October 13, 2010

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Of all the girls for whom I care,
And there are quite a number,
None can compare with Zelda Sayre,
Now wedded to a plumber.

Scott laughed when he saw the note but didn’t like it a bit. Some plumber.

The reason I bring all this up is that The Great Gatsby is back on Broadway, debuting at the Public Theater this month. It’s called Gatz, Gatsby’s original name in the novel. Not a word from the novel has been changed, and all 50,061 words are included. They are read aloud by the main characters exactly as they appeared in the novel. There are no flapper gowns, no long cigarette holders, no bobbed hair. The play starts like the book: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” This is not the first time the novel has been staged. Back in 1926 it ran for four months on Broadway, directed by George Cukor, with very good notices. Fitzgerald needed the money and it came in handy, despite infelicities such as murdering Gatsby in his library and omitting Nick Carraway’s disillusionment at the sparse attendance for Gatsby’s funeral.

Never mind. Hollywood types see Fitzgerald’s gem as emerald lawns, silk shirts, golden sunlight, and great mansions by the sea. That’s what drew me in at the start. I had been on the Riviera age 14, had read Tender is the Night, and then came upon the American Riviera in West Egg. I was shut away in boarding school, but during home-from-school breaks I lived at the Sherry-Netherland on 5th Avenue across from the Plaza Hotel. I could imagine Daisy, Jordan, and Jay across the street from me better than anyone. I still can. Writing, you see, does not exist without a consenting reader. And no two readers are alike. I knew Jay better than anyone, except that I knew Dick Diver better.

It all seems so long ago now. When I first read about Fitzgerald’s tragic life, his work had begun to be appreciated again. He reached superstardom during the 60s and 70s and is still selling well. But he’d died broke and forgotten decades earlier before he turned 45. Zelda died in a fire while institutionalized.



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