It was almost as though Scott were at my side. A telegram from him—amusing, or serious, but always encouraging—awaited me at each city. In the course of the next two weeks I spoke in seven cities, beginning in New York and concluding in Kansas City. Despite my rehearsals, I read my first lecture without looking up once. There were no questions from the audience. Going down in the elevator with some of them I overheard one woman ask another, “Don’t you miss John Mason Brown?”
In my room I found Scott’s cheering wire:
KENNY WASHINGTON RUNNING WELL TODAY I THINK OF YOU
Kenny Washington was the great Negro quarterback of U.C.L.A. Friday evenings Scott and I used to go to the Coliseum to watch the football games so that Scott could cheer Kenny, who was his favorite player, and work out intricate football strategy on the back of his program.
In Cleveland I did better, managing to take my eyes off my script long enough to flash a smile at the audience, and even to ad-lib a joke. Again, a telegram from Scott:
REMEMBER YOU ARE GIVING YOUR AUDIENCE A CHANCE TO KNOW DIFFICULTIES FACING PICTURE PEOPLE. AT SAME TIME YOU ARE TELLNG THEM THAT IF THEY WANT PICTURES TO BE HARDER HITTING IT MIGHT BE ARRANGED. DO THEY WANT TO BE ENTERTAINED OR INSTRUCTED? THE TWO THINGS ARE POSSIBLY COMPATIBLE BUT EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. CAN THEY HELP?
YOUR HOLLYWOOD ADMIRER SCOTT
In Louisville the telegram delivered to me read:
COUNTRY IS BEHIND YOU STOP RELAX AND DO YOUR BEST STOP WE ARE ROOTING FOR YOU SIGNED CONSTANCE, LOUELLA, HEDDA. I STILL MISS YOU TERRIBLY.
In St. Louis I went into my lecture bolstered by Scott’s final message:
AM SO VERY VERY VERY ANXIOUS FOR YOUR RETURN LOVE
In Kansas City I reached the top of my form. There had been a flattermg interview and picture of me on the front page of the Kansas City Star. I felt I had mastered platform technique: I paused at the right places, my jokes were well timed, and my audience seemed taken with me. When I finished, the applause was the most generous I had yet received.
Then a woman rose. “Is Shirley Temple’s hair blond?”
I replied that it was light brown but had to be lightened up for the films. I knew this because Shirley and Mrs. Temple and I often met at the same beauty parlor— Westmore’s—in Hollywood.
“What is Loretta Young like?” another listener asked.
I kept Scott’s advice in mind. Be serious, never flippant, think carefully. “Loretta is the most charming person,” I said. “She always presents a happy appearance to the world. I have never known her to lose her temper. An excellent actress, a very pleasant woman.” I added, in a burst of confidence, “But, of course, it’s always hard for one woman to know another woman. If you really want to know what she’s like underneath, you must ask a man.”
There was a moment’s silence, then a roar of laughter. Suddenly I realized what I had said. “Oh, my God!” I exclaimed, aloud. The audience found that even funnier. I sat down, blushing, and they were still laughing as they filed out.
I telephoned Scott that night just before taking the plane to Hollywood. I bubbled over. Everything had gone beautifully. The farther west I went, the better I had done. And tonight, in Kansas City—”I had them in the aisles, Scott!” “Wonderful!” he said. “I knew you’d be a success, baby!” He sounded light-hearted. I hung up, wondering, has he been drinking?
Scott greeted me warmly at the airport. He seemed tense, but I was so exhilarated with my triumph that I could only talk about myself. After breakfast, he took me to my apartment so I could get some sleep.
A few mornings later I opened The Hollywood Reporter. There, on the front page, was an editorial signed by the publisher, W. R. Wilkerson, whom I had offended during my first weeks in Hollywood by writing so disparagingly about his Trocadero Restaurant. I read with mounting disbehef:
The two junkets, headed by prominent motion-picture columnists, now visiting various key spots throughout the country—Louella Parsons and Sheilah Graham—are having a good and very bad effect on this picture business.
Miss Parsons will, unquestionably, do the businesss good . . . she should be commended and thanked and helped… But the case of Sheilah Graham is another thing altogether.
