"To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three minutes; to collect the data in it all my life." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 — December 21, 1940) was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost Generation" of the 1920s. He finished four novels, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night and his most famous, the celebrated classic, The Great Gatsby. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon was published posthumously. Fitzgerald also wrote many short stories that treat themes of youth and promise along with despair and age.
"A big man has no time really to do anything but just sit and be big.""A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.""Action is character.""Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero.""After all, life hasn't much to offer except youth, and I suppose for older people, the love of youth in others.""All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.""An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.""At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.""Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.""Either you think, or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.""Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues.""Everybody's youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.""Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material.""First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.""For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.""Forgotten is forgiven.""Genius goes around the world in its youth incessantly apologizing for having large feet. What wonder that later in life it should be inclined to raise those feet too swiftly to fools and bores.""Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind.""Great art is the contempt of a great man for small art.""Her body calculated to a millimeter to suggest a bud yet guarantee a flower.""His was a great sin who first invented consciousness. Let us lose it for a few hours.""I like people and I like them to like me, but I wear my heart where God put it, on the inside.""I'm a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't.""I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.""In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day.""It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did.""It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.""It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.""It's not a slam at you when people are rude, it's a slam at the people they've met before.""Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.""Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known.""My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.""Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.""No decent career was ever founded on a public.""No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.""No such thing as a man willing to be honest - that would be like a blind man willing to see.""Nothing is as obnoxious as other people's luck.""Often people display a curious respect for a man drunk, rather like the respect of simple races for the insane... There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions.""Only remember west of the Mississippi it's a little more look, see, act. A little less rationalize, comment, talk.""Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.""Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction.""Scratch a Yale man with both hands and you'll be lucky to find a coast-guard. Usually you find nothing at all.""Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.""Some men have a necessity to be mean, as if they were exercising a faculty which they had to partially neglect since early childhood.""Speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.""Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end.""The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young.""The easiest way to get a reputation is to go outside the fold, shout around for a few years as a violent atheist or a dangerous radical, and then crawl back to the shelter.""The faces of most American women over thirty are relief maps of petulant and bewildered unhappiness.""The idea that to make a man work you've got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom. We've done that for so long that we've forgotten there's any other way.""The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.""The victor belongs to the spoils.""The world, as a rule, does not live on beaches and in country clubs.""There are no second acts in American lives.""Though the Jazz Age continued it became less and less an affair of youth. The sequel was like a children's party taken over by the elders.""To a profound pessimist about life, being in danger is not depressing.""Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement. Discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint.""Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.""What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that, and the next thirty years?""When people are taken out of their depths they lose their heads, no matter how charming a bluff they may put up.""You can stroke people with words.""You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say."
Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper middle class Irish Catholic family, Fitzgerald was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key, but was referred to as "Scott". He was also named after his deceased sister Louise Scott, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. He spent 1898—1901 in Syracuse and 1903—1908 in Buffalo, New York, where he attended Nardin Academy. When his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908—1911. His first literary effort, a detective story, was published in a school newspaper when he was 12. When he was 16, he was expelled from St. Paul Academy for neglecting his studies. He attended Newman School, a prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey, in 1911—1912, and entered Princeton University in 1913 as a member of the Class of 1917. There he became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson (Class of 1916) and John Peale Bishop (Class of 1917), and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club. His absorption in the Triangle...a kind of musical-comedy society...led to his submission of a novel to Charles Scribner's Sons where the editor praised the writing but ultimately rejected the book. He was a member of the University Cottage Club, which still displays Fitzgerald's desk and writing materials in its library. A poor student, Fitzgerald left Princeton to enlist in the US Army during World War I; however, the war ended shortly after Fitzgerald's enlistment.
While at a country club, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre (1900—1948), the "golden girl", in Fitzgerald's words, of Montgomery, Alabama youth society. The two were engaged in 1919, and Fitzgerald moved into an apartment at 1935 Lexington Avenue in New York City to try to lay a foundation for his life with Zelda. Working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement.
Scott returned to his parents' house at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill, in St. Paul, to revise The Romantic Egoist. Recast as This Side of Paradise, about the post-WWI flapper generation, it was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919, and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement. The novel was published on March 26, 1920, and became one of the most popular books of the year. Scott and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.
