F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was frustrated by the public's preference for movies. "I saw that the novel, which at my maturity was the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human being to another, was becoming subordinated to a mechanical and communal art," he wrote in "The Crack-Up." "As long past as 1930, I had a hunch that the talkies would make even the best selling novelist as archaic as silent pictures."14He may have despised the movies, but Fitzgerald—always the American—was still willing to make money from them. Deeply in debt, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in 1937 to try his hand at screenwriting. It soon became clear that he was very bad at two things: writing movies and staying sober. He began an affair almost immediately upon arriving in California with a movie columnist named Sheilah Graham. He received only one screen credit. His drinking interfered badly with his work. By 1939 he had lost his contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and spent the year bouncing between freelance movie gigs, drunken benders, and hospitals. He even got fired from the set of Winter Dreams, an adaptation of one of his own short stories. Four days before Christmas in 1940, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at Sheilah Graham's apartment. He was 44. His final novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously a year later.
Not many people came to F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral. By the time he died he had managed to alienate many of the people with whom he spent the golden decade of his life. It wasn't until more time had passed that people appreciated how well Fitzgerald had captured a singular moment in American life. "I do not know that a personality can be divorced from the times which evoke it," Zelda Fitzgerald observed after her husband's death. "I feel that Scott's greatest contribution was the dramatization of a heart-broken + despairing era, giving it a new raison-d'être in the sense of tragic courage with which he endowed it."15If F. Scott Fitzgerald had not lived, if he had not chronicled his times with the sensitivity and vivid language that he did, it's possible that much of the cultural significance of the Jazz Age could be shrugged off by history. And that, as Gatsby might say, would be a shame, old sport.