Hello, everybody. Inspired by the rcent movie version of The Great Gatsby, we at Classic Movie Chat — Joe Morella and Frank Segers — asked our BOOKS2MOVIES maven Larry Michie to re-examine that durable 1922 novel.
We’ll also take a look at how Fitzgerald fared as a Hollywood screenwriter (hint: not well) and revisit just a bit the 1974 movie version costarring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. All this will be covered in a pair of successive blogs beginning today.
There have been four films versions of Gatsby including the current one with Leonardo DiCaprio: there is the (hard to come by)1949 edition with Alan Ladd; then the 1974 Redford-Farrow outing; and a silent version made in 1926 with Warner Baxter as Jay Gatsby. (A print of this edition, perhaps fortunately, does not exist.)
You are probably wondering what the link below is doing there and what it delivers. Well, folks connected to Warner Bros. came up with this “infographic” to, of course, promote the latest screen Gatsby. It’s not bad, and contains some interesting information. So please click on to the link and see what you think.
Now back to the business at hand. We’ll set the stage today, and get to Larry’s comments about the novel tomorrow. Its author (no, not Larry), a notorious lush, was born in Minnesota in 1896, and expired 44 years later in the apartment of Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham, his mistress at the time.
Graham recalled that Fitzgerald dropped by her place after lunch expressing a craving for candy. The columnist obliged with a box, and F. Scott popped a few into his mouth. While licking his fingers, Graham recalled, he suddenly stiffened and then fell to the carpet. “He was very considerate,” she said. “He died in the afternoon.”
Fitzgerald needed lots of money all his life and while his early novels (This Side of Paradise in 1920, Gatsby in 1922 and Tender Is The Night in 1934) went on to become landmarks of American literature, they were greeted with varying degrees of commercial success. Therefore, Fitzgerald trod a time-honored path, and spent three separate stints in Hollywood at MGM to make real money.
Graham recalled that once Joan Crawford, for whom Fitzgerald was writing a script, “met him in the street, gripped him by arm and said, ‘Write Hard!’”
As it has been for some many, Hollywood was Fitzgerald’s undoing. Mused veteran screenwriter and confirmed cynic Ben Hecht, who rhetorically asked in the late Fifties: Why go to work in Hollywood if you think movies are mainly trash, and the bosses who turn them out chiefly muttonheads?
Answering his own question, Hecht explained that working in Hollywood was easy money…in large sums. You got it sometimes for good work, more often for bad. But there was a law in the studios — hire only the best. As a result, the writer who had written well in some other medium was paid the most…His large salary was a bribe.
Fitzgerald was a deliberative novelist. He took his time. This did not sit well with the studio bosses, who soon criticized him for being “slow.” Hecht hit another factor: Fitzgerald wrote scripts under the illusion that workmanlike quality would invariably recognized in the front office.
Scotty had toiled on a movie script for four months in the studio, recalled Hecht. He handed it in proudly to his boss. Like many of his kind, the boss, who has never written anything… fancied himself a writer. He re-dictated the Fitzgerald script in two days, using four stenographers. He changed all the dialogue.
A horrified Fitzgerald wrote the boss: How could you do this to me? If there is anything I know it’s the sound of how my generation has spoken….How can you throw me away in this fashion? Hecht noted that his signature on the letter was soon followed by a nervous breakdown.
This is not to say that Fitzgerald did not admire at least one studio exec. Monroe Stahr, the protagonist of the author’s 1942 unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, is based on fabled MGM production boss Irving Thalberg.
Director Elia Kazan used that novel as the basis of an excellent 1976 movie with Robert DeNiro cast as a Thalberg-like producer working himself to death. Search this movie out. Ironically, given Fitzgerald’s unhappy Hollywood history, it’s one of the best films ever made about the place.
Yesterdays Pix: Did you recognize Audrey Totter and Anita Louise?