Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The L.A. Times has a profile of Frances Kroll Ring, F. Scott Fitzgerald's secretary during his harrowing exile in Hollywood shortly before his death. It's rather soft, and I get the sense that had she been asked she would have said waspish things about the quality of Fitzgerald's work in 1939 and 1940. Since it's impossible for us to appreciate him without viewing the fiction through the prism of myth, the burden rests on survivors like Ring. It's comforting that he returned to serious fiction writing and, ever conscious of history, penned a series of didactic letters to his daughter loaded with aphorisms more apt to be remembered by biographers and critics than a teenage girl. Myth aside, though, I can't take The Last Tycoon seriously -- it's not even a finished first draft, in which I find several structural problems (is this a first- or third-person narrative?) and more serious conceptual ones. Kathleen is the most innocuous of Fitzgerald's golden girls, and the mythologizing of a hack like Monroe Stahr confirms that the writer learned little about Hollywood from his infamous run-ins with Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Irving Thalberg. Maybe Fitzgerald would have fixed this stuff. It's all conjecture. On the other hand, the terse, brief stories he published in Esquire -- distillations of the Fitzgeraldian flourish without succumbing to imitations of nemesis Hemingway -- look better every year. If you can get copies of "The Lost Decade" or "Three Hours Between Planes," by all means read them.

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