The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival is held Oct. 10th. His final Hollywood years are imagined here. 2,557 words. Illustration by John Mann.
At forty, by a series of setbacks he ascribed to bad luck, he’d become a transient. His hope was to go to Hollywood and make enough to cover his debts and maybe buy himself time to write the novel he owed Max Perkins. There was interest at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the promise of a thousand a week, but so far his agent couldn’t get them to commit. The studio had concerns about his drinking — his own fault for publishing those mea culpas in Esquire. All March he pestered his agent for word, assuring him he hadn’t touched a drop, when his bottom drawer was heavy with empties. Metro wanted him to come to New York for an interview, so he took the first train. For two full days he was completely, wrackingly sober, and passed. Six months at a thousand a week. The next day, on Metro’s ticket, he took the Argonaut west.
He’d come to Los Angeles twice before, as two very different men. The first time, he’d entered the city triumphant, the golden wunderkind and his flapper bride, signing autographs and mugging with Zelda for the cameras as they detrained. The last, after the Crash, she was recovering in Montgomery, and he got off at Pasadena to avoid the reporters. Now as he stepped down onto the platform there was no one to greet him. He gathered his bags, flagged a cab and disappeared into traffic.
Like a new schoolboy dreading his first day, he was afraid of being late, waking to the strange room at three-thirty, and four-fifteen, and again at five, to birds shrieking in the trees. He packed his briefcase with fresh legal pads and pencils and set out early, arriving well before the prescribed time. The façade of the studio was an imposing colonnade of Corinthian pillars, and, like everything there, a monumental fake, made of lath and plaster. They had his pass waiting at the gate, or one for a Mr. Francis Fitzgerald.
His last time on the lot he’d been a guest of the real boy wonder, Irving Thalberg, chauffeured around in his Rolls like a prized pet. Now that Thalberg was dead, and Metro’s best intentions with him, Francis Fitzgerald had to find his own parking spot. He left the Ford behind the paint shop and walked back up Main between the numbered, warehouse-like soundstages, slipping into the flow of gaffers and grips and extras dressed for a Western.
The old Writers’ Building, a stucco block the color of chopped liver, had been replaced by a poured concrete mausoleum the size of a high school named, unjustly, after Thalberg. The lobby was as cool as a theater. In a nod to honesty, the roster by the elevator didn’t list a single writer, only the producers on the fourth floor.