Scott Fitzgerald
by Andrew Turnbull


Sick,debt-ridden, and despairing, Fitzgerald went on vacation to Tryon, North Carolina, in February, 1935. There he fell in with an unusual couple—the Flynns—who became to some extent an anchorage during the storms of the next two years.

Nora Langhorne Flynn came from a family of famous Virginia belles, of whom the most famous was Lady Astor. A few years older than Fitzgerald, Nora was still glamorous in her white blouses and well-cut suits, but more important, she had the vitality which he sought in others now that his own was fading. Nora’s husband, “Lefty,” reminded Fitzgerald of the Leyendecker poster of the halfback. Handsome and rangy, he had been a star athlete at Yale, an actor in the silents, and a naval aviator during the War. After a roving, adventurous life, he and Nora had settled in Tryon where they dominated the scene.

They knew celebrities here and abroad. Nora was a friend of Bernard Shaw and called the Queen of England “Beth.” Well-known artists, actors, and musicians enlivened their household from time to time, though the Flynns were considerable entertainers in their own right, with a gift for improvisation. They put on skits and sang duets. When one of them launched a joke, the other took it up and they went from star to star till they collapsed with their own merriment. Given the proper training, Nora might have been a professional actress, but she seemed content with her role of a rural duchess. She organizedbenefits and judged fashion shows, and when she walked down the street in Tryon, people of all ages and descriptions clustered around her.

Despite their advantages, the Flynns remained gypsies at heart—“not the Hungarian type but the Sigmund Romberg type,” a friend recalled. They were the unorthodox rich Fitzgerald enjoyed. (Actually they weren’t rich, but behaved as if they were, living beyond their moderate income.) Fitzgerald had a standing invitation with them, and when he said he was coming for a meal, it didn’t matter whether or not he appeared, nor did the Flynns expect him to return their hospitality. All they demanded was gaiety. When Fitzgerald came in depressed, Nora would throw her arms around him and kiss him and say she was going to spank him if he didn’t snap out of it.

Nora was a Christian Scientist who had made a specialty of salvaging alcoholics, and Fitzgerald seemed to her much too attractive to let go to pieces. She built him up and appreciated him and told him there was nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it. During the winter and spring of 1935, much of which he spent in Tryon, he stopped drinking for long periods, but back in Baltimore, faced with Zelda’s tragedy, he would begin again. In May, x-rays showed that he was suffering from mild tuberculosis, and closing his house on Park Avenue, he went to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville for rest and rehabilitation. Although the Flynns were now some twenty miles distant, Fitzgerald was just as glad; he thought he might get more work done if he saw them less.

He found it lonely at the cavernous, rock-built Grove Park Inn that catered to the luxury trade, but he didn’t want to meet people or be recognized. Attractive young women, vacationing with their families, nudged each other when he passed, and he held the door for them, he was polite, but he didn’t get involved. He phoned the Flynns constantly. “You’ve had a bad year,” Nora would say, “—come over and stay with us, we love you,” and Fitzgerald would reply that he was going to be all right—he was just down in the dumps because he couldn’t have Scottie with him—he didn’t mean to burden Nora with his problems—and she would say, “Oh no—any time.”

Physically and mentally exhausted, he tried not to think, but instead made endless lists—of cavalry officers, athletes, cities, popular tunes. Later, he realized that he had been witnessing the disintegration of his own personality and likened the sensation to that of a man standing at twilight on a deserted range with an empty rifle in his hands and the targets down. The words of St. Matthew seemed to apply: “Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savor, wherein shall it be salted?”

His tuberculosis subsided, as it always did when he took care of himself, but then he began drinking beer which he could rationalize as not really drinking. One day a total of thirty-two bottles was sent to his room.

“Is someone up there with him?” the switchboard operator asked the bellboy.

“No, ma’am,” said the bellboy, “he’s drinking it himself. And you know something?—that man’s a smart man. He’s got the biggest sheet of paper and he’s writing away. When I bring the beer in he never looks up, he just says set it over there and open me a bottle, and he hands me a dollar without ever taking his eyes off the paper. I don’t know when he gets time to drink it but he does.”

The hotel attendants were fond of Fitzgerald, not only because of his largesse but because he treated them like human beings and took an interest in their problems.

“Yes, he’s a swell man,” the bellboys would say. “Certainly was too bad about those thirty-two bottles of beer.”

His chief companion that summer was his secretary, Laura Guthrie, whom he summoned at all hours, since he dreaded being alone when he couldn’t sleep. He and Laura went to many movies, and sometimes they sat up all night in cabarets. She kept a journal of their talks—a unique record of Fitzgerald’s offhand remarks. The conceit running through them, though to some extent an honest self-evaluation, also suggests a defeated man bolstering his crumbling morale.

A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, Laura wanted to write and questioned Fitzgerald about his methods.

“State a problem,” he told her, “don’t solve it. Be natural. Above all things be yourself.

“I don’t know why I can write stories. I don’t know what it is in me or that comes to me when I start to write. I am half feminine—at least my mind is.”

Laura conceded that he understood women.

“I understand everybody, one side of them anyway. I am a romantic and I can’t change that—not now. I am mature—in fact, I was mature at thirty but I didn’t know it. Now that I’m grown I can only write one way because my ideas won’t change. However, there is a new note creeping into literature because of Socialism. It points a moral and a purpose. I belong to an in-between period, between two moralistic periods.

“All the small writers look up to me. I am a top-notcher— I am the maitre. My stories get truer and truer, I can’t keep the truth out of them. I am part of the race consciousness and so have influenced the language of youth and youth itself.”

Laura asked if he used models.

“Not any single person but a melange of the characteristics of several people interpreted through my eyes.” With reference to Jung’s psychological types, he said, “I am an intuitive introvert. I take people to me and change my conception of them and then write them out again. My characters are all Scott Fitzgerald. Even my feminine characters are feminine Scott Fitzgeralds.”

Laura asked if drinking helped.

“Drink heightens feeling. When I drink, it heightens my emotions and I put it in a story. But then it becomes hard to keep reason and emotion balanced. My stories written when sober are stupid—like the fortune-telling one. It was all reasoned out, not felt.”

