In a discarded version of The Great Gatsby, the hero confesses, “I don't care how much people talk about me, hate me. Just so I could make them admire me, make everybody admire me.” This was the Scott of 1924. He had matured greatly in the following fifteen years, but he still enjoyed being the focal point of the few parties we attended. I remember at the home of Frances and Albert Hackett he simply took over the party, sliding down the staircase, inventing games, involving everyone there. He still sometimes felt the need to impress, to extend himself, to be different.
When he decided to give me an education—as the Irish and Scotch pioneers who had struck it rich in the West had done, importing peasant girls to marry, he told me—I soon realized that we would not try to cover the usual courses listed in college catalogues. This education would bear the unmistakable stamp of Scott Fitzgerald. It was not enough to have a good curriculum. There must be a fascinating new system.
There was a question of time. We were both busy people. How many hours a day could we spend on this extracurricular project? There was the great necessity for us both to earn money, especially Scott. He was always short of cash and always trying to make it in a hurry, to pay his bills, so many of them; to send cheques to Zelda's sanatorium, to her mother in Montgomery, Alabama, when Zelda was well enough to stay with her; to pay for Scottie's school and clothes, for the cost of her visits to her mother and her friends; then his own living expenses. He paid $60 a month, the top price at the time, to themajestic Negro housekeeper at Encino who created the exotic meals he enjoyed—crab soup, lobster soup, strange salads, frothy desserts, delicious iced tea topped with a sprig of mint. He paid $130 a month to his secretary, which was good pay for a girl in her first job (I was giving mine $25 a week). There were the telephone bills; when he was drinking he would call all over America. The rent: $280 a month at Malibu, $250 at Encino, where we started our College of One. It was a large house with a panelled living room, dining room, and study on the ground floor, as well as a huge kitchen and pantry and a maid's room and bath. Upstairs was his spacious bedroom with a dressing room, bathroom, and balcony, on which he paced while dictating. On week—ends I occupied the spare bedroom, its bathroom papered with ancient maps of the Pacific Islands. Whenever I awakened at night, I could hear him walking up and down, up and down. Sometimes he did not sleep until six in the morning, after all the sleeping pills had finally taken effect. Doctors were always coming for one thing or another. One of the early ones —not Dr Clarence Nelson, who helped him so much in the last eighteen months of his life—charged him $100 a visit when he came late in the evening. This doctor actually encouraged Scott to drink, and one desperate evening I wrote him a letter.
The only way to save Scott is to get him to a hospital where he cannot get liquor. Otherwise you know better than I do what will happen to this very fine person. Everything else is utterly futile and you know it. At present, the situation is ridiculous. He has two nurses and one doctor and he is drinking at least a pint of gin a day! It is also stupid for you to regard me as the villainess in the piece because I cannot bear to see him drinking. I shall definitely not see him again. My absolutely last word on the entire unhappy matter is that if you cannot do anything to save him, in the name of God, find someone who can. Please don't communicate with me in any way.
Scott was paid well when he worked at the studios, sometimes as much as $1500 a week. But after the firsteighteen months (during which he had been under contract at Metro), and especially following the disastrous episode at Dartmouth, when he was unable to continue with Walter Wanger's film Winter Carnival, the studio jobs were of brief duration. Usually after a few weeks there would be a problem, a clash with a 'feeb”—the producer or director—or the sudden illness that fooled no one. Or he would be fired by executives too content with what Scott described as the 'practised excellence” of hack writers. They were really puzzled by his scripts. When he was hired by 20th Century—Fox to write the film version of Emlyn Williams” play The Light of Heart, in which John Barrymore was to play a drunken Santa Claus with a lame daughter (he had dropped her when she was a baby), he thought of a better plan than the one he had originally outlined to Darryl Zanuck. One scene I remember was to have the camera pan to the queue waiting to see Santa, and there at the end of the line, Barrymore in his red suit and cap, blind drunk. As with so many of Scott's film projects, it was never made. When he had presented his new outline to the producer, he was reprimanded “This is different from what we discussed.” Nunnally Johnson, who was brought in to rewrite the story, remonstrated, “It's the best script I have ever read.” Joe Mankiewicz, the producer of Three Comrades, Scott's sole 'credit” in Hollywood, had used the same words, zooming Scott to the heights, but had brought him sharply to earth when he rewrote two—thirds of the script. Scott had been on this project several months and preserved a scrap of his dialogue on the inside back cover of my copy of the Remarque novel.
