The Lost Summer: a personal memoir of F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Tony Buttitta


“It is easy to be loved, so hard to love,” Fitzgerald said at the time. “I have the awful feeling I’m using Rosemary and giving her little. She wants so much to love me, to do everything she can to pull me out of the dumps. A big order, more than she can manage, with all her youth and money. She offered me a signed blank check to settle my debts. About forty thousand. And a monthly allowance for Zelda and Scottie, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them.”

It was the first time such an offer had come his way, and from a beautiful young woman. Much as he frowned on the idea of being a gigolo, he knew she didn’t mean it that way. It was a spontaneous gesture, like buying him denicotinized cigarettes. He had told her about his siege of tuberculosis; she thought these would hurt him less if he couldn’t give up the habit.

Rosemary insisted that she loved him more than she had loved her husband. And that she didn’t mind if Fitzgerald never said he loved her. But the situation was becoming a bit difficult for him: he found it impossible to shut her out. He was forced to stop her numerous phone calls. She responded by writing love notes and slipping them under his door or sending them, by a bellboy, with a knitted tie, a carton of cigarettes, or a box of sweets. Knowing he was fond of candy, she hoped he would reach for it instead of taking another drink.

On nights when he didn’t see her, he told Rosemary that he was busy on a story or with his secretary. She would be hurt because he was shutting her out, and left with the feeling that it was her fault. He told her that it was his, not hers—his inability to love her or another woman. Yet Fitzgerald knew he was too much for her, too extreme and difficult a person, and far out of her ken. He thoughtlesslymentioned this to her one night. She fell asleep in his arms, and he let himself go and bawled with her.

Fitzgerald now blamed himself rather than Rosemary’s pursuit of him for starting the affair. It was the nature of his charm, he said; it served him well. He won hearts with this charm: a combination of his fame, his ability to make each one feel she was his only woman, his conversation sprinkled with praise of their beauty and analysis of their vagrant emotions, and his tender romantic appeal, which disguised a strong sexuality.

In the midst of the affair he thought constantly of Zelda’s tragedy, her loss of self, spirit, and her radiant being. Zelda’s breakdown had brought a change that went beyond time’s relentless role of sapping her vitality and youth. He had disliked the thought of getting old and had regretted not dying like Keats at the peak of his talent and years. Now he lamented the fact that in September he would be thirty-nine.

Youth meant beauty and vitality to him, he said, and to lose it was life’s greatest sorrow. The acceptance of the change was a sign of maturity, his friends had told him; some of them believed that he was a Peter Pan who might never grow up. He was conscious of not growing up in the accepted way—to forget one’s dreams and shut out the sense of wonder and possibility inherent in the young.

Time had a way of freeing emotions, he also said, so we wouldn’t be haunted forever by our mistakes and tragedies. As our capacity to feel loss diminished, memories grew dimmer, feelings less intense and more bearable. He spoke of this when mentioning Zelda’s vanished self. It now affected him more poignantly in memory than when he was with her; he felt more pity than love for her and his grief was no longer all-encompassing. With this realization a new sadness crept over him: the thought that, because of the steady erosion of his ability to feel this loss, he didn’t possess his old emotional intensity and depth.

Through the years I have been asked why Fitzgerald revealed so much to me about Zelda’s tragedy, his affairs with women, and his innermost feelings. I believe it could have been his loneliness and feeling of being isolated in the mountain resort, together with my bookshop, which kept him in touch with the literary world, my being a struggling young writer whom he wanted to help, and my having the quality that he said most attracted him—vitality.

Most of all, I believe, it was Fitzgerald himself and what his biographers call his “talent for intimacy.” This gift is responsible for a warmth that glows in his best writing. He reached out to people andswept into his orbit those who attracted him. It was an impulsive gesture, almost deliberate at times and not too discriminating, yet one felt it was always sincere. He revealed himself suddenly and flattered one with a show of genuine concern that gave rise to friendship and trust. As I have said, that summer Fitzgerald needed friends to listen to him and to reassure him of his worth, and I was available whenever he asked to see me.

When he mentioned his diminishing grief over Zelda and the steady erosion of his ability to feel loss, he said that it was no new sensation to him. He had described it at length in the deterioration of Gloria and Anthony in The Beautiful and Damned. He believed it was a kind of hunch and it had caught up with him, as if he had seen a decade earlier their present predicament and his inability to feel because he no longer possessed his old emotional intensity. He now lamented this loss and, at times, heaped abuse upon himself for not having heeded the warning.

