The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald: Thirty-Five Years Later
by Sheilah Graham

14. The Last Party

March 23, 1974, almost thirty-four years after Scott's death. It was party time again—with a difference. Scottie, who had kept in touch with her relatives much more than her father ever did, had invited a whole bunch of them to celebrate the new expensive film version of her father's most popular novel, The Great Gatsby. She provided them with plane and train tickets and fine lodging at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. There were three of cousin Ceci's four daughters, Mrs. Hume Taylor, Mrs. Conrad Little, Miss Virginia Taylor. Also Mrs. Daniel Vaughan, the daughter of Scott's sister, Annabel. Scottie told me that she was very fond of Aunt Annabel and she could not understand why her father didn't like her when they were adults. I found Mrs. Vaughan a delightful, sweet lady.

While Scott had ignored most of them during his lifetime, and some had not yet been born when he died, they were all here to pay him homage. About twenty cousins, mostly Abels and Taylors, and two of Scott's granddaughters, Cecilia and Bobbie—who married eighteen months ago and has produced twin boys (one has Scott for his second name). And Scott'stwenty-five-year-old grandson, Jack Lanahan, Jr. Also several of Scottie's classmates at Vassar, with their husbands, and Professor Matthew Bruccoli, Alexander Clark, in charge of the Fitzgerald papers and others in the Rare Books Library at Princeton, his assistant, Wanda Randall, Scottie's first and current husbands, Samuel Jack Lanahan and Clinton Grove Smith, and my son Robert Westbrook, who was to meet me in the party room—a small ballroom at the hotel.

While I waited for him I mingled with the guests on a personal tour of inspection. Perhaps I would find Scott again among the faces of his relatives. I would have liked to meet Ceci Taylor, his favorite cousin, but she had long ago passed away.

I searched their faces but there was little trace of Scott. None of Scottie's children from her marriage to Jack Lanahan resembled their grandfather. They were again charming to me as they had been during the times I had visited their parents in Washington, D.C. I was trying not to feel as I imagine the Duchess of Windsor had when, after the Duke's death, she was finally invited to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. But there was no need to. All the relatives were accepting me with great kindness, some with a dash of well-bred curiosity. I was comfortable with them. They were part of Scott, although there was only a momentary glimpse in the faces and voices of the man whose work they had come to honor.

But there was one young man, Charles Abels, a grandson of Cousin Ceci, who arrested my search. He had Scott's shaped head, the same nose and mouth, and the rain-washed eyes, but the total of the features just missed being Scott. Perhaps I was hoping for too much.

It was a lovely party with the best food and drink the hotel could supply. The voices were subdued, with now and then a sudden rise when a guest was greeted. My son and I sat at the table with Professor and Mrs. Bruccoli, Mr. Alexander Clark, Mrs. Randall, and a Mr. and Mrs. Frazer Clark, while Scottie walked among the tables making sure her guests were comfortable. There was no brashness and no shyness. Scottie has always been her own person, and she had the situation well in hand.

Scott would have been proud of his daughter. But if he had been there it might have been a totally different affair. Not necessarily difficult, but he would have taken it over, getting the guests involved in various activities, games, and tricks. He would probably have taken a drink or two, and then anything could have happened. He might have been a very bad brownie.

It was time to go to the theater. Scottie tinkled a spoon on a glass, commanding attention, and told us of the arrangements to get us there. Buses were outside the Park Avenue entrance to take us to our theater. There were two Gatsby film premieres that night, and the money raised from the lot was to go to a Boys Club charity. The theater chosen by Scottie for herself and her guests was not the main one on Broadway, where such notables as Mrs. Henry Ford and Mrs. Gloria Vanderbilt Wyatt were photographed sweeping inside in all their finery. Ours was also on the West Side but in a quieter street.

Scottie had seen the film before—Paramount had given her a special showing in Hollywood—and while she had tactfully praised it on radio and television, she had found it, as the critics did, far too drawn out. (But she was delighted to find Gatsby was still showing in London when she visited there last year.) I was sitting next to Mr. Lanahan and his second wife and I could see that they were as restless as I was at some of the stretched-out sequences.

Scott himself would have been the first to say, “Cut some of it.” But they never do—as Henry King, the director of Beloved Infidel, said when I complained that the film dragged, viewing it at a Long Beach preview in 1959, “I love every foot of it, I won't cut anything.” I believe it was chopped a bit for television, which is perhaps why it seemed better on the small screen.

Strangely I had felt nothing while watching Beloved Infidel. But the recent ABC-TV documentary, Scott Fitzgerald, moved me to the point where I couldn't speak as I ran out of the projection room before the lights went up so that no one could see that I was crying. It's the best so far of anything about Scott, who is difficult to translate into film. Tuesday Weld as Zelda is superb. She will finally receive her long-awaited due as a dramatic actress. Jason Miller, who played Scott, is nothing like him in looks and at first I was disappointed, but he evolved into the character so well that before the end he was completely the man he was portraying. Julia Foster, the young British actress who played me, was great, and I thank her for making me seem so admirable, so worthy of the respect for which I have always longed.

There was another party the night of the Gatsby premieres, given by David Merrick, the producer, and Robert Evans, Paramount's head man (the studio had financed the film). David and Bob had been at odds over the cast and script and were barely polite to each other but this did not affect the general gaiety. This party had a 20s atmosphere—people dressed in the period, champagne flowed, bands blared the songs of the time—“The Sheik of Araby,” “In the Morning, in the Evening, Ain't We Got Fun,” “Charleston, Charleston”—there was extravagant food: caviar and pheasant under glass, and so many gatecrashers that some of Scottie's guests were unable to find seats at the hundreds of small tables. I watched while Scottie tried to seat them in that bursting crowd, and when I saw her looking for a seat for herself, I beckoned her to come to the table where I was sitting with my son, near the exit—why do people never sit at the nearest tables but wander into the center?

The press found it a piquant situation, Scottie and I sitting together, and obviously enjoying each other's company. An Associated Press girl reporter knelt on the floor between us and said, “It's strange that you two are such friends, when you”—looking at Scottie—“were Fitzgerald's daughter, and she”—inclining toward me—“was ...” Scottie would not allow her to use the obvious word. She jumped to her feet and said indignantly, “Why shouldn't we be friends? Sheilah was my stepmother. She prolonged my father's life. I love her.” I didn't know whether to cry or kiss her. Of course I did both.

The End

Published as The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald: Thirty-Five Years Later by Sheilah Graham (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976).