PAT: There never was much.
KOSTER: Yes, there was. I am very sure when he speaks of you and I look into his eyes that there has been everything.
PAT [faraway]: For me too—everything. [Shakes her head in sudden fear.] Oh, God!
KOSTER: It's been absolutely right, Pat. Even if things were as bad as you say, I'm glad you and Bob have had this happiness together. Bob's my son, Pat. It wasn't in the cards for me to marry and have a home, and one imagined, sometimes, he was my son growing and developing, but it was a pretty bleak world I brought him up in—until you came. Yes, I know you feel that [breathlessly] it hasn't been hard to give everything, but you're what the doctor ordered …
Between studio jobs Scott would write another Pat Hobby story for Esquire; some of these gave him great amusement. I remember his discussing “Boil Some Water, Lots of It”. 'This line is said in nearly every movie,” Scott said, laughing. Some of the Pat Hobbies he wished he had never written. “There were two in your last editions,” I wrote Arnold Gingrich of Esquire magazine on 24 December 1940, three days after Scott's death, “he wouldn't let me see them and was quite embarrassed when I asked him to show them to me. He said they were terrible. All of the previously published Pat Hobbies he had wanted me to read.” Then, before making a request, I told him about The Last Tycoon.
Did you know he was writing a novel? He was three—fourths of the way through the first draft. It had brilliant passages, but of course he had intended to rewrite. I know the finished result would have been as brilliant as anything he ever published. We'll never know. I tell you this because I hope you will do something that I know Scott would want.
I think you have four Pat Hobbies left. Against two of them—'Two Old Timers” and “Mightier than the Sword” —on the copies of these he had written “Poor”. As for “College Days”—this was written during a drinking period, and he did not read it to me so I don't know whether it was as good as the best Pat Hobby or as bad as the worst. I think you still have “Fun in an Artist's Studio” to publish. This one he liked very much. Would it be asking an awful lot of you to refrain from publishing the two Pat Hobbies he had marked “Poor'? And, if you think “College Days” not good, to refrain from publishing that one as well? It breaks my heart to have people, young people who didn't know how good a writer Scott could be, read those bad ones and say, 'Oh, so that was the sort ofthing he wrote. I wonder why they made all that fuss about him?”
About a week ago I read the Great Gatsby again, and he was a great, great writer. I told him at the time that if he never wrote another line again, his place in literature was fixed for all time on Gatsby. And, of course, there were passages in Tender Is the Night that are the best I've ever read, and I've done a lot of reading.
I'll tell you the story he liked best of all the recent stories he sent you—'Between Planes', which I believe you were going to publish under another name. Of course, there's no need to hide the identity now. I know he would appreciate it if you could publish that one next, because the next story by him that appears will naturally have a wider interest, and I think this one is the best of those you have. I think he quite liked “A Woman from 21', and I've forgotten how he felt about “On an Ocean Wave”.
Yours sincerely, Sheilah Graham
P.S. He had not had anything stronger than Coca—Cola for a year and three weeks.
When I mentioned this to Edmund Wilson recently, he disagreed with me. He believed that everything written by Scott should be published. I now realize that Gingrich was right in publishing all the Pat Hobby stories.
