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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

F. Scott Fitzgerald

EARLY LIFE

F, Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle-class family,

He was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key, the author of "The Star-Bangled Banner," but was referred to by the familiar moniker Scott Fitzgerald.

His father Edward Fitzgerald was an ineffectual mild-mannered wholesale grocer. Scott's forceful mother, Mary Mcquillan, the daughter of a wealthy Irish grocer, ruled the household.

His father scraped together the money to give his only son a first class education. Scott attended Saint Paul Academy and Summit School in Saint Paul, Minnesota between 1908-1911. He switched to Newman School, a Catholic  prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey, between 1911-12.

Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in 1913. His peers at Princeton were wealthier than him and he never felt part of their world, though he became friends with the future critics and writers Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop.

Scott Fitzgerald was not sporty though he played a mean ping-pong and enjoyed watching American Football. Fitzgerald's childhood dream had been to be a football hero in the quarterback position. He had tried out for the Princeton team in 1913 but was cut within the first week.

Saddled with academic difficulties throughout his three-year career at the university, Fitzgerald dropped out in 1917 to enlist in the United States Army.

Fitzgerald wrote a comedy play at Princeton but left before he could act in it.

He volunteered as a soldier during World War One but Fitzgerald never saw active service in Europe. The war ended just before he was due to be sent overseas.

Fitzgerald was convinced that he would die in the war and he rapidly wrote a novel, The Romantic Egotist.

ZELDA FITZGERALD

While at Camp Sheridan, Fitzgerald met the blonde, creamy-skinned Zelda Sayre (1900-1948), at a country club dance. The daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Judge, in Fitzgerald's words she was the "top girl," of Montgomery, Alabama, youth society.

Zelda Sayre at age 17

The pair were engaged in 1919 and Fitzgerald moved into an apartment at 200 Claremont Avenue in New York City to try to lay a foundation for his life with the high-living Zelda. Working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, Fitzgerald was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her. She broke off the engagement.

Fitzgerald returned to his parents' house in St. Paul to revise The Romantic Egotist. Recast as This Side of Paradise, it was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919, and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement.

This Side of Paradise, was published on March 26, 1920, giving Fitzgerald sufficient money to marry Zelda.

Scott and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their daughter and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.


Scott and Zelda honeymooned at the Biltmore Hotel in New York until asked to leave because of their behaviour.

The pair had a passionate, drink filled relationship with frequent domestic rows usually triggered by drinking bouts.

F Scott Fitzerald and Zelda at Dellwood

A schizophrenic, Zelda was confined to an expensive asylum in South Carolina from 1930 to her death in 1948. Scott was loyal, not divorcing Zelda and visited her in hospital.

Fitzgerald did retain other mistresses especially the glamorous, blonde, columnist, Sheilah Graham, with whom the novelist was living when he passed away.

THE JAZZ AGE

Scott Fitzgerald was handsome with crinkly fair hair, chiselled nose, luminous blue eyes, angelic mouth. Delicate and slim, he was 5' 8" (1.73 m).

Photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald c. 1921, appearing "The World's Work" (June 1921 issue)

Fitzgerald coined the phrase "Jazz Age" with his 1922 book Tales of the Jazz Age.

Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda were renowned for their exquisite clothes and matching furs.

A fame junkie, Fitzgerald did handstands in the lobby of the New York Biltmore Hotel because he hadn't been in the news that week.

Zelda was one of the pioneers of sun bathing.

WRITING CAREER

After the war Fitzgerald got a job with the Barron Collier advertising agency and wrote slogans for street car cards including regarding a steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa, "you keep it clean in muscatine".

During 1920s Fitzgerald averaged under $25,000 a year. To maintain the luxurious lifestyle he and Zelda enjoyed he wrote at a furious pace.

Fitzgerald wrote four great novels and 150 short stories. His writing helped herald in the Cote D'Azur dossing around the beach life style which became so popular among the upper middle classes in the second half of last century.

