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


Fitzgerald was a believer in hunches—call them psychic foresight—and he discussed them with fervent interest. He had hunches about himself, hunches about other people, and hunches about the fate of the world. Many of them were confirmed by events, as notably the hunch about his affair with Rosemary. He had said that it wouldn’t be like a well-conceived short story; that it wouldn’t run its course through beginning, middle, and end, but instead would be interrupted in the middle. As it happened, the abrupt interruption was a story in itself.

Instead of taking a room at Mrs. Wolfe’s rooming house, Fitzgerald went by car to Lake Lure. There he was forlorn and lost, with no one to talk to and share his misery. His eyes clouded with tears, he stared at his unpacked bag, picked up the phone to call Rosemary, and set down the receiver before the operator answered. He wanted to tell Rosemary that he loved her and that her love was necessary to his life.

That night he indulged in the self-pity of an abandoned lover. He drank and sobbed. Sprawled on the bed like a deserted child, he tried to cry himself to sleep. (I remember that he was on the verge of tears when he told me about it some days later at his hotel.) He finally opened his bag, took his combination of pills, had a nightcap, and smoked a final cigarette—his ritual to induce drowsiness. He tossed and turned, perspired, and felt the old burning sensation close to his heart.

He couldn’t sleep. That night his imagination worked feverishly. He was playing the jealous lover. Now he tormented himself with pictures of Rosemary in the arms of a man she no longer loved—her husband. How could she, after giving herself to him without reservations? Was it because he hadn’t committed himself the way she had done? He had made love to Rosemary shortly before leaving the Inn. He knew that she wasn’t promiscuous, yet he was shocked by the possibility that she could be intimate with two men on the same day.

His tossing and turning could have revived a memory that had rankled in Fitzgerald for a decade. He didn’t tell me this, but I thought of it at the time and afterward when I learned more about his life with Zelda. During the first year of their marriage, she had said with her usual insouciance that she could sleep with another man and it wouldn’t affect her love for him. He was shocked that she thought so little of fidelity, which meant so much to him. Knowing she was capable of doing whatever she said, he felt from then on that he could never be sure of her.

What he dreaded might happen did take place three years later, when they were living on the Riviera and he was busy finishing The Great Gatsby. Whether out of boredom, restlessness, or an impulse to hurt him, or whether because of a genuine infatuation, Zelda became involved with a handsome French aviator. When Fitzgerald realized what was going on, he broke up the friendship with terrible scenes. He considered her act a betrayal of their love and trust; the incident shattered something between them.

Fitzgerald was back from Lake Lure the next day. He took a train North to see Zelda, possibly for her birthday, and then on to New York. I didn’t know of his change in plans until after he returned a week later, and he lamented that it was the first time he was too depressed himself to lift Zelda’s spirits. He was now staying at the George Vanderbilt, where I had my shop. It was a precaution: he had learned that Rosemary’s husband was gone and that she had persuaded him to let her stay on to look after her sister.

There were other reasons for him not to return to the Inn. Determined not to get involved with her again, he thought it unwise to stay in the same hotel; and, if he should be too weak to stick to his resolve and the affair was resumed, he feared that the manager would learn of it from his staff and ask him to leave to protect its reputation as a genteel resort hotel. To maintain his privacy at the George Vanderbilt he registered as Francis Key—the ancestor on his father’s side who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

During his absence Rosemary had called his secretary for news of him but had failed to learn where he had gone. She had also written him a half-dozen letters to be forwarded. Her messages overflowed with declarations of passionate love for him. As Fitzgerald read them, his resolve not to see her melted; he called her up, told her that the affair was over, but that he would see her for a little farewell. They drank and dined in his hotel, and the farewell turned out to be a tender reunion.

They were back to where they were before, except that the romance was now more ardent, perhaps because of their separation and the sudden realization that they were together on borrowed time. During the next week Rosemary spent hardly any time with her sister, who scolded her for resuming the affair and neglecting her. Her husband called from time to time to speak with Rosemary, but on most occasions she wasn’t at the Inn and he spoke with Myra, who was loyal to her sister and satisfied Ogden with little white lies.

Ogden called one day while Fitzgerald and Rosemary were lunching in the Inn dining room. She picked at her salad while he drank bottles of beer and ale. For the past twenty-four hours she had been trying to convince him that they should go away together and she would support them so he would be free to write his novels. She now spoke of Frieda Lawrence, who had left her husband and children because of her love for her penniless writer. Fitzgerald reminded her that he could never forsake his invalid; and he hedged, telling her that he was used up as a writer, a sick and shattered man.

“Lawrence had weak lungs,” he reported her as saying. “They went to sunny places and he wrote about them.”

“Lawrence had no fatal flaw like mine.”

“I’ll help you, darling,” she said with her languorous Southern accent.

At a nearby table sat Lottie with an attractive young society woman who was one of her party girls. Lottie was lunching there in the hope of running into Fitzgerald, this time to impress her guest. Her poodles weren’t in sight, but The Great Gatsby lay on the table. It wasn’t lost on Lottie that Fitzgerald was with the prettier of the two sisters, and she was pleased.

Fitzgerald and Lottie exchanged smiles. Rosemary noticed and asked him about the attractive women, but he had no time to reply. A bellboy stepped up to the table and told Rosemary that she was wanted on the phone. It came as a shock to her; Fitzgerald rose and extended his hand to her. As she left the lobby he gave her a reassuring look, despite his own fearful speculation about the call.