The time Scott gave to our College of One meant that he earned less money. He never did anything halfheartedly, and the education consumed an enormous amount of his remaining hours, days, and months. When his money situation was critical, late in 1939; when he had been drinking heavily and his agent, Harold Ober, had regretfully refused further advances for the book no one believed he was capable of completing, Scott became his own agent and sold his fine short story, “Babylon Revisited', to an independent producer, Lester Cowan, for the shockingly low price of $1000. Cowan hired Scott to write the screen play and paid him another $300 a week for ten weeks. The $4000 gave the producer eternal film rights to the story, whatever kind of films were madefrom it—no matter where they were shown, to one person or a million. It was the most ruthless contract I have ever read. Cowan later sold the story to Metro with a different script for $100,000, and they produced it with Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson, under another title, The Last Time I Saw Paris, from the book by Elliot Paul. Cowan still has Scott's original scenario, which was to have starred Shirley Temple (she was eleven at the time) and Cary Grant. On the Fitzgerald market today, it could bring a price in six figures. Mr Cowan, I was happy to learn, had to pay Scottie $75,000 for The Last Tycoon, and another $150,000 to Irwin Shaw to complete the story for the film he plans to produce at MGM. But the $4,000 was a lifesaver. It kept Scott going. It gave him time for his book and for my education.
I was busy with my seven columns a week. This meant going to the studios almost every day, telephoning stars, producers, and agents, chasing news leads, undertaking a lecture tour arranged by my syndicate as a means of keeping in contact with my editors, entertaining the editors when they came to Hollywood with their wives and children, an occasional press junket out of town for the premiere of an important picture—only once in the last year; I didn't want to leave Scott or the education for the various industry functions. Scott came with me to the Academy Awards of 1938. In those days the Oscars were presented at a dinner in the Cocoanut Grove, accompanied by interminable speeches. Completely bored with the proceedings, Scott took out his pencil and notebook and wrote a poem.
THE BIG ACADEMY DINNER
The men were wearier and wearier,
The women were thinner and thinner,
The speeches drearier and drearier
At the Big Academy Dinner.
Writers were more and more pensive
Except for an occasional beginner,
Women were horribly expensive
At the Big Academy Dinner.
At the Metro—Goldwyn table
Winner sat next to winner
And cheered at much as they were able
At the Big Academy Dinner.
Garbo, the lovely barber,
Cooker, the tall mule skinner,
Had sailed into harbour
At the Big Academy Dinner.
But also the pimp and crook,
Also the pious sinner,
And none of them got the hook
At the Big Academy Dinner.
May the peritone cause me pain,
May ulcers puncture my inner
Tubes if I go again
To the Big Academy Dinner.
Once we had embarked on College of One, I gave it all the time I could. I employed Jonah Ruddy to cover the banquets, the junkets, and the studios, although I did the writing and the important interviews. Scott and I both enjoyed films—he was avidly studying techniques—and we attended most of the previews. Also we went to the plays that originated in Los Angeles or came from Broadway; that was part of the education. When Maurice Evans came with his complete five—hour Hamlet, we studied the play as a preliminary and I was so excited with my new appreciation of the marvellous poetry that for once I too was awake most of the night, reliving the play. We went to the opening nights of Pins and Needles and Meet the People. What I remember most from them are the songs, “It's Not Cricket to Picket” from the first and “Let's Steal a Tune from Offenbach” from the other. We sang them until we were sick of them.
At the beginning of the education, we continued to dine once or twice a week with Scott's friends. I remember a dinner at Dorothy Parker's home in Beverly Hills. It was raining heavily; her dogs were in the yard outside. Dorothy kept going to the window and exclaiming, “Oh, those poor dogs!” Driving home, Scott laughed. “It didn't occur to Dotty to bring the dogs inside.” It had been a farewell party. Miss Parker and her husband were to leave for New York the next day, but something came up and they did not go. We heard afterwards they were embarrassed because they had said good—bye to their friends. They remained indoors all day and went out only at night to walk. Dorothy was more emotional than intellectual, Scott noted, and did not forget that she carried “a sting in her tail”.
There was a dinner at Herman Mankiewicz's with Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward; a visit to another home—whose I have forgotten—where the guest of honour was Andre Malraux; and a party at the Ira Gershwins”—I had met his late brother on a week—end in Connecticut in the summer of 1934. We had played tennis in the afternoon, and after dinner George had sat at the piano and played all of his music. Now the Ira Gershwins had charades after dinner—this was during my course of art—and when it was my turn I acted out Picasso's Blue Period. How pleased I was when Ogden Nash finally guessed it! Scott had briefed me on the pronoun, because, he told me, “at charades, they always ask "Is it a pronoun?"” He knew I was not sure what a pronoun was.
