That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald
by Morley Callaghan


SCOTT’S had asked me what I had been working on, and I had told him I had taken away from Perkins some chapters of a novel. Very inferior stuff, I had decided. I didn’t want to publish it. Scott had insisted I show these chapters to him. I was to call in late one particular evening. Loretto had come with me, but she wouldn’t go into the Fitzgerald place. Scott might want to sit around drinking, and Zelda might want to stay up too, she said. I could tell Scott I had to meet her at the Deux Magots.

Zelda came to the door. As soon as I saw her I knew I shouldn’t have been there. Pale, haggard, dark patches under her eyes, she stared at me vaguely, then tried to smile and failed. I can remember the way the overhead hall light glinted on her blonde head. “Hello, Morley,” she said reluctantly. I asked for Scott. Then she told me in a worried tone that she and Scott had had no sleep for twenty-four hours. Some trouble over the theft of Scott’s wallet in a night club. Forget I had called, I said hastily. As she nodded gratefully and I went to go, I heard Scott’s voice. “Who is it?” he called out loudly from the back of the apartment. “Who is it?” he yelled again, more insistently. Shaking my head, I would have fled. But she put out her hand, sighing wearily. No, I had better speak to him, she whispered. “It’s Morley,” she called. He answered firmly, “Tell him to come in.”

It must have been a kitchen that we entered. It was impossible to look around. My eyes went straight to the table where Scott was stretched out naked except for his shorts; a French maid was rubbing his legs and kneading the muscles gently with practised fingers. “Hello,” he said, turning his head, but remaining prostrate. “Sit down,” and he half groaned. I stared at him as Zelda did, standing beside me. She had a deep perplexed frown. Her obvious anguish made me hesitate to sit down. I thought Scott was drunk. “I’ll just pick up that manuscript,” I said soothingly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Scott,” “No. I’ll give it to you myself,” he said. But he didn’t move. Again he groaned wearily. Then I saw that he wasn’t drunk; he was half numb with exhaustion. The nerves in his legs kept twitching. He told me what had happened.

Years later, I realized that I had walked in on the aftermath of the scene he wrote about in Tender Is the Night. Last night he had been in a night club, he said. His wallet had been stolen. He had accused a Negro, the wrong Negro, and the police had come; there had been a humiliating scene, then long hours of police interrogation as he tried to undo his false accusation yet prove his wallet had actually been stolen. The accused man and his friends had turned ugly. Dawn had come. The questioning, the effort to make an adjustment, had gone on, and he had despaired of ever getting out of the humiliating dilemma. Just an hour ago he had got home, having had no sleep. He was so exhausted he could hardly move.

While he told the wretched story, the maid went on gently massaging his legs., Under that bright kitchen light his humiliation, his exhaustion with the aftermath of some drinking, made him look like a corpse. Zelda had remained silent; she kept staring down at him with that awful frown. I longed to get away. Giving him a little pat on the shoulder, I went to leave. He sat up suddenly. Already he felt better, he said. Where were his trousers? We would talk. He pulled on his trousers, dismissed the maid, whose helpless look at Zelda was her only comment. Then Scott took a little practice walk around the room, his body erect; he always walked with his head up; he had no intellectual stoop. Then he went calmly into his study, got my manuscript and came out, shaking his head hopelessly. But the helplessness, the anguish in his voice now only expressed the difficulty he felt explaining his dislike of my abandoned manuscript: It was slow. It didn’t grip him. What was it about? Why had I written it? What could he say about it? The manuscript now only added to his distress. Starting to laugh, I reminded him I had no intention of publishing the book. Hadn’t I taken it away from Scribner’s? Nothing could please me more than to hear that he agreed I should throw it away. Taking the manuscript, smiling reassuringly at Zelda, I told him I was sorry I had to rush away, but Loretto was waiting for me.

“Where are you meeting Loretto?” he asked bluntly.

“I told her I’d only be in here a minute,” I said. I’ve been here half an hour as it is. So long, Scott.““Where are you meeting her?”

“We were going to the Deux Magots, So long.”

“I’m coming with you,” he said.

But I was halfway along the hall. Following me, he grabbed my arm grimly. What was the matter with me? Why didn’t we want him with us now he had told me he was feeling much better and wanted to talk? Zelda pleaded with him to go to bed. He pushed her away as I kept on going to the door. “Wait,” he called, showing his disgust with us. When that stubborn expression came on his face, Zelda said wearily, “You’d better let him go with you. I’m going to bed.”

If he had been drunk I might have been impatient with him. But he seemed to me to be simply shattered by the experience of the night before and by his own exhaustion, and it might have been true, as he said, that in his nervous condition he wouldn’t have been able to sleep, since he couldn’t relax. It could be that he needed some company. So I waited while he put his coat on. Yet so far from being himself was he that he didn’t bother putting on a tie. Clamping that beautiful white hat on his head, he said. “Come on,” and opened the door.

