“As to women,” Father Sigourney Webster Fay warned Fitzgerald at Princeton, “it is not a convention that holds you back as you think, but an instinct that if you once begin you will run amuck.” That prospect may have amused the undergraduate, but Father Fay was right. Like Gatsby, like Diver, like the young Terrence of “That Kind of Party,” Fitzgerald became a fool for love. Twenty years later he very nearly did run amuck.
In signing letters or inscribing books to women, Fitzgerald used to call himself “Your Chattel,” a curious and seemingly inappropriate phrase that conveyed no less than the truth: that he was a virtual slave to his need to attract nearly every woman he met.
Scott Fitzgerald so they say
Goes a-courting night and day
So reads a notebook entry and so he did, especially after the Fitzgeralds’ estrangement and Zelda’s illness kept husband and wife apart.
In Baltimore he made sexual overtures to Fluff Beckwith MacKie and to Margaret Turnbull. During 1934 the relationship between Dorothy Parker and himself reached its climax. In late June of that year he went to New York, where he spent a wild night on the town with John O’Hara and a “crazy week” at the Plaza with a woman who was touring with “the four Yale acrobats.” When drinking, apparently, he could not stop pursuing women. In the summer of 1935 this propensity got completely out of hand. “Women and liquor take up so much time and get you into so much trouble,” he wrote Arnold Gingrich in May. “I have always been woman crazy,” he wrote H.L. Mencken in August. The intervening months were spent demonstrating the truth of these observations.
There were good reasons for Fitzgerald to go through a period of reckless womanizing at that time. His drinking was out of control. Tender Is the Night, his too-long-in-progress novel, had come out the previous year without achieving the financial or critical success he had counted on. And by the end of 1934 it had become clear that Zelda could not live permanently outside the boundaries of one institution or another. Scott required reassurance about himself as a writer and a man, and now was liberated from one source of restraint. “What I gave up for Zelda was women,” he’d written Dr. Oscar Forel, the head psychiatrist at Prangins Clinic in Switzerland, in 1930, “and it wasn’t easy in the position my success gave me.”
For whatever reason, women were attracted to Scott Fitzgerald, though not so many as he liked to claim when drinking. “There are no good women,” he once said. “When better women are made,” he declared in his notebooks, “I will make them.” He boasted about the number of his conquests (20, he told a woman friend in 1935; 100, he told a male acquaintance the same year). Some of these were clearly imaginary. In the late 1930s he suggested that John O’Hara invite two movie stars to a party the O’Haras were having for him in Hollywood, with the strong implication that he had made love to both of them. That, according to O’Hara, was an exaggeration. “Well, he had laid one of them, but not the other, and the one he laid he had laid in her dressing-room but not at home. He did not have a real affair with her.” To Laura Guthrie—his amanuensis and (at first) worshipful admirer during the summer of 1935 in Asheville—he related a series of tales that challenged credulity. He had slept with one girl from Montgomery two nights before her marriage, and she winked at him walking down the aisle. Dorothy Gish had tried to seduce him, without success, a year ago. Hamilton Bassos wife had made a pass at him last night at dinner. He could see the headlines now, hetold Laura: “Old Roue Taken in Love Nest!” Mrs. Guthrie did not believe all his yarns. She thought the idea of women chasing men and trying to “make them perform” ran contrary to nature. Yet she could not doubt the evidence of her own feelings, or of the intrigue swirling around her.
For nearly three months in the summer of 1935, Laura Guthrie listened to everything Scott Fitzgerald had to say. Then she went home and wrote it down, and because she did and because she served as his confidante and co-conspirator, it is possible to reconstruct that dangerous time more fully than any other in Fitzgerald’s life. In September, he collapsed, and not only from drink. “My life has a cycle,” he told her, “work, drink, love.” If he had enough money, it would be drink and love all the time.
From the evidence of his ledger, with its notes on each month’s activities, it is clear that Fitzgerald devoted much of 1935 to the pursuit of women. The ledger notes little significant work prior to “The Crack-Up” articles written in October and December. Instead, the entries speak of women sought and sometimes won, including—to list them chronologically—Elizabeth (Lemmon), Nora (Flynn), Atlanta Girl (a mystery), Beatrice (Dance), Bert (Barr), and Margaret Case (Harriman). Together with the drinking, it made for a full programme.
The beautiful, cultivated, and well-bred Elizabeth Lemmon was the platonic love of Maxwell Perkins’s life. Fitzgerald met her at a dinner party in Perkins’ home in March 1934, then in July of that year accompanied Perkins on a weekend visit to Welbourne, Elizabeth’s handsome antebellum home in the hunt country of Virginia. Fitzgerald was predictably impressed by the “spacious grace” of the house and by its romantic memento of the War Between the States: a windowpane where the Gallant Pelham, a Confederate hero, had scratched his name and the year (1864) with a diamond ring the morning of the day he died in combat. He put that detail into a story called “Her Last Case,” which ran in the November 3, 1934, Saturday Evening Post. And he pleased Elizabeth and her Virginia friends by concocting a fantasy about Appomattox in reverse, with Grant surrendering to Lee.
In return, Elizabeth asked him down again, and Fitzgerald— touching base with Perkins—wondered if Max could join him insuch a pilgrimage late in August. Max could not, so Fitzgerald went to Virginia alone, more than once in the fall of 1934. Perkins knew about these visits and approved of them, for he thought that Elizabeth’s sprightly wit and good sense, to say nothing of her beauty, might have a calming effect on Fitzgerald, if she could persuade him to work instead of to play. That was not easy, for when in Virginia Fitzgerald assumed the role of the gentleman novelist among the gentry and refused even to read galleys. Then, uncomfortable in the part, he drank too much and managed to offend several of Miss Lemmon’s friends.
