Fitzgerald Through Other Eyes : ...
Having been born to one of the most famous couples of this century--America’s greatest modern writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his talented flapper wife Zelda Sayre--Scottie Fitzgerald was thrust a heavy mantle, particularly as their only child. Add to that the heady cocktail of parental alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, numerous failed suicide attempts and schizophrenia. Talent and tragedy were genetically passed on to Scottie as surely as her blond hair and blue eyes.
Until now, very little was known about the Fitzgeralds’ daughter beyond her school days.
What was known was gleaned mainly from the few paragraphs in the countless biographies of her famous parents and through the published book of admonishing letters her father wrote to her until his death in 1940. Since then Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith steadfastly refused to discuss her parents or childhood with anyone, even her closest friends and family.
Shortly before her death, however, she began an autobiographical “diary” for her children. She stopped at 74 typed pages, but it was enough to inspire her eldest daughter, Eleanor Lanahan, to pick up the torch.
Once asked why she didn’t write an autobiography, Scottie answered that she didn’t think her life was interesting enough. But Lanahan believed that her mother “was too remarkable an individual for her story to remain in storage.” Sifting through 64 boxes of letters, journals, clippings, photos and other memorabilia left by her mother, as well as spending five years interviewing Scottie’s friends, family, lovers and associates, Lanahan has produced a biography that sometimes reads like an epic novel. Spanning three generations, it traces the Fitzgerald-Sayre familial predilections, talents and weaknesses as they manifested themselves in tragic and triumphant episodes.
Born in 1921 in her father’s hometown, St. Paul, Minn., Frances Scott Fitzgerald began an amazingly nomadic childhood, moving regularly between continents and countries under the tutelage of a succession of British nannies and French mesdemoiselles . She could not have known that the grown-ups that visited her parents in Paris and New York were the stuff of legends or that, living as she did, she was witness to one of the Western world’s most creative decades.
In her youthful innocence she found Gertrude Stein “terrifying” and Hemingway “a great tearing figure.” At age 4 she proposed marriage to Gerald Murphy. Picasso, Valentino, John Dos Passos, Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, Archibald MacLeish and Charles MacArthur were her Greek chorus.
Although there is no particularly new material here on Scottie’s childhood or her parents that has not been covered in previous biographies of Scott and Zelda, it is refreshingly presented for the first time as seen through her own eyes. We also see how, early on, she developed her lifelong coping mechanism, the deleterious facility to refuse to see what she didn’t want to see. Modern psychology would call it denial. As she once explained, “I knew there was only one way for me to survive my parents’ tragedy, and that was to ignore it.”
It is only after she graduates from Vassar in 1942 and marries the handsome young tax attorney Jack Lanahan that we begin to meet the Scottie we never knew. Married into a wealthy Baltimore society family, (whose fortune, ironically, was based on Hunter Rye whiskey), Scottie had four children within six years only to realize, as her mother did, that motherhood and its relentless demands did not interest her much.
She wrote an occasional short story and various pieces of free-lance journalism. Yet it wasn’t until after the family moved to the Washington area in the early ‘50s--and she turned 32--that she “found her golden bowl.” Idealistically liberal in her political outlook, Scottie began a commitment promoting the Democratic Party and its candidates.
Scottie became renowned for her almost weekly political parties and fund-raisers. She worked on every presidential campaign, wrote for the Democratic National Committee’s Digest and ran, unsuccessfully, several times to be a delegate to Democratic national conventions. She diverged briefly to open a dress boutique in Georgetown, produced popular musical shows for charity events and for a short time had a weekly column in the Washington Post.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said it would be impossible to write a good biography of a writer simply because he is too many people. This is certainly the impression one gets of Scottie.
Undaunted, Eleanor Lanahan successfully perseveres through more than 600 pages, documenting her multitalented, flawed, paradoxical mother. We are skillfully led through Scottie’s nomadic and traumatic childhood, her marriages and love affairs, political triumphs and defeats, alcoholism and alcoholics, battles with three types of cancer, one son’s suicide and the other’s drug addiction to her ultimate sense of disappointment in her own accomplishments.
Lanahan writes: “This book exposes, bleeds, mourns, whines, brags and complains. My mother would flip.” But as a wise friend counseled, “You can’t play your mother’s song using only the white keys.” “Scottie: The Daughter of . . . " is a compelling read.
Also of note is “Intimate Lies: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, Her Son’s Story” by Robert Westbrook. This is “Beloved Infidel” as it should have been written the first time around: the true story of Lilyana Shiel, the Jewish waif brought up in mind-numbing poverty in London’s infamous East End who went on to become Sheilah Graham, one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and well-known gossip columnists.
Progressing from demonstrating toothbrushes to appearing in stage revenues to writing newspaper articles, Graham was soon hobnobbing with the Mitfords, King Vidor, Jock Whitney and was engaged to the Marquess of Donegall when she met F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Westbrook writes a candidly detailed account of his concupiscent mother’s turbulent 3 1/2 years with Scott Fitzgerald. From his extensive research and memories of Graham’s spoken stories, he sets out to correct the errors, omissions and prevarications in her earlier chronicles (“Beloved Infidel,” “College of One” and “The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald”) in addition to presenting new and perhaps disturbing insights into their relationship.
From stoically weathering the storms of Fitzgerald’s legendary drunken binges, during which he threatened Graham’s life and livelihood, to her admission that she found sexual excitement in being taken by him when drunk, Westbrook charts his mother’s affair with equanimity as it progressed from a purely physical to a much deeper, mature union, only to be cheated by Fitzgerald’s death.
Westbrook presents us with some hard truths that shatter many of the Fitzgerald-Graham myths. “Intimate Lies” is a perfect companion piece to “Scottie: Daughter of . . . “