Then Mr. Wilkerson quoted from a report written by Jack Moffitt, The Reporter’s Kansas City correspondent, who had not attended my lecture:
Sheilah Graham got $200 for a one-night stand at the Kansas City Woman’s Club. The studios could have paid her two thousand to stay in Hollywood, and made money. The lecture was a dirt-dishing session that left none of the movie mighty unsmeared. Even Shirley Temple and her mother were exposed as having their hair dyed in Sheilah’s shellacking. The nocturnal past-times of an adult star were hinted at with Groucho eyebrows and streamlined innuendo…
Mr. Wilkerson continued:
Miss Graham’s speaking tour was arranged by her newspaper syndicate, the North American Newspaper Alliance, which serves a very important group of newspapers throughout the U.S., each of which gets quite a bit of motion picture advertising… Hollywood, its players, producers, writers and directors should tell Miss Graham they won’t countenance her further “dishing” to the ticket buyers on this “lecture tour” and the industry should remind her papers such “dishing” is NOT CRICKET.
The Parsons tour is a cinch to be a great success… Lolly herself does not “dish” from the hip, but spreads news and gossip from her rostrum that help the picture business.
I was beside myself. I telephoned Scott and in a choking voice read it to him. “That’s the most shocking thing—” he began. *’Sheilah, don’t do anything. I’m getting a copy. They are going to give you an apology and a retraction.”
I could only wail, “Oh, those awful people!” “Wait,” Scott said, ominously. “Wait.” I learned later what had happened. Scott drove immediately into Hollywood, to Schwab’s drugstore where The Hollywood Reporter was on sale. He stood at the cigar counter reading it. Sidney Skolsky, the columnist, stroUed by. Scott turned to him, brandishing the rolled-up newspaper in his fist. “Did you see this? Have you read this?” He was white with fury, his voice trembling. Then he turned and strode from the store.
A few minutes later Scott was on the telephone to John O’Hara. Had he read the attack on Sheilah in the Reporter! “It’s so damn unfair!” Scott exclaimed. “Sheilah did a beautiful job and this man Wilkerson— John, I’m challenging him to a duel. I want you to be my second.”
O’Hara tried to placate him. Scott couldn’t do that People didn’t fight duels any more. It would be silly.
“Oh, no, oh, no,” said Scott. “I’m challenging him to a duel. He can choose any weapon he wants. Will you come along with me?” O’Hara said no.
“All right,” said Scott. “I’ll call up Eddie Mayer. He’s a gentleman—he won’t let me down.”
O’Hara telephoned Eddie to warn him that Scott might be calling on him. But instead, Scott drove direct to The Hollywood Reporter offices on Sunset Boulevard, stormed into the reception room and roared that he wanted to see Mr. W. R. Wilkerson. A wary secretary said that Mr. Wilkerson was not in. Scott paced up and down for nearly an hour before he gave up and drove back to Encino.
I caught up with him there, after Eddie telephoned me. Scott was raging. I managed to calm him down. I had telephoned Roy Roberts, editor of the Kansas City Star, who liad attended my lecture. He promised to wire an immediate protest to Wilkerson. The prestige and re-pectabUity of the Star were unassailable. This was the best—the only—way to handle it.
Only now, seeing Scott, did I realize the extent of his agitation. My distress had only served to intensify his own difficulties. He had been drinking—I should have recognized it at the airport—and he was under great stress. A few days before he had completed the first chapter of The Last Tycoon. He had been so anxious to get it off to Collier’s that Frances had driven to the airport and mailed it from there. But the manuscript ran only 6000 words instead of 15,000. Littauer had wired him he must defer his decision until he had seen more. Scott, bitterly disappointed had immediately had a copy mailed to The Saturday Evening Post. The Post, too, had refused to commit itself.
This twofold rejection by magazines which in the past had been proud to print almost anything he wrote, overwhelmed Scott. He feU into despair such as I had not seen before. “They don’t want anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald,” he said, bitterly. “I’m not in fashion any more. No matter what I write, they don’t want it.”
He drank steadily. There was no stopping him. Frances and I were alarmed. We slipped his gun out of the kitchen-table drawer where he now kept it, wrapped it in newspaper, and hid it far back on a high shelf in the pantry.
Several nights later I came to Encino to find Scott entertaioing two strangers. They could have walked out of a hobo scene on a movie set: they were filthy, unshaven, and drunk. Scott, in his bathrobe, was pressing on them his pink shirts, his ties, and handkerchiefs. One man already had two of Scott’s Brooks Brothers’ suits draped over his arm.
“Meet my friends,” Scott said expansively. He had come upon them thumbing their way on Ventura Boulevard. He had invited them to stay for dinner. Poor fellows, they hadn’t even a shirt to their name—
I said, “Don’t you boys think you ought to go? And leave Mr. Fitzgerald’s clothes here, please.”