Laura noticed that Fitzgerald wrote his stories three or four times, starting each rewrite with a clean typewritten draft. She asked if he had always taken such pains.

“Yes, three drafts are absolutely necessary. First, the high inspirational points. Second, the cold going over. Third, putting both in their proper perspective.

“I can be so tender and kind to people in even little things, but once I get a pen in my hand I can do anything.

“If you want to be a top-notcher, you have to break with everyone. You have to show up your own father. At first they will throw you out for it, but in the end they will take you back on a different footing when the world acclaims you. You’ve got to go a long, lone path.

“I have tried writing when I didn’t mean it and it doesn’t pay. When anything goes wrong in a story, I go back and see where I left the truth and there I pick up the thread. Of course restrained emotion and understatement are valuable in writing. And never forget to listen to the way people talk.

Fitzgerald was conscious of paying a price for his creativity,

“People are divided into two classes. There are those who think, are sensitive and have some fatal flaw. Then there are those who are good and unimaginative—and uninteresting.

“Some people think I am a son-of-a-bitch and hate my guts. I can’t be one of the herd, I have tried. I get on top as I did in St. Paul when Zelda and I went out there to live, and then something happens and I come out at the bottom. But I make the curve again every time to the top.

“I had to excel in everything I undertook so they would seek me out. I am really a lone wolf, and though I wanted to be one of the gang, I wasn’t permitted to be until I proved myself. When I was twelve, I was at camp, and once in a baseball game I was catcher and played without a mask. A ball hit my forehead and cut it terribly. Then I became a hero, but I was so puffed up about it I became insufferable and lost prestige again.

“I’m so bad, such a lousy son-of-a-bitch that I’ve got to do something good—so good in my work—that it counterbalances the bad. I’ve got to be good and I can be in my work.

“I must be loved,” he often mused. “I tip heavily to be loved. I have so many faults that I must be approved of in other ways.”

Of his friends Fitzgerald said, “They have always been strong and have usually excelled in some line. I pick out a person here and there—not many—to be interested in. I can’t dismiss a servant and it is the same way with friends. I pick them out carefully and then they are part of my life and I can’t cut them off.

“Every one is lonely—the artist especially, it goes with creation. I create a world for others. Because of this women want to go away with me, they think the world of delight I make for them will last forever. I make them seem brilliant to themselves and most important.”

But no woman could take Zelda’s place.

“Our love was one in a century. Life ended for me when Zelda and I crashed. If she would get well, I would be happy again and my soul would be released. Otherwise, never.

“Zelda and I were everything to each other—all human relationships. We were sister and brother, mother and son, father and daughter, husband and wife.

“A strange thing was I could never convince her that I was a first-rate writer. She knew I wrote well but she didn’t recognize how well. When I was making myself from a popular writer into a serious writer, a big-shot, she didn’t understand or try to help me.

“Women are so weak really—emotionally unstable—and their nerves, when strained, break. They can endure more physical pain than men, and also more boredom. The boredom they endure is incredible, but they can’t take nerve or emotional strain. The greatest women of all time are those of conquered passion or no passion. Women like Florence Nightingale, Jane Addams, Julia Ward Howe. Theirs has been a sublimated and useful work. They had no conflicts as Zelda had.”

“This is a man’s world,” he often said. “All wise women conform to the man’s lead.”

And yet, despite his emphasis on male superiority, Fitzgerald was essentially a woman’s man. Perhaps one needed to be a woman to catch the feelings, rising and dying like the wind, that flitted across his mobile face. (Men would be more on guard against the vein of weakness in him.) His conversation, too, was the sort that women delight in; it was emotional analysis, people, their nuances, the sparks between them. Fitzgerald, who could beat a woman at her own game of intuition, would tell her maddening things about herself, and just as she was about to lose her temper he would say, “Has any one ever told you you have a most expressive mouth?”

As with Rilke or D. H. Lawrence the feminine strain in Fitzgerald, the extreme delicate sensitivity, went a long way toward explaining his artistic power, yet he was in no way effeminate. He was normally but not overly sexed. Perhaps one could say that with him a strong sex drive had been geared to beauty and creation, while the destructive side of his nature found an outlet in drink. For someone who had been instrumental in relaxing censorship his writing was remarkably chaste. A book like Gatsby, though electric with passion, is almost devoid of explicit sex, even Tom Buchanan’s commerce with his earthy mistress being suggested rather than shown. The line Fitzgerald most regretted in Tender Is the Night was Dick Diver’s comparatively mild jibe at Nicole, “I never did go in for making love to dry loins.” [In  1923, when the editor of The Literary Digest, had asked Fitzgerald for his opinion on censorship, he replied, “The clean book bill will be one of the most immoral measures ever adopted. It will throw American art back into the junk heap where it rested comfortably between the Civil War and The World War. The really immoral books like Simon Called Peter and Mumbo Jumbo won’t be touched—they’ll attack Hergeshiemer, Drieser, Anderson and Cabell whom they detest because they can’t understand. George Moore, Hardy, and Anatole France who are unintelligable to children and idiots will be suppressed at once for debauching the morals of village clergymen.”]

Since Zelda’s breakdown Fitzgerald had drifted into affairs here and there—not many, considering the opportunities. In July a young married woman from Memphis, visiting Asheville, fell in love with him on sight. She was already enamored of his writings, and when she pursued him, they became lovers despite misgivings on his part. She was pretty and wealthy but not otherwise remarkable, and he resented wasting time on her— that is, until her husband joined her. Then Fitzgerald decided he really did love her and was plunged into a misery which he prolonged and dramatized, continuing to meet her at grave risk of being found out. After the woman had gone, she wrote Fitzgerald heart-breaking letters which he was reluctant to answer, for by now he saw the affair for what it was—an evasion like his drinking. Finally he wrote her a sermon which, though he never sent it, showed the skeleton of character beneath his flabby weakness. [He was apparently planning to use some of his emotions in this love affair in The Last Tycoon. In his outline for the unwritten part of the novel there is a point where “[Stahr] and Kathleen have been ‘taking breathless chances.’ They have succeeded in having ‘one last fling,’ which has taken place during an overpowering heat wave in the early part of September. But their meetings have proved unsatisfactory.”]