Fitzgerald may have misinterpreted Elizabeth Lemmon’s interest in him. Between September 1934 and April 1935 (when the entry reads “Good-bye to Elizabeth”) her name appears nine times in his ledger, more often than that of anyone else. After she closed up her Virginia house and moved to Baltimore for the winter, they dined together on several occasions. Scott invited her to meet Gertrude Stein when Stein swept through Baltimore at the turn of the year. He called Elizabeth up to tell her how much he liked John Peale Bishop’s novel, Act of Darkness. Throughout he seems to have considered her a potential, though not an actual, conquest. “This used to be Max Perkins’ girl,” he said when he introduced her to Archibald MacLeish, implying that she was now his girl. “But my God,” Miss Lemmon objected, “after knowing Max Perkins, how could anyone be Scott’s mistress!” Her interest in Fitzgerald stemmed largely from his being one of Max’s authors. She entertained him in Middleburg just as she entertained Thomas Wolfe, another prominent member of the Perkins/Scribner’s stable. Wolfe behaved with more dignity than Fitzgerald, Elizabeth thought. “Scott’s inferiority complex made him always the show-off,” she said, and especially with women. Perkins knew all about that. He had seen Fitzgerald make grandstand passes at his wife and one of his daughters. “Of course,” he said with a wry smile, “Scott thinks all women are in love with him.” He exaggerated. Fitzgerald only talked as if that were true.
Certainly he talked that way about Nora Langhorne Flynn, the second of his romantic attachments in 1935. Fitzgerald made repeated visits to Tryon, North Carolina, where Nora and her husband Maurice (Lefty) lived, during that year: in February, at mid-summer, in October, in December. He also saw Nora in New York in March. Nora Flynn was an attractive, vivacious woman, part of whose appeal for Fitzgerald came from her background and her unconventional life. She was the youngest of the famous Langhorne sisters of Virginia. Her oldest sister was Lady Nancy Astor; another sister had married Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson girl.” Nora herself had fled from her first marriage in order to run off with Lefty Flynn, a former football player at Yale and—like Nora herself—a gifted musician. Fitzgerald enjoyed her wit, envied her happiness, and admired her fearlessness. “I never look behind,” she told Scott. “Tighten up your belt, baby,” she’d announce, “let’s get going. To any Pole.”
It was to Nora that he turned as he sank into depression during 1935 and 1936. He’d call her on the phone, in tears, and she’d try to cheer him up. She also tried to get him to quit drinking and, in Tryon, provided him by her example with a gaiety that did not depend on liquor. “He loved her, I think,” Zelda told Henry Dan Piper in 1947, “not clandestinely, but she was one of several women he always needed around him to stimulate him and to turn to when he got low and needed a lift.” But talking about Nora disconcerted Zelda. Probably, Piper thought, Zelda was wondering whether she’d known the whole truth about the relationship.
What was there to know? The answer depends on the source. According to Scott himself, as he spun out the story to the eminently shockable ears of Laura Guthrie, Nora Flynn was deeply in love with him and wanted to go away with him just as she once had with Lefty. But he would not go, Fitzgerald said, because he did not want to hurt Lefty. Besides, she was a few years older than Scott, and he did not want—as he put it—to be the last bus that Nora took. Scott did not claim they had been lovers, however. “Nora’s passion lingers so long, because nothing happened,” he said.
To the Flynns’ friends in Tryon, it did not seem that way at all. It looked to them as if Scott had been crazy about Nora, and she had led him on. According to Nora Flynns own account, Scott “always said he was terribly in love with me, and it was so foolish. I cared so much for Lefty, and he did too. And it was such an obvious relief to Scott when I finally told him off, and we couldforget the sex and be just friends. He was so charming and such fun to talk with.”
Whatever the nature of their relationship may have been, it is clear that Scott Fitzgerald did not want it to end. He called Nora the same day his actual lover Beatrice Dance left Asheville in August 1935, and phoned her the following day as well. “Who’s your girl now, Scott?” she asked him. “No one,” he lied. In October of the following year, after he’d returned to Asheville, there was a fashion show at the Grove Park Inn where Fitzgerald was staying. When Nora, who was to do some modeling, called Scott from the lobby to come down, he ran his nurse ragged helping him get dressed presentably. Fitzgerald never felt sure of his clothes with Nora. Once in New York, he picked her up “in a strange get-out: top hat, white gloves, black opera cape lined in white silk—like a stage magician.” At other times he’d ask her: “Is this tweed suit all right?” “Does this jacket fit properly?” He probably had an inferiority complex, she thought. Gentlemen did not worry about the way they were dressed, or if they did they didn’t talk about it. Another thing they didn’t do was to reproduce as fiction the semi-scandalous details of their friends’ lives, as Fitzgerald did in “The Intimate Strangers,” a June 1935 story in McCall’s based very clearly on the affair between Nora and Lefty Flynn. The Flynns did not say they were offended by the story; the lovers were portrayed sympathetically, after all. But Nora’s son by her first marriage pointedly snubbed Fitzgerald six months later.
