Fitzgerald: No Second Act
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote there are no second acts in American life. It's an interesting comment from the author of a true American classic novel, "The Great Gatsby," who lived to see all of his books out of print by the age of 40.
No second act means you get one shot at the brass ring of success and even if you manage to grab it, life inevitably goes downhill to a tragic anti-climax.
Recently, I saw two good films based on Fitzgerald's life and work.
"The Last Time I Saw Paris," adapted from his short story "Babylon Revisited," is about Fitzgerald's return to Paris in the 1930s. By then the whole world was nursing a giant hangover from the Roaring 20s, the era of illegal booze, flappers (otherwise known as loose women) and all-night jazz sessions.
I recall Dorothy Parker describing how Prohibition affected the literary set. Many American writers who might have been tea-totalers or moderate drinkers if alcohol had remained legal were seduced by the underground culture of speak-easies and booze hit them like a revelation. They ran wild and leading the pack was Fitzgerald and his beautiful but crazy wife, Zelda.
Then the stock market crashed in 1929 and the good times were suddenly over. "Babylon Revisited" and the film it inspired are filled with regret, guilt and recrimination as Fitzgerald haunts his old hangouts in Paris. It's the tale of a writer who wakes up from a 15-year bender depressed and forgotten by the public.
"Beloved Infidel" is a film about Fitzerald's love affair with Sheila Graham, a Hollywood gossip columnist in the late 1930s. At the time Zelda was in a mental insitution, their daughter was in an expensive private school and Fitzgerald was desperate to make enough money to pay for both. Like William Faulkner, Fitzgerald was hired by a movie studio to write screenplays.
He worked on three scripts, none of which were ever produced. Along with the experiences of Faulkner, Raymond Chandler and other writers, this became a Hollywood legend that great novelists make lousy screenwriters.
With the help of Miss Graham, Fitzgerald eventually quit drinking and started working on a new novel. The novel was rejected by publishers and Fitzgerald died of a heart attack when he was 44 -- a self-fulfilling prophecy of no second act in his life.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa