College of One
by Sheilah Graham

The Losing and the Finding of College of One

The curriculum for my College of One was lost. I discovered its disappearance in 1954 when a magazine editor visited me in Beverly Hills and suggested I write the story of my life. He knows, I thought. “What you really want,” I said, “is an account of my time with Scott Fitzgerald.” In recent years editors had approached me about this, and my answer had always been “No.” “We want to know about you,' this one assured me, “an English girl who came to America. Why did you come and did you find what you came for? Of course”—casually—'anything you'd write about Fitzgerald would be interesting.” I would think about it, I promised.

I had been thinking about it ever since I had read Arthur Mizener's biography of Scott, The Far Side of Paradise, and Budd Schulberg's unsympathetic portrait in his novel The Disenchanted. It seemed to me that both books had given the wrong impression of Scott as I knew him in Hollywood. Perhaps the time had come to tell my story.

When the editor left, I went into my garage, lifted the lid of the trunk, and for the first time since I had placed it there in June of 1941 I held the bulging brown manuscript envelope marked Scott. It contained the visible fragments of the three and a half years we had spent almost continuously together, until his fatal heart attack in my Hollywood apartment on 21 December 1940. I carried the package to my desk, untied the thin brown ribbon that barely held the flaps together, and, with some apprehension but more curiosity, sifted at random though the material. Ah, here were the two acts and the prologueof our unproduced play, Dame Rumor. His letters and poems to me. I had forgotten how beautiful they were. Scraps of paper with scribbled messages in his loose straight—up handwriting. The recording he had made one evening of “Ode to a Nightingale”. Some short stories I had written, my fictional account of our meeting and falling in love. I had titled it Beloved Infidel after his poem to me. I had forgotten the story and his severe editing. Here was the entire lecture he had written for me. He was on the wagon, or so I thought, when I made the tour, and I had kept the telegrams he had sent to the various cities, humorous but also intended to reassure me that I was capable of lecturing and to convince me he was sober.

But where was the detailed curriculum we had called my College of One, the twenty-odd closely typewritten pages that had absorbed us and given us so much satisfaction in the last two years of his life? I searched through the envelope again. I went back to the trunk to see if they had fallen out. Incredibly they were missing.

Everything else was there, but the education that had widened all my horizons and enriched my life was gone. Papers don't vanish. I must have put them somewhere else. I called Pat Duff, the tall dark—haired girl from Montana who had been my secretary before and after Scott's death. She remembered that I had placed everything concerning Mr Fitzgerald in the big envelope marked Scott. She had typed the name, she recalled, and pasted it on the folder. I called Scott's secretary, Frances Kroll. She was sympathetic when I cried, “My education, it's lost. I can't find it anywhere.” She tried to think where it might be. She knew how much this project had meant to me. She remembered Mr Fitzgerald's giving me the pages she had typed, but it was fifteen years ago and she could not recall specifically what they were except that they were courses in poetry, history, politics, literature, art, and music. She remembered most about the music because her brother, Nathan Kroll, had drawn up thelists for Mr Fitzgerald, who hadn't known too much on the subject and had wanted an expert to choose the best of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, and all the great composers. Had she made copies of the lists? I asked Frances. He made copies of everything, even his letters to his daughter, Scottie. The lists had been typed, I remembered; there must have been copies. Frances thought so, but wasn't sure. They had been changed and retyped so often. If I could remember what the lists looked like, she suggested, perhaps I could write to Scott's daughter to ask if they had turned up with his papers and books. Frances had sent them all to Judge John Biggs, his executor, who had given them all to Scottie.

After Scott died, I told Frances, I had deliberately erased him from my memory, with everything that had concerned us. It was the only way to survive the shock and the dreadful loss. “All I can remember is that they were lists of titles, but the order and the method I have forgotten.” I still had most of the books—about two hundred for the two—year course—and the comments he had written in them to help me understand or to make me smile. I would always have those. I had never stopped reading them. I had read all of Proust twice again, I told Frances, when I was expecting each of my two children. The long volumes had helped to pass the times of pregnancy.

The nagging disappointment of losing the curriculum increased after the publication of my autobiography, Beloved Infidel, in 1958, when I received many letters asking, What was the education Scott Fitzgerald prepared for you? Why don't you publish it? Perhaps you could help others. I strained my mind to the utmost trying to remember where, as the lists were not in the folder, where else they could be. Scottie might have them; they could have been with the papers sent by Frances to Judge Biggs. But these were my lists. Scott had given them to me. As I did not have them, they might be irrevocably lost.

Scottie and I had kept in contact after her father's death. She had invited me to her graduation from Vassar in June of 1942 and to her wartime marriage to Lieutenant Samuel Lanahan, Jr. It had given me enormous pleasure to buy her wedding gown. She was my daughter Wendy's godmother. I was godmother to her son Timothy, born three years later. In recent years we had not seen each other. Her life was in Washington, mine in Hollywood. If I had known better how to describe the papers, I might have written to Scottie to ask whether she had come across them, although I was somewhat apprehensive of her reaction to another book about her father. I had heard that she had sent most of her father's papers, books, and scrap—books to Princeton. I wrote to the university, to some of the professors who had written articles and pamphlets on Scott. But there was nothing resembling my vague description—titles of books, I repeated endlessly. The papers had to be somewhere. Could they have been stolen? If so, by whom and why?

