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F. Scott Fitzgerald's take on 'Great Gatsby' movie rights? $16,666

F. Scott Fitzgerald made $16,666 -- the equivalent of about $219,529.02 today -- off the movie rights to "The Great Gatsby," according to a calculation by Marketplace. Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," which is set to open nationwide May 10, had a production budget of about $104.5 million. An earlier version, starring Robert Redford, has grossed $20,563,273 since its release in 1974.

The figures, where Fitzgerald is concerned, come from a recently released digital version of his financial ledger at the University of South Carolina's Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library. The ledger is a meticulous record of everything Fitzgerald earned from his writing between 1919, when he left the Army and moved to New York to begin his career, and 1936, when he went to work for the movies.

Written in his own hand, the ledger tallies his many pieces of writing, where they were printed and how much income they produced. Other sections itemize such things as "Zelda's Earnings," (about $5,000 over seven years), provide a very detailed "Outline for the Chart of My Life," ("1897, Feb.: The Child laughed for the first time.") and list "Published Miscelani [sic] (including movies) for which I was Paid."

According to the ledger, Fitzgerald was paid $16,666 for the movie rights to "Gatsby," which, adjusted for inflation, is about $219,529.02 today. Fitzgerald notes that he paid two 10% commissions on the deal, bringing his total profit down to $13,500.

Still, for a time, Fitzgerald was that rare thing: An author who made a living through writing. According to the ledger, most of his income came from the short stories he published in magazines. In 1925, Fitzgerald earned just under $2,000 for "Gatsby" -- about the same as he got for a story published in the Saturday Evening Post.

Later in his life, he had a hard time selling short fiction to magazines, and the wealth generated by Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby was gone. His final royalty check for the book was $13.13.

The University of South Carolina was given Fitzgerald's ledger, among many other items belonging to the author, by his daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald. The university's collection, which is valued at more than $4 million, will be on display beginning May 6. 

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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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