: a father is separated from his daughter. But in the short story the father knows from the beginning what he wants: his daughter back. The screenplay, on the other hand, is actually the story of how the father comes to discover his need for that daughter.
Continually drunk, fast becoming an alcoholic, rude to everyone including Victoria, cracked up, Wales is put in the care of doctors and shipped off—like Pat in Three Comrades, like Nicole in Tender Is the Night, like Scott and Zelda both—to a Swiss sanitarium. He is cared for by a woman much like the nurse in “An Alcoholic Case.” The author told his producer what he wanted her to be like—and what not like—at her first entrance: “She must not awaken a romantic pull in the audience, but rather she will justify or damn herself by her actions.” Rosalind, Gloria, Daisy, Nicole—they had all created a “romantic pull” when they stepped into a story. But Fitzgerald’s new women, heroines like the nurse in the “Alcoholic Case” and especially Mme. Curie, were made beautiful by the work they did. In Cosmopolitan, Wales’ nurse, Mary Waldron, works hard to put Wales back together again. Victoria liked Mary from the beginning, but it takes Wales longer to come around. When he does, he has taken the first step in pasting his broken family back together.
Cosmopolitan draws its moral richness and complexity from the two points of view, child and adult, and yet the action in the closing scenes has to do with erasing the gap between the father and daughter so finely portrayed through most of the story. In short, the father must learn to see through his daughter’s camera. When he does, there will be only one level, only one viewpoint, and the story will have reached a happy resolution.
In telling such a story, Fitzgerald knew that he was taking certain risks. As he wrote Lester Cowan, “The effects have been attained by contrasting the innocence of a child’s world with a series of adult situations,” but if the child’s world turned out to be too saccharine, then in learning to enter that world the father would be sinking into a second childhood. So Fitzgerald warned:
Any attempt to heighten the sentiment of the early scenes by putting mawkish speeches into the mouth of the characters —in short by doing what is locally known as “milking it”— will damage the force of the piece. Had the present author intended, he could have broken down the sentimental section of the audience at many points, but the price would have been the release of the audience too quickly from tension—and one would wonder at the end where the idea had vanished—or indeed what idea had been purchased. So whoever deals with this script is implored to remember that it is a dramatic piece—not a homey family story.
The most important lesson that Wales learns from his daughter is that preserving what is left is more important than mourning what has already been lost. Incidentally, Fitzgerald seems to have been trying to teach himself the same lesson. Arthur Mizener writes that Fitzgerald began by writing stories about “the sadness of the lost past,” but that in later stories, like “Babylon Revisited,” “the past is used only for exposition; they are about the grim present.” But here the critic is only half right: in the story when Charles Wales comes into the Ritz Bar which is “not an American bar any longer,” the air is rich with lost glory. In Cosmopolitan, however, the shadow of the past is lifted completely so that past events really do become only background. Perhaps this is because of the very nature of the motion picture, a medium which renders action in only one tense: the present.
Near the beginning of the picture, Victoria’s Aunt Marion tells her, “I believe you think more about your father than about your—poor mother.” Victoria, the eleven-year-old pragmatist, replies, “Mother’s dead—Daddy’s still alive.” What Wales must learn, of course, is to think more about Victoria than about his wife. In the end, he does.
Fitzgerald had begun The Last Tycoon before Lester Cowan hired him to turn “Babylon Revisited” into a movie, so like two mirrors facing one another it is hard to say which work reflects the other. Both are about heroes whose first heroines have died. Moreover, in Cosmopolitan (but not in “Babylon”) Victoria continually reminds Wales of his dead wife, just as in The Last Tycoon Kathleen reminds Stahr of his own. Most interesting of all is the brotherhood which seems to exist between the two heroes: they are both, in their own ways, the end of a great line of tycoons. Wales is the literal tycoon: the big business operator, dealing in stocks and bonds. Stahr is a new type: the cinema tycoon. Neither man is small or selfish; they stand in bold contrast to men who “have merely gypped another person’s empire away from them like the four great railroad kings of the coast.” Had the“novel been finished, Stahr was to have interceded on the side of the workers at the studio. The night Wales’ wife killed herself, her husband was not playing the market for himself but to save a friend. Stahr and Wales are benevolent tycoons, and the last of them.
Both Stahr’s and Wales’ rise are linked to the American Dream, to Manifest Destiny. Stahr goes west like the pioneers to be a kind of conquistador in California. Wales, of course, stays in the East, but nonetheless continues to think in American frontier terms. When the crash comes and he is forced to go back into the market to spend one last day “selling short” or be ruined completely, he explains his business deals to his daughter this way:
WALES (to Victoria): About the market, dear—suppose I was a man who just loved to hunt Indians—and then I decided not to… But one day the Indians came and attacked my house. I’d have to shoot them, wouldn’t I?
