Fitzgerald in Hollywood

The Princeton University Library’s extensive collections of materials relating to F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896—1940) (Class of 1917) have been enhanced by a recent gift of 22 items from Margaret Finney McPherson. These include over a dozen letters from Fitzgerald to McPherson’s parents, Fitzgerald’s Princeton classmate and friend Eben Finney (Class of 1919) and Eben’s wife, Margaret, as well as letters by Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda (1900—1948), and his daughter, Scottie (1921—1986).

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters are dated between 1936 and 1938, and serve as a window into the last years of his life, when he moved to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter. As he explains to the Finneys in one letter, “A writer not writing is practically a maniac within himself. Because of this—I mean too many anxieties and too much introspection I’m going to Hollywood next month & extrovert a while, do a picture on order for Harlowe & Robert Taylor, and then some other work for Metro if they want me to stay on.”

In Hollywood, Fitzgerald signed a contract with MGM for $1,000 a week, which was later renewed for $1,250, a substantial sum during the Depression. He worked on many movies, including Gone with the Wind, but received a screenwriting credit for only one, Three Comrades. He describes his work on Three Comrades in a letter to the Finneys, written on MGM letterhead; in other letters, he mentions working with the actor and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart and offers his impressions of Hollywood and the movie industry.

Many of his letters also reveal his anxieties about parenting his teenage daughter Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald. He expressed concerns about her grades, her romantic life, and the influence of his lifestyle upon her own, and repeatedly urged the Finneys to allow their daughter, Margaret “Peaches” Finney, to join Scottie on a visit to Hollywood where, he promised, he would introduce them to movie stars but not to alcohol or marijuana. In 1938, Peaches and Scottie did visit Hollywood, where they had their picture taken with the actor Errol Flynn.

Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack in Hollywood at age 44. His last work, left unfinished at the time of his death and published posthumously as The Last Tycoon (1941), reflects his years in Hollywood in its main character, Monroe Stahr, who was inspired by the producer Irving Thalberg. The collection includes a letter from Fitzgerald’s widow, Zelda, thanking Margaret Finney for her support after Fitzgerald’s death. The Finneys lived in Baltimore, where the Fitzgeralds had also lived for several years. “[Fitzgerald] thought so happily of Baltimore,” Zelda wrote. “His people came from Maryland and he always felt that getting back to those flowering and peaceful slopes was to be going home. He loved the hospitable white roads and the immaculacy of the bright green fields, and always hoped that someday he would be able to live there forever.”

These materials have been added to the F. Scott Fitzgerald Additional Papers. Other collections at the Library with extensive material related to the Fitzgeralds include the F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Zelda Fitzgerald Papers, Craig House Medical Records on Zelda Fitzgerald, Ginevra King Collection Relating to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and H. N. Swanson Files on F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Carl Van Vechten, photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald, undated. Not to be reproduced without permission of the Princeton University Library.