From Westport to Montgomery

In 1920 Zelda told Scott she was homesick and had a serious hankering for biscuits and peaches. At the time they were living in Westport, CT. Scott suggested they drive down and surprise her parents. curise coverNot an easy jaunt even today, but imagine what the roads were like back in those days. No AAA to bail you out when the car conked out. Few service stations along the way either. Scott wrote about the adventure in a short story called The Cruise of the Rolling Junk.


My partner in crime and I are making the same trip, albiet by airplane for the Fitzgerald Society Conference. We’re presenting our thesis about Westport’s role in Scott’s writing. Should be lots of fun, but we’re both a bit antsy given that the conference is attended by academics, folks that have dedicated their lives to the study of Fitzgerald. We’ve hired a film crew and we’ll be capturing all the thrills and chills along the way.

One Hundred False Starts by F. Scott Fitzgerald

fitz essay coverLast week I obtained a copy of ‘One Hundred False Starts,’ an essay written by F. Scott Fitzgerald that ran in the March, 1933 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The essay captures what appears to be real ‘false starts’ Fitzgerald had experienced as a writer.

Snippets, phrases, names, scenarios, often unintelligible scraps of thought, all captured on paper to jog his memory to flush out the idea at a later date. As a writer who has dropped the ball on countless sparks of so-called brilliance, it was comforting to feel the struggle, the joy, and the confusion over bubbles of inspiration that felt flat upon later inspection.

Fitzgerald concluded that the key to avoiding a future filled with false starts is to begin with an emotion, one that’s close to you, one that you can understand. He was talking about himself, but his words resonated because I’ve grappled with false starts for years. My output is not nearly as prolific as others. I often lose interest in an idea that at first glance appears to be the mother lode.

This fool’s gold typically lacks an emotional connection, it’s one of the reasons I struggle to co-write songs, all too often the team is writing about things that have no meaning for me. I might intellectually get the concept, but I’m not feeling it, it doesn’t pump through my veins with urgency.

Fitzgerald also said in the essay:

Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.

gatsby cover

People often ask why I didn’t write a memoir about my divorce. They wrongly believe that My Year as a Clown is a thinly disguised novel for what actually happened in my marriage. My Year as a Clown works because I understood the underlying emotions that were in play during those difficult days. Perhaps more important, I put enough distance between the writing and the events to create a narrative that harnessed those emotions in ways that made my characters feel real even though most of the facts are fictitious.

When I set out with my partner, Richard Webb, to do this Fitzgerald film for the Westport Historical Society, I had no idea what I was really getting into. I got chills holding letters from Scott and Zelda when we were in Princeton reviewing personal correspondence. And now, as an added bonus, I’m learning about Fitzgerald’s process. This is like taking an MFA in Fitzgerald at a University without all the hassle or tuition.

The adventure continues . . .


The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald

IMAG0558Yesterday I took a remarkable journey through the personal correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald archived at the Firestone Library on the campus of Princeton University. I held actual letters from Scott himself, as well as communication written by friends, writers and colleagues.

It was a surreal feeling reading these letters, often heartbreaking. Scott pleading with the life insurance company because he didn’t have the cash to pay the bill. Doctors detailing Zelda’s situation. Notes about his daughter, Scottie; a teen-aged Zelda telling Scott to stop writing so much.

I drove down with my executive producer, Richard ‘Deej’ Webb. We went through thousands of pieces and found two tied to Westport: A note from Scott to his best man, Ludlow Fower, and a letter to Scott from H.L Mencken and George Nathan, editors of the Smart Set Magazine. Both make great additions to our film.

Security was tight and one must strictly follow the rules. Fair enough–these documents need to be protected for future generations. Here’s the ID card required to be worn at all times. No drinks, no food, no pen or pencils or paper (they provide that). No bags or other personal possessions (although laptops are permitted).

We took some photos (by permission), but we aren’t allowed to post until we clear the usage rights.


On the Gatsby Trail: Observations from the Film Trenches — Great Neck, Long Island

IMG_20130718_093457This week I was in Great Neck, Long Island filming for our Fitzgerald documentary. Kudos to the crew and to Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society, for spending the day in blistering heat, generously giving her time to show us her town.

Scott & Zelda lived in Great Neck in 1922 and 1923. From there he left for Paris where he wrote The Great Gatsby. The established thought about Gatsby is: West Egg is Great Neck and East Egg is Sands Point.

According to Alice, whenever the town reflects upon its history, it is naturally drawn to the 20’s and Gatsby–they even have a Gatsby Lane.

Our objective is not to debunk Great Neck’s impact on the Gatsby in this documentary, it’s about establishing Westport’s legitimacy in its contribution to what we find in Gatsby, as the writer Barbra Probst Solomon who grew up in Westport so eloquently accomplished with her 1996 New Yorker article. Unfortunately, that story failed to gain traction with the scholarly community.

Alice of Great Neck said, “I wasn’t even aware the Fitzgerald’s were in Westport.”

And so we are spending the summer digging into that era helping to flush out Ms. Solomon’s ideas through interviews (including a chat with Ms. Solomon!), archival footage and documents. I wouldn’t want to spoil what we’re finding at this point in the game, but I did want to share one insight.

I’m overwhelmed at the remarkable commitment people like Alice in Great Neck, and the folks here in Westport, who work at our historical society, and of course Ms. Solomon, all who are so passionate and committed to making sure we don’t forget our past.

This week Alice generously shared with us her personal collection of photographs, memorabilia and postcards dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century. It was an incredible portal into the world of yesteryear.

The Fitzgeralds lived here in Great Neck (1922-23)

The Fitzgeralds lived here in Great Neck (1922-23)

Another reason we’re doing this film is because last March I hosted a literary round-table with some of Westport’s artistic luminaries discussing life here dating back to the 20’s. What surprised me most is how little residents knew of our town. I believe Alice has experienced that same lack of awareness in Great Neck.

Both towns benefit from people like Alice, the caretakers of the past. Although George Santayana’s quote: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, is most often cited in the context of the Third Reich, being ignorant of the colorful characters who once populated a town, or as Fitzgerald so aptly captured in Gatsby, the fatal attraction to the glitz and power of wealth–could doom us to a bleak cultural landscape filled with McMansions and a preoccupation with reality television.

From what I’ve seen in both towns this summer, these women, with such passion for the past, deserve a greater voice, now more than ever.

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