Laura Millar Guthrie first met Scott Fitzgerald on June 6, 1935, the night after the plumbers’ convention dance at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. Fitzgerald had come to the mountains to arrest a mild attack of tuberculosis. (Zelda was in Sheppard-Pratt Hospital in Baltimore and Scottie farmed out to friends.) He was in financial difficulties at the time, but characteristically decided to stay at a large, expensive hotel that served the carriage trade as well as the plumbing contractors. Laura Guthrie did not belong to either group. She read palms for guests of the Inn, evenings. On June 6, she read Fitzgerald’s. It was shaky and somewhat damp, but Fitzgerald’s soulful gray-green eyes grew deeper and deeper as she told— wonderfully well, he said—of his past and future accomplishments.
A week later, the handsome author called her at 6 p.m. oneevening. Wouldn’t she like to read a story about a gypsy he’d just finished (based in part on her fortune telling)? She would, and cancelled a date to do so. But she was still fixing her hair when he arrived and so nervous that she knocked over a lamp. Fitzgerald was all compliments. He liked her garage apartment, he said. “You have put your spirit in it.” He admired her royal blue evening dress. It showed off her figure beautifully, he said. They decided to have dinner in his room at the Inn, where she finished fixing her hair and then discovered she hadn’t brought any lipstick.
“We can get some downstairs,” Fitzgerald said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Laura replied, and he came over, looked at her mouth, and bent down to kiss her very gently. To the reader of palms, “it seemed quite inevitable and foreordained.” She was smitten, and became more so as Scott kept looking at her lovingly and saying how her voice had first attracted him, and how he felt something queer when they met and knew they were going to love each other. “I knew you were one of us,” he said, “whatever one of us means.”
Dinner arrived but Scott ate practically nothing. Instead, he kept drinking beer and ale and smoking Sanos. Laura was surprised that he carried no watch or ring or fountain pen. She was more surprised when he leaned toward her and said, “I love you, Laura.” It was nice that he had a sense of humor, she answered, for she did too. But Fitzgerald repeated the declaration. “I do love you, Laura, and I have only said that to three women in my life.” Oh, was she infatuated then!
Mrs. Guthrie was in several ways particularly vulnerable to Fitzgerald’s overtures. She was going through a divorce at the time. She did some writing herself (Fitzgerald polished a story she wrote and sent it off to Esquire, which sent it back), and envied Fitzgerald’s talent. She was, like Nora Flynn, a few years older than Scott. And he had told her he loved her. For five days after their dinner together she suffered terribly. “I was nearly crazy some of the time with thoughts of him,” she confessed to her diary. “He reaches women through their minds and yet he wants their bodies. He makes a woman who must keep her body to herself a wreck, either mental or physical—whichever part is weakest goes.” In her case it was the mind that nearly snapped, and then, on June17, the siege abated. She wished they had never met and loved, she proclaimed in a poem to Fitzgerald. Her life was “placid sunshine” a week ago, and now she could think of no one else. But she resolved to become free once more.
Fitzgerald’s behavior helped make it easier for Laura to escape from her “wayward passion.” For one thing, he demanded absolute and immediate obedience. Be ready, he’d say, and then pick her up five minutes later to go to the movies or sit in a nightclub until all hours while he spoke of other women he’d known. He also expected her to perform certain services for him as a matter of course—to take dictation, write letters, and help him relax by rubbing his head “hard, right in the back.” Laura did everything he asked—told—her to do from early June until the middle of September, but she did not like being bossed around. She was not his mother.
Fitzgerald’s drinking posed another problem. He began the summer on a beer and ale regimen, and, though Laura liked a glass of beer herself, she was not prepared for his level of consumption. One day he downed thirty-seven cans. “Beer ran down his throat like a waterfall runs down a rock, but with more disastrous results.” Fitzgerald was bloated with the stuff. His mind wandered and he couldn’t finish telling stories aloud, much less get them down on paper. Then it got worse when he switched back to gin early in September and Laura discovered that “being tied to an alcoholic whether as secretary, nurse, or wife” constituted the hardest work in the world. She put him in the hospital on Friday the 13th of September and counted it a lucky day. “I never felt less in love with a man in my life,” she wrote in her diary.
Yet she could not entirely shake off his effect on her. When he moved back to Baltimore in October, she was his “Sweet Laura” by mail, helping him with trunks and books and things left behind in Asheville. She sent him a tie that fall along with a poem that admitted, “Your magic is with me yet.” She sent him flowers the next summer when he broke his shoulder. He sent her nothing except letters asking for favors. Two of the checks he gave her to pay for her secretarial help bounced. She got $27 for the summer’s work.
Laura was understandably annoyed about Fitzgerald’s lack ofgenerosity. After all, she had seen him overtip waiters and bellhops all summer. A deeper resentment lay beneath this one, however, for one of the tasks that she performed for Fitzgerald was to act as a go-between and occasional cover-up during his affair with Beatrice Dance. In time, Laura Guthrie came to like Beatrice. In the abstract she understood that Scott “lived on women’s love and if it ever stopped he would die.” But she could hardly forgive him for preferring another woman.
“I’ve simply got to arrange something for this summer that will bring me to life again,” Fitzgerald wrote Max Perkins in mid-April 1935, “but what it should be is by no means apparent.” He found out in Asheville, early in June, with the arrival of Beatrice Dance and her sister Eleanor from San Antonio. By mid-June Scott and Beatrice had become lovers. Their affair lasted only seven weeks before ending, painfully and abruptly, but it was no casual summer romance. In fact, it was the only important extramarital relationship he discussed with Sheilah Graham during their years together in Hollywood. He’d been in love with Beatrice Dance, he told Sheilah. She was the first woman to make him forget Zelda.