Acting things out became very important in the education. We had started with Madame Verdurin in Proust and we took on some of the characters in the other novels. During The Brothers Karamazov, I was the passionate, tumultuous Grushenka, shortened by Scott to “Grue”. He was Alyosha or Yosh. We addressed each other in these terms without any selfconsciousness. With War and Peace, I was Helene—haughty, cruel; delivery boys and press agents were intimidated. Scott was the stumbling, bumbling Pierre. I still have the note he sent mewith some flowers: “Helene, je t'aime. Pierre.” Later, as Natasha became more mature and Helene more obnoxious, my professor relented and I was Natasha. While reading Bleak House, I was Esther Summerson, sweet and loving. At the beginning, he was Mr Jarndyce; then we both became the Smallweeds. We slumped in a heap, facing each other in our chairs, and alternately shook each other upright as they did. This was a different kind of education. You could never forget the Smallweeds, who prayed against each other. I was Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. He was Rawdon Crawley. For a change of pace, he switched to fat Joseph Sedley, using the same language and making idiotic grimaces.
The acting was not always for my benefit; sometimes it was to help him. When dialogue was difficult, he asked me to act it out for him. When he was writing the staircase scene in Gone with the Wind for David Selznick, I was Scarlett O'Hara and he was Rhett Butler. He was fired after two painful weeks because he refused to use all of the Margaret Mitchell dialogue. He had been commanded not to change a word. “They regard her as Shakespeare,” he grumbled to me. When he wrote the script of Babylon Revisited, he was Cary Grant and I was Shirley Temple; it was sometimes hysterically funny. We were Monsieur and Madame Curie when he was writing the script for Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. It didn't help; after a few months, he was replaced.
Scott used a Cockney accent with some of the Dickens. It was atrocious, nothing like Cockney, and made me wince, but as I was more and more in love with him, I found amusing anything he said that was meant to be funny, even the baby talk. Of course, this was unusual baby talk. The war was on in Europe and, walking down Hollywood Boulevard, we stopped to look at the miniature war weapons in the window of a toy shop. Scott squeaked, “Mama, I wanna a bomma.” Driving down La Cienega Boulevard one time, he lisped, “On La Cienega, there is a five and ten—ager.” Another time he cackled, “Mama, I wanna walk on a floor covered with babies.' And, crossing his eyes. “I wanna hear them squish.”
We danced to some of the poems. Scott Fitzgerald was not one to make a statement without proving it, and when he wrote that the “Chorus” from Atalanta in Calydon was “the dancingest poem', he invented a wooden—soldier dance to go with it. I would follow him around the room, flapping my arms as stiffly as he did. There was a tap dance to “Jenny Kissed Me', and it was not unusual for us to shuffle off to Buffalo to T. S. Eliot's “The Boston Evening Transcript'.
The education started slowly: only one novel or play with each portion of history, poetry, philosophy, or music—on the theory that a heaped—up plate destroys the appetite—and never too long with any segment. I was not used to sitting still for long periods, and at the beginning I managed only one or two hours of reading a day. “Read when your mind is the freshest,” he advised me. I am a day person, soaring with the sun, drooping as the day wanes. I read at breakfast with my coffee and toast, and during lunch with a sandwich and milk. In the evening, when Scott came to my home, we discussed what I had read for an hour or two before dinner. In the last months, dinner was always a T—bone steak (at thirty—five cents a pound) or lamb chops, a baked potato, and string beans. When his life was calmer, he was less exotic about his food. And he also liked me better. On one tipsy occasion he told his secretary that he preferred the Loretta Young type of good looks to mine. She had a more fragile beauty, he insisted. Another time he compared me with Zelda, to my disadvantage. When he was sober, he felt only pity for Zelda. “If only you and I had met earlier,” he used to say. “Zelda and I were wrong for each other from the start.” But I might not have liked him at all in those early years of his success. I have never cared for the kind of man he was then, although, if we had met, he might not have been that kind of man. The question is, would he have been as good a writer? He mightnot have started as a novelist without the compulsion to make money to marry Zelda. While I have always wanted money, it has never meant very much to me. I eloped with Johnny, knowing he was going bankrupt, because I loved him, although it meant ditching a millionaire to whom I was engaged at the time.
