LLR Books

Poems said to be handwritten by F. Scott Fitzgerald to be auctioned

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.

New Books Highlight the Mystery of Zelda Fitzgerald

Was Zelda Fitzgerald an unsung literary talent who supplied her husband with some of his best lines, and withered under his efforts to curb her writing? Or was she, as Hemingway and others would have it, an amateur who used his connections to get published, and who undermined his career by encouraging his partying and spending?
It’s one of the biggest unresolved literary feuds in history. Scott and Zelda’s relationship has been meticulously analyzed by scholars for decades, but many casual readers of Fitzgerald’s novels remain unaware of how much he borrowed from her. That could change this spring with the publication of three novels about Zelda and her tortured relationship with Scott (a fourth Zelda novel will land this fall).
Academics have found ample evidence that Scott used snippets of Zelda’s diaries and chunks of her letters in his novels. One of their biggest fights, about who had the right to fictionalize their relationship and her struggles with mental illness, was taken down by a stenographer. The 114-page transcript is preserved in her medical records, which are archived at Princeton. Scott was incensed when Zelda sent her autobiographical novel, “Save Me the Waltz,” to his publisher, Scribner, without his consent. He claimed that she stole material about their marriage that he was planning to use in his novel “Tender Is the Night,” and insisted the publisher cut parts of the novel that overlapped with his.
In her 2002 biography of Zelda, Sally Cline published some of the accusations that were lobbed during the argument, which was moderated by her doctor and lasted for hours on May 28, 1933. (Scott likely wouldn’t have wanted the feud to be aired publicly — he asked in his last will for Zelda’s medical records to be destroyed, Cline noted in an email).
The fight was brutal. Scott charged that Zelda was a “third rate” writer with “nothing essentially to say.”Zelda shot back: “It seems to me that you are making a rather violent attack on a third-rate talent then…Why in the hell you are so jealous, I don’t know. If I thought that about anybody, I would not care what they wrote.”
Scott tried to forbid Zelda from writing about her mental illness: “I don’t want you….to write a novel about insanity, because you know there is certain psychiatric stuff in my books, and if you publish a book before me, or even at the same time, in which the subject of psychiatry is taken up, and people see “Fitzgerald,” why, there is Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, they read that, and that spoils the whole central point of being a novelist, which is being yourself. You pick up the crumbs I drop at the dinner table and stick them in books.”
“You have picked up crumbs I have dropped for ten years, too,” Zelda replied.
Scott told her she couldn’t write about psychiatry, the Riviera, or Switzerland. “Everything we have done is mine. If we make a trip….and you and I go around, I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. This is all my material. None of it is your material.”
At one point, Zelda’s doctor asked her what she values more, her marriage or her desire to create. Zelda finally yielded: “I want to write, and I am going to write; I am going to be a writer, but I am not going to do it at Scott’s expense if I can possibly avoid it, so I agree not to do anything that he does not want, a complete negation of myself.”
It was a low point, even in a relationship tainted by blowout drunken fights and affairs.
Scott and Zelda’s artistic rivalry will be aired again in public with a cluster of novels coming out this spring. Here’s how three of the new novels tackle the issue of Zelda’s literary aspirations, and whether Scott plagiarized her.
“Z,” by Therese Anne Fowler, out March 26
“Z” begins when Scott and Zelda meet at a country club dance in Montgomery, Ala., in 1918, and ends with Scott’s death from a heart attack in 1940. As she details Zelda’s metamorphosis from Southern belle to a Jazz Age icon to a broken down mental patient, Fowler constructs an image of Zelda as a frustrated artist who bristles at her husband’s efforts to curtail her creativity.
In one of the saddest moments of a book that’s full of sad moments, Scott presents Zelda with a clipping of a short story that Zelda wrote. The story, “Our Own Movie Queen, was published under Scott’s name.
“I…it’s great,” I said, my eyes scanning the words that I’d labored over. My Gracie Axelrod was now as alive as she’d ever become, here in the Chicago Sunday Tribune. Right below Scott’s name…..I’d agreed to let Harold sell the story as Scott’s, never guessing the result would depress me so. We’d gotten a thousand dollars, but where had that thousand dollars gone? What did I have to show for it – except this brooch that, pretty and thoughtful as it was, announced nothing of my talent, my imagination, my skill.”
“Beautiful Fools,” by R. Clifton Spargo, out May 2
“Beautiful Fools” takes place in Cuba in 1939, when Scott and Zelda took a trip in what was likely a failed attempt to mend their marriage. It’s one of the most sparsely documented episodes in their lives. Scott got into a drunken knife fight. “This trip will never get more than a sentence or two because there isn’t any documentation of it,” Spargo said. “It was the last time they ever saw each other.”
In the novel, Spargo flicks at Zelda’s artistic ambitions. At the beginning of their trip, Zelda tells Scott about her desire to write novels (and manages to get in a dig at Ernest Hemingway, her nemesis).
“I’ve decided to concentrate my energies on becoming a writer such as yourself and Ernest. Someone who spends his time observing life passing and puts poignant remarks on the page about the many activities, such as fighting in wars or killing bulls, he himself cannot do.”
“True enough,” Scott said, “writers are like parasites.”
Later in the novel, Spargo describes Zelda recalling her playful, public attack on her husband, when she reviewed one of his novels. In her review, which was published in The New York Tribune, she claimed he used her letters and diaries in his novel: “On a lark she wrote a review of The Beautiful and Damned accusing Scott of plagiarizing her diaries, but she hadn’t meant anything by it.”
“Call Me Zelda,” by Erika Robuck, May 7
Robuck, who says she became interested in Zelda while researching her novel “Hemingway’s Girl,” focuses on Zelda’s time in a Maryland mental institution. It was one of her most fertile periods as a writer. While being treated, Zelda wrote an entire novel in a matter of weeks. She sent a copy of the novel, “Save Me the Waltz,” to Scott’s publisher. He was furious that she wrote about their marriage and her mental illness – topics that he was writing about in Tender is the Night.
Robuck, who studied Zelda’s medical records at Princeton, describes his rage over Zelda’s novel:
Mr. Fitzgerald had a tantrum that started in Alabama on paper, continued as he crashed through the doors of the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, and exploded as he thundered, gin-soaked, into Dr. Meyer’s office.
“This is my material, my material,” he insisted, as he smoked and paced around the office. “How could she go behind my back with your doctor and submit to my editor before I had a chance to read it? I’ve been working on my novel for years, stopping over and over to s— out these short stories to pay the bills and keep her in comfort, and not only does she steal my material, but you help her to do it?

