Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940) was an American novelist and short story writer, whose works are the paradigmatic writings of the Jazz Age. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost Generation" of the 1920s. He finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby (his best known), and Tender Is the Night. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Fitzgerald also wrote numerous short stories, many of which treat themes of youth and promise, and age and despair.
Born in 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle-class family, Fitzgerald was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed on his father's side, Francis Scott Key, but was always known as plain Scott Fitzgerald. He was also named after his deceased sister, Louise Scott Fitzgerald, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. "Well, three months before I was born," he wrote as an adult, "my mother lost her other two children ... I think I started then to be a writer."
His father was Edward Fitzgerald, of Irish and English ancestry, who had moved to St. Paul from Maryland after the Civil War, and was described as "a quiet gentlemanly man with beautiful Southern manners". His mother was Mary "Molly" McQuillan Fitzgerald, the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had made his fortune in the wholesale grocery business. Fitzgerald was the first cousin once removed of Mary Surratt, hanged in 1865 for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
Scott Fitzgerald spent the first decade of his childhood primarily in Buffalo, New York, (1898–1901 and 1903–1908) where his father worked for Procter & Gamble, with a short interlude in Syracuse, New York, (between January 1901 and September 1903). Edward Fitzgerald had earlier worked as a wicker furniture salesman; he joined Procter & Gamble when the business failed. His parents, both Catholic, sent Fitzgerald to two Catholic schools on the West Side of Buffalo, first Holy Angels Convent (1903–1904, now disused) and then Nardin Academy (1905–1908). His formative years in Buffalo revealed him to be a boy of unusual intelligence with a keen early interest in literature. His doting mother ensured that her son had all the advantages of an upper-middle-class upbringing. Her inheritance and donations from an aunt allowed the family to live a comfortable lifestyle. In a rather unconventional style of parenting, Fitzgerald attended Holy Angels with the peculiar arrangement that he go for only half a day—and was allowed to choose which half.
In 1908, his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, and the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908 to 1911. When he was 13, he saw his first piece of writing appear in print—a detective story published in the school newspaper. In 1911, when Fitzgerald was 15 years old, his parents sent him to the Newman School, a prestigious Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. Fitzgerald played on the 1912 Newman football team. At Newman, he met Father Sigourney Fay, who noticed his incipient talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions.
After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to continue his artistic development at Princeton University. He tried out for the college football team, but was cut the first day of practice. He firmly dedicated himself at Princeton to honing his craft as a writer, and became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Nassau Lit, and the Princeton Tiger. He also was involved in the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which ran the Nassau Lit. 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. Four of the University's clubs sent him bids at midyear, and he chose the University Cottage Club (where Fitzgerald's desk and writing materials are still displayed in its library) known as "the 'Big Four' club that was most committed to the ideal of the fashionable gentleman."
Fitzgerald's writing pursuits at Princeton came at the expense of his coursework, however, causing him to be placed on academic probation, and in 1917 he dropped out of school to join the Army. Worried that he might die in the War with his literary dreams unfulfilled, Fitzgerald hastily wrote The Romantic Egotist in the weeks before reporting for duty—and, although Scribners rejected it, the reviewer noted his novel's originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future.
It was while attending Princeton that Fitzgerald met Chicago socialite and debutante Ginevra King on a visit back home in St. Paul. Immediately infatuated with her, according to Mizner, Fitzgerald "remained devoted to Ginevra as long as she would allow him to," and wrote to her "daily the incoherent, expressive letters all young lovers write." She would become his inspiration for the character of Isabelle Borgé, Amory Blaine's first love in This Side of Paradise, for Daisy in The Great Gatsby, and several other characters in his novels and short stories.
Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama. While at a country club, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre (1900–1948), the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice and the "golden girl," in Fitzgerald's terms, of Montgomery youth society. The war ended in 1918, before Fitzgerald was ever deployed, and upon his discharge he moved to New York City hoping to launch a career in advertising that would be lucrative enough to convince Zelda to marry him. He worked for the Barron Collier advertising agency, living in a single room at 200 Claremont Avenue in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on Manhattan's west side.
Zelda accepted his marriage proposal, but after some time and despite working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince her that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement. Fitzgerald 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, a semi-autobiographical account of Fitzgerald's undergraduate years at Princeton. Fitzgerald was so short of money that he took up a job repairing car roofs. His revised novel was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919 and was published on March 26, 1920 and became an instant success, selling 41,075 copies in the first year. It launched Fitzgerald's career as a writer and provided a steady income suitable to Zelda's needs. They resumed their engagement and were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. Their daughter and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.
"The Jazz Age"
Paris in the 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, mostly 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 effusive, as many of Fitzgerald's relationships would prove to be. Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda, and in addition to describing her in his memoir A Moveable Feast as "insane", Hemingway claimed that Zelda "encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Fitzgerald from his work on his novel", so he could work on the short stories he sold to magazines to help support their lifestyle. Like 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 his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. This "whoring", as Fitzgerald and, subsequently, Hemingway called these sales, was a sore point in the two authors' friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an 'authentic' manner, then rewrite them to put in the "twists that made them into salable magazine stories".