The time for reading and discussion was increased as I understood more of what I read and became more interested. We no longer gossiped with our friends about what was happening at the studios. We were almost hermits, completely committed to my education and his book, portions of which he would read to me in the evenings. I was delighted to find that Stahr was falling more and more in love with Kathleen. Before long, my reading consumed three or four hours a day and the discussions were without limit. We talked of the book or the poem I was reading at his home and mine, or when we walked on Sunset or Hollywood Boulevard after dinner. We walked and talked in the lanes at Encino with the overpowering scent of honeysuckle and jasmine in the vast night air. We discussed the books while we ate, while we drove, on the telephone. We often went for week—ends to Santa Barbara, which took three hours the way Scott drove his Ford, and we talked of what I was studying most of the way. We had a five—hour conversation on Communism and Fascism when we drove to Bakers—field. We had intended driving to San Francisco for the World's Fair; we were mostly interested in the paintings in the exhibition, the Cranachs and El Grecos. It was hot and Scott was tired, and at Bakersfield we took the train. Someone had a radio, and we heard Anthony Eden announce the evacuation of the British Army at Dunkirk. Scott chose this occasion to give me a history lesson. “Without your army, England would have to capitulate. Now you can fight again,” he said respectfully, addressing me as though I were the Queen of England.
With so much reading, it was essential for me to have exercise and relaxation. I have always been an energeticperson. In the fall and winter we went to all the football games at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Scott explained the tactics while the people around us smiled and I too became an expert.
For exercise, Scott was content with walking, some shadow boxing, dancing to the poems, and ping—pong. He bought a table and installed lights outside at Malibu and later at Encino, for us to play in the evenings, where he wrote down my remark that the white ping—pong balls on the dark grass looked like stars. We played for money —fifty cents a game—and Scott always made sure I would win, running suddenly to my side of the table after hitting the ball or doing a comical pirouette or crossing his eyes, which made me laugh so much that he would sometimes win a point.
He had played tennis and had been a good swimmer in the years with Zelda, who was indolent in some areas but liked sports. Scott told me she played tennis at the sanatorium with the doctors and that once when she was badly beaten she had sailed across the net and broken her racket on the doctor's head. “After that, they let her win.” We weren't sure whether we were laughing or crying.
Scott had cracked his shoulder in 1936, diving from a fifteen—foot board into a pool. It seemed that most of his bones at one time or another had been broken. In our years together he was too tired and ill for tennis or swimming. I belonged to the West Side and the Beverly Hills Tennis Clubs; I played there at least three times a week and always on the estate of Edward Everett Horton (his landlord at Encino) on week—ends. Scott sometimes stopped working to stroll over and watch, but he never wanted to play. I was a bad swimmer, and while the only time I saw Scott in the water was at Malibu when he was wildly drunk and he jumped into the ocean fully dressed, he thought it essential to teach me to swim. He paid Mr Horton thirty dollars a month to keep his pool clean and filled with water. Scott would stand on the shady side of the concrete border of the pool; he was convinced the sun was bad for his TB. (In spite of his hypochondria, he did have TB flare—ups, his doctor told me.) I tried to copy his movements, but it was difficult with him on land and me in the water. Scottie was delighted with the pool when she stayed with her father in the summer of 1939. It was her last visit to California and the last time they saw each other. Scottie has always been popular, and there were crowds of nineteen— and twenty—year—old boys and girls from Eastern colleges swimming and diving in the pool day and night to escape the intense heat of the Encino summer.