“Gloria [so we shall call her]:

“This is going to be as tough a letter to read as it is to write. When I was young I found a line in Samuel Butler’s Note Books —the worst thing that can happen to a man is the loss of his health, the second worst the loss of his money. All other things are of minor importance.

“This is only a half truth but there are many times in life when most of us, and especially women, must live on half truths. The utter synthesis between what we want and what we can have is so rare that I look back with a sort of wonder on those days of my youth when I had it, or thought I did.

“The point of the Butler quotation is that in times of unhappiness and emotional stress that seemed beyond endurance, I used it as a structure, upon which to build up a hierarchy of comparative values:

—This comes first.

—This comes second.

This is what you, Gloria, are not doing!

“Your charm and the heightened womanliness that makes you attractive to men depends on what Ernest Hemingway once called (in an entirely different connection) ‘grace under pressure.’ The luxuriance of your emotions under the strict discipline which you habitually impose on them, makes that tensity in you that is the secret of all charm—when you let that balance become disturbed, don’t you become just another victim of self-indulgence?—breaking down the solid things around you and, moreover, making yourself terribly vulnerable?—imagine having to have had to call in Doctor Cole in this matter! The indignity! I have plenty [of] cause to be cynical about women’s nervous resistance, but frankly I am concerned with my misjudgement in thinking you were one of the strong—and I can’t believe I was mistaken.

“The tough part of the letter is to send you this enclosure— which you should read now [a loving, dependent letter from Zelda]—

“—now you’ve read it?

“There are emotions just as important as ours running concurrently with them—and there is literally no standard in life other than a sense of duty. When people get mixed up they try to throw out a sort of obscuring mist, and then the sharp shock of a fact—a collision seems to be the only thing to make them sober-minded again. You once said, ‘Zelda is your love!’ (only you said ‘lu-uv’). And I gave her all the youth and freshness that was in me. And it’s a sort of investment that is as tangible as my talent, my child, my money. That you had the same sort of appeal to me, deep down in the gut, doesn’t change the other.

“The harshness of this letter will have served its purpose if on reading it over you see that I have an existence outside you —and in doing so remind you that you have an existence outside of me. I don’t belittle your fine intelligence by supposing that anything written here need be said, but I thought maybe the manner of saying it might emphasize those old dull truths by which we live. We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.

“—You have got to be good.

“—Your sense of superiority depends upon the picture of yourself as being good, of being large and generous and all-comprehending, and just and brave and all-forgiving. But if you are not good, if you don’t preserve a sense of comparative values those qualities turn against you—and your love is a mess and your courage is a slaughter.



From the point of view of work the summer had been wasted. Drifting about in a fog of beer, Fitzgerald had put in the hours without being able to complete anything. Physically he was wretched. He needed sedatives to sleep and had switched from luminal to amytal because the former made him itch. Devoid of appetite, he wolfed a little food now and then as if it were medicine. In September, to help him finish the story he was stuck in, he went back to gin.

“Do I seem different now that I’m on hard liquor?” he asked Laura. “Do I seem more depraved?”

One day they went sight-seeing to Chimney Rock, which offered a panorama of far-off ranges with Lake Lure glistening a thousand feet below them.

“This place speaks to me of death,” Fitzgerald said. “Nothing else, just death. These huge rocks, these distant mountains will be here a million years from now when we’ll be dead— resolved back into the elements from which we came.”

As they started down, he said, “To be with me is like reading a book. You learn something all the time. I am a weak character, self-indulgent, but with a powerful will. I have no patience and when I want something I want it. I break people. I am part of the break-up of the times.” (He was always talking of breaking and being broken.)

“Drink is an escape. That is why so many people do it now. There is Weltschmerz—the uncertainty of the world today. All sensitive minds feel it. There is a passing away of the old order and we wonder what there will be for us in the new—if anything.

“Life is not happy. All I ask is that it be endurable. I used to like being with my own thoughts, but for a year and a half I haven’t been able to enjoy myself. I would like a blank period. I have suffered too much and too long. I would like not to feel for a while.”

A few days later, when Ted Coy’s death was announced in the papers, Fitzgerald said, “Ted Coy was my idol. I worshipped him and put him in some of my stories. He was a back! What a football man! And he died a drunk. All drunks die between thirty-eight and forty-eight. He was forty-seven.”

“People,” he went on, “aren’t going to let F. Scott Fitzgerald act as he chooses now. Four years ago the publisher would have said, ‘Oh, that’s just Fitzgerald’s way and as long as he produces good stuff it doesn’t matter.’ Today they wouldn’t be so lenient if I told the real story of this wasted summer.”

“What about four years hence?” said Laura, meaning that she hoped for an improvement.

“I won’t be here then,” said Fitzgerald. “I’ll be where Ted Coy has gone.”

He was anxious to return to Baltimore and be with Scottie and Zelda, but first he was determined to finish his story. The chef of the Grove Park Inn, eager to help, sent up the kind of gravy he could sometimes eat with bread or mashed potatoes. That and soup was all he would touch.

He railed at Laura, typing his story, for being unable to make out what he had written. Some of the pages contradicted each other. There were two farewell scenes between the hero and his mother, and people were going upstairs when they should have been going down.

One day Laura came in to find Fitzgerald wearing a thick wool jersey over his pajamas. He was trying to sweat the gin out of his system while continuing to drink more. His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were thin lines.

“Look,” he said, “my leg muscles are twitching. This morning I spat blood.”

When Laura said she would call the doctor, Fitzgerald protested, but finally the doctor came and ordered him to the hospital. During the five days he was there—white, pitiful, and shaking—he finished his story.

Laura got a cheerful letter from him on his return to Baltimore. Scottie had arrived like “a sun Goddess … all radiant and glowing” and they had spent a happy evening walking the dark streets. Zelda was fine—“almost herself. It was wonderful to sit with her head on my shoulder for hours and feel as I always have, even now, closer to her than to any other human being….

