By Carolyn Kellogg
March 26, 2013, 8:45 a.m.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a sweet poem for actress Helen Hayes' daughter, Mary McArthur. Then, six years later, he penned her another one on the reverse of the same page that's, well, a little unsettling. Would you write to a 7-year-old about the "thumb-print of lust"?
The poems can be seen at the website of Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs and Memorabilia. They are part of a lot that is set to go up for auction on April 2.
The first poem was written to Mary when she was just a year old. It's a singsong verse: "Is Papa / Your Papa / My Papa?' / No! / So Spoke You / Why Joke You?" it reads in part. The poem includes Fitzgerald's signature and is from Hayes' estate.
Though Hayes never acted in a film based on Fitzgerald's work, he apparently spent time with the actress' family in their Nyack, N.Y., home. The auction includes a copy of Fitzgerald's novel "Tender is the Night" inscribed "Nyack" and signed to Hayes and her husband, Charles "Charlie" MacArthur.
Hayes, who won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy married MacArthur, a writer, in 1927. A pregnant Hayes, who was acting in a stage play, became too ill to continue and the play closed. Another actor, unhappy at losing the job, sued, calling Hayes' pregnancy an "act of God" -- leading to jokes in the press that she was carrying the "Act of God Baby." When the child was born in 1930, her parents named her Mary.
On the reverse side of the first poem is another, written in 1937. Although it says at the top it was seven years later, it had actually been six since 1931; Mary was now 7 years old. The poem begins:
What shall I do with this bundle of stuff
Mass of ingredients, handful of grist
Tenderest evidence, thumb-print of lust
Kindly advise me, O psychologist
She shall have music -- we pray for the kiss
of the god's on her forehead, the necking of fate
How in the hell shall we guide her to this
"--- Just name her Mary and age her till eight."
I'm not entirely certain why Fitzgerald was writing about lust and psychologists and kisses and necking -- sure, in the latter circumstance, he was writing of fate and the gods. Still, it hardly seems like childhood fare. But then things get wholesome:
What of the books? Do we feed her our bread
of the dead, that was left in their tombs long ago
Or should all the fervor and freshness be wed
To next year's inventions? Can anyone know?
How shall we give her that je ne sais quoi -
Portions of mama that seem to be right
Salted with dashes of questionable pa?
"--- Age her till eight and then save me a bite."
Oh, it was all going so well, until he got to the "bite" part.
Solve me this dither, O wisest of lamas,
Pediatrician - beneficent buddy
Tell me the name of a madhouse for mammas
Or give me the nursery - let her have the study
How can I pay back this heavenly loan
Answer my question and name your own fee
Plan me a mixture of Eve and St. Joan
"--- Put her in pigtails and give her to me."
Oh, Fitzgerald. Yes, Mary was cute in pigtails, but -- what was he thinking? In 1937, he was near the end of his life; he died in 1940 of a heart attack at age 44, depleted by years of heavy drinking.
Mary died just nine years later; she had been planning a career on the stage but, at age 19, was suddenly felled by polio.
The opening price for the poems and signed novel is $2,500.