100 REASONS TO FETE FITZGERALD

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The man who wrote the "great American novel" was born a hundred years ago on Sept. 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minn.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald weighed at birth 10 pounds, 6 ounces, the last time he was larger than everyone else. Except in talent.

The stunning realization is that Fitzgerald was younger than George Burns (born Jan. 20 of that same year) and yet has been dead for so long. He died in December of 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. Since his death other American writers have been born, published, become famous, and died.

And no one has ever done a novel to top "The Great Gatsby."

There was an item recently about festivities at Princeton to mark the centenary of Edmund Wilson, maybe our greatest critic. If they are expending that much energy at Old Nassau on a critic, what might they have planned for September and Fitzgerald?

What has Esquire magazine got cooking? Wasn't Esquire a second home for Scott's short stories and for his articles, including "The Crack-Up?" Will Scribner's (his hardcover publisher from the very first) come out with a new edition of his novels and the collected stories? Will newer magazines like GQ pay tribute and run pieces? Will Time? Harper's? The Atlantic?

Attention must be paid.

Since I am something of a Fitzgerald nut (I knew his daughter Scottie in Washington and interviewed on TV his last love, Sheilah Graham), I've gone back through the bios for the pertinent facts.

He came east from St. Paul to Princeton intent on playing varsity football but was too small (and embarrassingly wary of contact) to make the team, wrote stuff for the Triangle Club, drank a bit, flunked, withdrew (a benign administration cushioned his sensibilities by agreeing not to throw him out), and ended in an Army officers' training program he hoped would get him to France and glory in the trenches. No such luck and while enduring the boredom of garrison duty, he spent weekends at the officers' club writing a first novel.

It was awfully personal (its working title was "The Romantic Egoist") and Max Perkins at Scribner's made him put it through the typewriter again. In March 1920 they published "This Side of Paradise" and buoyed sufficiently, Scott married Zelda Sayre the very next month. From there on, you pretty much know the stories, the suite at the Plaza, the wild parties, the midnight bathing in the fountain.

Scottie was born in '21. "Gatsby," the great work, came out in April of 1925 and in May of that year, in Paris, Fitzgerald and Hemingway met for the first time. Typical of the man, Scott pestered editors and others to read Hemingway's stuff.

Scott was only four years older than the century but by the Depression 1930s he seemed a much older man. Beaten down by Zelda's madness and the booze, he found himself out of style. "Tender Is the Night" disappointed. The magazines weren't tossing around the big bucks. He owed money and Scottie wrote chiding letters about unpaid tuition. Heading west to pick up some easy change writing scripts, Fitz came up with a thud against Hollywood. There is a famous letter he wrote Joe Mankiewicz who'd decided to rewrite Scott himself over a weekend. "I can write dialogue, Joe, really I can.*.*."

In the final spring of his life Fitz wrote Scottie: "I am not a great man but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential quality, has some sort of epic grandeur."

He was halfway through "The Last Tycoon" when he died Dec. 21, 1940, while making notes for the "Princeton Alumni Weekly" on that year's football prospects. The Catholic church refused to let him be buried in hallowed ground.

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