F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gatsby Unchained

Gatsby movie tie-in

A paperback tie-in version for the 1949 movie featuring Alan Ladd. Not exactly how I pictured Gatsby, but there’s no accounting for taste.

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Fitzgerald: “utter helplessness”

I am thirty-six years old. For eighteen years save for a short space during the war writing has been my chief interest in life, and I am in every sense a professional. Yet even now when, at the recurrent cry of “Baby Needs Shoes,” I sit down facing my sharpened pencils and a block of legal-sized paper, I have a feeling of utter helplessness. I may write my story in three days or, as is more frequently the case, it may be six weeks before I have assembled anything worthy to be sent out. I can open a volume from a criminal law library and find a thousand plots. I can go into highway and byway, parlor and kitchen, and listen to personal revelations that at the hands of other writers might endure forever. But all that is nothing — not even enough for a false start.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “One Hundred False Starts” (1933)

Making Gatsby

Gatsby manuscript

Fitzgerald’s handwritten manuscript of The Great Gatsby (via)

Quote of the Day

Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (via)

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Fitzgerald’s briefcase

Fitzgerald's briefcase

“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s briefcase. The monogram reads:

Scott Fitzgerald
597 – 5th Ave.
New York

The address is not Fitzgerald’s but that of his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons.” (Source)

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Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald, 1924, age 23. Zelda died on this day in 1948. (via scribnerbooks)

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Mannahatta, 1609

Manahatta 1609

Mannahatta, 1609, as Henry Hudson found it. Reminds me of this:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

More about The Mannahatta Project here and here.

Fitzgerald: What people are ashamed of

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Book lust


Penguin Classics will publish new editions of six major works by F. Scott Fitzgerald in gorgeous new designs by Coralie Bickford-Smith. Want. More information here.


Fitzgerald on creating characters

“Start out with an individual and you find that you have created a type — start out with a type and you find that you have created nothing.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Man Out of Time: “The Disenchanted” by Budd Schulberg

F. Scott Fitzgerald is easy to iconize. His story so neatly tracks his times: in the Twenties, he had a Jazz Age party; when America crashed, he cracked up; in the Depression, he was down and out. In The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg’s novelization of the Scott-Zelda tale, an older, lightly fictionalized Fitzgerald is painfully aware of the symmetry:

It seemed almost too damned easy to think of himself and the Twenties as going smash together, as if he were unconsciously acting out the Twenties in some ghastly charade, and yet here he was in the first year of the Depression with his money gone, his wife nearly gone, his reputation going. What had Hank said? He didn’t know how to keep his distance.

The Disenchanted is partly a response to all the images and associations that built up around Fitzgerald. It strips away the dreamy illusions and portrays instead an older Fitzgerald who is all too human. Not the glamorous idol of the twenties, but the broke-down, post-crackup Fitzgerald of 1939 — ravaged by alcoholism, forgotten by the reading public, near dead at 43 years old. Schulberg’s depiction is so unforgiving that Sheilah Graham, Fitzgerald’s partner at the end of his life, never forgave him.

But the novel is not just about Fitzgerald’s decline. It is also about young Budd Schulberg’s own disillusionment when he discovered the Fitzgerald myth was just that, a romantic fantasy. It turned out, Fitzgerald’s story ended the same way everyone else’s does. No Daisy or Zelda, no green light, no “riotous” parties. Just the inevitable grinding-down of time. Even Scott Fitzgerald grew up then grew old. To a 25-year-old Fitzgerald fan, there is no drearier news.

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You never completely relax again

Fitzgerald in Hollywood

“[Being a writer is] an awful curse to wish on anybody — from the day you begin you never completely relax again.… Even those years I threw away, when the book reviewers were giving me up, I was always worrying about writing, wishing I could find the way to get started again and wanting to push on beyond where I had been.”

— Budd Schulberg, The Disenchanted (1950). The speaker is Manley Halliday, a character based on F. Scott Fitzgerald in his cracked-up, broke-down Hollywood years.

Image: Detail, F. Scott Fitzgerald, June 4, 1937 (photo by Carl van Vechten). Fitzgerald is 40 years old in this photo. He died December 21, 1940, at age 44.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Swimming under water”

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from an undated letter to his daughter Scottie, reprinted in The Crack-Up (1945)

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Financial Lives of the Poets

The publication of This Side of Paradise when he was 23 immediately put Fitzgerald’s income in the top 2 percent of American taxpayers. Thereafter, for most of his working life, he earned about $24,000 a year, which put him in the top 1 percent of those filing returns. Today, a taxpayer would have to earn at least $500,000 to be in the top 1 percent. … Most of his earnings came from the short stories and, later, the movies. His best novels, The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), did not produce much income. Royalties from The Great Gatsby totaled only $8,397 during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. … When he died in December 1940, his estate was solvent but modest — around $35,000, mostly from an insurance policy. The tax appraisers considered the copyrights worthless. Today, even multiplying Fitzgerald’s estate by 30, it would not require an estate tax return.

— William J. Quirk, “Living on $500,000 a Year: What F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tax Returns Reveal About His Life and Times”

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