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.


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.

weeping beech_Snapshot

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.


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.

The Great Gatsby: Westport, Connecticut, a documentary film

Scott and Zelda zooming off from their 1920 summer home in Westport, CT.

Scott and Zelda zooming off from their 1920 summer home in Westport, CT.

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda summered in Westport. During their four month stay, The Great Gatsby was conceived, inspired by the locals, the mansions and the town.

The Great Gatsby: Westport, Connecticut tells the story of why some believe Westport was the source of much of what Fitzgerald conceived for one of America’s greatest novels.

Keir Dullea will narrate our film. Many other Westporters are making contributions and the project is for the Westport Historical Society.

We intend to talk to a variety of sources who have given much thought to this period in Fitzgerald’s life and we’ll see where it leads . . .

But at this time I would like to recognize Barbara Probst Solomon for her outstanding article on this very subject written for The New Yorker in 1996. The team is very excited about having the opportunity to interview her on film to learn more about her views on Fitzgerald’s time here. Her work provided the inspiration for all of us to want to know more.

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