"The Jazz Age"
The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, considered his masterpiece, was published in 1925. Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, notably Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway.
Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway was quite vigorous, as many of Fitzgerald’s relationships would prove to be. Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda. In addition to describing her as "insane" he claimed that she “encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Scott from his ‘real’ work on his novel," the other work being the short stories he sold to magazines. This “whoring”, as Fitzgerald, and subsequently Hemingway, called these sales, was a sore point in the authors’ friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an authentic manner but then put in “twists that made them into saleable magazine stories.”
Fitzgerald's marriage was mixed...both destructive and constructive. Fitzgerald drew largely upon his wife's intense and flamboyant personality in his writings, at times quoting direct passages from her letters and personal diaries in his work. Zelda made mention of this in a 1922 mock review in the New York Tribune, saying that "[i]t seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald...I believe that is how he spells his name...seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home" (Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, 388). But the impact of Zelda's personality on his work and life is often overstated, as much of his earliest writings reflect the personality of a first love, Ginevra King. In fact, the character of Daisy as much represents his inability to cultivate his relationship with King as it does the ever-present fact of Zelda. (Although Gatsby's economic failure to immediately wed Daisy in 1917, with an eventual return in financial triumph, does closely mirror Fitzgerald's own experiences with his future wife).
Although Fitzgerald's passion lay in writing novels, only his first novel sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. As did most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Esquire, and sold movie rights of his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. Many of these stories act as testing grounds for his novels. For example, "Absolution" was intended as an earlier chapter in The Great Gatsby. Because of this lifestyle, as well as the bills from Zelda's medical care when they came, Fitzgerald was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins. When Ober decided not to continue advancing Fitzgerald, the author severed ties with his longtime friend and agent. (Fitzgerald offered a good-hearted and apologetic tribute to this support in the late short story "Financing Finnegan").
Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland. Scott rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson, Maryland to work on his latest book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries Nicole Warren, one of his patients. The book went through many versions, the first of which was to be a story of matricide. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda wrote and sent to Scribner's her own fictional version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and was able to make some changes prior to the novel's publication, and convince her doctors to keep her from writing any more about what he called his "material," which included their relationship. His book was finally published in 1934 as Tender Is the Night. Critics who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about the novel. Most were thrown off by its three-part structure and many felt that Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but like the earlier Gatsby, the book's reputation has since risen significantly.
Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits, and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, it was based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg. Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the East Coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, the gossip columnist, in Hollywood. From 1939 until his death, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as "The Pat Hobby Stories."
Illness & death
Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis, but Milford dismisses it as a pretext to cover his drinking problems. However, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli contends that Fitzgerald did in fact have recurring tuberculosis, and Nancy Milford reports that Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener said that Scott suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and in 1929 he had "what proved to be a tubercular hemorrhage". It has been said that the hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices.
Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940. After the first, in Schwab's Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion. He moved in with Sheilah Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Ave., one block east of Fitzgerald's apartment on North Laurel Ave. Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to get to his apartment; Graham's was a ground floor apartment. On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham attended the premiere of "This Thing Called Love" starring Melvyn Douglas and Rosalind Russell. As the two were leaving the Pantages Theater, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving the theater; upset, he said to Ms. Graham, "They think I am drunk, don't they?".
The following day, as Scott ate a candy bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, Ms. Graham saw him jump from his armchair, grab the mantelpiece, gasp, and fall to the floor. She ran to the manager of the building, Harry Culver, founder of Culver City; upon entering the apartment and assisting Scott, he stated, "I'm afraid he's dead." Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack. His body was removed to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary.
Among the attendants at a visitation held at a funeral home was Dorothy Parker, who reportedly cried and murmured "the poor son-of-a-bitch," a line from Jay Gatsby's funeral in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The remains were shipped to Baltimore, Maryland, where his funeral was attended by twenty or thirty people in Bethesda; among the attendants were his only child, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith, and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. Fitzgerald was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. Zelda died in 1948, in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Ms. Frances Lanahan worked to overturn the Archdiocese of Baltimore ruling that Fitzgerald died a non practicing Catholic, so that he could be at rest at the Roman Catholic cemetery where his father's family was laid. Both Scott's and Zelda's remains were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville, Maryland in 1975.