Six years younger than Fitzgerald, Beatrice had pretty golden hair, large but well-formed hands and feet, and—most noticeably—an oddly appealing stutter. He wrote a tribute to Mark Twain that summer, and one evening asked her to read it aloud. When she got stuck on the “H” in Huckleberry Finn and said despairingly, “I’m so excited I can’t do my ’h’s’ tonight,” Fitzgerald was enchanted. “All I know,” he was to write at the end of their affair, “is I’d like to sit for a thousand years and look at you and hear your voice with the lovely pathetic little ’peep’ at the crescendo of the stutter.” The word that most often came to mind when he thought of her, he said, was “lovely.”
Beatrice’s father, who had made a great deal of money, was “somebody” in Texas, and she acted like a queen, expecting the best and getting it. It was not accidental that Fitzgerald was more attracted to women of social position—Elizabeth Lemmon, Nora Flynn, Beatrice Dance—than to others. Though Beatrice was married and the mother of a young daughter, she decided that she loved Scott Fitzgerald almost on sight and set out to do something about it. He was agreeable, but at first did not expect the affair toamount to anything. What swept him away was the strength of her passion, which simultaneously frightened him and stimulated an unexpected response. Beatrice held nothing back. She gave him praise and adoration. She told him the most intimate details about herself and her marriage. She proposed that they go off together to some remote corner of the world and live on her income. She wanted to have his child. She made him feel alive, certainly.
Mrs. Dance and her sister, who was in ill health, had come to Asheville in hopes that the mountain air might provide a respite from the heat and humidity of San Antonio summers. Recognizing Fitzgerald at the Grove Park Inn, she attracted his notice by reading The Great Gatsby in the writing room. There followed dinners for three with Scott, Beatrice, and Eleanor, long evening talks on the Inn’s veranda, nights at the Castle (Asheville’s closest approach to a nightclub), and finally rendezvous in Fitzgerald’s room. The help at the summer hotel soon discovered what was going on, and so did Laura Guthrie, although Fitzgerald delayed before telling her. Even when he did acknowledge the affair, he denigrated Beatrice as spoiled and not particularly intelligent. Nothing would have happened, he said, if Laura had given herself instead. Since she hadn’t, she was given another role to play.
On July 15 Beatrice’s husband Hop came for a two-week stay in Asheville. To avoid a confrontation, the Dances stayed at the nearby resort of Highlands, where Beatrice let Fitzgerald know when her husband was leaving. By this time, Laura had been enlisted as go-between, and duly relayed a message to Beatrice that Scott would return and meet her at 11:15 am. Saturday, August 3, at the “little rathskellar place” where they’d had “the bad caviarre.” Beatrice would know what he meant. He intended to break things off, Fitzgerald told Laura. Instead, the lovers took a room at the George Vanderbilt hotel downtown, Beatrice having told her sister that they’d gone for a ride in the mountains. Laura was left to alert them to trouble.
It came almost immediately, for Hop had left Asheville aware that something was wrong and determined to keep in touch. That same night, Laura had to help act out a charade by telephone. Hop called the Inn from Memphis, Tennessee, looking for Beatrice. ”She was not in her room. The telephone operator at the Inn calledLaura at home, wondering if she knew where Beatrice was. Laura called Beatrice at the Vanderbilt. Beatrice called Hop: she’d been to a movie with Laura, she told him. An hour later an operator in Memphis called Laura asking for Beatrice. Would Mrs. Dance call this operator number when she returned? Laura called the Vanderbilt. Again Beatrice called Memphis and tried to reassure Hop.
The lovers were obviously courting danger, a process that seemed to exhilarate Fitzgerald. He worked hard on his correspondence the next day and that evening regaled both Beatrice and Laura with a deadpan rendering of the humorous song about dogs he and Edmund Wilson had concocted:
Dog, dog—I like a good dog!
Towser or Bowser or Star—
Clean sort of pleasure—
A four-footed treasure—
And faithful as few humans are!
Here, Pup: put your paw up—
Roll over dead like a log!
Larger than a rat!
More Faithful than a cat!
Dog! Dog! Dog!
Both Beatrice and Laura urged Fitzgerald to leave the George Vanderbilt and return to the Grove Park Inn, where it would be relatively simple to avoid telephone mixups. But Fitzgerald stayed put, Beatrice stayed with him, and when Hop phoned at midnight once more his wife was not in her room.
Eleanor thought her sister was foolish to get entangled with Fitzgerald. He was very weak, Eleanor thought, a drowning man grasping for a straw to hold him up. Left too much to herself, Eleanor’s own health had deteriorated; she began to succumb to depression. On August 5 Fitzgerald undertook to right matters. He saw Eleanor alone and either tried to comfort her (as he told Beatrice) or to seduce her (as Eleanor believed). In any event, Eleanor became disturbed and Beatrice called San Antonio to summon Dr. Cade, the family doctor. He arrived on August 7. So did Hop.
Fitzgerald had long been fantasizing about a confrontation with Beatrice’s husband. He would throw his dressing gown over Hop’s head and knock him down and attack him before he could do anything, Scott told Laura. He’d arrange beer bottles so he could grab one and swing at anyone who tried to get into the room. He’d use a sharp beer-can opener as a weapon. The actual meeting was less melodramatic. On the evening of August 7, Fitzgerald had dinner with Laura Guthrie. As usual, he consumed a great deal of beer but little food. Then they went to a Shirley Temple movie that he couldn’t stand. On leaving, he called the room where Beatrice and Hop were staying and wangled an invitation to come over. The four of them chatted two by two, first Scott with Beatrice and Hop with Laura, then the men and the women. At 11:30 the visitors got up to go.
Scott came over to Beatrice’s bed and asked, his voice throaty, “May I kiss you good night?”