Scott & Zelda

March 10, 1948

On this day in 1948, F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, and eight other patients were killed in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Zelda's first breakdown in 1930 resulted in a sixteen-month stay in a Swiss clinic, and she spent six and a half of the next eight years in American institutions. Though discharged to her mother's care in the Spring of 1940 -- Fitzgerald was in Hollywood, and just months away from a fatal heart attack -- she would periodically readmit herself to Highland. It was during one of these stays that she and the others died, unable to flee the rooms into which they had been locked for the evening.
While the popular press had elevated them to the legendary glitter-couple, and then reduced them to a Jazz Age parable, the Fitzgeralds themselves spent their last decade struggling towards a clearer understanding of what had happened to the people they had once been. In one letter to Zelda after her first breakdown in 1930, Fitzgerald's attempts to find cause and blame arrive at this: "You were going crazy and calling it genius -- I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand." One letter from Zelda five years later -- after countless pleas to her husband that he "Please, please let me out now," or that he "come to me and tell me how I was" -- seems to finally accept defeat:
Dearest and always Dearest Scott:
I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell.... Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that all of my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end.... It is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams.... I love you anyway -- even if there isn't any me or any love or even any life.
Fitzgerald kept writing to her until the end, and writing whatever else he could manage in order to support her. Two last letters, both written on the same day a week before his death, are to the taxman and to daughter Scottie. The first asks for more time, the second says that "the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read." Zelda's autobiographical novel, "Save Me The Waltz," tries to get some perspective on what happened; over her last years she struggled with a novel about Jacob and Janno, another two who were beautiful and self-damned. In one fragment Janno talks of her husband's death, though "He had been gone all summer and all winter for about a hundred years":
She remembered the ragged edges of his cuffs, and the neatness of his worn possessions, and the pleasure he always had from his pile of sheer linen handkerchiefs. When she had been away, or sick or something, Jacob never forgot the flowers, or big expensive books full of compensatory ideas about life. He never forgot to make life seem useful and promising, or forgot the grace of good friendship, or the use of making an effort. . . .
Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold. . . . When one really can't stand anymore, the limits are transgressed, and one thing has become another; poetry registers itself on the hospital charts, and heart-break has to be taken care of. . . . But heartbreak perishes in public institutions.