Fitzgerald died before he could complete The Love of the Last Tycoon. His manuscript, which included extensive notes for the unwritten part of the novel's story, was edited by his friend, the literary critic Edmund Wilson, and published in 1941 as The Last Tycoon. In 1994 the book was reissued under the original title The Love of the Last Tycoon, which is now agreed to have been Fitzgerald's preferred title.
Fitzgerald's work and legend has inspired writers ever since he was first published. The publication of The Great Gatsby prompted T. S. Eliot to write, in a letter to Fitzgerald, "[I]t seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James...". Don Birnam, the protagonist of Steph and Charles Jackson's The Lost Weekend, says to himself, referring to Gatsby, "There's no such thing...as a flawless novel. But if there is, this is it." In letters written in the 1940s, J. D. Salinger expressed admiration of Fitzgerald's work, and his biographer Ian Hamilton wrote that Salinger even saw himself for some time as "Fitzgerald's successor." Richard Yates, a writer often compared to Fitzgerald, called The Great Gatsby "the most nourishing novel [he] read...a miracle of talent...a triumph of technique." It was written in a New York Times editorial after his death that Fitzgerald "was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a generation. [... H]e might have interpreted them and even guided them, as in their middle years they saw a different and nobler freedom threatened with destruction."
Into the 21st century, millions of copies of The Great Gatsby and his other works have been sold, and Gatsby, a constant best-seller, is required reading in many high school and college classes.
Fitzgerald is a 2009 inductee of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Fitzgerald was the first cousin once removed of Mary Surratt, hanged in 1865 for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
A musical about the lives Fitzgerald and wife Zelda Fitzgerald was composed by Frank Wildhorn entitled Waiting for the Moon, formerly known as Zelda, followed by Scott & Zelda: The Other Side Of Paradise,. The musical shows their lives from when they first met, through Fitzgerald's career, their lives together (the good and bad), to both of their deaths. The musical made its world premiere at The Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center in a production that ran from July 20, 2005 through July 31, 2005. It starred Broadway veteran actors Jarrod Emick as Fitzgerald and Lauren Kennedy as Zelda.
The Japanese Takarazuka Revue has also created a musical adaptation of Fitzgerald's life. Entitled The Last Party: S. Fitzgerald's Last Day, it was produced in 2004 and 2006. Yuhi Oozora and Y?ga Yamato starred as Fitzgerald, while Zelda was played by Kanami Ayano and Rui Shijou.
Fitzgerald was portrayed by the actor Malcolm Gets in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
The last years of Fitzgerald and his relation with Ms. Graham was the theme of the movie Beloved Infidel (1959). Gregory Peck portrayed Fitzgerald in this film, and Deborah Kerr portrayed Ms. Graham.
The Beautiful and the Damned, starring Keira Knightley as Zelda and Leonardo DiCaprio as Scott, is going into production as of 2010.
Zelda Fitzgerald published an autobiographically-charged novel, Save Me the Waltz, in 1934.
The film Beloved Infidel (1959) depicts Fitzgerald (played by Gregory Peck) during his final years as a Hollywood scenarist. The film concentrates on Fitzgerald's relationship with Sheilah Graham (played by Deborah Kerr), the Hollywood gossip columnist with whom he had a years-long affair while his wife, Zelda, was institutionalized. Another film, Last Call (2002) (Jeremy Irons plays Fitzgerald) describes the relationship with Frances Kroll during his last two years of life. The film was based on the memoir of Frances Kroll Ring, titled As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald (1985), that records her experience as secretary to Fitzgerald for the last 20 months of his life.
The standard biographies of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are Arthur Mizener's The Far Side of Paradise (1951, 1965) and Matthew Bruccoli's Some Sort of Epic Grandeur (1981). Fitzgerald's letters have also been published in various editions such as Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, ed. Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Banks (2002); Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew Bruccoli and Margaret Duggan (1980), and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (1994).
Fitzgerald appears alongside Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway in the play Villa America by British playwright Crispin Whittell which premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival (2007).