It wasn’t until I opened my November 16, 2009, issue of The New Yorker on the plane to Austin that I saw this article about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his struggles in Hollywood. It was an excellent piece—written by Arthur Krystal, who’s working on a book on the topic—and it’s well worth searching out a print copy of the magazine. (The web site offers only an abstract.)
Krystal had access to Fitzgerald’s papers from a forgotten corner of the M-G-M archives, and it seems that our friend Scott really, really, REALLY wanted to come up with a great movie. And so why didn’t he succeed? Not hard to figure out, acutally, based on Krystal's research.
Krystal writes that while examining the papers,
“…I discovered just how hard he had worked at his craft. Fitzgerald approached each assignment with an intensity that must have puzzled his superiors. Given a script to revise, he would break it down, backstory it, advise the producers of its potential, and then start to add layers. ‘A Yank at Oxford’ couldn’t be just an innocent romance’ it had to prove the connection between language and mores. ‘Madame Curie’ couldn’t be just the story of a woman overcoming the odds; it had to reveal the intricacies of a marriage between equals. Naturally, he became emotionally invested in the work, making it difficult to cede control, and, like the British colonel in ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai,’ he forgot that what he was building didn’t belong to him, and, consequently, felt dismayed at its destruction.”
Here’s a brief bit from one of Fitztgerald's screenplays, “Cosmopolitan,” based on his short story “Babylon Revisited”:
Krystal notes: “Now follows a much longer, prosy summation of Marion Petrie’s character and attitudes, all of which could be expressed in a few lines of dialogue instead of lengthy paragraphs:
“[Fitzgerald wrote:] His wife Marion…is an extremely pretty American woman of thirty-two who must have hoped for a better match. She is now in a state of great emotion—barely controlled. She is agitated almost to the breaking point by the news of her sister’s suicide, which reached her last night in Paris. Always before this she has felt a certain secret jealously of her sister, who has great wealth and luxury.”
Sounds like a pureborn novelist to me.