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Gatsby Speaks!

These awful films go on and on

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dear Nick,

The worst thing about hell (by the way, I had expected the other place, old sport—hopeful and stupid to the end!) is that you can’t sue anyone. The second worst thing is that the place is a non-stop nightmare party such as yours truly might have thrown out at Egg. Egg on my face, you see. A friend said, the other day, “Just swallow the water and keep talking, Gatz.” That chum bought it in a swimming pool, too, fellow named Joe Gillis; that was Los Angeles, a place on Sunset, and somehow he still got to tell his story. But I am speechless, so you, Nick, are the only one who can spread the word that I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it any more. Tell them not to make any more films about me. Tell them three things: the Jazz Age was a typo—it was meant to be Jam—confiture came in huge after the War; all the people are awful—including me; and the film will lose its shirts.

Without a by-your-leave or a cent in royalties, this is the fifth film to take my name. It might amuse you to know that the first one was 80 minutes and this one is 143. What did I do to deserve this? I think all the critiques are clear: I was a cypher, a nonentity, a fake, “a series of successful gestures,” a suit and cologne. So, I invented the party without invitations—I told you I was a chump—but look how that caught on. Who said it—I can’t remember a thing—some drunk at a party, “Not only was I not invited, I did not accept!” Plus I left the legend in the dust of North Dakota that any penniless Gatz could make it one day until some Daisy Fay arranged for his death in his own pool.

People still say I'm the model for poor kids making their way out of the dust of North Dakota and dreaming of winning a girl with a voice like money. You still hear profs rattling on about “Gatsby and the Dream of Self-Invention,” and only one in a hundred realizes it’s self-destruction. Well, I get it, and I’ve got it for the rest of time, and somehow I cling to the notion that it is a good novel—no that’s not enough, it has to be “great”. Never trust that word, old sport. Great Depression!—but only until the next one. The Great Ziegfeld—who was he?

Honestly, did I ever hurt anyone? I mean, tell me, cough it up. I know that awful Myrtle bought it on the highway, but look at her life. Was one quick bump really an unkindness? I know, I should have sent Daisy to the chair. I’d like to see the smoke coming out of her ears. Instead, the Buchanans became social darlings, especially with that new shady legend. Daisy was never more thrilled than being besieged by people like Bret Easton Ellis and Zoë Heller wanting to ghost her biography. Know what she told them? “I am the ghost!”

If no one comes to your funeral, old boy, you know you haven’t done much damage. Oh, of course, I know you were there, Nickster, and I do know the dreams you had of a quiet cottage life on Long Island. But honestly, I’m not that way, and you did so much better writing the book, though plain “Gatsby” was the better title, or “Poor Son-of-a-Bitch.” You always were such a dry-eyed sentimentalist, adding in “the Great.” At least you dropped “Trimalchio.” If you’d called it that, the book would be out of print.

So Jay Gatsby spread a little liquor around. He transformed the American drug store, and look what he did for clothes. The third time I went down in the old pool, I looked at myself and said, colored swim suits! Black is drab—think pink! They have to come! Apart from that, all I did was help get crime organized a bit, and where would America be now but for that? So I was a social activist, if you look at it that way. Is it too much to ask for a little American notoriety and the glamour of being interrupted all night by “urgent” calls from Chicago and Philly? Those were never very interesting places until intrigue perked them up. Gangsters didn’t even dress well until The Godfather.

So these damnable films go on and on. It wasn’t until I saw this Leonardo that I heard myself saying words I never thought possible, “That Redford fellow isn’t really such a hopeless actor.” Of course, he is and he was, but he sort of looked the way I dreamed of looking while Leonardo looks like me when they fished me out of the pool. He looks brined. I know he’s a big shot and all that, and I suppose he’s to blame—no one would have made the film without him. I hear he’s drowned before in a big picture. But this time it’s the movie that’s going down. And his smile (my famous smile, old fruit) is smug and stuffed. The only Gatsby smile I ever liked was Alan Ladd in the 1949 picture, and he was smiling in that dazed way because he didn’t understand one word of the book and he was pickled. Only way to act in pictures.

Think of the children, Nick. Year after year they are told to read our book in high school, and year after year they stop reading. They put the book aside and decide that their parents and their teachers are insane. Forgive me, old sport, but you’ll admit you were a sick man when you wrote that book, with that dreadful doctor hovering over you and not a screwable nurse in sight. The book was always so lofty and sad, I suppose that’s why people decided it was “great.” And I don’t complain too much because it keeps my green light on pilot, and no one really hates being remembered. I still read the book and still fall in love with Daisy. I admit it, old man. But you know there are always girls chaps like us are in love with.

Still, these films are killing me, and what did they do this time? 3D, they call it? So everyone looks like a cut-out figure pasted on postcards of Long island? It’s stupefying, it’s vulgar, it’s demeaning—it’s dull and there’s nothing like the dullness that is trying to be a sensation. The one thing I took some pride in was a certain discreet, recessive elegance. Shyness, if you like—and yes Nick, I know you got my shyness.

So it comes to this. They talk a lot down here about the movies being dead and all I say is, “Show me—please!” They won’t be dead until they stop making movies about our book. Can’t they see, there never was a story! That’s how the shirts, the champagne, and all the shit-faced girls get into the movie. But then they can’t get out. I dropped in on an early screening and the Warner Bros had hired people to wear ’20s clothes! At the end—143 minutes!—the Warner stooges managed a tiny splatter of clapping. Four and a half seconds. I’m sorry, old sport, I’m pissed rotten about it, and if you’re collecting royalties good for you, Nicky. Everyone always knew you were in love with royalty. Oh, yes! Don’t come the innocent with me, just beat on ceaselessly against the current et cetera. And check out the pool where you’re going to die.

Forever ours,