Gatsby, Wales, Stahr—they all follow the pioneers.
Even the endings of Cosmopolitan and The Last Tycoon were to have been mirror images of one another. In both stories the benevolent tycoons are threatened by a new breed of money men, destructive tycoons related not to the pioneers of early American history but to the gangsters of Prohibition. The Last Tycoon was to have ended with Stahr forced to hire men to murder his rival, Brady, because Brady has hired men to murder him. Wales’ story ends with the young man who followed Victoria onto the train trying to kill her father so that her father’s former partners can collect his insurance to cover their losses in the crash. The gunman breaks into Wales’ room and is about to fire when the telephone rings. The executioner looks for an instant in the direction of the sound, and Wales knocks the gun from his hand. It is Victoria calling.
Fitzgerald had spliced together all or most of what he had learned in Hollywood. In Cosmopolitan, the picture experiment begun with Rumpled Hair and Gray Hair in Infidelity is completed. Rumpled and Gray added a Nick Carraway touch at the beginning of the earlier screenplay; in Cosmopolitan that beginning is made to stretch over the entire length of the film. Victoria becomes a kind of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, and through her eyes we brood over the wasteland of a boom/bust world. But this story does not live by pictures alone, as Infidelity sometimes seemed to. Rather, the sound track is now used to actually stretch that picture, to make us aware of worlds beyond the range of the camera. While we are looking at the adult world, we hear the child’s. While we look at the child’s, we hear the clacking ticker and the strained voices of the adult’s. Cosmopolitan also re-introduces Fitzgerald’s new breed of heroine, and with that heroine we see again the new marriage which she represents, a marriage where both husband and wife are able to work without damaging the other.
Scott was there to drive a hard bargain, to make a deal. That was the problem with writing for the movies. You had to be such a businessman, a wheeler-dealer, a Hollywood tycoon betting not on U.S. Steel or American Tel and Tel, but on properties like Stewart, Grant, and Hepburn. The problem was worse when your producer wasn’t willing to put up much money to buy stars. Scott was an amateur, new to Hollywood high finance, while the actress he faced was a veteran who had been in the business most of her life. A latter-day prospector, she had found California gold in her curls. Across the bargaining table from Scott sat a real tycoon, Shirley Temple.
Fitzgerald wrote his daughter that he had met Miss Temple,
with whom I spent the day yesterday. (Her mother was there so it was all right.) She really is a sweet little girl and reminds me of you at 11 1/2 when you hadn’t succumbed to the wiles of Fred Astaire, lovey dovey and the radio crooners. But I told her mother it wouldn’t be long now. I don’t know whether she’s going to do my picture or not.
He finished the letter with, “Isn’t the world a lousy place?— I’ve just finished a copy of Life and I’m dashing around to a Boris Karloff movie to cheer up. It is an inspirational thing called The Corpse in the Breakfast Food.”
The same day the author wrote his wife to tell her about the eleven-year-old celebrity he was getting to know:
I spent a silly day yesterday with Shirley Temple and her family. They want to do the picture and they don’t want to do the picture, but that’s really the producer’s worry and not mine. She’s a lovely little girl, beautifully brought up, and she hasn’t quite reached the difficult age yet—figuring the difficult age at twelve. She reminds me so much of Scottie in the last days at La Paix, just before she entered Bryn Mawr. You weren’t there the day of the Maryland Hunt Cup Race in the spring of ’34 when Scottie got the skirt and coat from my mother which suddenly jumped her into adolescence.
In a more business-like tone, Scott wrote Cowan:
I was very impressed with the Temple kid—no trace of coyness or cuteness, yet a real dignity and gentleness… if the personality that she has in private life could be carried almost without heightening over into the picture, I believe she would be perfect. She has reached a point pictorially and by reason of natural charm where any attempt to strain and stress her prophetic conduct would seem a vulgarization. She is a perfect thing now in her way, and I would like to see that exquisite glow and tranquility carried intact through a sustained dramatic action. Whoever you get for the part would have to forget such old dodges as talking with tears in her voice, something that a well brought-up child wouldn’t.
