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Fitzgerald fascination: Stewart O’Nan book, new biographies, film projects focus on F. Scott |

Fitzgerald fascination: Stewart O’Nan book, new biographies, film projects focus on F. Scott

| Saturday, January 10, 2015 4:18 p.m
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Author Stewart O'Nan is interviewed in Regent Square Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald pose for a photo at the Sayre home in Montgomery, Ala., in 1919, the year before they married.
washington post
ROCKVILLE, MD - MAY 09: The grave marker of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald is seen at St. Mary's Church Cemetery on Thursday May 09, 2013 in Rockville, MD. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, 'The Great Gatsby' was made into a new film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Author Stewart O'Nan is interviewed in Regent Square Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald poses for a portrait in this 1920s file photo. Fitzgerald, who was born 100 years ago Sept. 24, was the chronicler of his generation, the era he christened the Jazz Age.
Warner Bros.
(L-r) LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Jay Gatsby and CAREY MULLIGAN as Daisy Buchanan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl van Vechten, in 1937.
'West of Sunset' by Stewart O'Nan
Gravier Productions
Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris'
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Author Stewart O'Nan is interviewed in Regent Square Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.

By general consensus, the last years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life were mired in alcoholism and indigence.

The author of “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender Is the Night” left his wife, Zelda, in the care of others while trying to eke out a living writing screenplays in Hollywood. One of the great literary voices of the 20th century was often reduced to working on minor films, with a few notable exceptions including uncredited work on “Gone With the Wind.”

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel, “West of Sunset” (Viking, $27.95), takes a different view of Fitzgerald’s final years.

“Everyone sees that time in Hollywood as a disaster for him,” says O’Nan of Fitzgerald’s life from 1937 until his death in 1940. “I see it as the exact opposite. He goes out there; he gets a job; he makes enough money to pay his daughter’s tuition and keep Zelda in a private hospital, which she desperately needs at the time. It’s about responsibility. He’s trying to take care of his responsibilities even though he has this self-destructive streak within him.”

“West of Sunset” is O’Nan’s fifteenth novel, and something of a happy accident. The Pittsburgh native, who lives in Regent Square, was researching a nonfiction project when he learned that Fitzgerald made at least three trips to Hollywood in hopes of establishing credentials as a screenwriter.

“If you’re not running into something you didn’t expect,” O’Nan says of the discovery, “you’re not getting anything, you’re not finding anything.”

Most of O’Nan’s novels have been about common people in extraordinary situations: A woman attempting to piece together her life after her husband has been sentenced to prison in “The Good Wife,” or a restaurant manager trying to maintain his dignity as a Red Lobster restaurant closes in “Last Night at the Lobster.”

O’Nan says “every journalist wanted to take me to a Red Lobster” when that novel was published in 2007, so his wife suggested he seek out more glamorous material.

“What do I know from glamour? I’m from Pittsburgh,” he says. “But American glamour is Fitzgerald on the Riviera. American glamour is Greta Garbo. So what if I look at one of the most romantic places in American history (Hollywood in the late 1930s) through the eyes of our greatest romantic. If I can’t make that glamorous, I’m not trying.”

Although it might seem unusual that one of America’s most lauded novelist would deign to write for film, Fitzgerald was not alone in this pursuit. Many of the writers from the famed Algonquin Round Table, and other esteemed literary figures of the period, decided they could make money in Hollywood. Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman were among those who journeyed west hoping their talents would pay off.

“These are the crazy people (Fitzgerald) spent time with in the ”20s in New York,” O’Nan says. “They don’t revere him, but they know him, they understand him, whereas the rest of the world has no clue.”

O’Nan admits the setting, secondary characters and events of “West of Sunset” were “all there” for him, and that he only had to fine tune descriptions of place and time. The challenge was making Fitzgerald’s plight sympathetic despite his failings, including an affair he conducted with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham while Zelda Fitzgerald was hospitalized.

“He’s a great character to work with because he’s always troubled,” O’Nan says. “He’s got tons of issues going on in his life that have to be addressed right now. He’s always hustling, and I like a character who is hustling all the time. And he’s hustling hard. He has to hock his car!

“That’s the Fitzgerald we don’t know, the guy who has to pawn his car, twice, to pay the rent. We don’t know that guy. … You go from that one thing where you’re the toast of America and the emblem of success and beauty and glamour, to the guy who has to go with his 18-year-old secretary to hock his car.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Fitzgerald revived, again

On film

F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 believing he was a failure.