“I love [Baltimore] more than I thought—it is so rich with memories—it is nice to look up the street and see the statue of my great uncle [an approximate description of Francis Scott Key] & to know that Poe is buried here and that many ancestors of mine have walked in the old town by the bay. I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite. And I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda & I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here. That is really a happy thought and not melancholy at all.”

The happiness was momentary. Zelda grew worse and Fitzgerald continued to flounder in his work. His agent, Harold Ober, was having trouble marketing his stories at any price.

Ober had been a mainstay since 1919, when as Paul R. Reynold’s assistant he had begun handling Fitzgerald (during the next twelve years Fitzgerald’s story price had jumped eight-fold), and in 1928, when Ober left Reynolds to start his own firm, Fitzgerald had wired him from abroad, unreservedly yours. Fitzgerald had come to admire this gentleman of the old school with the mild, clear blue eyes, the shy smile, the hesitant speech. Ober understood a good deal more about human and literary problems than he was able to express, and when bargaining was in process, one rejoiced to be on the side of this shrewd New Hampshire man.

The stiff Yankee in Ober and the mercurial Irishman in Fitzgerald made an amusing contrast. Once when Ober met Fitzgerald at the boat on his return from Europe, Fitzgerald said he had a friend he knew Ober would be proud to handle. He then produced the largest mortal Ober had ever seen—a giant who had come over to join the Ringling Circus. Being Fitzgerald’s agent was not without embarrassments, though Ober would remember him as one of the most courteous and thoughtful authors he had ever dealt with. Ober was grateful to him besides, for it had meant a good deal to Ober when he was starting his business on borrowed capital to have such a lucrative author as Fitzgerald in his stable.

Lately Fitzgerald had been a headache. He had grown unreliable about sending in stories when he said he was going to, and he asked for huge loans which Ober had to borrow at six per cent, knowing all too well how Fitzgerald would spend it. One day Fitzgerald took Ober and Charlie MacArthur to Twenty-One, where Ober—who didn’t drink because of a tendency toward ulcers brought on, in part, by worry over Fitzgerald —had to sit and watch the others drink up the money he had just lent. As they went out, Fitzgerald handed the waiter a tip the size of the bill.

But Ober went on backing Fitzgerald—out of sympathy as well as loyalty. About this time Philip Wylie came into Ober’s office unannounced to find him standing beside his desk with a manuscript in his hand and tears running down his cheeks. When Wylie started to withdraw, Ober called him back.

“Look,” he said, handing over the blotted manuscript with illegible interlinings, “I was always the one who could read Scott’s corrections and these pages are the ending of a story that I can read—up to here. These last six pages I can’t make anything of. Scott was drinking, but he never before sent me something I couldn’t decipher. I’m afraid that Scott . . ,”

He dropped it there.

Fitzgerald had always been a perfectionist, even in his routine work, and Ober had respected him when he wrote, “There is no use of me trying to rush things. Even in years like ‘24, ‘28, ‘29, ‘30, all devoted to short stories I couldn’t turn out more than 8-9 top price stories in a year. It simply is impossible— all my stories are concieved like novels, require a special emotion, a special experience—so that my readers, if such there be, know that each time it’ll be something new, not in form but in substance (it’d be far better for me if I could do pattern stories but the pencil just goes dead on me).” [One cannot fail to notice how much of himself Fitzgerald put into all his work, even the most ephemeral. Thus he spoke of writing as being a “sheer paring away of oneself,” and of his inferior stories as “sections, debased, oversimplified, if you like, of my soul.” During his crack-up he wrote, “I have asked a lot of my emotions—one hundred and twenty stories. The price was high, right up withKipling, because there was one little drop of something —not blood, not a tear, not my seed, but me more intimately than these, in every story, it was the extra I had. Now it has gone and I am just like you now.”]

The past few months, however, Fitzgerald had been playing roulette with his talent, spinning it recklessly in the hope that something would score, and as his stories became more slapdash, Ober was obliged to hold them up for revision. When a sale was made, Fitzgerald’s confidence soared. Instead of using some of the proceeds to liquidate his debt he would ask for all of it, saying he had tried life on a subsistence level and it didn’t pay. Once, in his desperation for funds, he bypassed Ober and sent a story direct to the Post. When they refused it, Ober took it mildly enough, merely remarking that he hoped Fitzgerald wouldn’t do it again.

Part of the trouble was the discrepancy between what Fitzgerald actually felt and what the magazine editors expected him to write. How, in his present mood, could he put his heart into tales of young love? Since the early twenties, when they had come to him naturally, he had undergone a profound change. He needed to face this new self and burst the wall that was blocking his emotions. One night in November, 1935, he packed a briefcase and fled to Hendersonville—a little town between Asheville and Tryon—to think out why “I had developed a sad attitude toward sadness, a melancholy attitude toward melancholy and a tragic attitude toward tragedy—why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion.” Eating twenty-cent meals and washing his own clothes in a two-dollar room at the Skylands Hotel, he wrote an essay failed “The Crack-Up,” and returning to Baltimore “for what Xmas [was] to be found there,” he wrote two more in the same vein.

Taken together these pieces were a post-mortem on his nervous and psychological breakdown. What had become of his early conviction that “life was something you dominated if you were any good?” He realized that for some time he had been drawing on resources, spiritual as well as material, which he did not possess. He realized, too, his dependence on others: on Wilson as an “intellectual conscience”; on Hemingway as an “artistic conscience”; on Gerald Murphy as a social arbiter. He had let himself become too involved in other people’s lives. From now on, he would outlaw as waste the ceaseless giving of himself which was so much a part of his charm and indeed of his talent, for in giving himself to others he had come to understand them. From now on he would be a writer only, hard-boiled—as if such a resolve were possible for one of his temperament.

In its casual nakedness and candor “The Crack-Up” was reminiscent of certain European authors: Dostoevski, Kierkegaard, Strindberg. Fitzgerald had lived the Jazz Age and paraded it in his writings, and now he was living its aftermath, the wave of despair which followed. But “The Crack-Up” was also the work of a lapsed Catholic, for whom confession was a rhythm of the soul. The Church had a stronger hold on Fitzgerald than he perhaps realized or would have admitted. He had broken with it intellectually but not emotionally. If, on the one hand, he railed against the “mumbo-jumbo” of Catholicism, saying he didn’t see how civilized people could put up with it, on the other he would talk nostalgically of going to Mass and admiringly of the great saints like Augustine and Ignatius. His writing, though blasphemous at times (Nicole Diver crossing herself with Chanel No. 5), was also deeply religious in its spiritual yearning, its haunting sense of loss. [Though Fitzgerald did not know of Kierkegaard, who was little read in this country before the Second World War, I can think of few books more descriptive of Fitzgerald’s despair than Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death.]

