Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

Fool for Hollywood

By David Luhrssen
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  F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of 20th century America’s great writers and like many important authors of his era, he tried his hand in Hollywood. Scott Donaldson’s biography F. Scott Fitzgerald: Fool for Love is concerned chiefly with the author’s relations with women and class, which he correctly identifies as the twin cylinders of his creative engine. Hollywood occupies relatively few pages, but there are insights into its influence on the writer, including helping him overcome the anti-Semitism that mars some of his best writing. Originally published in 1983, Fool for Love has been reissued in paperback by the University of Minnesota Press.


For Fitzgerald, Hollywood became the last station before the end. He arrived in 1937, desperate to earn money with his career, linked the departed Jazz Age of the 1920s, in arrears. He impressed the moguls as dedicated to learning the new craft of screenwriting. Fitzgerald described his script job as “like fitting together a very interesting puzzle.” What he might not have realized at first was that his work was a puzzle piece that players higher up in the studio hierarchy would fit together. Screenplays then and now were labored over by teams of writers; they were not the fruit of a solitary author. Fitzgerald received credit for only a single film, Three Comrades, and accused producer Joe Mankiewicz of ruining it. MGM did not renew his contract in 1938.


Fitzgerald died in 1940 before completing his final novel, The Last Tycoon, which reflects his Hollywood experience. In 1976 it was turned into an interesting, worth seeking out film by director Elia Kazan with Robert DeNiro as a producer working himself to death. Fitzgerald’s signature novel, The Great Gatsy, was filmed unsuccessfully in 1974 with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Director Baz Luhrmann returned to the material for a film scheduled for release next year.

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