There is a note in Scott's outline for The Last Tycoon about a hot day in Encino “Last fling with Kathleen. Old stars in heat wave in Encino.” It was boiling in the valley, with the heat rising in steamy grey layers. All the shades of the house were drawn and everyone in it was in a state of semi—undress: Scott in the living room, naked to the waist in shorts; Frances in a swim suit typing stickily in the dining room; the maid in her room with, said Scott, “just a towel”. There was a sigh of exhaustion all over the house, a desperate gasp for air. After Scott died and I read the note, I thought: No one will ever know what a hot day is like in Encino, because Scott Fitzgerald died before he reached that part of his book. During August and September after Scottie had gone back to Vassar (it was too hot for tennis), I went to the pool every afternoon and stayed until the breeze came up at five o'clock as punctually as the grunion spawned on the beach at Malibu, as Scott described them in The Last Tycoon.
Except for my poor swimming, I was sure of an A in physical education. I hoped the grades would be as good in philosophy, economics, and history. To help my understanding of these subjects, Scott underlined words and sentences and explained them. Every Latin sentence was translated, from Puck of Pook's Hill to Gibbon's Decline and Fall. He frequently underlined difficult and sometimes fairly simple words: interpolations were'inserts'; allegory was “mad', which I don't quite understand. He explained subservience, inoculation, abortive, desultory, nihilism, casuist, umbrage, torpor, sybarite, neophyte, ancillary, misanthrope, phrenology, physiognomist, escutcheon, assiduously, and Anglomaniacs. As I was already a writer of sorts, I knew the meaning of most of the words, but Scott wanted to be sure.
Some of the volumes that Frances found in secondhand bookshops in downtown Los Angeles were old and shabby—looking. Scott dressed them up in thick red or gold paper and labelled them “Encino Edition”. All of my Henry James was in red; McTeague still gleams with gold, Scott's favourite gold. He put a new cover on my Morton's History and titled it “Sex in Glasgow by Pru.” There was further information on the front: 'Peg's Paper 1922—23—Chapter XX—Peg joins the chartists and executes the wicked mill owner Foxy Chamberlain. She marries Hal, the young labour agitator, and becomes class conscious.”
To help me enjoy the plays and the poetry, Scott initiated a system of what he called “bridges”. He bracketed or underlined familiar or forceful phrases. Passages in King Lear are marked on almost every page. He changed a sentence in Lear to make the meaning clearer “… and we'll wear out in a walled prison packs and sects” to 'so we'll outlast in a walled prison packs and generations”. In the margin of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's “The Blessed Damozel” “… and the lilies lay as if asleep along her bended arm,” Scott wrote “FSF—and Lily lay along his bended arm as if asleep.” My real name is Lily and he knew this would make me smile.
Certain phrases and sentences in Shakespeare have been repeated so often that they have become beautiful cliches. These are what Scott would search for and have me learn before embarking on the play or sonnet. In Julius Caesar, I first became familiar with “Beware the Ides of March'; “This is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more'; “This was themost unkindest cut of all'; “Cowards die many time before their deaths: the valiant never taste of death but once”—how often I have said this to myself!—and “Friends, Romans, countrymen …” which Scott had first recited when he was five to his father's friends. “It was my father's favourite piece,” he said. When he was twelve he had started a history of the United States “with illustrations”. “When a teacher told me that Mexico City was the capital of South America, I knew enough to correct her, although my father told me to agree with her—‘You don't have to believe it’.”
In Macbeth, many well—quoted lines were highlighted by Scott's pencil for me to memorize: 'Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it'; “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand'; “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” “Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o” the milk of human kindness.” And in Hamlet, 'To be or not to be”—the whole of the soliloquy and all of Polonius's advice to his son and some of Ophelia's speeches. I memorized them before reading the plays and when I came to the lines I knew. I could relax on them—as if I were resting on a bridge over turbulent water. The well—worn phrases were my friends, and, after catching an intellectual breath, I could continue into the unfamiliar areas, helped by words that had served as a secure handrail.
Scott employed a slightly different method with lyric poetry. He would repeat certain lines that he loved. The first time he declaimed, “Hid in death's dateless night', from Shakespeare's sonnet “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought', the words had a hard surface that I could not penetrate. Scott's constant repetition isolated each word, and they opened up for me like the screen in Laurence Olivier's Henry V, which doubled in size as he declaimed, “God for Harry! England! and Saint George!” Scott's repetition of a line from “The Eve of St Agnes', 'The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass', revived the bitter chill of my winters at theorphanage, and it was I who was limping through the spiky grass.