“Scott played hide and seek with the angels,” Nora Flynn used to say. “He was fundamentally a moralist and a very religious person. He kept his soul.”


Since October Fitzgerald had been living with Scottie at the Cambridge Arms, across Charles Street from the campus of Johns Hopkins University. In his seventh-floor apartment, he was trying to write his way out of debt, but with his world contracting he found less and less to say. One of his best pieces that year was simply a description of a typical day in his now uneventful life.

Waking on a bright April morning, he feels better than he has for some weeks, but after breakfast he lies down for fifteen minutes before beginning the day’s work. “The problem was a magazine story that had become so thin in the middle that it was about to blow away. The plot was like climbing endless stairs, he had no element of surprise in reserve, and the characters who had started so bravely day-before-yesterday couldn’t have qualified for a newspaper serial.”

His mind wandered to trips he would like to take, but they required time and energy and he hadn’t much of either; what there was must be conserved for his work. Going through the manuscript, he underlined the best phrases in red crayon. When his secretary had copied these, the “stripped” story would be thrown away.

Pacing the room and smoking, he talked to himself.

“Wee-l, let’s see—” (Fitzgerald, musing, had this way of drawling his expletives.)

“Nau-ow, the next thing—would be….”

He felt stale and decided to go downtown for an airing. With a tube of shampoo ointment in his pocket, he set out for a hotel barber shop where he liked the barber. He stood carefully on the corner waiting for the light to change while young people hurried by with what seemed to him a fine disregard of traffic. In matters of self-preservation he was now as cautious as he had once been reckless.

From the upper deck of the bus with the green branches ticking against the window, he saw men rolling the college football field and a story idea came to him. “ ‘Turfkeeper’ or else ‘The Grass Grows,’ something about a man working on turf for years and bringing up his son to go to college and play football there. Then the son dying in youth and the man’s going to work in the cemetery and putting turf over his son instead of under his feet. It would be the kind of piece that is often placed in anthologies, but not his sort of thing—it was sheer swollen antithesis, as formalized as a popular magazine story and easier to write. Many people, however, would consider it excellent because it was melancholy, had digging in it and was simple to understand.”

Downtown the sight of the brightly-dressed young women made him love life terribly for a moment—made him not want to give it up at all. He got off the bus, holding carefully to the railings. In the barber shop he sat rather happy and sensually content under the strong fingers on his scalp.

The shampoo over, he came out into the hall and listened to the orchestra which had begun to play in the cocktail room across the way. He thought how long it had been since he danced—“perhaps two evenings in five years, yet a review of his last book had mentioned him as being fond of night clubs; the same review had spoken of him as being indefatigable. Something in the sound of the word in his mind broke him momentarily and feeling tears of weakness behind his eyes he turned away. It was like in the beginning fifteen years ago when they said he had ‘fatal facility,’ and he labored like a slave over every sentence so as not to be like that.”

Going home on the bus, he noticed a boy and a girl sitting on the high pedestal of the Lafayette statue. “Their isolation moved him and he knew he would get something out of it professionally, if only in contrast to the growing seclusion of his life and the increasing necessity of picking over an already well-picked past. He needed reforestation….”

Back at the apartment house he glanced up at his windows before going in.

“The residence of the successful writer,” he said to himself. “I wonder what marvelous books he’s tearing off up there. It must be great to have a gift like that—just sit down with pencil and paper. Work when you want—go where you please.”

Scottie wasn’t home yet, but the maid came out of the kitchen and asked him if he’d had a nice time.

“Perfect,” he said. “I went roller skating and bowled and played around with Man Mountain Dean and finished up in a Turkish bath.”

Quite tired, he thought he would lie down for ten minutes— then see if he could get started on an idea in the two hours before dinner.


The happiest thing in his life was Scottie. She exasperated him by her impulsiveness and the habitual messiness of her room, but he gave her credit for “conscientiously wrestling with her ebullient temperament.” He was writing some stories about her—the “Gwen” series—four of which he completed, though only two were published. Like Gwen, Scottie was under the spell of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; her favorite song was “Cheek to Cheek,” which Fitzgerald referred to maliciously as “Cheek by Jowl.”

Out of love for her and out of concern because she had no mother to look after her, Fitzgerald was excessively strict. When he went to Asheville for a few weeks in April, he left the following instructions with Scottie’s supervisor:

“Not more than half an hours radio or phonograph on school nights.

“No long telephone gossiping on school nights.

“No night dates with boys except here in the appartment on any night. I don’t want some sixteen yr. old to crash her into a telephone pole. Anyhow it isn’t done here in Baltimore under sixteen. I don’t object to parties of six, however, even without a chaperone if they’re all together, have a destination 8c are in by 10:30. This is of course on free nights only.

“[Scottie’s] French is getting rusty—none for a year almost except a little reading. I wish you could find a native French woman—I had a fine woman for three years but she left town. It would absolutely have to be a native & of good education…. I’ve never let her take school French, which is simply ruinous & demoralizing. Anyhow she’d take senior college work in it.

No lip rouge & no half-hours work with tin curlers on school nights. The general opinion is here that Scottys getting way ahead of her age.”

Now that she was beginning to have callers her father’s drinking was doubly embarrassing, for he no longer pretended even to himself that he wasn’t an alcoholic. He had tried everything —stopping abruptly, tapering off, smoking or eating candy when he felt the craving—but nothing prevailed against it. In July, 1936, having sent Scottie to camp, he moved to Asheville to be near Zelda who had recently been transferred to the Highland Sanitarium. He was trying to be hard-boiled about her condition, but as he wrote Oscar Kalman, caring for her was “a life-long, consecration & all the friends I ever had couldn’t argue me out of the idea that that’s where my first duty lies.” Zelda’s illness had taken a religious turn; she often had a Bible with her and knelt in public places to say her prayers. She wore her hair shoulder-length and dressed like a young girl in the forgotten robes of the twenties. When she came to the Grove Park Inn for a meal, she and Scott wouldn’t have much to say to each other, though he was patient with her and very attentive about ordering the dishes she liked.