“Of course,” she said, and gazed up radiantly as he kissed her cheek.
Laura saw a murderous look come over Hop’s face and hustled Scott out of the room. Hop banged the door shut and noisily turned the key in the lock. On the way home, Scott told Laura that he really did love Beatrice. But the affair was over. He never saw her again.
The next morning, the family doctor—who had decided that Beatrice and not Eleanor was most in need of his services—held an interview with Fitzgerald. As a man of the world, Dr. Cade said, he understood what had happened. He’d had mistresses himself. But Scott must not try to see Beatrice again. Her marriage was in jeopardy. Trouble might ensue. These things ran their course. Fitzgerald agreed and made polite conversation. By afternoon the doctor and the Dances were gone, though Beatrice sent a stream of phone calls and wires and letters for days. In San Antonio she broke down and had to be hospitalized twice. Laura Guthrie recorded Fitzgerald’s reaction in her diary.
Scott was awfully upset. “I always have my way. I wanted it to end this way, but though I win, I lose.” He walked up and down and threw himself on his bed with his head in his armsand cried. Then he got control again and paced up and down. “I am glad I kissed her last night in her bed,” he declared. “Love dies of course, but it is awful to have it torn apart when it is strongest. This is leaving an awful wound. But it doesn’t matter—nothing matters.” And he sobbed aloud and went in the next room and threw himself upon the bed there.
As the philosophical “Love dies of course” hints, Scott was presenting something of a performance. In the same spirit he berated himself for being a marriage wrecker. “I break everybody I touch,” he sobbed. “I’m no good any more.” Directly to Beatrice, he sent a message of farewell.
The writ of habeas corpus that extradited you was not a surprise but it was a shock. Of course you were right to go— anything less than a complete separation would have been a perfectly futile temporizing.
But you have become the only being with whom I have a desire to communicate any more and when you were gone there was the awful stillness of a desert.
Love seems to be like that, unexpected, often tragic, always terribly mortal and fragile.
When this reaches you a little of the past, our past, will have already died, so I’m trying to write without the emotion I feel. For the moment we are both life-tired, utterly weary—and unreconciled. The old dizziness has come back (don’t worry— it’ll probably leave in a day or so) & I simply lie & think. Except that I hate to think of you in the heat of Tennessee I am glad I didn’t have to go again. And to stay here with Hop and Doctor Cade between us was impossible. I didn’t even mind much when they ganged up on us & could have faced fifty more of them with you at my side—but that was not to be.
This is letter number 4, the others having been destroyed, each one antiquated by the changing conditions. Some day darling Beatrice I will write something about you “that the world will not willingly let die”, but that time isn’t yet and I cannot get much in the form of a letter….
… I am too sick & miserable to think today. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the world but you & me. You are the lovliest human being I have ever known.
Oh darlin I cant write any more. There is lots more to say & if you’ll send me some safe adress I’ll write you there. I love you—you are chrystal clear, blown glass with the sun cutting always very suddenly across it.
Thank you for the Sanos. I am sending you some books
Goodbye, goodbye, you are part of me forever.
Despite his protestations, Fitzgerald seems almost entirely reconciled to the separation in this letter, written but three days after Beatrice left. He generalizes about the ephemerality of love, promises to immortalize Beatrice in fictional form, spins a phrase about her loveliness, and bids adieu. Fitzgerald had another matter on his mind, anyway. He thought he might have contracted syphilis, though not—he assured Laura Guthrie—from Beatrice. Not until the tests came back negative did he achieve a state of equanimity. Then, hearing of Beatrice’s hospitalization in San Antonio, he sent her a blunt telegram: TAKE YOUR MEDICINE AND GO ON STOP THE WORLD WASN’T BUILT FOR A PARLOR CAR BUT THE BRAVE INHERIT THE RAILROAD SYSTEM STOP COURAGE OUGHT TO MEAN SOMETHING TO US NOW. Early in September, when she suffered a relapse, he wrote a harsh letter instructing her in her obligations. “There are emotions just as important as ours running concurrently with them— and there is literally no standard in life other than a sense of duty… We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.” Beatrice had to “be good,” he insisted.
Fitzgerald obviously found it easier to break off the affair than did Beatrice. When he went to the hospital himself a month later, he wanted it understood that it was not for love. “Don’t let Beatrice think I broke because of her,” he told Laura. In the same spirit of overt masculinity, perhaps, he had said something to Dr. Cade that made Beatrice feel he’d betrayed her. “FIND OUT WHY S. DID WHAT HE DID TO ME,” she wired Laura Guthrie on the day of her departure. Fitzgerald professed not to know what she was talking about. As long as seven months later, he still couldn’t imagine what he might have said to the doctor that so troubled Beatrice. He and Dr. Cade had discussed the doctor’s medical career in Texas, Beatrice and Hop’s marriage, Fitzgerald’s “instinctive liking” for Hop, the futility of fortune hunting in this case, the possible problem of custody for Beatrice’s daughter, and Eleanor’s illness. Nothing more that he could recall. But Fitzgerald left out the man-toman talk about women, in which it would have been entirely within his pattern to speak indiscreetly about Beatrice’s feral passion. Finally she let him know by letter what was bothering her. “Our medical tycoon was single-minded, to put it mildly,” he replied on May 15, 1936. “I was amused at the ’gorilla’ motif as I hadn’t credited him with such powers of invention.”
