Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

‘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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‘West of Sunset’ by Stewart O’Nan – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Last Years in Hollywood

‘West of Sunset’ by Stewart O’Nan   (2015) – 289 pages   Grade: B+

Jackccxet

The author Stewart O’Nan has been called ‘the king of the quotidian’ by fellow author Elizabeth Strout.  That is certainly true of my favorite of his novels, ‘Last Night at the Red Lobster’, which follows the day-to-day running of a Red Lobster restaurant through the eyes of its manager.  That novel was an affecting look at the franchise restaurant business and the people who work in it.

At first glance one would think that the wildly flamboyant F. Scott Fitzgerald would not be the best subject for a writer of the everyday life like Stewart O’Nan.  Scott and his wife Zelda were raucous drunken hell-raisers in the Twenties, dancing on table tops, diving into public fountains, going to cocktail parties in their pajamas with Zelda likely taking even those off, getting thrown out of hotels.

However the F. Scott Fitzgerald in ‘West of Sunset’ is much more subdued.  The novel is about Fitzgerald’s final years starting with his second sojourn as a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1937.  By this time Zelda had been in and out of sanitariums and rest homes for the mentally ill for seven years.  Zelda was actually misdiagnosed with schizophrenia although today her diagnosis would most likely be bipolar disorder.

In 2013 there were three novels that told the Scott and Zelda story from Zelda’s point of view questioning whether or not Zelda was actually crazy and what or who caused her problems to begin with.  Since ‘West of Sunset’ is told from Scott’s point of view, it naturally puts him in a better light than these three other novels.  Perhaps ‘West of Sunset’ over-portrays Zelda as a poor unstable wretch.

Scott’s writing career was floundering as there was no longer much demand for his novels and stories.  He had to pay for Zelda’s expenses as well as for their daughter Scottie’s private school expenses.  Hollywood was willing to pay him $1000 a week, so he returned there.   He hated Hollywood’s team approach to writing scripts which also allowed the directors of the movie to make any script changes they wanted.  But the money was good.

Of course we meet a few famous people along the way.  Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Parker, and Ernest Hemingway are all characters in the novel.

Scott meets up with the young gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and they develop a relationship even though he is still married to Zelda and occasionally goes back to see her.   Sheilah later becomes disgusted with Scott’s drinking binges.

Scott never could hold his liquor, and although he tries hard to keep it under control, alcohol wound up hurting his Hollywood career as well as his relationship with Sheilah.  On these drunken benders Scott had a nasty violent streak so would frequently wind up with a black eye or broken bones which would make it obvious to all that he had been drinking.

Of the four Stewart O’Nan novels that I have read, ‘West of Sunset’ is my second favorite after ‘Last Night at the Red Lobster’. ‘West of Sunset’ is a poignant and touching portrait of a man who had been on top of the world sliding inexorably downward, a mere mortal.  As the studios fire him or reduce his salary, it becomes more difficult for Scott to make financial ends meet.  The only thing that sustains Scott when he is not drinking is his strong work ethic to keep writing.

As we read along in ‘West of Sunset’, we realize we are edging closer and closer to December 21, 1940, the day F. Scott Fitzgerald died at age 44.  The only suspense is how O’Nan will handle the death scene.

 

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