Miss Temple was like the little girl Fitzgerald had created in his script—in more ways than the author would ever know. Like Victoria, who stared at a roast pig while her father and the captain talked stocks, Shirley ignored the grownups’ talk of money, but stared at the glass in Fitzgerald’s hand, which had to be refilled time and time again. Miss Temple, now Shirley Temple Black, says that she remembers that the author “visited my home once and spent two or three hours speaking with great enthusiasm about ’Babylon Revisited,’” adding: “I remember Fitzgerald as a kindly, thin and pale man, who was recovering from an illness. The thing that impressed me the most as an eleven or twelve-year-old was that he drank six or eight Coca-Colas during his visit. As a young girl, I thought this to be a stunning accomplishment—in fact, I still do.”
Negotiations dragged on and no contract was signed. The Captain of the Good Ship Lollypop had something of a pirate for a mother. “I’m afraid Shirley Temple will be grown before Mrs. Temple decides to meet the producer’s terms,” the husband wrote his faraway wife. “It wouldn’t be interesting if she’s thirteen.”
And while Scott was worrying about a star, he had to worry about a director, too. Cowan approached Garson Kanin at RKO to see if he would be interested in doing the picture, and Scott wrote immediately to encourage Kanin to take the job. “The idea,” he said, “of an old-line director dipping this one in the traditional fish-glue would make me sad indeed.” With the same worry on his mind, he wrote Cowan, “I want what happens in this picture to be felt in the stomach first, felt out of great conviction about the tragedy of father and child—and not felt in the throat to make a fat woman’s holiday between chocolate creams.
The picture never went up to the cameras, but Scott was spared knowing that he had failed once again. He died still believing that his picture had a chance.
Years later Victoria came home to the father who had named her—Budd Schulberg. He was given Scott’s screenplay and asked to rewrite it. “I read it,” he remembers, “and thought it first rate, just as it stood.”
Schulberg refused to touch the script, but others were not so timid about rewriting Scott Fitzgerald. Later MGM, the studio where Fitzgerald started, purchased the script for which Cowan had paid five thousand. They paid the producer one hundred thousand. At about the same time they bought an Elliot Paul book about expatriate life in France. So when the story appeared on the nation’s motion-picture screens in 1954, someone else got the money—Lester Cowan. And someone else got the credit— screenwriters Julius J. and Paul G. Epstein. Metro even used someone else’s title, Elliot Paul’s: The Last Time I Saw Paris.
Van Johnson played Charles, Elizabeth Taylor his wife Helen. Donna Reed was the Aunt Marion with whom Victoria went to live, and Sandra Descken was Vicky herself.
Bosley Crowther passed judgment in the New York Times as follows:
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s poignant story of a father’s lonely love for his little girl, told in “Babylon Revisited,” has “inspired” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s big color film The Last Time I Saw Paris…
“Inspired” is a polite way to put it. For what has actually occurred is that Mr. Fitzgerald’s cryptic story of a man’s return to the scene of his wantonness—to Paris, that is—in the tense hope of recovering his child by his late wife, has excited the picture makers to an orgy of turning up the past and constructing a whole lurid flashback on the loving and lushing of the man and his wife before she died.
…Richard Brooks, who directed this picture after polishing up an Epstein-brothers’ script… changed the time of it— from the predepression days to the years just after the last war, when Paris was again full of American sports. Next, he has changed the hero’s business. Now he is an ink-smeared journalist who graduates from Stars and Stripes to a news agency and then to a hopeless try at authorship. And finally he has made the wife a daughter of an American expatriate, and has arranged for the couple to get wealthy by a lucky strike of Texas oil…
Money is the evil that defeats them. As soon as they strike it rich, they begin to behave like idiots and get themselves hopelessly involved… Finally, after an odious marital mix-up— he with another woman and she with another man—the husband locks the wife out in a snowstorm and she dies of pneumonia… The rest is loosely Mr. Fitzgerald’s tale—how the husband, now sober and repentant, returns to Paris to get his child, how his sister-in-law resists him and how, in the end—unlike Mr. Fitzgerald’s lady—she gives in.
Time magazine praised the acting of Elizabeth Taylor and company, then added, “But all these excellent efforts are lost in the general effort to bring the twenties up to date—an attempt about as sensible in 1954 as mixing bathtub gin.”
At the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway returned to his dead friend’s mansion and walked the lawns where Rolls-Royce head lamps once gilded the grass and the party guests. Nick passed the swimming pool where they had found Jay floating in the water mixed with blood. He went on to the front of Gatsby’s Folly, that great palace where no queen had ever lived, and on up the steps. At the top, he stooped to erase the dirty word that a boy had scrawled in chalk against the doorstep.
Fifteen years later, Fitzgerald himself was not so lucky. After he was gone, the producers and their writers gathered about his best screen play like little boys with their boxes of chalk, but there was no one left to come along behind them and rub out the words they scrawled on Scott’s monument.