Scott focused on me. “Why should they go, Sheilo? I told you they’re my friends.” The two men smirked at me.
I paid no attention to Scott. “Will you please put down those clothes and go? Immediately? Get out of here!”
Scott interrupted me. “Don’t talk like that to my friends.” There was a warning note in his voice that he had never used before to me. ‘‘You go. These are my friends. Old friends.”
I said to them again, as though Scott were not there: “I warn you. If you don’t leave at once I will call the police.”
They saw I meant it. They made an elaborate ceremony of depositing the suits and haberdashery on a chair. “The lady says go, I guess we better go,” one remarked. He waved at Scott. “So long, old fellow. Be seeing you.” They left.
Scott stared after them. He seemed lost.
I knew that Miss Steffan, his nurse, was somewhere around. “Scott, I’m getting you some food,” I said, I heated a can of tomato soup in the kitchen, poured it into two bowls and brought them into the dining room. I set a table for two. “Come on, Scott—hot soup will do you good.”
He refused. He sat slumped in an easy chair, mumbling, “Being rude to my friends—never so insulted in my life—”
I began sipping my soup, thinking, if he wants it he’ll come to the table.
Suddenly, with the surprising agility he showed when one least expected it, he leaped from his chair, pounced on his bowl of soup, and hurled it across the dining room. It smashed against a wall, splashing over everything. “Oh, Scott!” I groaned. I got a dishtowel and started mopping up. I was going to the kitchen with the broken china when Scott stood in my way. “Scott, stop being silly—” I began.
He pulled his right hand back and slapped me with all his strength. The blow struck the left side of my face with stunning impact. My ears rang, and tears started in my eyes. I stood there, stunned and deafened, the broken pieces of china in my hands, staring at him. Could this be happening? Was this the gentle lover, the tender confidant, the infinitely understanding Scott . . . ? Then I saw him winding up to strike me again. I backed away.
Unexpectedly Miss Steffen appeared. She took in the scene. “Mr. Fitzgerald, please—” She advanced on him.
He wheeled on her. “Oh, you think she needs protection, eh? You think she’s somebody worth protecting? If you knew what she really is!” He took a step toward me, then back toward her. “She’s a fake! She’s right out of the slums of London, she was raised in an orphanage, her name’s not Sheilah Graham, it’s Lily Shell. Lily Shell!” He began hopping around like a frenzied Rumpelstiltskin, chanting, “Lily Shell, Lily Shell, Lily Shell . . :’
The nurse, aghast, said, “Mr. Fitzgerald—”
He kicked her hard, on the shins, and she fled in tears.
I was almost in a state of shock. Was he dangerous? I could not think of him as dangerous. This was Scott, the bad Brownie—putting on a melodramatic act. There was nothing for me to do but leave. He would wake up in the morning contrite . . .
I backed away. With as much dignity as I could command, I turned and walked into the kitchen on the way to my car parked in the back. Scott suddenly sprinted around me and stood against the door blocking my way. “Oh, no you don’t. You’re not leaving this house.”
“Why not?” I demanded icily. “I want to go.”
“You’re staying right here—Lily Shell. You’ll go when I say you can go.”
I stared at him. How could he hurt me so? I burst out, “I hate you! I don’t love you any more! I don’t respect you!”
He pulled out a cigarette and managed fumblingly to light it. “You’re not going,” he said. “I’m going to kill you.”
I did not panic. Suddenly I knew that to panic now might lead to real tragedy.
“All right, Scott,” I said, conversationally. I hoisted myself on the low cupboard and sat there swinging my legs as though this were a schoolgirl conversation. “If you don’t want me to go, let’s talk. What would you like to talk about!”
He repeated, “I’m going to kill you.” He pulled open the table drawer. “Where’s my gun?” He cast a suspicious glance at me. “Where’s my gun?” He began ripping out pantry drawers. I thought, I might make it through the door but he’d catch me long before I reached the car. I sat, silent. Finally he said, almost to himself. ‘Trances. She’ll know.” There was a telephone on the cupboard a few inches from me. He dialed his secretary’s number. “Frances”—^his voice was gentle—”I’ve been hearing suspicious noises around here. Have you any idea where my gun is?”
I held my breath. Then, with vast relief, I heard Frances’ reply: “No, I haven’t, Mr. Fitzgerald.” He had not fooled her.
“Did you see me put it anywhere? Maybe I hid it.”