Beatrice, like Scott’s mother, was prepared to forgive him anything. Often she sent him presents: a sweater, a kimono, handkerchiefs, books, flowers, annual subscriptions to Life and Fortune. Fitzgerald responded with newsy letters in which he painted his world rather brighter than it was and referred occasionally to a happy moment they had shared. “A lot must have happened to you too in these five years,” he wrote her the month before he died. “Write me if you should ever feel like it and tell me.’ Fitzgerald did not want the thread to snap entirely, and it did not. In 1964, the year after Hop’s death, an old friend of Hop’s tried to kiss Beatrice while his wife was waiting in the car. She’d have none of that, she wrote her old confidante Laura Guthrie. She’d had her life. No other man would ever interest her.
Scott Fitzgerald was a desperately lonely man, Laura Guthrie concluded. Wherever he went, that summer of 1935, he felt compelled to win the admiration of a woman. In Asheville, the woman was Beatrice Dance. But once in June and again in July, Scott left the Grove Park Inn long enough to visit Baltimore, where Zelda was confined to Sheppard-Pratt Hospital. On each occasion he worked in a brief visit to New York to see a woman; and on each occasion, if his account is to be believed, the encounter was intimate. In June he spent a day with Bert Barr, in July with Margaret Case Harriman.
Fitzgerald had first met the blonde and beautiful Bert Barr in February 1931, while sailing back to the United States for his father’s funeral. In mid-ocean all the passengers rushed on deckto watch the brand new Bremen pass in the night with all her lights ablaze. “Papa, buy me that!” Bert exclaimed to the Texas oilman in whose party she was traveling. Still clutching her hand from an interrupted bridge game, Bert whispered to Fitzgerald that she was a card shark. He was charmed, and wooed her with a succession of humorous notes. “I put in a new razor blade for you & the texture of my skin is like duveteen or Gloria Morgan ’Pond’s Extract’ Vanderbilt—it would not shame the greatest fairy that ever knitted a boudoir cap—and still no word. Are you recieving? Do you ever recieve?” Was she just going to sleep and sleep? Hadn’t she any feeling of public responsibility, any invitations to fine country houses? Did she know what she might face on awakening? “I am in terror you will wake up with an open trunk in front of you & confuse it with the trunk you last saw early this morning tottering, I might say weaving from your palatial suite—what I mean is I am sober, de-alcoholized, de-nicotinized, de-onionized and I still adore you.’
Bert Barr’s real name, Fitzgerald soon discovered, was Mrs. Bertha Weinberg Goldstein, sister to financier Sidney J. Weinberg and wife of a prominent Brooklyn judge. He called her Mickey Mouse instead, for no good reason except that she liked it. They had fun together, for she possessed a verbal wit like his own and was a gifted mimic as well. At least two assignations followed the shipboard romance. One occurred in Paris in June 1931, but everything possible went wrong and the evening ended “with a hotel keeper’s wife shrieking curses through the telephone.” The other, a 1935 meeting in New York, may have been their last. “I had 24 hrs with nothing to do,” Fitzgerald wrote Max Perkins, “and went to N.Y. to see a woman I’m very fond of—its a long peculiar story (…—one of the curious series of relationships that run thru a man’s life).” He would have called Perkins, Scott added, but she’d given up her weekend at the last minute and “it was impossible to leave her to see you.” Fitzgerald cared enough about Bert to send her all his books, autographed, and she cared enough about his work to accumulate and keep typescripts and galley proofs of articles and stories he wrote for Esquire during the last five years of his life.
Margaret Case Harriman liked Fitzgerald’s work too, and sinceshe was a writer herself, author of numerous profiles for The New Yorker and eventually of several books—including The Vicious Circle, an account of the famous round table at the Algonquin hotel where her father was manager and she herself grew up—Scott coveted her good opinion. According to Fitzgerald’s ledger, the two of them foregathered in New York twice, in late July 1935 and in December 1936. The 1935 meeting concluded with Fitzgerald badly hungover and nursing a wounded ego from Margaret’s remark that novelist Joseph Hergesheimer was “more established” than he. They were simply different kinds of writers, Fitzgerald insisted. Margaret was quick to agree, and used “Babylon Revisited” as a point of comparison. “I bet if Joe had written a story about a man who wanted his child to come and live with him and who couldn’t have her, after all, I bet he would have put in a few lines beautifully phrased, about what the man did or what he thought, or—which is worse—why that had to happen to him…. The way you wrote it, of course, the man didn’t think anything or do anything, because there wasn’t, simply, anything to think or anything at all to do. And when you read it you know, without being told, that it would have to happen to him—That’s why you can’t bear it when it does.” She’d read everything Scott had written, Margaret told him, and remembered everything too. Scott needed to be told these things just as he needed to be loved.
Fitzgerald considered using Margaret in The Last Tycoon. “Put in Margaret Case episode after his wife’s death,” one of his working notes reads. And he did depict the liveliness and charm of Bert Barr in “On Your Own,” a story he wrote in 1931 which did not appear in published form until 1979. Like many Fitzgerald stories, “On Your Own” deals with love, but the principals are properly unmarried and there is no question of adultery or unfaithfulness. Fitzgerald approached these subjects rather gingerly. “I am writing a picture for Joan Crawford called ’Infidelity, ’ he wrote Beatrice Dance in 1938. “I feel they should not have given me a subject that I know so little about.”