The Reluctant Irishman: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Me

Every Saint Patrick's Day my mother would wake us with put-on cheer, decked out in one of those drugstore-quality plastic green hats and a kelly green sweater. In her best Irish English, drawling her o's and r's, she would call out, "Top o' the morning to ya!", only to be greeted by silence, groans, or outright rebellion.
The rest of the morning featured breakfast-table negotiations about the wearing of the green. The pickings? Sweaters, shirts, shamrock ribbons, and "Kiss me I'm Irish" stickers, the last of these seeming a rather foolhardy choice to wear to my pugilistic, all-boys Catholic high school. I'm convinced she chose the most garish shades of green in order to make Saint Patty's Day a crucible -- the declaration "I'm proud to be Irish" to be translated as "I love my mother." But her heavy sell succeeded in making me only reluctantly Irish. As far as I could discern, there was no history behind any of it. If all that remained of my Irish heritage were a few tired clichés -- "Top o' the Morning" entered the American pop lexicon through a late 1940s Hollywood movie by that title -- there wasn't much choice but to renounce your mother and save face with your peers.
It wasn't until I was in high school, reading James Joyce's Dubliners in a requisite English class, that I began to embrace the melancholy joys of being Irish. Joyce's spare, rigorous, sorrowful yet idealistic stories instilled the romance of Ireland in me. In tales of houses haunted by the memory of dead priests, in reminisces about a great nineteenth-century leader of Irish parliamentary nationalism, Joyce brought to life a people yearning for self-determination while proudly believing themselves unconquerable, despite a long history of brutal British rule that proved otherwise.
Around the time I discovered Joyce, I also began reading the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scott became (and remains) one of my favorites, someone whose story I went on to explore in my new novel, Beautiful Fools. And while in my boy's mind, Joyce was as Irish as they come -- making me wish to be enrolled in the ranks of beleaguered Irish fighting for their independence -- it hardly occurred to me to read Fitzgerald as a standard bearer for the American Irish.
Certainly, I'm not alone in the failure to think of Scott Fitzgerald as Irish Catholic. To this day he's rarely read, or taught, as an Irish writer. Mythically wrapped in the glamor of the Jazz Age, he's remembered as a prophet of an era in which Americans, though disillusioned by world war, were basking in their newfound prominence as a nation and the unlimited possibilities of their freedom. In his glorious debut novel, This Side of Paradise, and in countless Saturday Evening Post stories from "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" to "The Bridal Party," Fitzgerald urged a new generation to cast off the past while glorying in exuberant and youthful self-absorption.
An overnight success, he wrote himself into American myth as anything but a proper Papist. As someone from the Irish upper middle class, Fitzgerald was afforded access to the world of the Protestant rich. At Princeton University he acquired the dreams, skills, and aspirations of the social climber who was granted a seat at the table - albeit one always, at least in his mind's eye, precariously close to the door. Indeed, if Scott was considered a Catholic at all, he was considered one who had abandoned both his faith and his Irish foundation shortly after college. But is this accurate? Or is he the great Irish American writer who couldn't get out of the way of his own Catholicism, even if he wanted to?
Scott's Irish father hailed from a dignified Maryland family, Scott himself a distant cousin of Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled Banner." His father proved a failure in business, thereafter having to rely on money from his wife's family, the McQuillans, people who'd come (as Scott self-deprecatingly recalled) from Irish potato famine stock. His mother's father started as a humble grocer, and on his wits and work ethic built a respectable and sizeable business in St. Paul, Minnesota. His Irish mother doted nervously on the young Scott, but he lamented her attentions and for the rest of his life thought of her as somewhat gauche, referring to her here and there as an "old peasant." Always slightly embarrassed by his family's origins, by where their money came from but also by the fact that there was never quite enough of it, he riffed in his own fiction on Horatio Alger's famous rags-to-riches formula, but with a tragic twist. Heroes who make their fortunes in the crass world of American commerce, strivers such as his maternal grandfather or Scott himself, often come too late to the party. Gatsby's ambition might prove admirable -- he's "better," as Nick Caraway says, "than the whole damn bunch put together" -- but he's still left holding the dream, and not the girl.
