Everybody has, or had, his own Scott Fitzgerald, which is why, several times in the twenty-four years since his death, there have been spates of reminiscences about him. Sheilah Graham, Edmund Wilson, Budd Schulberg. Frances Kroll, Andrew Turnbull, Ernest Hemingway all have, or had, a separate view of this one many-sided figure, and since the enormous success of A Moveable Feast it’s open season again on F. Scott Fitzgerald, the living legend. Actually, it's a legendary microcosm, with Scott its sun and Zelda its moon.
Two cubits are added to the many-splendored structure with this issue, featuring The Far Side of Zelda Fitzgerald on pages 158 and 159, and A Summer with F. Scott Fitzgerald beginning on page 160, The Zelda Fitzgerald paintings seem to us to speak clearly enough for themselves as to require no note or comment from here. But the other related entry, A Summer with F. Scott Fitzgerald, appears to us to deserve, if not to need, some exegeses.
It is an excerpt from the journal kept by Laura Guthrie in the Summer of 1935, a period to which Fitzgerald himself referred at the time as “a wasted summer.” Yet this was the summer out of which came that series of self-revelations known collectively as The Crack-Up. The three articles in this series, entitled The Crack-Up, Pasting It Together and Handle with Care appeared in these pages, respectively, in February. March and April of 1936. These three articles were among the first items of Fitzgerald’s writings to be collected and brought out in book form, under the title of The Crack-Up, with notes by Scott’s “intellectual conscience.” Edmund Wilson, in the first wave of revival of interest in Fitzgerald’s work after his death at forty-four in 1940. The last major item to achieve incorporation into the Fitzgerald canon was the collection of The Pat Hobby Stories, also from these pages, seventeen tales with a Hollywood setting, the last five of which appeared posthumously. These were issued, just two summers ago, by Fitzgerald’s publishers, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
The background of the last years, the period of The Pat Hobby Stories and of the last unfinished novel. The Last Tycoon, has been lit up. front and center, by the Sheilah Graham book. Beloved Infidel, written in collaboration with Gerold Frank, and in a softer light—with side lighting, as it were—but no less accurately revealing, by Frances Kroll. his secretary at that time. Now Frances Kroll King, she wrote, first in these pages, in Footnotes on Fitzgerald in our December, 1959, issue, and then again last winter, in My Boss, Scott Fitzgerald, in the January '64 issue of Los Angeles Magazine, two views of Fitzgerald that belong in that still small and select gallery of pen portraits in which it is possible “to see Fitzgerald plain.” It is astonishing, at this late date, and after all the reams of guff that have been written about him, that there is such a small body of writings to which one can apply this simple test. For it is more than ever true, as Mrs. Ring wrote in these pages back in December of '59, that “the picture painted of 'poor Scott’ is one at which he would have cringed.” And it is still possible to count, on the fingers of one hand, the “true views” of Fitzgerald that are to be found in print. First was the pair of childhood reminiscences that Andrew Turnbull contributed to The New Yorker under the title Scott Fitzgerald at La Paix, and later reworked into a chapter of his biography. Then, like it or not, and whatever you may otherwise think of the “literary hemophilia” that, in Dorothy Parker's phrase (and also in these pages), made Gerold Frank “America's leading sob- brother,” second was the Fitzgerald portion of Beloved Infidel which Edmund Wilson alone had the discernment and perception to evaluate as being “the next best thing to another book by Fitzgerald himself.” Third was the modest but nonetheless authentic pair of “footnotes.” already mentioned, by Frances Kroll Ring. Fourth, and it may or may not surprise you, was and is the account of Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast. Note that we say “of Fitzgerald,” and not “of the Fitzgeralds,” for Hemingway’s treatment of Scott in A Moveable Feast, though both catty and cruel, is benign compared to his treatment of Zelda, which is malignant beyond all reason and comprehension. Though we yield to nobody in the bitterness of our own resentment of the way Hemingway treated Fitzgerald in life, at a time when it mattered and had a direct bearing on Scott’s own professional scorecard, still we can’t let that blink the recognition of the rightness of every line of Hemingway’s portrayal of him in A Moveable Feast, for there Fitzgerald stands again alive, at his inimitably exasperating best and worst. It is Scott, to the last breath and the least bat of an eyelash, and Scott would have recognized himself in its every line, whereas he would have gagged on half the items of supposedly direct quotation that Budd Schulberg put in his mouth in The Disenchanted.
It is wrong for the Fitzgerald zealots to rant and rage over Hemingway’s handling of Fitzgerald now, when they are both dead and beyond all power to help or hurt. Bather they ought to be grateful for one more true likeness, by a hand no less gifted, however spiteful. Let them take what solace may be found in the fact that in many ways, on many other pages, Hemingway racks up other exhibits of the abiding truth of what Fitzgerald once said about him, that “Ernest was always ready to lend a helping hand to the one on the rung above him.”
And now, fifth, and beginning on page 160 of this issue, we have yet another true likeness of Scott Fitzgerald, a document as authentic as a thumbprint.
Laura Guthrie, as she was then, and Laura Hearne as she is now, kept what she called a hastily written diary, in that hectic Summer of 1935, and as you read our excerpts from its pages now you may well wonder how she managed to get it written at all, hastily or otherwise. Scott knew about it, as he knew about and read many of her earlier diaries back to 1912, and the conclusion is now and then inescapable that at times he must virtually have sensed that he was dictating into the pages of this one. For as he told her at the time, “Though no one cares about you, baby, the world cares about me and you must be careful what you write about me. Though after ten years it probably would not hurt anyone.”