“O for a draught of vintage, that hath been Cooled a long age in the deep—delved earth” from “Ode to a Nightingale” was such swinging poetry that I couldn't refrain from saying it over and over as we walked, holding hands, to Schwab's Drug Store on Sunset Boulevard. “To cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy”—I say these lines to myself in planes when it gets bumpy and I am afraid. “For them the Ceylon diver held his breath, and went all naked to the hungry shark; For them his ears gush'd blood' (Nicole's family in Tender Is the Night had been similar rich parvenus) and “Why were they proud, why in the name of glory were they proud?”—both from “Isabella, or The Pot of Basil”. When Scott extracted the best lines from the body of a poem they caused a “tireless ratiocination” in my mind that made me eager to read the whole poem or play.
There is one stanza Scott repeated and I learned that can still make me sad, from Keats” “When I Have Fears': “When I behold upon the night's starred face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance.” Keats knew he was dying when he wrote these haunting lines, as Scott knew when he said them to me until they were in my mind forever.
He did not ask me to memorize the poems, but I was like a girl wanting to please a handsome teacher. 'She has a fantastic memory,” Scott confided to Frances. I have always been able to remember what I like. I can pick pieces of information from my mind, as a good secretary knows where to look in the filing cabinet. During the concentrated time of the poetry course, when Scott came in the evening I barely gave him time to greet me with “Hello, ‘Precious’, ‘Presh’, ‘Baby’, ‘Sheilo’, or “Sweetheart”. Then I would stand back a pace and recite what I had memorized that day.
The system for the music was to play each side of the record three times consecutively, or until I recognized the theme to the point where I could sing it. At first all I heard was a cacophony of sound, but after playing the record several times I was able to extract the composer's recurring theme in all its forms. Now, instead of greeting Scott with a poem, I sang the music of the great composers. While before I would sometimes get a popular song on the brain—'Top Hat', “Anything Goes', 'Night and Day', “Stormy Weather”—now I was da—da—da—ing to Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Brahms. These became “our songs”. Scott was soon as familiar with them as I was. He sang them with me, sometimes inventing words to fit the music. He had not cared particularly for concerts, although he had attended some with Zelda and the Gerald Murphys, but now we became regulars at the Hollywood Bowl and the Philharmonic in Los Angeles. It was like finding good friends to hear the live orchestra play the works on my lists.
Scott loved the Mozart minuets, but because they were so dainty he was shy of admitting this to Mr Kroll. In the privacy of my Hollywood apartment we danced the minuet—Scott's quite elaborate version—to the music of Mozart, reaching up with our hands, bowing and curtsying extravagantly.
We thought Rembrandt was the best painter, in the same rank of genius with Beethoven, Shakespeare and Keats. My only knowledge of Rembrandt until I studied the art course with Scott had been a statement from Cecil B. DeMille that he had invented the Rembrandt style of camera work in his films—half in shadow, half in light. When we visited the art galleries, Scott was delighted when I was able to recognize the painters before peering at the names. There were many exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum and we went several times and tried to evaluate the different techniques of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Brueghel, Manet, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Utrillo, Seurat, Renoir, and Picasso. At thattime I described people in terms of painting. Dorothy Parker was a Renoir. Robert Benchley was a Frans Hals, Humphrey Bogart was a character in a Hogarth drawing, Donald Ogden Stewart a Grant Wood. Scott was a Durer. He called me Botticelli's Venus on the half—shell.
This education was alive. It had bones and flesh and blood. It was filling the emptiness that had been inside me. I was looking outward and inward. I was adding and subtracting. Like all converts, I became more devout than the apostle. When the vital Screenwriters election —the right versus the left—was to take place soon after one of Scott's drinking periods and he was feeling shaky, I told him he would go to vote “even if I have to carry you there”. This was miles from not knowing the difference between radical and reactionary. But the real leap forward and the deep contentment did not materialize until the last twelve months of his life.
Published as College Of One by Sheilah Graham (New York: Viking, 1967).