When I wrote that piece in the spring I confessed to being something of a Fitzgerald "nut" and was warmed and delighted when letters began to come in from other Fitzgerald nuts (Dave Lande of Appleton, Wis., being one of the more eloquent) suggesting, among other things, that we all get together tomorrow in St. Paul, where the writer was born, and lift a glass in affectionate memory.
We all go on and on about "Gatsby." As we should. And just when I think maybe that's as good as American fiction writing gets, then I dip back into the short stories and run across that one about the streetcar conductor after the war who goes back to the southern town where he trained and served as a commissioned officer in his dashing uniform and of the girl back then who he loved. Except now the war was ended and the girl gone and the uniform folded away and he was just a guy working on a streetcar and remembering.
A couple of years ago I interviewed for Parade that splendid actor Sam Waterston while he was doing a Broadway play and spent less time on the play than Sam and I did discussing the movie version of "Gatsby" in which he played Nick Carraway and Redford played the title role and wondering if they should have swapped roles.
Joe Mankiewicz is dead now but over the years he used to be up there at Elaine's having dinner. And each time I saw him I was gripped with an irrational and unreasoning urge to go over to his table and set upon the man, thrashing him within an inch of his life and throttling the breath from him. I never did, of course, but that was the temptation, knowing you were seated only a few yards from the Hollywood mogul who once hired Fitzgerald to write a script and then went off to Palm Springs for the weekend with Fitzgerald's screenplay in his bag and rewrote it, remarking coldly along the way that he thought Scott's dialogue needed improving.
The Sept. 9 issue of The New Yorker carries a swell story by Barbara Probst Solomon about a cottage up in Westport, Conn., that Scott and Zelda rented in the summer of 1920, and she offers the thesis maybe Gatsby didn't live on Long Island at all, that East Egg and West Egg were on the other shore of Long Island Sound up there in Westport.
It is this kind of thing that excites Fitzgerald nuts, and I am delighted to welcome Ms. Probst Solomon to our little group.
When Brooke Shields entered Princeton I took a camera crew down there from WCBS-TV in New York to tape a feature. The feature worked out fine. And I was even able to work in a shot or two of Cottage, the dining club to which Fitzgerald belonged, and of the Nassau Inn and other local spots associated, not with Brooke, but with Scott Fitzgerald. None of this improved the piece, I am quite ready to admit, but it meant something to me and I went ahead and did it. Similarly, on those few occasions I have ever been in the Twin Cities, I have hired a cab to take me over to St. Paul to drive up and down the old shaded streets looking for this house or that, in which the Fitzgeralds once lived, along whose sidewalks he once strolled, surely with "the top girl" on his arm.
Some years ago I attended the Oscars and ended up in a disco called The Daisy after the awards ceremony, hanging out with George Hamilton and Laurence Harvey and John Ireland, a fine but largely unappreciated actor who was awfully good playing the gunfighter opposite Montgomery Clift in "Red River." I didn't care a fig about Hamilton or Harvey but was thrilled to be with John Ireland.
Because it was Ireland who played Monroe Stahr in the first theatrical version I ever saw of "The Last Tycoon," shown on British TV.
Toward the end of this televised drama, Ireland did something you rarely see in a play. He stepped out of character as Stahr, "the last tycoon," and, addressing the camera directly, he said something along the lines of:
"That's all there is. That's where Fitzgerald had gotten to in the novel when he died.*.*."
And then turned quietly and walked off, stage back, as the set darkened, fell silent and closed.
As for my own plans for tomorrow, I think I'll go over to the bar of the Plaza, have exactly one dry martini and then, at dusk, go out and stand looking for a time at the old fountain where Scott and Zelda sported in the long-ago night.