Author of The Great Gatsby and four other novels (plus one unfinished), as well as over 150 short stories, the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald would be 124 today. Today, we honor a writer whose creative genius was cut short. He was a man who fully embodied the Roaring Twenties and whose written language has continued to move people well after its publication and its initial popularity. To celebrate his life and his legacy, here are ten facts that you might not have known about F. Scott Fitzgerald:
1. He was horrible at spelling
Despite the fact he is one of our most-celebrated authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald was an incredibly poor speller. Edmund Wilson, a literary critic, actually said that This Side of Paradise is “one of the most illiterate books of any merit actually published.” In addition to this, The Great Gatsby had hundreds of spelling mistakes, some of which are still debated today. The Great Gatsby also had over 1,000 punctuation marks removed from the novel, which were originally written in by Fitzgerald himself.
2. He was named after the writer of “The Star Spangled Banner”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s full name is actually Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He was named after the writer of the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key is also a distant relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as the apparent second cousin three times removed. This connection is through his father’s side of the family and was clearly a connection that his father was very proud of.
3. Just days after his first novel was published, he was married
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald first met in Montgomery, Alabama back in 1918. He was stationed there with the Army and met Zelda at a country club dance. After Scott moved to New York to become a writer, the two kept in contact by mail as often as they could. They were engaged before he left Montgomery, but the engagement was briefly called off while he was struggling to establish himself. However, a week after his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published, the two were reunited and married on April 3, 1920.
4. ‘This Side of Paradise’ is referenced in ‘The Beautiful and Damned‘
While all of his books are said to be based upon his real-life experiences, F. Scott Fitzgerald makes his most-direct nod to This Side of Paradise in his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. One of his characters says,
You know these new novels make me tired. My God! Everywhere I go some silly girl asks me if I’ve read This Side of Paradise. Are our girls really like that? If it’s true to life, which I don’t believe, the next generation is going to the dogs.
5. ‘The Great Gatsby’ was unsuccessful upon its initial publication
When it was originally published in 1925, The Great Gatsby sold only 21,000 copies. Unfortunately, this did not pale in comparison to his first two novels and there are claims that there were still leftover books from the original printing when The Great Gatsby was later reprinted a second time in the 1940s. It wasn’t until the book was picked up to be printed as an Armed Services Edition in World War II that The Great Gatsby rose to fame. In 1961, school editions of The Great Gatsby were being published for the book to be taught and in 1974 both Truman Capote and Francis Coppola were recruited for The Great Gatsby‘s second round on the big screen.
6. Contrary to belief, ‘The Great Gatsby’ might actually be based upon his time in Connecticut
For years, it was believed that The Great Gatsby was based on the time Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent in Great Neck, New York. West Egg was believed to be Great Neck and East Egg to be Port Washington. However, writers and scholars have spoken out about the fact that it’s very likely that events and locations from The Great Gatsby could be based upon the six months that Scott and Zelda spent in Westport, Connecticut as newlyweds. A documentary that was released earlier this month, Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story, provides an in-depth elaboration of this theory. While no one will ever know the truth, the documentary is sure to get you thinking.
7. He wrote a play called ‘The Vegetable’
Also called From President to Postman, The Vegetable is the only play F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote. Zelda Fitzgerald reportedly wrote that it “flopped as flat as one of Aunt Jemima’s famous pancakes.” Scott wrote the play between 1921 and 1923, following a central character named Jerry Frost. It was actually a short story which he had adapted into a play, but the play did not do nearly as well as the story. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald himself left before the final act when seeing it performed for the first time.
8. he kept a ledger of both his earnings and his life
From 1919 to 1938, F. Scott Fitzgerald began writing in a business ledger after moving to New York. While he kept various important financials within the ledger, the most interesting section is hands-down the section called “Outline Chart of my Life.” It includes the date he fell in love with Zelda, and in 1918 he wrote, “The most important year of life. Every emotion and my life work decided. Miserable and exstatic but a great success.” (Note his bad spelling in regard to “ecstatic”). The entire ledger has been made available to view by the University of South Carolina.
9. Hemingway wrote about him in ‘A Moveable Feast’
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway apparently had a frenemy-styled friendship over the years of knowing one another as fellow writers. First of all, Scott could not spell “Ernest,” and often spelled his name as “Earnest” when writing to or about Hemingway. Scott became a mentor of sorts to Hemingway, though, and even edited The Sun Also Rises for him. In A Moveable Feast, however, Hemingway writes about Scott in a way that is not exactly full of praise. Actually, Hemingway describes Scott’s face as transforming into a “death mask,” on the night they first met.
10. He died at the young age of Fourty four
F Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack, apparently after eating a candy bar, on December 21, 1940. He had been living in Hollywood and was trying, unsuccessfully, to become a screenwriter. He had been writing his final unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, when he died. It would be published in 1941 by Edmund Wilson, the same Edmund Wilson who described This Side of Paradise as an illiterate book of merit. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final royalty check that he had received was also for $13.13; a double unlucky number and perhaps, it is surmised, a bad omen that led to his untimely death. However, his heart attack was probably legitimately caused by his excessive smoking and drinking throughout his life.
The life and writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald are two very interesting topics, which never seem to drift too far from our minds even 100 years after the publication of his first novel. If you’re like me and cannot get enough of Fitzgerald, feel free to join me in a Fitzgerald-novel-binge-fest or to watch one of his many screen adaptations. Some of your options include various Gatsby movies (the easiest ones to find are the 1974 and 2013 versions), as well as The Last Tycoon Amazon series or Robert De Niro film, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button film featuring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. You can also look into Z: The Beginning of Everything, an Amazon series which surrounds Zelda Fitzgerald’s life. For a shorter and more light-hearted viewing, you can turn to Midnight in Paris, a Woody Allen film which includes Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in the portfolio of writers who were living in Paris.
So, let’s raise a glass to one of history’s greatest writers, and my favorite writer of all time, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cheers, Old Sport.