When they called on the writer Margaret Culkin Banning, Zelda came in, Ophelia-like, with a bunch of water lilies she had gathered on the way. On the Bannings’ terrace Fitzgerald led her to a stone wall against a background of mountains and said to her, “You’re the Fairy Princess and I’m the Prince,” and for several minutes they tossed this back and forth in a terrible and touching way. Another time they went to see the Flynns, and Zelda, after walking around just putting her hands on things, suddenly began to dance. Fitzgerald sat watching her, his chin resting on his palm, a look of unutterable sadness on his face. They had loved each other and though it was over, he loved that love and hated to relinquish it.

From the hospital Zelda sent him strained, beautiful letters, for even in her reduced state she wrote a better letter than most people are capable of in their right minds. Some were as lucid as the following which Fitzgerald sent Harold Ober so he might gauge “the awful strangling heart-rending quality of the tragedy that has gone on now more than six years, with two brief intervals of hope…. With things so black I hang on to every scrap that is like things used to be.”


“Dearest and always Dearest Scott:

“I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell. The thought of the effort you have made over me, the suffering this nothing has cost would be unendurable to any save a completely vacuous mechanism. Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that of all my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end.

“You have been so good to me—and all I can say is that there was always that deeper current running through my heart: my life, you.

“You remember the roses in Kenney’s yard—you were so gracious and I thought—he is the sweetest person in the world —and you said ‘darling.’ You still are. The wall was damp and mossy when we crossed the street and said we loved the south. I thought of the south and a happy past I’d never had and I thought I was part of the south. You said you loved this lovely land. The wisteria along the fence was green and the shade was cool and life was old.

“I wish I had thought something else—but it was a confederate, a romantic and nostalgic thought. My hair was damp when I took off my hat and I was safe and home and you were glad that I felt that way and you were reverent. We were glad and happy all the way home.

“Now that there isn’t any more happiness and home is gone and there isn’t even any past and no emotions but those that were yours where there could be my comfort—it is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams. Your song.

“I wish you had a little house with hollyhocks and a sycamore tree and the afternoon sun imbedding itself in a silver tea-pot. Scottie would be running about somewhere in white, in Renoir, and you will be writing books in dozens of volumes. And there will be honey still for tea, though the house should not be in Granchester.

“I want you to be happy—if there were justice you would be happy—maybe you will be anyway.

“Oh Do-Do, Do Do

“I love you anyway—even if there isn’t any me or any love or even any life—

“I love you.”


In periods of depression Fitzgerald was used to hiring a registered nurse to keep him company and help control his drinking. Not long after he came to Asheville he went swimming with one such nurse, who happened to be young and pretty, and trying to impress her with a swan dive, he fractured his shoulder and ended up in a plaster cast with his right arm high above his head in a Nazi salute. The cast itched unbearably in the hot weather, but the fracture was healing when late one night he tripped and fell in the bathroom. Lying helpless on the tile floor, he developed a form of arthritis which set him back another five weeks.

All this time he was trying to write, or rather, dictate. The response to his “Crack-Up” pieces had at least given him the feeling of being read again. Two publishers, hoping for a more complete expose”, had sounded him out on the possibility of a book, but his literary friends felt he had made a mistake to let down his guard as much as he had. “Christ, man,” wrote John Dos Passos, “how do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to write about all that stuff? … We’re living in one of the damnedest tragic moments in history—if you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely O.K. but I think you ought to write a first rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces….”

This was fair enough. It was only Hemingway’s reaction that caught Fitzgerald off guard.

Since the exchange over Tender Is the Night their relations had continued strained, though Hemingway conceded that the novel got better in retrospect. Fitzgerald told Perkins he would always consider his friendship with Hemingway “one of the high spots of life. But I still believe that such things have a mortality, perhaps in reaction to their very excessive life, and that we will never again see very much of each other.” Fitzgerald thought Hemingway’s latest book, Green Hills of Africa, his weakest. When he wrote Hemingway to that effect, the latter replied that he was glad to see by Fitzgerald’s comments that he did not know any more about when a book was good and what made it bad than ever. Then Hemingway slipped into the old kidding vein. He was living in Key West and wanted Fitzgerald to go to Cuba with him and see the next revolution. He told Fitzgerald to come down any time and they’d go over in Hemingway’s boat and get a good story out of it. “If you really feel blue enough get yourself heavily insured and I’ll see you can get killed… I’ll write a fine obituary that Malcom Cowley will cut the best parts out of for the new republic and we can take your liver out and give it to the Princeton Museum, your heart to the Plaza Hotel, one lung to Max Perkins and the other to George Horace Lorimer [editor of the Post] … We will get MacLeish to write a Mystic Poem to be read at that Catholic School (Newman?) you went to. Would you like me to write the mystic poem now? Let’s see…”

Fitzgerald’s attitude toward Hemingway was resignation tinged with jealousy. They had been in a race, and it seemed that Hemingway had won. If Fitzgerald had carried more sail, Hemingway had more keel to him, more ballast. Remembering the early days, Fitzgerald thought Hemingway a little lean on gratitude, but he half expected it in a man of Hemingway’s pride and independence. The previous summer, when Laura Guthrie had asked Fitzgerald why he never heard from his friend Hemingway, Fitzgerald replied, “I thought the world was one way, and he said it was another, so we split.” [Fitzgerald had come to feel an opportunistic strain in Hemingway. “Ernest,” he presently wrote, “would always give a helping hand to a man on a ledge a little higher up.”]

Hemingway’s attitude toward Fitzgerald was a mixture of condescension and scorn. People who knew him at this time remember him saying that Fitzgerald was “a rummy,” that he was washed up, that he had “gone social” and hung around the rich. “The Crack-Up” merely confirmed this view. On reading the first installment, Hemingway wrote Perkins that it was so miserable—this whining in public. A writer could be a coward but at least he should be a writer. Fitzgerald had gone from youth to senility without manhood in between. Nevertheless, it made Hemingway feel badly and he wished he could help.

