Facts About Fitzgerald

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Fitzgerald’s First Appearance in Print

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first appearance in print came with the publication of a short story entitled “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” in the October 1909 issue of The St. Paul Academy Now and Then. The story itself is rather absurd and is, as Fitzgerald himself recalled in a 7 January 1934 letter to Egbert Oliver, “an utterly imitative Sherlock Holmes story” (Life in Letters, p. 243). But it shows a surprising command of language and narrative technique for a thirteen-year-old writer. Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, the police chief who narrates “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” is involved with the story but is not the main character, revealing that even as a young boy Fitzgerald had a strong sense of how to tell a story.

Fitzgerald published three other stories in Now and Then: “Reade, Substitute Right Half” (February 1910), “A Debt of Honor” (March 1910), and “The Room with the Green Blinds” (June 1910). While none of these stories herald the distinctive prose style that would characterize his professional work, they do show that Fitzgerald developed a competent narrative sense at an early age.

Only two complete runs of The Saint Paul Academy Now and Then are known to exist. One is housed at the academy itself; the other is in the Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald at the University of South Carolina. [Amy: We will be adding the story to the Writings section, so we—you—will be adding a link here to the story.]

submitted by: Michael Cody / [Index]

Pat Hobby

During his last years in Hollywood, Fitzgerald wrote a series of seventeen short stories about Pat Hobby, a hack Hollywood writer who is always looking for a break and who is a study in failure. He is not an autobiographical character; Fitzgerald was never a hack. These stories appeared in Esquire from January 1940 to May 1941 and were published as a collection by Scribners in 1962 with an introduction by Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich and an appendix showing Fitzgerald’s revisions in one story, “A Patriotic Short.” Gingrich describes Fitzgerald’s dedication to polishing these stories, which were an important source of income during the late 1930s and helped to support the writing of The Love of the Last Tycoon..

submitted by: Tracy Simmons Bitonti / [Index]

Published More Than 160 Short Stories

Fitzgerald's major source of income as a professional writer came from the sale of short stories to mass-circulation magazines. During his career, he published more than 160 stories in such magazines as McCall’s, Collier’s, Metropolitan Magazine, Redbook, and Hearst’s International, yet most appeared in the period’s most popular magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald’s first story for the Post, “Head and Shoulders,” ran in the 21 February 1920 issue, one month before the publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald earned $400 for his first Post story but in less than ten years his price rose to $4,000 per story, roughly equivalent to $40,000 today. His name was routinely featured on the magazine’s cover, and his stories were usually placed in a prominent position within each issue. Beginning with “At Your Age” and extending through such stories as “The Swimmers,” “One Trip Abroad,” and “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald maintained this $4,000 level for roughly two years. As his talent for writing popular magazine fiction waned, Fitzgerald’s price dropped accordingly. He received $2,000 for his final Post story, “‘Trouble,’” which was placed last in the 6 March 1937 issue.

submitted by: Park Bucker / [Index]

Scottie Fitzgerald Smith,
“Notes About My Now-Famous Father”

In 1974 Paramount made a much-publicized movie of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Consequently, there was a renewal of interest in the fashion, art, music, dance, literature, and architecture of the 1920s. In response to the question “Why the revival?" Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, the daughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, wrote “Notes About My Now-Famous Father” for the May 1971 issue of Family Circle:: “I'll say it quickly. I suspect the whole thing stems from a gigantic, collective national guilt that has been growing on us ever since we lost our chance to stay idealistic after World War II.. Secretly, we know that somewhere we’ve gone astray, that what began as the most exciting experiment in history has lost some of its momentum and its brightest dreams” (p. 120). Since Fitzgerald’s presence on reading lists and in anthologies has been constant since the mid-century revival, readers continue to look to his work not simply to feed their nostalgic yearnings but to help define the evolving nature of the American dream.

submitted by: Catherine Lewis / [Index]

Hollywood Ventures

From July 1937 to the end of his life on 21 December 1940, Fitzgerald had his longest professional stint in Hollywood. He had first worked for United Artists in 1927 on a project that was never produced. Then, in November of 1931, he was offered $1,200 per week by MGM producer Irving Thalberg to work on Red-Headed Woman, a Jean Harlow vehicle. Fitzgerald was reluctant to leave Zelda, who was staying with her family in Montgomery, Alabama, but by 1931 he needed the money, so he accepted Thalberg’s offer.

During his work on Red-Headed Woman, Fitzgerald feuded with his collaborator, Marcel de Sano, got drunk at a party at Thalberg's house, and eventually returned home to Zelda without producing a usable script (though the terms of his contract had been fulfilled). Fitzgerald felt that his intoxication at the Thalberg party, his reluctance to collaborate, and his departure before the script was completed damaged his reputation in Hollywood. He wanted to repair this reputation and get out of debt with his last trip to Hollywood. A letter that he wrote to his daughter, Scottie, in July 1937 while he was on the train west reveals his determination to learn to write for the screen: “The third Hollywood venture. Two failures behind me. . . . I want to profit by these two experiences. . . .” Fitzgerald’s last stay in Hollywood was to be more successful than the earlier ones, but by no means the triumph for which he hoped. He received one screen credit, for Three Comrades, and his original six-month MGM contract was renewed at a higher salary in December of 1937. But a year later, MGM failed to pick up the option on his contract, and he was forced to become a freelancer.

submitted by: Cy League / [Index]

The Great Gatsby, “Discontinued Title”

As the cover of this 1934 Modern Library edition stamped “Discontinued Title” suggests, The Great Gatsby was never a commercial success during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. In a 1936 letter to the series’ editor, Bennett Cerf, Fitzgerald blamed Gatsby’s failure on its size, noting consumers’ preference for bulky books. Eleven years after its first publication, Fitzgerald estimated that The Great Gatsby had sold fewer than 25,000 copies in America, excluding the weak sales of the Modern Library edition. Fitzgerald suggested Cerf include the weightier Tender Is the Night alongside Gatsby in the Modern Library line (Letters, pp. 557-558). However, as this cover shows, Modern Library not only declined to pick up Tender, the publisher also discontinued Gatsby.

The Modern Library reprint is noteworthy for Fitzgerald’s introduction, which includes his defense of his subject matter: “. . . I had recently been kidded half haywire by critics who felt that my material was such as to preclude all dealing with mature persons in a mature world. But, my God! it was my material, and it was all I had to deal with” (p. ix).

submitted by: Mary Sidney Watson / [Index]

Fitzgerald Centenary Comments

This page updated 28 April 2005.
Copyright 1996, the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/facts/facts2.html