CARL VAN VECHTEN
If there's an afterlife and F. Scott Fitzgerald is in it, he must be furious he left the land of the living so soon. Since he died in December, 1940, when he was just 44, he's had some of the best years of his publishing career. New collections of stories and essays! A new piece in the New Yorker! Most of a novel, heralded as brilliant! Not to mention the movie adaptations and the millions of copies of The Great Gatsby sold to high school and college students! Can you imagine the royalties he's missed out on? Plus, he's finally a genius.
His posthumous career has been so successful, in fact, it's hard to believe that there's anything he left behind that hasn't been pawed over by dozens of scholars and copyright lawyers. But recently, while poking around the Fitzgerald papers at the Princeton University library, Andrew Gulli, publisher of the Strand, a literary magazine out of Birmingham, Michigan, that specializes in mysteries, came across the manuscript of a short story called "Temperature," written just a few months before Fitzgerald's fatal heart attack.
"The story did not look familiar at all," says Gulli. "But it was similar to Fitzgerald's life at the time. The main character was living on the estate of a famous Hollywood actor. He'd just hired a secretary and was trying to finish a book, he had heart problems, he mixed a drink with some pills his doctor had given him and started acting like a complete loony."
Gulli's not a scholar—he jokes that his PhD is from the school of hard knocks—so he consulted some experts, who confirmed that the story was, indeed, by Fitzgerald and that it had never been published before. Fitzgerald's estate gave Gulli the green light to publish "Temperature" in the summer issue of the Strand, on newsstands this week.
This isn't the first time Gulli's found and published previously unknown work by a famous dead author. One of his hobbies is visiting the archives of writers he admires and going through their papers. "It's a fun, wonderful thing," he says. "As a kid, my greatest wish was to meet great writers." He's discovered short stories by James M. Cain, John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, and Tennessee Williams, an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, and an article by H.G. Wells. But he says "Temperature" is special.
"Many unpublished works by great writers are dreadful," he says. "But this one is very, very good. It's a comedy, with the great dialogue of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He uses his satirical abilities to great effect skewering Hollywood stereotypes. Fitzgerald knew how to capture a person with just a few sentences and leave you feeling satisfied. He wrote 300 stories, but this is one of the top 20.
"This is one of the highlights of my career," he continues. "I love F. Scott Fitzgerald. He could do so much, but we take him for granted. He dabbled in horror, science fiction, romance, autobiography. He wasn't writing the same thing 100 times. I love Eugene O'Neill, but some scenes he wrote over and over, like he was working on them and experimenting. Fitzgerald was very versatile."