His method of doing so, after two more installments of “The Crack-Up,” was curious indeed. In his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” published in August, 1936, he had the hero musing “The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

Fitzgerald was stunned by this public laying of a wreath on his career—gratuitous also, for there was no need to bring real names into fiction. There was, of course, the traditional right of authors, older than the Elizabethan pamphlet war, to tear each other to pieces, but Fitzgerald’s printed references to Hemingway had been nothing but praise. According to James Fain, a young newspaper man who was seeing Fitzgerald at the time, “Hemingway would have done better to hit him over the head with a bat—you have no idea how that man could be hurt.”

Fitzgerald described the sequel in a letter to Perkins.

“I wrote Ernest about that story of his asking him in the most measured terms not to use my name in future pieces of fiction. He wrote me back a crazy letter, telling me about what a great Writer he was and how much he loved his children, but yielding the point—’If I should outlive him’—which he doubted. To have answered it would have been like fooling with a lit firecracker. Somehow I love that man, no matter what he says or does, but just one more crack and I think I would have to throw my weight with the gang and lay him. No one could ever hurt him in his first books, but he has completely lost his head and the duller he gets about it, the more he is like a punch-drunk pug fighting himself in the movies.”

In subsequent printings of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “Scott Fitzgerald” became “Julian.” Perkins sided with Fitzgerald, he said he resented what Hemingway had done, but some months later he wrote Fitzgerald that Hemingway’s intentions had perhaps been kinder than Fitzgerald realized. Hemingway had wanted to give Fitzgerald a “jolt” that would be good for him. “Thanks for the word about Ernest,” Fitzgerald replied. “Methinks he does protest too much.”

By then Fitzgerald had suffered a worse humiliation, for weakness invites betrayal. The editor of the New York Post, having read “The Crack-Up,” thought a sensational story might be written about Fitzgerald’s fortieth birthday. Was he really a “cracked plate” beyond repair? Would he soon be jumping out the window? These were the questions a reporter named Michael Mok was sent to answer.

After preliminary scouting around Baltimore, Mok trailed Fitzgerald to Asheville. Fitzgerald’s drinking had grown steadily worse during his confinement in the plaster cast, and he was in no condition to be interviewed, but Mok said he had come all the way from New York and expressed admiration for Fitzgerald’s writing. Inviting Mok to his room, Fitzgerald received him wearing a tan suit and a soft green tie. He was boyish, keen, polite, but pale and unwell, and the nurse was giving him injections. Mok stayed several hours, and Fitzgerald thought the occasion had gone pleasantly enough until he read the results in the New York Post.

“The poet-prophet of the post-war neurotics,” said the frontpage article, “observed his fortieth birthday yesterday in his bedroom in the Grove Park Inn here. He spent the day as he spends all his days—trying to come back from the other side of Paradise, the hell of despondency in which he has writhed for the last couple of years….

“Physically he was suffering the aftermath of an accident eight weeks ago when he broke his right shoulder in a dive from a fifteen-foot springboard. But whatever pain the fracture might still cause him, it did not account for his jittery jumping off and onto his bed, his restless pacing, his trembling hands, his twitching face with its pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child. Nor could it be held responsible for his frequent trips to a highboy, in a drawer of which lay a bottle. Each time he poured a drink into the measuring glass beside his table, he would look appealingly at the nurse and ask, ‘Just one ounce?’ “ The lengthy article concluded with Fitzgerald’s resume of his own generation.

” ‘Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors.’ His face twitched. ‘Successful authors!’ he cried. ‘Oh, my God, successful authors!’ “

After reading the story, Fitzgerald attempted suicide. He swallowed the contents of a phial of morphine, but the overdose made him vomit, and later he felt like a fool when the nurse came in and discovered what he had done. Gradually anger and despair gave way to shame. He had touched bottom. Mok’s article rallied his self-respect and laid the foundation for a comeback of sorts.


Meanwhile his finances were at a low ebb. Ill and depressed, he was only capable of the sketches and slight stories which Esquire—then a young, struggling magazine—bought for $250-$350 apiece. He owed thousands each to Ober and Scribners and had borrowed to the limit on his life insurance. Early in September his mother had died, leaving an estate of $42,000 to be divided between him and his sister, though after Fitzgerald had repaid the sums his mother had lent him, his share was only $17,000. During the six months it took to settle the estate, Oscar Kalman came to his rescue with a sizeable loan.

His adolescent revolt against his mother had softened a little toward the end. He still spoke of her as an “old peasant,” and described her “majestically dipping her sleeves in the coffee,” but she had a dignity withal—“a shabby grandom,” as one of her husband’s relatives put it—and perhaps Fitzgerald realized that his vitality came from her. There was something of the soil about her, something unconscious and intuitive that had a good deal more to do with his creativity than his father’s tired refinement. All the time Fitzgerald had been living in Baltimore, his mother was in Washington, and in June, when she had a stroke and he transferred her to the hospital, the tragedy of her life came over him in a rush.

“It was sad,” he wrote his sister, “taking [Mother] from the Hotel, the only home she knew for fifteen years, to die—and to go thru her things, the slippers and corset she was married in, Louisa’s dolls in tissue paper [Louisa was one of the two daughters who had died before Fitzgerald was born], old letters and souvenirs, and collected scrap paper, and diaries that began and got nowhere, all her prides and sorrows and disappointments come to nothing and her lugged away like so much useless flesh the world had got thru with.

“Mother and I never had anything in common except a relentless stubborn quality, but when I saw all this it turned me inside out realizing how unhappy her temperament made her and how she clung to the end to all things that would remind her of moments of snatched happiness. So I couldn’t bear to throw out anything, even that rug, and it all goes to storage.”

Fitzgerald’s secretary that fall of 1936 remembered his frenzied efforts to write amid fears his talent had deserted him. She remembered the trouble the nurse had getting him to eat, and she remembered coming into his darkened room when he was lying on the bed and saying, “Scott, what is going to become of you?” Staring at the ceiling, he answered quietly, “God knows.” He wasn’t devoid of self-pity, yet he viewed his life with detachment and blamed himself for his plight.

