Fitzgerald

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.

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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.

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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 Fitzgerald Adventure Continues

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Wakeman Farm House:
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda lived here in 1920

Forty-eight hours of filming last week:

An afternoon on the Upper East Side interviewing Barbara Probst Solomon, the author of the seminal article on Westport and Gatsby for The New Yorker in 1996.

We were fortunate to spend an afternoon at her apartment talking about her childhood in Westport and her views on Scott and Zelda during that summer of 1920.

Barbara’s parents owned Great Marsh, the estate across the Saugatuck River and Sound from the Wakeman Farm. Barbara went to the Sorbonne in Paris after World War II.  She and Norman Mailer’s sister Barbara Wasserman participated in the historic escape of two Spanish students from Franco’s goulag Cuelgamuros near Madrid.  A prolific writer, the  Harry Ransom  Collection of the U of Texas, has recently acquired Barbara’s archives including her work in the modern post World War II Spanish resistance.

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We hightailed it back to Westport for some evening filming including the Saugatuck River Bridge to capture the scattered lights of Marietta, as detailed in The Beautiful and Damned, the novel scholars all agree was written while Scott was here.

. . . The great cascade of wires that rose high above the river…and ran with the railroad Bridge in the direction of the station . . .

. . . To her right, half a mile down the river, winked the scattered lights of Marietta”

While standing on the bridge next to the tracks a freight train passed. I’ve never seen freight roll by during commuter hours, let alone one that was over a mile long.

The next day, up before the crack of dawn for Main Street without traffic, then to Nyala Farms to shoot the two ET Bedford buildings on the property—a beautiful Victorian House, the original Bedford home, built in the 1860’s, and a dairy barn from the early part of the 20th Century.

Standing under one of the two weeping beach trees on the property was one of the most remarkable Westport experiences I’ve had in the twenty odd years I’ve lived here. Over a hundred years old, the sun streaked through the branches and created a fairy-tale sense of wonderment and beauty.

Then off to the Fitzgerald home on South Compo Road, the Wakeman Farm as it was referred to when they were there. Built in 1758, the side facing South Compo looks much as it did in Scott and Zelda’s time.

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The weeping beech trees of Nyala Farms

I wasn’t expecting Jeannine Flower, one of the owners to be there, but she not only welcomed us into her home, she took the time to explain what she to preserving the stories.knew about the house. She was extremely knowledgeable about Scott and Zelda’s time there and she was passionate and committed

Given how few people in town are aware of our cultural history, this was perhaps the surprise of the two days of filming—if only more in town cared as much.

As I write this piece, I realize how lucky I am to explore these hidden gems in our community.

PS. For those with the cash, The F. Scott Fitzgerald home in Westport is up for sale. Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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