“No, Mr. Fitzgerald, I’m sorry, but I didn’t.”
“All right,” he said, and hung up. He began searching for the gun again, rummaging amid the pots and pans. I said, “Scott, are you going to let me go? I want to go, Scott.”
“No, you’re not going. You’re not getting out of here alive.”
“If you don’t let me go, Scott,” I went on, quite reasonably, “I will caU the police and there will be a frightful scandal. You wouldn’t like that for Scottie, would you? You wouldn’t like that at all.”
He only mumbled to himself, “Where is that Goddamn gun!”
He began searching through drawers at the end of the kitchen. I seized the telephone and got the operator. I said aloud, “Get me the police. If I am cut off, this is my number.” Scott whirled around, but made no move to stop me. I was amazed at my own calm. To the sergeant who replied, I said clearly, “I am being kept against my will at this address.” I told him the address. Scott was staring at me with a baffled expression, but still made no move. The sergeant’s voice was loud in the receiver. “We’ll be right over.”
I said to Scott, “Now, Scott, you heard me call the police. I think you heard what they said. It will be very bad if they find me here. I think you’d better let me go now.”
I slid down off the cupboard and walked to the door. Scott did not stop me. I walked out the door and got into my car. I had trouble starting it, for now hysteria was coming on. I cried all the way home. I was still crying when I entered my apartment to hccir my phone ringing. It was Scott.
“What do you want?” I sobbed.
He said, “I just wanted to be sure you got home safely.”
“Huh!” I cried. “That’s a joke!” And I hung up in tears.
But there was to be no sleep for me that night. My telephone rang steadily. I answered once: it was Scott. I hung up. Every few minutes he tried. Let him ring. I am finished with him. I’ll never see him again.
At seven a.m. I was awakened from a tortured dream by a special-delivery letter. It was addressed, to my consternation, to Lily Shell Graham. Scrawled on it were the words: “Get out of town, Lily Shell, or you will be dead in 24 hours.” And for the remainder of that day, every few hours, a new special delivery arrived: “Leave town or your body will be found in Coldwater Canyon . . . Get out of Hollywood or you know what to expect . . .” My telephone rang repeatedly. My secretary answered. Each time it was Scott. “Is Lily there?” he would demand. She hung up. Once I took the call. “Oh, Lily?” It was Scott at his most dramatic. “You haven’t left town yet? You’ll be dead in 24 hours!” He slammed down the receiver.
A few hours later John Wheeler was on the telephone from New York. “What kind of a jam are you in?” he demanded. He had just received a telegram from F. Scott Fitzgerald which read: SHEILAH GRAHAM TODAY BANNED BY EVERY STUDIO STOP SHE IS RUINING NANA IN HOLLYWOOD STOP SUGGEST YOU SEND HER BACK TO ENGLAND WHERE SHE BELONGS STOP DO YOU KNOW HER REAL NAME IS LILY SHEIL? With some difficulty I explained this away as one of Scott’s practical jokes.
For the next two days Scott bombarded me with letters and calls. In desperation I consulted a lawyer. “I can’t work, I can’t sleep, this man is driving me out of my mind.” What could I do?
I could go to court or, if I wished to avoid publicity, for $500 two policemen could be persuaded to call upon Scott and threaten his arrest unless he stopped annoying me. I agreed—anything to end this ordeal. How would they go about it? “They’ll pound on his door about five a.m. one morning.” The lawyer explained. “We’ve found that a police visit just before dawn is pretty effective.”
“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” I heard myself saying. “He sleeps so badly. He’d just be falling asleep about that time.”
The lawyer looked at me, and shook his head. We gave up the idea.
A letter came from Scott:
I went berserk in your presence and hurt you and Jean Steffan. That’s done.
But I sajd things too—awful things and they can to some extent be unsaid. They come from the merest fraction of my mind, as you must know—they represent nothing in my consciousness and very httle in my subconscious. About as important and significant as the quarrels we used to have about England and America.
I don’t think we’re getting anywhere. I’m glad you no longer can think of me with either respect or affection. People are either good for each other or not, and obviously I am horrible for you. I loved you with everything I had, but something was terribly wrong. You don’t have to look far for the reason—I was it. Not fit for any human relation. I just loved you—you brought me everything. And it was very fine and chivalrous—and you.