Seventy-five years later, he most likely would be surprised to learn that his popularity and his works are having yet another periodic revival. Films of his works have appeared in every decade since the 1920s, including multiple versions of “The Great Gatsby,” the latest in 2013.

At least three of his short stories are in various stages of development as films, two of his novels are being turned into series and a musical adaptation of his 1920 novel “This Side of Paradise” recently had a short run Off-Broadway with the title “The Underclassman.”

The project most likely to be seen by a wide audience is a version of Fitzgerald’s final, unfinished novel “The Last Tycoon,” which Amazon Studios is rumored to be adapting with screenwriter Billy Ray for a series that would be streamed on Amazon in partnership with Sony Pictures Television.

In December, ABC acquired “Diamond in the Sky” from film producer Lake House Productions and playwright David Auburn. The series is based on Fitzgerald’s 1922 novella, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

Look for two recently completed film shorts based on two of Fitzgerald’s short stories published in 1920 to be making the rounds of film festivals: “The Offshore Pirate,” completed in 2013, and “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Head and Shoulders,’ ” completed in 2014. Also in the works is a full-length film based on his 1930 short story “The Bridal Party.”

— Alice T. Carter

IN biographies

The author became the subject many times.

There are many books written about F. Scott Fitzgerald, from several that tell of his friendship with author Ernest Hemingway to others that have recorded stories of his tumultuous marriage and other aspects of his literary life.

Just last year, Maureen Corrigan, a book critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” published “So We Read On: How ‘The Great Gatsby’ Came to Be and Why It Endures” (Little, Brown).

The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review has been publishing essays on all aspects of Fitzgerald’s life and work since 2002. It’s currently published by the Penn State University Press.

Olivia Laing included Fitzgerald in her 2013 book “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking.”

Johns Hopkins University professor John Irwin takes a look at the writer’s works in “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction: An Almost Theatrical Innocence” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society ( recommends three biographies: 1951’s “The Far Side of Paradise” by Arthur Mizener, Scott Donaldson’s “Fool for Love” (1977) and Matthew J. Bruccoli’s “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur” (1981).

These are just the tip of the iceberg on writing about Fitzgerald.

— JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

As a character

F. Scott Fitzgerald works not only have been converted to film, he has appeared as a character in several movies.

Tom Hiddleston played Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris” in 2011, and Jeremy Irons played him in “Last Call” in 2002. Malcolm Gets played Fitzgerald in 1994 in “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,” and Timothy Hutton played him a year earlier in the television movie “Zelda.”

Gregory Peck played Fitzgerald in a 1959 movie, “Beloved Infidel,” about the last few years of the author’s life and his affair with Sheilah Graham, a Hollywood gossip columnist.

Fitzgerald is a character in television movies, too. In “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood” (1976), Jason Miller plays him, and in “F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘The Last of the Belles’ ” (1974), Richard Chamberlain plays the role.

Guy Pearce will play Fitzgerald this year in the upcoming movie “Genius,” a chronicle of book editor Max Perkins, with Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway.

— Kellie B. Gormly

In hiS own words

Although F. Scott Fitzgerald is widely recognized as one of America’s great novelists, he completed only four novels during his 44 years of life, all of which are still in print.

“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy,” he once wrote.

Fitzgerald is most famous for “The Great Gatsby,” which was published in 1925 and is regarded as the great chronicle of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age. The keen observations of the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, gives the work its distinctive tone. Fitzgerald’s first published book was “This Side of Paradise,” a reworking of a novel hastily put together before joining the army during World War I. The author once said all his characters are Scott Fitzgerald. This novel about love and greed established his name, and it gave him the confidence to marry Zelda Sayre.

“The Beautiful and the Damned,” published two years later in 1922, is the story of the troubled marriage of Anthony and Gloria Patch and sounds a critical perspective on the lives of the wealthy and restless.

Fitzgerald last completed novel, “Tender Is the Night,” was published in 1934 and is the story of an American psychiatrist living in Paris and his troubled marriage. “The Love of the Last Tycoon” was incomplete when he died.

Fitzgerald wrote many short stories and wrote for the film industry in Hollywood for the last three years of his life.

The author’s friends Gerald and Sara Murphy, the inspiration for the lead characters in “Tender Is the Night,” are the basis for Liza Klaussmann’s “Villa America,” which was published in 2014 and imagines the Murphys’ life on the French Riviera in the 1920s.

— Mark Kanny

Categories: Books
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