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. (The Great Gatsby, now considered to be his masterpiece, did not become popular until after Fitzgerald's death.) 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 money to 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 February 1932, she was hospitalized at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. During this time, Fitzgerald 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" (i.e., 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. Fitzgerald's alcoholism and financial difficulties, in addition to Zelda's mental illness, made for difficult years in Baltimore. He was hospitalized nine times at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his friend H. L. Mencken noted in a 1934 letter that "The case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance."
In 1926, Fitzgerald was invited by producer John W. Constantine to temporarily relocate to Hollywood in order to write a flapper comedy for United Artists. Scott and Zelda moved into a studio owned bungalow in January of the following year and Fitzgerald soon met and began an affair with Lois Moran. The starlet became a temporary muse for the author and he rewrote Rosemary Hoyt, one of the central characters in Tender is the Night, (who had been a male in earlier drafts) to closely mirror her. The trip exacerbated the couple's marital difficulties, and they left Hollywood after two months. In the ensuing years, Zelda became increasingly violent and emotionally distressed, and in 1936, Fitzgerald had her placed in the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.
Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald continued to struggle financially and entered into a lucrative exclusive deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1937, that necessitated him moving to Hollywood, where he earned his highest annual income up to that point: $29,757.87. He also began a high profile live-in affair with movie columnist Sheilah Graham. The projects Fitzgerald worked on for the studio included a never filmed draft for Gone with the Wind, and revisions on Madame Curie, for which he received no credits. He also spent time during this period working on his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, based on film executive Irving Thalberg. In 1939, MGM terminated the contract, and Fitzgerald became a freelance screenwriter. During his work on Winter Carnival (film), Fitzgerald went on an alcoholic binge and was treated by New York psychiatrist Richard H. Hoffmann.
From 1939 until his death in 1940, 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", which garnered many positive reviews. The Pat Hobby Stories were originally published in Esquire between January 1940 and July 1941, even after Fitzgerald's death. US Census records show his official address at this time to be the estate of Edward Everett Horton in Encino, California in the San Fernando Valley.
Illness and death
Fitzgerald, an alcoholic since college, became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, undermining his health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Fitzgerald 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 according to Nancy Milford, Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener said that Fitzgerald suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and in 1929 he had "what proved to be a tubercular hemorrhage." Some have said that the writer's hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices.
Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in the late 1930s. 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 Avenue, one block east of Fitzgerald's apartment on North Laurel Avenue. Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to climb to his apartment; Graham's was on the ground floor. On the night of December 20, 1940, Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham attended the premiere of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. As the two were leaving the Pantages Theater, Fitzgerald experienced a dizzy spell and had trouble leaving the theater; upset, he said to Graham, "They think I am drunk, don't they?"
The following day, as Fitzgerald ate a candy bar and made notes in his newly arrived Princeton Alumni Weekly, 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 to assist Fitzgerald, he stated, "I'm afraid he's dead." Fitzgerald had died of a heart attack. Dr. Clarence H. Nelson, Fitzgerald's physician, signed the death certificate. Fitzgerald's body was moved 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. His body was transported to 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 (then age 19), and his editor, Maxwell Perkins.
At the time of his death, the Church declined the family's request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic celebrated for his risqué and provocative Jazz Age writings, be buried in the family plot in the Roman Catholic Saint Mary's Cemetery. Fitzgerald was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. Zelda died in 1948, in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1975 "Scottie" Smith successfully petitioned to have the earlier decision revisited and her parents remains were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's.
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.
In 2015, an editor of The Strand Magazine discovered and published for the first time an 8,000-word manuscript, dated July 1939, of a Fitzgerald short-story entitled "Temperature". Long thought lost, Fitzgerald's manuscript for the story was found in the rare books and manuscript archives at Princeton University, Fitzgerald's alma mater. As described by Strand, "Temperature", set in Los Angeles, tells the story of the failure, illness and decline of a once successful writer and his life among Hollywood idols, while suffering lingering fevers and indulging in light-hearted romance. The protagonist is a 31-year-old self-destructive, alcoholic named Emmet Monsen, whom Fitzgerald describes in his story as "notably photogenic, slender and darkly handsome". It tells of his personal relationships as his health declines with various doctors, personal assistants, and a Hollywood actress who is his lover. "As for that current dodge 'No reference to any living character is intended' — no use even trying that," Fitzgerald writes at the beginning of the story. Fitzgerald bibliographies have previously listed the story, sometimes referred to as "The Women in the House", as "unpublished", or as "Lost - mentioned in correspondence, but no surviving transcript or manuscript".
Fitzgerald's work 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, "It seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James ...". Don Birnam, the protagonist of Charles Jackson's The Lost Weekend, says to himself, referring to The Great 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 ... He 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.