The waiter brought more ale and with it a note from Lottie, an invitation to join them if he was free. He picked up his glass and strolled over to their table. Lottie introduced him to her guest who, in spite of her prettiness, appeared dull beside her. The young woman confessed she had never set eyes on an author before.

“They’re a breed apart from the human race,” Fitzgerald said, with the bravura he summoned up on meeting an impressionable girl. “Never tangle with a writer. Some are vegetarians, some prefer the flesh of their brothers. Many are alcoholics or lonely eccentrics who sit and dream up excitement to compensate for a sedentary life. You can never truly know one. He’s too many people trying to be one person—if he’s worth a damn as a writer.”

“Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, I’m sure you are!”

“We’ve been chatting about Gatsby—” Lottie pointed to the book. “I was telling Betty Lou how I’ve read it three times.”

Three times? It was Fitzgerald’s turn to be flattered, and politely disbelieving. After all, I had told him about her rarely opening a book. But in this case Lottie was candid about the reason for her interest in the novel.

“I was puzzled by the character of Gatsby,” she said. “I can’t see why such a sweet man—regardless of his shady business—gets himself worked up over such a worthless woman as Daisy. Of course I understand he loves her. But—I hope you don’t mind—I think he’s a romantic sap in love with a memory.”

“He has puzzled others too,” he quietly said. He was taken aback by her final remark; it was too close to home. “Yet I believe there are still men left in our society who can feel that way about a woman.”

“Do you really?” Lottie asked and quickly added, “You don’t have to answer that, Mr. Fitzgerald. But I haven’t seen you lately. You’ve been away?”

“Quite a bit. I’ve lost your number. Where are Romeo and Juliet?”

“Juliet and Romeo,” she corrected with a smile and jotted down a number on the corner of the menu. “They’re being groomed at the Canine Chateau.”

As she handed him the number of the dog salon, Fitzgerald noticed Rosemary staring at him from the doorway. He excused himself and went toward her. Rosemary showed signs of shock; she was rigid and very pale. Suddenly she turned and rushed out. He stopped and then started after her, slowly but anxiously.

The call had been from Myra; it was prompted by one from Rosemary’s husband in Memphis. Ogden had phoned for her, Myra again lied to him. But this was the last time, Myra cried, that she would lie “to that decent man.” She sounded hysterical, going over old ground with her sister—“behaving like a hussy with your has-been lover”— and saying that next time she would tell Ogden the truth.

But Rosemary was no more discreet about her affair, nor did shespend more time with her sister to placate her. The threat, if anything, seemed to have induced in her a more willful and reckless behavior. Fitzgerald was no help to Rosemary, with his drinking and longing to have her with him. Alone and forsaken, Myra stepped up her own drinking; she took more sleeping pills and was often in tears. In time her crying jag led to a bad case of hysterics.

The jolt that brought Rosemary to her senses came one morning soon afterward. Bellboys found Myra sprawled on the Inn golf course, drugged, drunk, and sound asleep. Fitzgerald got a nurse to look after her, Rosemary arranged to move out of the Inn—possibly at the request of the manager—and took rooms at the Battery Park Hotel. It was downtown, facing Grove Arcade, where I worked for Lamar Stringfield, and a block or so from the George Vanderbilt.

After they settled there, Rosemary did something in her panicky state which Fitzgerald said was to bring about the sudden interruption of their romance. He was ready to call a local doctor or psychiatrist for Myra, but Rosemary insisted on phoning their family doctor in Memphis. The doctor had known them since birth; she begged him to fly up and take charge of her sister. The doctor agreed and called her husband. Within minutes Ogden phoned to tell her that he was bringing the doctor there in a chartered plane.

Shortly after his arrival the family doctor, in whom the girls had always confided, learned that he had two patients on his hands, and the one who most needed him at the moment was Rosemary. After giving them both a sedative, he contacted Fitzgerald, who was eager to see him and recommend a New York psychiatrist for Myra. But the doctor was more interested in his affair with Rosemary: if it were to continue, Fitzgerald reported him as saying, it would mean disaster for all of them.

The doctor had already planned the return of the sisters to Memphis. He was to fly back with Myra, Rosemary was to motor home with her husband. There were to be no farewells. Fitzgerald was to make no attempts to see or call Rosemary; and the doctor would see to it that she didn’t call or try to see him. Later, if Fitzgerald cared to know about her, he could reach her through his office. But at the moment Rosemary could take no more excitement; it would be too much for her jangled nerves. The doctor was confident that it was the only way for Rosemary to resume her life with the handsome and understanding husband who worshiped her.

Though Fitzgerald’s emotions were deeply tangled with Rosemary, he grasped the doctor’s logic and agreed to do as he was told. In away, he was relieved to have the affair interrupted by an outside force; neither he nor Rosemary was capable of going on or of bringing their relation to a satisfactory end. When Fitzgerald left the white-haired doctor, he told me that he had taken a deep breath, as if he had just missed being hit by a truck while blindly crossing a busy street.

It was Rosemary who was too shattered to do as her doctor warned. She called Fitzgerald to tell him that Ogden was taking her home. She didn’t want to go back with him. If Fitzgerald loved her, now was the time to show it and keep her there. Of course he loved her, he tried to assure her, but he had promised her doctor to give her up—to prevent a family disaster.

Rosemary cried, begged, and pleaded, saying that if he let her go, she would kill herself. Though the threat was to haunt him later, his present turmoil kept him from being sensitive to the state of her mind or emotions. Fitzgerald said he hung up, threw his things in a bag, and phoned for a bellboy. Twenty minutes later he was out of the Vanderbilt—without giving a thought to where he was going this time.

Next Chapter 13

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).