Thinking it might cheer him to meet an admirer, Perkins asked Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, then in Fitzgerald’s vicinity working on The Yearling, to look him up. When she lunched with him in his room the end of October, he was still in bed, plagued with arthritis, but she was able to send Perkins an optimistic report.

“Max, we had a perfectly delightful time. Far from being depressing, I enjoyed him thoroughly, and I’m sure he enjoyed it as much. He was nervous as a cat, but had not been drinking —had had his nurse put his liquor away. We had only sherry and a table wine, and talked our heads off. His reaction to the NY Post story had been to go to New York and kill … Mok, until he decided that would be a silly gesture with one arm disabled. He was terribly hurt about it, of course, for he had listened to a sob story from Mok, to let him in at all, and had responded to a lot of things the man had told him—possibly spurious—about his own maladjusted wife, by talking more freely than he should have done. But he has taken the thing very gracefully and is not unduly bitter or upset about it. He was also more forgiving and reasonable than I think I should have been, about Hemingway’s unnecessary crack at him in the Snows of Kilimanjaro. We agreed that it was part of Hemingway’s own sadistic maladjustment, which makes him go around knocking people down. Scott said that Hemingway had written him very violently damning him for his revealing self-searchings in Esquire, and Scott expressed the idea that it was just as legitimate to get one’s grievances off one’s chest that way, as by giving an upper-cut to some harmless weakling. He resented Hemingway’s calling him ‘ruined,’ and from other things he said, it was plain to me that he does not consider himself ‘ruined’ by a long shot….

“His point of view lets him in for much desperate unhappiness and disillusion, because he simply cannot expect the consistent perfection and magnificence of life that he does, frankly, expect. But as a writer, except for the times such as this one has been, when his misery holds him up too long, his masochisms will not interfere with his work. … I do not think you need to worry about him, physically or psychologically. He has thrown himself on the floor and shrieked himself black in the face and pounded his heels—as lots of us do in one way or another—but when it’s over he’ll go back to his building blocks again.”


Through it all Scottie had been a reason to keep struggling. “Seeing her,” Fitzgerald wrote Oscar Kalman, “you will see how much I still have to live for.” Now in her first year at Ethel Walker’s, she was showing a literary bent which Fitzgerald tried to discourage by stressing the scientific subjects which were hard for her. If she became a writer—which he hoped she wouldn’t—he wanted it to happen against the grain, rather than as the result of a fundamentally literary training.

During the Christmas holidays he gave her a dance in Baltimore. It was an afternoon affair at the Belvedere Hotel, and Fitzgerald had been terribly earnest about working out the plans with my mother and two other hostesses, though he teased Scottie in a letter, “I am determined to have a hurdy gurdy for the orchestra—you know, an Italian with a monkey, and I think the children will be very content with that. They don’t want much, children of sixteen or seventeen, and they will be amused by the antics of the monkey. Your idea of a swing orchestra seems zero to me. However, in the next room I will have some of the older people with a swing orchestra I have engaged, and from time to time you may bring some of your choice friends in there to dance.”

Fitzgerald was sober when the occasion began, but soon he was making trips to the bar, and those who realized what was happening tried to pretend he wasn’t there. Not that he grew loud or angry; he was just bleary-eyed, tottering and silly, and to make matters worse he insisted on dancing with some of the girls, who looked scared or embarrassed, while the others giggled behind his back.

Before the holidays ended, he was in the hospital where he finally came to his senses. He must have hated himself for humiliating Scottie before her friends, and the past year had been his least productive since 1926 when he was squandering the proceeds, of the Gatsby movie rights on the Riviera. He was tired of slinking through life and wanted to face the world again, but to get a job in Hollywood, which now seemed the only way of paying his steadily accumulating debts, he would have to stay sober. With the help of a doctor in Tryon, where he spent the winter and spring of 1937, he made a supreme effort and managed to stop drinking altogether.

Treading water until Ober could negotiate a Hollywood contract, he lived quietly in a top-floor room at the Oak Hall Hotel. Once more he was seeing a good deal of the Flynns, who had recently built a house in the hunting country north of Tryon. There was honeysuckle along the drive where they strolled after dinner, and dogwood, lilac, jasmine, and wisteria all about, and an awesome view of the Smokies through the picture window. At the Flynns’ parties Fitzgerald was polite but withdrawn. He was more his old self in Misseldine’s drug store down the hill from his hotel, where he and the Flynns and a few others often gossiped over milkshakes and cups of coffee. One day Fitzgerald dashed off a lyric on a paper napkin, which became thereafter a kind of theme song that they harmonized to the melody of “O Tannenbaum.”

Oh Misseldines, dear Misseldines,
A dive we’ll ne’er forget,
The taste of its banana splits
Is on our tonsils yet.
Its chocolate fudge makes livers budge,
It’s really too divine,
And as we reel, we’ll give one squeal
For dear old Misseldines.

Struthers Burt, whom Fitzgerald had presented with the first copy of This Side of Paradise, remembered a glimpse of him that spring. “My wife and I were having supper on the terrace … and Scott, totally unexpected, came in through the twilight as quiet as a moth. We sat late on the terrace talking, and a moon came up, and the dogwoods were like white cascading water, and there were even whippoorwills…. My wife and I were astonished. Scott wasn’t drinking and he was sweet, and reasonable, and earnest, although still amusing.”

Fitzgerald had begun to see his crack-up in perspective. He had gone into the romantic sickness anatomized in Tender Is the Night and come out the other side. “My life looked like a hopeless mess there for awhile,” he wrote Oscar Kalman, “and the point was I didn’t want it to be better. I had completely ceased to give a good God damn.” He put on seventeen pounds and felt his strength returning, yet he seemed unable to write a saleable story and had begun to fear that his drinking had ruined his chances in Hollywood, when Ober got him a six-month contract with MGM at $1,000 a week, and the future opened out again.

Next: chapter 16

Published as Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribners, 1962; London: Bodley Head, 1962).