‘The Pat Hobby Stories’ by F Scott Fitzgerald – A Bitter Screenwriter

 

‘The Pat Hobby Stories’ by F Scott Fitzgerald  (1940) – 158 pages

“F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896, famous by 1920, forgotten by 1936, and dead by the end of 1940.” – Jimmy So

The seventeen Pat Hobby Stories were the last stories F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote.  In the stories, Pat Hobby is a Hollywood screenwriter.  Pat Hobby calls himself “a scenario hack” and “a venerable script-stooge”.  A lot of readers and critics assumed that Pat Hobby was actually F. Scott Fitzgerald himself because he had worked years in Hollywood as a scriptwriter without much success, and he despised the job.   In the stories, Pat Hobby had already worked as a Hollywood screenwriter in the silent movie era.  Imagine writing a script for a silent movie.

I prefer to think of Pat Hobby as another separate character that Fitzgerald created like Jay Gatsby or Dick Diver.  Certainly a lot of Fitzgerald’s Hollywood experiences went into these stories, but his letters to Arnold Gingrich, his editor at Esquire, indicate that Fitzgerald was shaping this material to be ultimately a novel of connected stories.

In his prime in the 1920s Fitzgerald was being paid $4000 a story, but by 1940 he was paid only $150 to $250 for the Pat Hobby stories.  And Fitzgerald had expenses.  By this time wife Zelda was in a mental institution, and he was also paying to send his daughter Scottie to Vassar College.  He was living in Hollywood with movie gossip columnist Sheila Graham.

The great temptation and affliction of Fitzgerald’s life was alcohol.  He was already drinking to excess in 1916 when he graduated from Princeton at age twenty.  Between 1933 and 1937 he was put in the hospital for alcoholism eight times and also thrown in jail on multiple occasions.  Somehow MGM hired him as a well-paid scriptwriter in 1937, but let him go in 1939.  After that he went on another severe alcoholic binge.  Although there were times he went “on the wagon”, he never rid himself totally of the demon alcohol.

The stories in this Pat Hobby collection show that Fitzgerald never did lose his competence as a fiction writer either.  Like nearly all of his work the stories follow his life closely, but Fitzgerald never lost that professional distance from his material which allowed him to turn episodes from his own life into fiction.  Pat Hobby is a bitter man who has nothing but disdain for the bungling studio heads who try to tell him what he should write.

“Those few who decide things are happy in their work and sure that they are worthy of their hire – the rest live in a mist of doubt as to when their vast inadequacy will be disclosed.” 

These stories are bitter but there is an underlying humor in them as well.  On many an afternoon Pat Hobby sneaks off to the racetrack to bet on the horses because he needs the money from a big win.

Overall Fitzgerald is successful in capturing what working in Hollywood was like for a screenwriter at that time with a closer emphasis on the failures rather than on the successes.

 

Grade:   B

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I really want to read more Fitzgerald – maybe the short stories would be a way into this!

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    • Hi Kaggsy,
      I’ve enjoyed most of the Fitzgerald I’ve read. Of his novels, I actually prefer his first one, ‘This Side of Paradise’, to the ‘The Great Gatsby’. These Pat Hobby stories are somewhat embittered, so to get a better sense of Fitzgerald, I would read a selection of his early stories llke ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’, etc., first.
      When I was researching this article, I was surprised to find that the police threw him in jail for drunkenness so many times.

      Liked by 1 person

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