She kept it almost thirty, before allowing even its present partial publication. Of course, he also told her, “Stick with me, baby, and I’ll get you published.” and in a sense he was as good us his word. This is not the first time, though it may well be the Inst, that Esquire helped him make good on some of his rasher undertakings.
Laura Guthrie was born in New York seventy-two years ago. Like Scott, her birthday was in September. Her maiden name was Millar and her marathon diary writing, which continues to today, began in 1911 when she was in school in Lausanne. (The 1912 diary that Scott read covered a visit she made to Russia with her father.) She attended Barnard for two years, then transferred to the Columbia University School of Journalism, from which she was graduated in 1917. Like Scott, she had TB, and she was sent to Asheville for it in 1932. The climate agreed with her, and she has stayed there ever since. Her husband William C. Guthrie and her then five-year-old son stayed on in New York. She had arrived in Asheville with little money, expecting not to stay there very long, and it was at the suggestion of the doctor who wanted her to prolong her visit for the sake of her health that she began telling fortunes for money at the Grove Park Inn. It was there, although the diary discreetly calls it the Davies Inn, that she met Scott Fitzgerald. This breach of the diary’s security, almost twenty years beyond the limit of caution Scott enjoined upon her, seems hardly foolhardy now, since both the Turnbull biography and his collection of The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald have long since revealed to all interested scholars that the Grove Park was where Scott stayed in Asheville. (Might as well call Asheville Gnashvilie.) She finally gave William Guthrie the divorce he asked for, and he subsequently died of cancer. Scott said he liked the name Guthrie: “It’s a toothy name. You can get your teeth into it.”
Properly, her name has been Laura Millar Hearne for the past decade, since her second husband’s death, but since she is referred to in the Turnbull books, rather confusingly for the average quick or casual reader, both as Laura Guthrie and as Laura Hearne, it seemed best to recapture both identities and obviate all possible confusion by combining her successive surnames into one composite by-line, thus disarming that future scholar who might devote a mammoth thesis to proving how Laura Hearne stole all of Laura Guthrie’s material, only to be refuted, at even more ponderous length, by some scholar with still thicker spectacles who would triumphantly show how Laura Guthrie had stolen it all from Laura Hearne. By this adroit device, she has saved both embattled ladies from the infernal fate of going endlessly down through literary history eternally pulling each other’s hair.
Her account is further enriched by two of the best photographs, that is, best as likenesses, of Scott Fitzgerald that we've ever seen. Both were taken, of course, after the passing of the briefly experimental moustache referred to in the early pages of the diary. Looking at them now, seeing again those saddle shoes and that pullover, and regarding again the degage elegance of that battered hat, we feel the tug of temptation to offer up one small footnote of our own, to confound the confusion that legend has already begun to throw up around The Crack-Up series of articles. Since this diary illuminates the background against which they were written, we may as well add a note concerning the circumstances of their origin.
In the early Spring of 1935, having flown down to Baltimore from New York, we arrived at 1307 Park Avenue at the approximate time of the milkman’s morning rounds, and found a note pinned to the front door bidding us to come right on up to the top floor. There Scott, clad in a grubby bathrobe, crawled shakily down off a high stool, essaying as he did so a courtly bow worthy of Cyrano making a groundsweeping gesture with his plume. The one hitch was that the cord of the bathrobe was caught in the grand downward swoop of the right arm, revealing all that Scott Fitzgerald had to reveal. It was unimportant then, and would be now, had not A Moveable Feast lent this question a sudden unspeakable currency. So we will answer it, from eyewitness authority, the way Rolls-Royce has always answered all queries as to just how much horsepower they hide under their distinctive hood, with just one word: adequate.
Later that day, Scott sat with us at the airport, out on the landing field, perched on an improvised seat, in very much the same slightly hunched position ns in the picture on page 161. He was wearing those same saddle shoes, pipe-clayed like a British soldier’s belt, grey flannel slacks, venerable but gracefully aged and still supremely well-cut, and the black pullover that, aside from being vastly becoming, contrived to make him look, though almost thirty-eight, as if he could never be more than six or seven years out of Princeton.
The plane was late, and obviously going to be later, so we whiled the time by alternately starting and finishing lines from Rupert Brooke. It was when his turn had brought him to the words…
“Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose…”
after we had started with “The damned ship lurched and slithered…” that he broke the pattern, as we started to go on with “the long sea rolled"—by saying:
“The trouble is, my cold gorge does, every time I sit down to write a story of young love for The Saturday Evening Post. But I'm so overextended that unless I do, the damned ship will do more than lurch and slither: the damned ship will sink.”
“Write us just that,” we said, “and in language as unbuttoned as you like. It may not be publishable, but it will at least serve to supply us with a stack of manuscript to show the auditors the next time they question another advance. And, who knows? it might also serve to break a block.”
The plane came then, to take us back to “his” hotel, the Plaza in New York.
He didn’t take us up on the suggestion of padding the ms. files with automatic writing interstitially placed between reiterations of the leitmotif of “Why I can’t write stories of young love for The Saturday Evening Post.” In fact, for a long time nothing happened, although all that summer the little piddling niggling overnight advances of money, almost always by telegraph transfer, kept going to Asheville, to Tryon, to Hendersonville, to Highlands, to Lake Lure, and ever and again to Asheville in between. And now, reading A Summer with F. Scott Fitzgerald, we understand why.
But late that fall, from a hotel room in Hendersonville, came the ms. that ran the following spring as The Crack-Up series, reading memorably here as “One should be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise,” and there as “in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning” and, most memorably of all. in another place, as “… the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness.”
Wasted summer indeed! Seldom, in the long history of author- editor relationship, can such a modicum of faith have been so hugely rewarded.
Published in Esquire magazine (December, 1964, Publisher's Page - pp. 8, 10, 12, 16).