Fitzgerald and Beatrice may have enjoyed the irony in that remark, but he did not do what he had planned: write about her in a way that wouldn’t hurt anyone, and only the two of them would understand. He made notes toward telling that tale twice, the firstin the form of a chronology of “Tragic July,” the second listing a series of scenes for a play to be called “It Was Just Too Bad.” As he’d told fellow novelist James Boyd shortly after he and Beatrice parted, “I have just emerged not totally unscathed, I’m afraid, from a short violent love affair…. It’s no one I ever mentioned to you… and I had done much better to let it alone because this was scarcely a time in my life for one more emotion. Still it’s done now and tied up in cellophane and—maybe someday I’ll get a chapter out of it. God, what a hell of a profession to be a writer. One is one simply because one can’t help it.” That story, or play, or chapter never got written.
Neither did the other tales of adultery he proposed in his notebooks. “How about a girl’s point of view about me,” for example. “That is Beatrice or the North Carolinas [nurses in Asheville] or Nora or Marice [Hamilton]. Their point of view on a philanderer… He thinks he’s getting away with so much—takes it for granted. And really they are.’ Other notes suggested anecdotes rather than stories. “For Esquire: Jealous husband meet wife’s lover on train. The bluff that convinces all, including the reader that the wife has ’boasted. ’ And “Idea of husband who had on convention badge and lover on tram who pretends he doesn’t know husband and convinces indirectly of innocence. When he’s gone husband remembers badge.” And
(1) Man, girl, friend. Former thinks may happen but won’t—it is happening.
(2) Later—thinks it is now. Has happened and is over.
Two good reasons kept Fitzgerald from writing more about adultery. First, he understood the fiction marketplace well enough to understand that few mass-market magazines would publish stories that cast adulterous behavior in a favorable or amusing light. The Saturday Evening Post wanted what it had always wanted: stories of young love, boy getting girl after surmounting obstacles. McCall’s had printed “The Intimate Strangers” in June 1935, and that story had depicted an adulterous affair without punishing the participants, but it did not—like the plots Fitzgerald envisioned in hisnotes—celebrate the gulling of the cuckolded spouse. Besides, Fitzgerald was writing about the Flynns in that story, and not about himself. Very few of his stories portray the male protagonist in the role of the seducer, and when they do—as in “Indecision”—the Casanova is converted to monogamous love before the story ends.
In his novels, Fitzgerald was free to deal with the issue of adultery more openly. But even there, he rarely wrote about a love affair outside the bounds of marriage without making it seem degrading. Anthony Patch’s affair with Dorothy Raycroft in The Beautiful and Damned was “an inevitable result,” the author-narrator declared, “of his increasing carelessness about himself.” Late in the novel, Anthony suffers the consequences of this carelessness; he goes over the edge into insanity when Dorothy appears in New York and threatens to make trouble. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald invests the brutal physical love affair of Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson with no redeeming overtones, and obviously disapproves of the casual couplings precipitated by Gatsby’s parties. Gatsby and Daisy’s affair remains different because Fitzgerald keeps it on an ethereal plane. But Gatsby pays a staggering price for his error. When he is shot by George Wilson, it is for the wrong woman, but the right offense. Tender Is the Night conveys a similar bias against adultery. By the time Dick and Rosemary make love in Rome, their romance has died away, and their consummation has no more appeal than that of Nicole and Tommy Barban, or the French poules and the American sailors.
Fitzgerald’s novels portray adultery as ugly, wrong, or both. He wrote about the subject this way because public mores demanded it and because he shared those mores. Privately, he thrilled no one with his tales of sexual conquest more than himself. Each one brought a tremor of guilt.
During the summer of 1935, letters from Zelda served to remind Scott of his marital bond. She’d love to go to Antibes again, Zelda wrote, or back to the pine woods of Alabama where they’d fallen in love on “a radiant night… of soft conspiracy” and she’d called him “Darling” for the first time. “Of course,” she added, “if you invited me to North Carolina it would be very nice too.” When he did visit her in Baltimore, the days turned to gold. “I play the radio and moon about… and dream of Utopias where its always July the24th 1935 [her birthday], in the middle of summer forever,” she wrote him. By then he had gone back to Asheville and the summer faded away and why, she wanted to know, couldn’t they spend the fall together and take care of each other?
In response, Scott wrote a story. It was not about Beatrice and himself, or about any other actual or imaginary love affair of 1935. Instead it was about Zelda’s involvement with a young French aviator in the summer of 1924, while Scott was writing The Great Gatsby. In “Image on the Heart” Fitzgerald disguised the principal characters, but in any guise the story functioned to absolve him of guilt and to delay the painful introspection that lay just ahead. He wrote “Image on the Heart” in September 1935. A month later he faced himself more openly in the first of the three “Crack-Up” essays.
125 “As to women… amuck”: Father Fay to FSF, n.d. (1915-17), Firestone.
125 “Goes a-courting…”: FSF, Notebooks, 285.
125 Parker… “acrobats”: LeVot, pp. 293-94.
126 “Women and liquor…”: FSF to Arnold Gingrich, 11 May 1935, Letters, p. 524.
126 “woman crazy”: FSF to H. L. Mencken, c. 6 August 1935, Correspondence, pp. 421-22.
126 “What 1 gave up …”: FSF to Dr. Oscar Forel, summer (?) 1930, Correspondence, p. 243.
126 “no good women”: Guthrie, p. 133.
126 “better women … made”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 336.
126 O’Hara… movie stars: John O’Hara to William Maxwell, 16 May 1933, Selected Letters of John O’Hara, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 429.
126-27 one girl… Gish … Basso’s wife: Guthrie, pp. 119, 100, 131.
127 “life … cycle”: Guthrie, p. 101.
127 1935 … pursuit of women: FSF, Ledger, 1935 (unpaginated).
127 “spacious grace”: FSF to MP, 30 July 1934, Letters, pp. 250-51.