It wasn’t until ten years ago that I pieced together the events of the Rosemary affair to my satisfaction. Before reading Laura Hearne’s diary, I had a collection of bits and scenes that Fitzgerald had reported, and Lottie had filled me in with information she had picked up from him. What he told me wasn’t always chronological; rather it was what was uppermost in his mind at the moment, and I never took the liberty of asking him to explain the missing or confusing events. There is no need to retell in this memoir the full melodrama of that summer’s love, tears, and near-tragedy. Most of the details are set down in his Dollar Woman’s day-by-day account.

There are loopholes and inconsistencies in the story. Fitzgerald was either tired of the affair or was too concerned about its consequences, or at times was so steeped in beer or booze that he didn’t know the score; or, being the artist that he was, he simply chose to tell the incidents that were interesting to him. There is still another aspect to it all: what his writer’s instinct and imagination did to the events in verbalizing them. In a later chapter there is more about this, and in his own words.

Fitzgerald never referred to Rosemary’s husband or sister by name; I call him Ogden and her Myra. One of the events he told me out of chronology—it happened between Ogden’s two visits to Asheville— concerned Rosemary’s sister. Until Fitzgerald’s appearance at the Inn, Rosemary had been attentive to Myra because of her illness. This was despite her knowledge that Myra had always hated her; but the moment Rosemary fell in love with him she had little time for her ailing sister.

The affair was a secret to Myra until she found them lunching in a cosy corner of the Inn dining room; that was after the romance had become common gossip among the hotel staff and some of the guests. Myra disliked Fitzgerald on sight and resented what he was doing to her sister. She warned Rosemary that she was endangering her health with excessive drinking and late hours, and wrecking her marriage with a fine husband by her disgraceful conduct. And she blamed Fitzgerald for having ruined her pleasant situation in the quiet mountain resort.

At first he thought she was selfish and demanding, and this irritated him so that he ignored her. Then he considered her illness and, knowing what he did about mental cases, he decided to be more understanding and make an ally of her. He met with the hostility he had expected; then quietly, persuasively, he encouraged her to talk about herself and suggested that she try a psychiatrist in Baltimore or New York. He made an effort to see the sisters together and on those occasions the spotlight was on Myra.

But whenever Fitzgerald tried too hard to resolve a delicate situation, it usually ended in disaster, or so I recall his telling me at the time. This one with Myra was no exception. Sitting in her room alone with her, he placed his arm about her shoulder in a gesture of friendly affection. She took it as a sexual advance, rose from the couch, and bolted from the room. He was so astounded by her act that he promptly got drunk.

That night Lottie encountered Fitzgerald in the Inn lobby, and from her I learned that he invited her for a drink and told her about Rosemary’s outraged sister. It was as though they were old friends, she said; and Lottie was highly amused by the story; in fact, she found it hilarious. She had already noticed him with the two sisters in the dining room. Once she almost stopped by their table to say hello, but after studying the pair she passed up the chance.

When I asked her why, Lottie said the younger-looking one seemed shy and pleasant, the other priggish and had the face of a snob. Myra struck Lottie as the kind of wealthy woman whose husband would be her best and most generous client. She could see that Myra had been brought up to fear and hate sex; to such women sex was—to use a phrase that Lottie had picked up—“a matter of dignified acquiescence instead of passionate cooperation.” And she was surprised to notice that Fitzgerald was more attentive to Myra than to the other sister, who was prettier and would offer no resistance to his advances.

“Some men don’t know about women and make it tough for themselves. Your friend’s one of them.” Lottie sounded too sure of herself for me to say that Fitzgerald was involved with Rosemary; she would find out, if she were to see more of him. “But he doesn’t surprise me any more. Not after reading his book. I don’t know if I told you, but we were together early one morning.”

“Well,” I said, showing no surprise.

“He was nervous and I thought maybe that was why he was so quick about it. I asked him if that was his usual way and he said, yes, so I didn’t take it personally, like he wanted to get it over with. Of course, I’ve known all kinds, but I expected a man who writes about love to know better. So I told him, if I saw him again, I’d give him a few tips, if he was interested. He seemed to be, so he asked me for my phone number. I gave him the Canine Chateau.”

It wasn’t until the next day that Fitzgerald heard from Rosemary, who was angry with him for giving her sister such a shock. When he explained to her, she understood about her sister, yet she told him what Myra had said to her about him: “He’s not content to ruin your life. He wants to ruin mine too.”

Next Chapter 10

Published as The Lost Summer: A Personal Memoir Of F.Scott Fitzgerald by Tony Buttitta (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1987, 177 p.). This is the revised edition of After The Good Gay Times: Asheville—Summer Of '35—A Season With F. Scott Fitzgerald by Tony Buttitta (New York: Viking, 1974).