Among my acquaintances were two kleptomaniacs, a man and a woman. They both had had access to the garage on several occasions. One winter afternoon when it was raining, I had asked the man to bring in some logs from the garage. He had taken so long I had gone outside to call him. His car was in the driveway and, glancing inside it, I saw the back seat and floor piled with my wood. Perhaps he had also dipped into the unlocked trunk and taken the curriculum, with the notion that it might be valuable. In spite of his failing, I liked him and found it impossible to demand bluntly, “Did you take these papers?” He would have denied it in any case. I thought of a method to produce the papers, if he had them. “I'll pay five hundred dollars if you find them for me,” I told him, after informing him of my loss. He was very interested and promised to do his best.

The woman was no longer a friend, and I had not communicated with her for several years. The more I thought of it, the more convinced I was that she had taken the papers. She was always puttering around in the garage. Also there had been a mysterious telephone call to amutual acquaintance, when she had said, “I have something that belongs to Sheilah, What should I do?” “Give it to her,” was the obvious reply, but she had not. I thought of breaking into her home to search for the curriculum —it's not stealing to take what is yours—but I could have been caught and arrested. I queried several people she knew, and one telephoned me with great news. “She admits to having them”—but before I could get too excited: “She says she sent them East to her family for a book she plans to write on Fitzgerald.” She was a pathological liar, but the possibility that she might have my College of One haunted me. Early one morning in January 1964 I telephoned her and demanded, “Do you have the papers?” To my astonishment, she replied, “Yes, I have.” I asked a few questions and came to the conclusion that she was lying. Perfunctorily I advised her that if she really had them, she should send them to Princeton, where they belonged with the rest of the Fitzgerald material. “They have enough already,” she retorted. 'Any big magazine will pay me a million dollars for them.” I hung up. Princeton. I must go to Princeton.

It may be difficult to understand why I had not gone immediately to Princeton when I realized that I had lost my College of One. There was some feeling of not wanting to bother the great university. Also I had not been married to Scott—a woman from his past suddenly appearing and demanding some mysterious lists. Chiefly I was worried that in going through the papers I would find something derogatory about me. Collier's magazine in 1949 had published Scott's short story “The Last Kiss', originally titled “Pink and Silver Frost', which I recognized as a hostile version of Kathleen in The Last Tycoon. He had written it when we were quarrelling about his drinking. When Scott drank, he sometimes wrote or made punishing remarks. He had written a shattering sentence on the back of my photograph during a drinking period. After his death I had taken it out of the frame to put away, and there, in writing twice the normal size, thejarring slap from the dead man. What else had he written about me in the times when he was like an angry imp trying to hurt everyone? There might be dozens of nasty remarks on paper for everyone to read. This is the main reason I did not go to Princeton before or during the writing of Beloved Infidel. As long as I did not see anything cruel, I could imagine it did not exist.

I knew I was being absurd. He had loved me. Arthur Mizener had written in 1948, when he asked me for information on Scott for his biography, that he had realized in going through Scott's papers at Princeton the extent on which he had depended on me. Dan Piper, another Fitzgerald biographer, had asked about our play. In the letter he also mentioned finding a note with abbreviated descriptions by Scott of some of the people he knew: “Don (O.S.) the Red, Ted (P.) the Pink, Rogers (C.) the Fink, and Bud, the UnTalented.” “Nothing about you,” he had assured me. Could I be sure? I was not sure, but it was time to go to Princeton. Whatever I would find must be faced.

There were forty boxes awaiting my search in the Rare Books Department. Mr Alexander Clark, Curator of Manuscripts at the Princeton University Library, had placed them on two large tables. He was respectful, kind, hovering in the background ready to help. I should not have worried. Scott himself had taught me that in the boundless sphere of the intellect there is no prudishness, no shockability. There is only evaluation of facts, and a morality founded on truth. It was foolish of me not to have come before.

I worked fast. “Not here. Not here,” I repeated with mounting depression as I scanned the descriptive labels on thirty—eight boxes. “When I have more time, I will come back and read it all,” I said to Mr Clark, somewhat embarrassed. He opened Box 39 and said quietly, “If it is anywhere, it will be here.” I turned over the mass of papers, some in Scott's handwriting, some typed. Long sheets of yellowing manuscript and torn scraps with just a few scribbled words. “No. No.” And then, my eyesafraid to believe what they saw, the precious curriculum, page after page. I had found my education. It had been among Scott's papers given to the university by Scottie, and no one had known what all the titles were about. Scott had kept the original. Since I finished the music course after Scott's death, I must have had a copy. It must have been lost or stolen. For me, this was the most priceless treasure in the universe. I laughed and was incoherent as I tried to explain to Mr Clark just how much the discovery meant to me. I hugged the papers to my bosom and in the sedate library at Princeton, while Mr Clark and his assistant, Mrs Randal, smiled, I danced a fairly wild jig. I had found Scott's legacy to me, his most important gift, my College of One, long pages with detailed courses in history; poetry; English, American, French, and Russian literature; music; art; philosophy —the two—year liberal arts education conceived by my self—appointed professor.

Next Chapter 2

Published as College Of One by Sheilah Graham (New York: Viking, 1967).