F. Scott Fitzgerald, who died on December 21, occupied an extraordinary position in American life, both as a writer and because of the significance he came to have as a spokesman for the post-war young people. For this reason, we are publishing a group of memoirs and tributes by writers of his own generation and of the generation younger than his. — THE EDITORS
It is granted that Scott Fitzgerald was not a lovable man, but most of the time he was a friendly one, and that characteristic, in a man of his professional standing, is as much as anyone can ask. I always warmed to Scott, was always glad to see him, always. But then if you saw him too long a time his intelligence, about which he was almost over-conscientious, would go to work, and he would let you bore him. He would almost encourage you to bore him. He let you go right ahead, being banal and uninteresting, and knowing how much you were embarrassed yourself by your ordinariness. At the same time he was professionally one of the most generous artists I’ve ever known. Dorothy Parker pointed that out to me one time when I had some reason to be irritated with Scott, and though Dorothy Parker has said many true things, she has said nothing truer than that. I guess the loneliness of his private hells was so enormous that he really would have got no great relief by sharing a little of it, in other words by letting you know him better, and so he figured to keep it all for himself. Well, that was his business and thus he kept his integrity, which I won’t attempt to define, simply because everyone who knew him knew he had it.
And he kept it in death. I read the Herald Tribune obit, and I understand the Times one was just as bad. The curious hostility of those pieces may be attributed to that integrity coming through even to people who didn’t know Scott, who probably hadn’t even read him (I am reliably informed that the piece in Time was written by a man who until he was assigned to do the piece never had read anything of Scott’s). The integrity, the aloofness, came through and annoyed some people, and so they just went ahead and wrote their angry little pieces, saving their wit and tolerance for some spectacular Bowery bum or deputy chief inspector of police.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a right writer, and it’s going to be a damned shame if the generation after mine (I am thirty-six) and the one after that don’t get to know him. I had the good luck to read This Side of Paradise when it first came out, twenty years ago, and I’ve read it practically annually since then. He was the first novelist to make me say, “Hot dog! Some writer, I’ll say.” I was younger than his people in This Side of Paradise, but I was precocious. Amory Blaine’s mother’s maiden name was Beatrice O’Hara, and I was in love with a girl named Beatrice then, a coincidence that became less important page by page. The people were right, the talk was right, the clothes, the cars were real, and the mysticism was a kind of challenge. By the time The Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby appeared, the man could do no wrong. In a burst of enthusiasm I once said to Dorothy Parker, “The guy just can’t write a bad piece.” And again she was right. She said: “No. He can write a bad piece, but he can’t write badly.” He sent me the page proofs of Tender Is the Night, which was a major honor in my life. I read it three times then, but only twice since, for that fine book is not to be read just any time. It’s a dangerous book to encounter during some of the moods that come over you after you’re thirty. You don’t like to think of yourself, lone, wandering and lost, like Richard Diver, going from town to town in bleak upstate New York, with All That behind you.
And then a year ago Scott invited us out to his house in the San Fernando Valley for Sunday lunch. It was going to be a big thing, though a small party. He was going to have Norma Shearer and Loretta Young, and I wish I had told him that if I were choosing people to lunch with I would not pick either Norma Shearer and/or Loretta Young. Anyway, they weren’t there. There were only my wife and I. The food was good and there was a lot to drink, but I was on the wagon and Scott was not. He was terribly nervous, disappearing for five and ten minutes at a time, once to get a plaid tie to give my wife because she was wearing a Glen plaid suit. Once to get a volume of Thackeray because I’d never read Thackeray, another time to get some tome about Julius Caesar which he assured me was scholarly but readable—but which he knew I would never read. Then we went out and took some pictures, and when we finished that he suddenly said, “Would you like to read what I’ve written, but first promise you won’t tell anyone about it. Don’t tell them anything. Don’t tell them what it’s about, or anything about the people. I’d like it better if you didn’t even tell anyone I’m writing another novel.” So we went back to the house and I read what he had written. He saw that I was comfortable, with pillows, cigarettes, ash trays, a coke. And sat there tortured, trying to be casual, but unhappy because he did not know that my dead pan was partly due to my being an extremely slow reader of good wilting, and partly because this was such good writing that I was reading. When I had read it I said, “Scott, don’t take any more movie jobs till you’ve finished this. You work so slowly and this is so good, you’ve got to finish it. It’s real Fitzgerald.” Then, of course, he became blasphemous and abusive, and asked me if I wanted to fight. I saw him a few times after that day, and once when I asked him how the book was coming he only said, “You’ve kept your promise? You haven’t spoken to anyone about it?”