Much of the romance in Fitzgerald -- "romance" in its original sense focuses on the stories of valiant losers as opposed to history's winners -- derives from his Irish sensibility. He was drawn to stories of the American South (in high school he penned a Civil War drama); and he once claimed that he enrolled at Princeton because in the annual rivalry football game "Yale always seemed to nose them out in the last quarter" -- the Yale men seeming brawny and brutal, the Princetonians by contrast "slender and keen and romantic."
Scott's first real intellectual mentor at his Catholic prep school had been a priest named Father Fay. A worldly, erudite Irishman, Father Fay loved fine foods, wrote poetry, and seemed altogether romantic in his aesthetics. He introduced his young protégé to the Irish writer Shane Leslie, who hailed from a wealthy landowning Anglo-Irish family but had converted while at Cambridge to Catholicism and the cause of Irish Home Rule. Leslie and Father Fay waxed eloquent on belles-lettres and Catholicism, holding considerable sway over the young Scott's imagination even after he was ensconced at Princeton. Later in life Fitzgerald praised those two mentors for casting a "romantic glamour" on the "dreary ritual of Catholicism." Leslie also provided a more practical service, introducing Scott to the folks at Scribner's, his eventual publisher, asking them to weigh Scott's manuscript in light of the possibility that the young author's anticipated death in the battlefields of Europe (the year was 1918 and Scott, in the army, awaited assignment overseas) might well render him a second Rupert Brooke, the famous British poet-martyr of the Great War.
Scott's Irish Catholicism creeps into his fiction in too many places to list. Perhaps the most intriguing example is the wonderful 1924 story "Absolution," formidable in its own right, but all the more so because the author once admitted he'd originally intended it as a prologue for The Great Gatsby. As the story of a frightened young boy who goes to confession fearing for his soul because he's been telling lies just before receiving communion and then encounters a dreamy, distracted priest who tells him not to worry about sin and to learn to appreciate the beauty of the world, "Absolution" remembers the romantic influence, in almost ghostly form, of Father Fay. But how much of that lying young protagonist, Rudolph Miller, survives in one of 20th century American literature's most mysterious heroes?
Imagine an Irish Catholic Gatsby. What would that do to American literary history? What would it do for Irish American literary history? Fitzgerald was almost certainly right not to include this backstory in the deservedly celebrated novel, though literary luminaries from H.L. Mencken to Edith Wharton complained about the thinness of Gatsby's character after the novel's publication. What we get instead is a Gatsby almost without history. A hero who, by his own devices, becomes more legend than ordinary person. Someone who freely invents his past in order to participate in the promises of American self-invention. When Nick Carraway meets the father of James Gatz (Gatsby's birth name) at the end of the novel, we realize just how ruthlessly Gatsby has discarded the pieces of his past self he found unusable; and one can't help but reflect on Scott Fitzgerald's own restless pursuit of American myth, the pieces of himself he didn't quite know how to use.
So this Saint Patrick's Day, on a holiday when everybody becomes Irish without worrying about the burdens, joys, and costs of being Irish in history, let's remember America's great Irish writer, Scott Fitzgerald, and also the mother he sometimes called, with only grudging generosity, a shabby grand dame. At his mother's death, he regretted those habits of ingratitude, writing to inform his sister that he and his mother hadn't shared "anything in common except a relentless stubborn quality," but that nevertheless he couldn't discard any of her things because, oddly, he appreciated the way "she clung to the end to all things that would remind her of moments of snatched happiness." Scott found himself indulging similar habits in the late 1930s; and no American writer (besides maybe Faulkner) did more to immortalize the bravery of those who are valiant even in defeat. Certainly, I owe a fair portion of my own admiration for the noble losers and beautiful fools in life to Fitzgerald, Joyce, and the memory of Irish ancestors whose dreams somehow survived the tough knocks of history. And some day soon (it's Saint Patrick's Day, after all) the Irish and the F. Scott Fitzgeralds of this world are bound to win.