I want to die, Sheilah, and in my own way. I used to have my daughter and my poor lost 2^1da. Now for over two years your image is everywhere. Let me remember you up to the end which is very close. You are the finest. You are something all by yourself. You are too much something for a tubercular neurotic who can only be jealous and mean and perverse. I will have my last time with you, though you won’t be here. It’s not long now. I wish I could have left you more of myself. You can have the first chapter of the novel and the plan. I have no money but it might be worth something. Ask [Leland] Hayward. I loved you utterly and completely. I meant to send this longhand but I don’t think it would be inteUigible.
I was touched very deeply. I saw Scott, in a moment of”frightening sobriety, writing this letter, then having it typed so I would know exactly what it was he wanted to say. Yet I could not bring myself to call him, I steeled myself. He was not going to die—not Scott. And I simply could not face going through such agony again.
For the first time I accepted dates from other men. I dined with Louis Meltzer, a screenwriter I’d known before Scott. I went to the theater with Garson Kanin, the dh-ector. I attended parties with Victor Mature, John McQain, John O’Hara. “I’ve returned to circulation,” I told them. When they pressed me I said only that Mr. Fitzgerald was a closed chapter in my life.
Then, one day, my secretary told me Scott had appeared at my apartment, insisting he wanted to see me. He had wandered aimlessly from room to room, and disappeared. A few days after his visit Marc Connolly invited me to dinner. I had not been out with Marc since the Writers Guild dance at which Scott and I had first spoken to each other. Marc, gay, witty, and extremely charming, called for me, and I thought as I went to my closet for my silver-fox jacket, there are other men in the world.
The jacket was not there. I looked everywhere. It was gone. A great light struck me. Scott! I remember rushing into the sitting room and sputtering to an astonished Mr. Connolly, “That man—” I was so furious I could not utter Scott’s name. “That man stole my fur jacket!”
My insurance agent called on Scott the next day. Scott admitted he had taken it. He had only lent the jacket to me, he said. “You have five days to return it,” the agent told him. “Then we—not Miss Graham—will start criminal action.” Scott capitulated. It might take more than five days, he said, heavily. He had mailed the jacket to his daughter at Vassar as a Christmas present. Now he would have to write that he’d sent her the wrong jacket. She must return it and he would replace it with another.
I was not sorry for Scott’s predicament nor, at this moment, for Scottie’s disappointment. Let Scott suffer. The more I thought about it the angrier I became. I’ll fix him. I took the first editions he had given me of his books—each with an inscription in it—and deliberately tore them from cover to cover. I ripped out the title pages. I threw everything into the rubbish. I don’t want to see his name again, I don’t want to hear his name again, I don’t want to be reminded of him. I hated this man. He had betrayed me. He had revealed my most secret confidences—my name, the orphanage—my background. He had struck me; he had threatened to kill me; he had tried to make me lose my job; and most infuriating of all, he had stolen my precious silver-fox jacket, the first real fur I had ever had, so dear to me that I dared not even lean back in it!
I told my secretary that if there were any calls from him, I had left town. I could not be reached.
A week later, a letter, quite formal, from Frances Kroll:
Dear Miss Graham:
Mr. Fitzgerald is himself again after six days in bed and everything he did seems perfectly abominable to him. He wants to know if there is any material way in which he can partially atone for the damage. He will, of course, replace anything, and more particularly he wants to know if it will be any help if he leaves Hollywood for good.
He has no idea where you are nor has he any intention of trying to see you. He merely wants to remove as much of the unhappiness as is possible from what he did to you.
Sincerely, Frances Kroll.
I told Frances I wanted nothing from him. I wanted only to be left alone.
The note was in pencil. It arrived several days after the letter from Frances Kroll. Written on one of his yellow sheets, it was wrapped around a little notebook in which I had entered addresses and telephone numbers. The note read:
When I came to myself last Tuesday I found this, which seems to be yours. It is very quiet out here now. I went into your room this afternoon and lay on your bed awhile to see if you had left anything of yourself. There were some pencils and the electric pad that didn’t work and the autumn out the window that won’t ever be the same. Then I wrote down a lot of expressions on your face, but one I can’t bear to read, of the little girl who trusted me so and whom I loved more than anything in the world—and to whom I gave grief when I wanted to give joy. Something should have told you I was extemporizing wildly. ... It was all fever and liquor and sedatives—what nurses hear in any bad drunk case. I’m glad you’re rid of me. I hope you’re happy and the last awful impression is fading a little till someday you’ll say, ‘he can’t have been that black.’ Goodbye, Sheilo, I won’t bother you any more.
Published as Beloved Infidel by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1958).