Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

Forget the Movie – Here is a Revealing Look at Gatsby Author F. Scott Fitzgerald's Real Life

Scott-zelda

Scott and Zelda.

The release of the latest film edition of The Great Gatsby was the second most important news pertaining to author F. Scott Fitzgerald to come out over the past few weeks. The more important news came out of the University of South Carolina, where a digital copy of Fitzgerald's personal ledger has been posted online. Those with an interest in the novel-like life of Fitzgerald more than the fictional ones of his characters will be fascinated by this document.

Fitzgerald kept a long-running journal of his earnings, his wife's earnings, and various personal events. It started in 1919 or 1920, and continued until 1938. At the beginning, he was just starting out, still an unknown, the woman he loved by his side, a bright future in front of him. By the end, his world was tumbling apart, his marriage in shambles, his health deteriorating, and his time remaining on earth short. Fitzgerald, and his “flapper” icon wife Zelda, burned brightly, but their candle did not burn for long.

Money was always an issue for Fitzgerald. His earnings were substantial for their time, but not those of a wealthy person. Incomes in the twenty thousands of dollars in the 1920s would probably translate to the two hundred thousands today, maybe even a little more. For the first year of this ledger, 1919, when Fitzgerald was just starting out, selling some short stories and plays, he made only $879. By the next year that jumped to $18,175, including $6,200 from This Side of Paradise, his first novel, and $7,425 from movies. It was in that year that Zelda, who had previously broken their engagement but was now more confident in Scott's ability to support them, married him, for better or worse.

Surprisingly, Fitzgerald's follow up novels did not do all that well. His short stories were more lucrative. His best known novel, The Great Gatsby, came out in 1925, but did not add substantially to his income. However, movie rights did. In 1925, he took in just under $2,000 for the book, only $500 in 1926. However, movie rights to Gatsby were worth $13,500 in 1926, a little more than half of his income for the year. By 1927, outside of an advance for a new novel, Scott earned less than $200 for all of his books combined, but between stories, movies, and rights, he still took in almost $30,000.

From this point, his income continued to grow every year until it peaked in 1931. That year he made $37,600, including $31,500 from stories, but a mere $100 from books. Considering this was 1931, heart of the Depression, the success is amazing. Yet even with his growing income, the Fitzgeralds would face financial challenges. They often lived beyond their means, and as Zelda's mental health broke down, she required growing care. Financial success did not translate to personal satisfaction.

After 1931, with troubles mounting, we see Scott's income dwindling. He earns well under half as much in 1932 as he did in 1931. He is forced to borrow money from his agent to stay afloat. He manages to get income back to $20,000 in 1934, but by 1936, it is down to $10,000. At this point the record of income stops, but we know Scott moved to Hollywood in 1937 to write screenplays, and his earnings rallied. However, he detested the Hollywood work, finding it unseemly for a serious writer. He sunk deeper into his alcoholism. Meanwhile, Zelda's mental issues escalated, she spent much of her time in institutions, and the two effectively became separated. Scott moved in with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. However, Scott's health rapidly deteriorated. He suffered a pair of heart attacks, but continued to push on, until a more serious one late in 1940 ended his life. He was totally burned out. Zelda spent her days after the mid-1930s in and out of mental institutions, mostly estranged from Scott. By 1943, she was back in an institution where she remained until she died in a fire is 1948.

The financial records are fascinating because finances played such an important role in Fitzgerald's life. However, many will find his personal time line to be the most interesting part of his ledger. This is not a diary, written as events unfolded, but a look back on much of his life. We can be confident it is a look back because it starts with September 24, 1896, where Fitzgerald writes, “at 3-30 P.M. a son Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald to Edward and Mary Fitzgerald.” He was not small, weighing in at 10 lbs. 6 oz. We learn other details clearly not from his own memory, such as he had colic in November, laughed for the first time the following February, crawled and had his first tooth in May, and said his first word, “up,” in July. We even see some humor here as Scott writes that in December 1897, he had “Bronchitis. A specialist was summoned but as his advice was not followed the child pulled through.”

The time line continues with rapid fire snippets of his life. By his third birthday he already weighs 35 pounds. His mother presents him with a new sister, but she only lives an hour. He celebrates the new century by swallowing a penny and catching the measles - “He got rid of both of them.” He goes off for a first day at school, but cried so much his parents quickly had to take him home. We also find that Fitzgerald suffered some sort of “freudian” shame about the appearance of his feet, so much so that he wouldn't go swimming though he very much wanted. If that isn't troubling enough, he had a birthday party at age 7 “to which no one came.” He jokes they moved from Syracuse to Buffalo “possibly in consequence.” No wonder his life became such a mess.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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