127-28 Elizabeth asked him down …: For documentation of the visits to Welbourne in 1934 and 1935 see A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (New York: Thomas Congdon/Dutton, 1978), pp. 231, 244-45, 260-61 (hereafter Berg); Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, ed. John Kuehl and Jackson Bryer (New York: Scribner’s, 1973), pp. 204-208, 276 (hereafter Scott/Max); FSF, Ledger, 1934-35 (unpaginated).
128 meet Gertrude Stein: FSF to MP, 26 November 1934, Scott / Max, p. 214.
128 called… Bishop’s novel: FSF to John Peale Bishop, 30 January 1935, Letters, p. 364.
128 “his girl …my God…”: Berg, p. 246. 128 “the show-off: Berg, p. 248.
128 “all… in love with him”: AM, interview with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
128-29 repeated visits … Tryon: FSF, Ledger, 1935 (unpaginated).
129 “never… behind… any Pole”: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 77-78.
129 try to cheer him: Milford, p. 312.
129 “loved her”… relationship: HDP, interview with ZF, 13 March 1947.
129 last bus … “passion lingers”: Guthrie, pp. 11, 6.
129-30 “terribly in love … such fun”: HDP, interview with Nora Flynn, 10 February 1947.
130 “Who’s your girl now”: Guthrie, p. 91.
130 Nora … lobby: Marie Shank to AM, 20 November 1949.
130 “strange get-out”: HDP, interview with Nora Flynn, 10 February 1947.
130 pointedly snubbed: FSF, Ledger, December 1935 (unpaginated): “Tommy Phipps snubs me.”
130 Laura Millar Guthrie … infatuated: Guthrie, pp. 1-9, 16.
131 “reaches women through … minds”: Laura Guthrie, “What I Learned This Week,” Firestone.
132 “placid sunshine … wayward passion”: Laura Guthrie, “You and I” (poem), Firestone.
132 absolute … obedience … rubbing: Guthrie, pp. 17-18.
132 “Beer… waterfall”: Guthrie, p. 17.
132 Friday the 13th … “less in love”: Guthrie, pp. 138-40.
132 “Sweet Laura”… things left: FSF to Laura Guthrie, 20 October 1935, Firestone.
132 “your magic… yet”: Laura Guthrie to FSF, fall 1935, Firestone.
132 flowers … pay: FSF to Laura Guthrie, 28 July 1936, Firestone; Laura Guthrie to FSF, 2 June 1936, Firestone: “If you did send me any fabulous sum it evaporated on the way here.”
133 “lived on … love”: Guthrie, p. 118.
133 “arrange something”: FSF to MP, 15 April 1935, Scott/Max,p. 220.
133 forget Zelda: Guthrie, p. 96.
133 stutter… Huckleberry: Guthrie, p. 82; FSF to Beatrice Dance, August 1935, Correspondence, p. 419.
133 father...“somebody”: Guthrie, p. 122.
133-36 affair… never saw her again: The story of the Beatrice Dance—FSF affair has been reconstructed from the Laura Guthrie memoir.
135 song about dogs: EW, “The Twenties,” The New Yorker (28 April 1975), p. 58.
136-37 “awfully upset…”: Guthrie, p. 90.
137-38 writ of habeas… : FSF to Beatrice Dance, late August 1935, Correspondence, pp. 420-21.
138 take your medicine: Telegram, FSF to Beatrice Dance, 20 August 1935, Correspondence, p. 423.
138 harsh letter: FSF to Beatrice Dance (not so designated), September 1935, Letters, pp. 529-30.
138 “Don’t let Beatrice ...”: Guthrie, p. 150.
138 “find out why s….”: Telegram, Beatrice Dance to Laura Guthrie, 10 August 1935, Firestone.
139 Dr. Cade…“‘gorilla’”: FSF to Beatrice Dance, 6 March 1936, Correspondence, pp. 427-28; FSF to Beatrice Dance, 15 May 1936, Firestone.
139 “A lot… five years”: FSF to Beatrice Dance, 6 November 1940, Firestone.
139 No other man …: Beatrice Dance to Laura Guthrie, 5 July 1964, Firestone.
139-40 Bert Barr… Bremen: Turnbull, pp. 197-98; Matthew J. Bruccoli, “Epilogue: A Woman, a Gift, and a Still Unanswered Question,” Esquire (30 January 1979), p. 67.
140 humorous notes: FSF to Bert Barr, 29 January-6 February 1931, Correspondence, pp. 259-60.
140 two assignations: FSF to Bert Barr, 24 April 1935, Correspondence, p. 408; FSF to MP, c. 25 June 1935, Scott/Max, p. 224.
141 Hergesheimer… “I bet if Joe …”: FSF to Margaret Case Harriman, August 1935, Letters, pp. 526-27; Margaret Case Harriman to FSF, August 1935, Firestone.
141 “Margaret Case episode”: FSF, Notes for The Last Tycoon, Firestone.
141 “’Infidelity’… a subject”: FSF to Beatrice Dance, 4 March 1938, Correspondence, p. 489.
141-42 write about her: FSF to Beatrice Dance, after 15 May 1936, Correspondence, p. 433.
142 “Tragic July …Too Bad”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
142 “I have just emerged…”: FSF to James Boyd, August 1935, Letters, pp. 528-29.
142 “girl’s point of view”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
142 For Esquire … badge … “Time Lapse”: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 111, 104, 112.
143-44 Antibes again … “Utopias”: ZF to FSF, summer 1935 (two letters), Firestone.
Published as Fool For Love: A Biography Of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson (New York: Congdon & Weed, 1983).