Outside, Loretto, worried from having waited so long, had kept herself half hidden in the shadow by the entrance. “Hello there,” she said, ready to complain, but hesitating as she looked at Scott. I protested I hadn’t wanted him to come out. In her presence he had quickly recovered some of his charm, and on the shadowed street, away from the light, he sounded like himself. Loretto couldn’t see why I was concerned. “Just one drink and I’ll go home,” he said to me. Getting between us, he linked his arm in mine. For about fifty paces he held on to my arm affectionately, I didn’t notice him suddenly withdrawing his arm. We walked on to St. Germain des Pres.

It was the wrong place for Scott to be going in his condition. St. Germain des Pres with its three cafes, Lipp’s, The Flore, and the Deux Magots, is a focal point, the real Paris for illustrious intellectuals. Painters and actors from other capitals, and expensive women came to this neighbourhood too. Andre Gide might be having dinner at the Deux Magots. Picasso had often passed on the street. The Deux Magots, while remaining a neighbourhood cafe, was a centre of international Paris life.

It was a warm night, not too hot, and the terrace of this old cafe was crowded. We had some difficulty getting a table. We had a drink. Scott’s drink had a peculiar effect on him. In his nervous exhaustion he had thought the drink would cheer him up. Instead it seemed to numb him. Stiffening, he looked puzzled. Another drink might make him feel like himself, he said. My wife was watching him. She liked him, and I saw her eyes grow desolate. His face had turned ashen. He looked sick. People were gaping at him. We could see some Americans at a nearby table whispering. Suddenly it was as if he had been recognized; his name had been whispered along the terrace. Many other Americans were there. That year Paris was crawling with Americans wanting to see everything, and having the money to see it, not knowing that in a few months the stock market would crash and the year of Panic would begin. There at the cafe they could even see Scott Fitzgerald ! He had become a legend in America; All that was reckless, prodigal and extravagant, all the women who were beautiful and damned and golden, were associated with his name. Now there he was, just as they had heard, an alcoholic.

Having ordered the second drink, he agreed that he shouldn’t have another one. He insisted on paying for the saucers. But his movements had become painfully slow. As he took bills from his wallet, some fluttered to the ground, and I stooped and picked one up. A little later my wife picked one up. Our faces angry, we kept putting the bills in his hand while he sat there so pale and desperate, his shirt open, the elaborate white hat at too rakish an angle. The elegant Scott! When I saw a man at a nearby table whisper to his woman companion as they gaped, then smiled, I hated this man’s face. I hated all the gaping vacuous faces around me. I wanted to kick over all the tables. Finally Scott stood up. Carrying himself with all the stiff remnants of his dignity, he walked away with us. Little was said on the way back to his place. In fact he seemed quite sober. I told him we would meet later the next afternoon, and as he rambled into his apartment I realized how fond I was of him.

That night at the Deux Magots, he had been in a false light. Apparently he had been making a public spectacle of himself; a living picture of all the belittling stories that were being told about him. No one could know he hadn’t had any sleep for twenty-four hours. Yet he had managed to be seen in this light—the profligate abandoned sinner! How unlike Ernest he was, I thought. In those days Ernest would have never let himself be seen in this ridiculous light. For me, they were both extraordinarily attractive men. But men seem to have some secret built-in directional guide that governs their relationship with the other people; it has nothing to do with shrewdness, or cunning or conscious calculation.

In those days, whenever Scott did something ridiculous, he was caught red-handed. But worse, he suffered for things he didn’t do; he had a knack of making himself always look worse than he was. And having a generous open nature, and great pride, he must have suffered. On the other hand, it was intolerable to Ernest to be in a bad light. Yet such was his nature, and his attractiveness, that he only needed to wait; in the course of time, no matter what he had done, he would manage to emerge in a good light. At the beginning of this story, back in Toronto, I mentioned that I had noticed that newspapermen had already begun to magnify everything he did, making it all into an attractive story. In the long run, his quality for moving others to make legends out of his life may have been as tragic a flaw as was Scott’s instinct for courting humiliation from his inferiors.

On leaving him, feeling restless, depressed from knowing that commonplace people love watching a superior man making a spectacle of himself, we wandered up to the Coupole. McAlmon and the two boys, a Frenchman and the fabled artist model, the woman of so many lives in Montmartre and Montparnasse, Kiki, were there. She was still beautiful, but quite plump now, and there was something of the clown in her lovely face. In about an hour we all began to feel restless and mischievous. What could we do? Where could we go? It was after midnight, but someone suggested we should have a party in the Whidneys’ elegant apartment. It was true that the Widneys were not there with us and might, indeed, be sound asleep in their cosy home. Down the street we went, laughing and giggling, and on the stairs to the Whidneys’ apartment house we began to make a lot of noise. Going up the stairs ahead of me was Kiki, and being the lovely clown she was, she began to go up the stairs on all fours. Whereupon I reached down, and threw her skirt up over her head. Undisturbed, she continued to go up on all fours while I played a drumbeat with both hands on her plump behind.

When we rapped on the Whidney door they both answered in their dressing gowns, and although little Mrs. Whidney had her hair up in curlers, they invited us in for drinks with considerable aplomb. It put Scott out of my mind. Next time I saw him, in the afternoon, he was clear-eyed and smiling.

Next Chapter 24

Published as That Summer In Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald by Morley Callaghan (New York: Coward-Mccann, 1963).