Written originally whilst in the army about his experiences at Princeton. Fitzgerald rewrote This Side of Paradise after temporarily breaking up with Zelda in 1919. Published in 1920, it became one of the most popular books of the year, defining the flapper generation.

Dust jacket cover to first edition

Fitzgerald began planning The Great Gatsby in 1923, inspired by the parties he had attended while visiting Long Island's north shore.  Originally he was going to call it "Incident at West Egg.”

Published on April 10, 1925, The Great Gatsby epitomized the jazz age and satirized the materialism of his age. However, it was so unsuccessful that much of its second print run of just 3,000 copies was unsold 15 years later when Fitzgerald died.

The Great Gatsby now sells more copies per month in the USA than it did in Fitzgerald's lifetime.

Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald's fourth and final completed novel, was first published in Scribner's Magazine between January–April, 1934 in four issues. It was then published on April 12, 1934. A story about insanity, alcoholism and glamorous lives which metamorphosed into wretched ones, it was influenced by Zelda's descent into madness and the strain on their marriage. It took Fitzgerald nine years to complete.

First edition front cover. Wikipedia Commons

Unfinished when he'd died, Fitzgerald had completed 44,000 words of The Love of the Last  Tycoon. It was published posthumously as The Last Tycoon.




The chief character Monroe Stahr in The Love of the Last Tycoon was modelled on the mogul, Irving Thalberg.

Zelda wrote a successful book about their life together in 1932 titled, Save Me The Waltz.

Although Fitzgerald's passion lay in writing novels, they never sold well enough to support the luxurious lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities and he was constantly in financial trouble. To support their opulence, he turned to writing short stories for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Magazine, and Esquire magazine, and sold movie rights of his stories and novels to Hollywood studios.

Fitzgerald wrote screen plays to pay for Zelda's mental home fees which nearly bankrupted him. He was frustrated by the image-based medium, which he had difficulty comprehending as it was so different from the language-based forms of the novel and short-story that he excelled in.

His only writing screen credit was for the film Three Comrades starring Robert Taylor.

Fitzgerald was a scriptwriter for a new project called Gone With The Wind but he only lasted two weeks before being booted out.

His attempts to keep the bailiffs at bay by writing Hollywood screenplays ended in ignominy. Just before Fitzgerald's death he received a royalty payment of $13.

On his scriptwriting days, Fitzgerald said: "You always know where you stand with Sam Goldwyn. Nowhere."

Fitzgerald was a drinking partner and close friend of the young Ernest Hemingway whilst in Paris. He grew more distant from him as Hemingway's fame grew and his declined and he became increasingly dependent on alcohol.

When Thomas Wolfe dedicated his first, very lengthy novel to his editor, a proof copy was sent to Scott Fitzgerald for his views. "I liked the dedication" was his response "but after that I thought it fell off a bit."

HOMES

The Fitzgeralds left their Long Island home for the French Riviera in 1924. They didn't return permanently to the United States until 1931 though they rented Ellerslie- a mansion near Wilmington, Delaware between 1927-29..

In 1932 Fitzgerald rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson outside Baltimore..

Between 1935-37 Fitzgerald lived in hotels near Asheville, North Carolina. Mainly the Grove Park Inn.

ILLNESS AND DEATH

By the time he published Tender is the Night in 1934, Fitzgerald was an alcoholic; He drunk for inspiration, gin being his main weakness.

Fitzgerald had first a first heart attack at Schwab's Drugstore, Sunset Blvd in November 1940.

Fitzgerald died on December 21, 1940 of a heart attack listening to Beethoven's "Eroica Symphony" whilst eating a chocolate Hershey bar in Sheilah Graham's Hollywood apartment. He passed away believing himself a failure.

Zelda died in a fire at the Highland mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 10, 1948.

Scott and Zelda were originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery but with the permission and assistance of their daughter, Frances, the Women's Club of Rockville had their bodies moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville, Maryland.

Zelda and Fitzgerald's grave in Rockville, Maryland, inscribed with the final sentence of The Great Gatsby

Sources  5,000 Gems of Wit and Wisdom, The Faber Book of Anecdotes.

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