[En route to Hollywood]
This may be the last letter for a time, though I won’t forget the check when I get at my check book.
I feel a certain excitement. The third Hollywood venture. Two failures behind me though one no fault of mine. The first one was just ten years ago. At that time I had been generally acknowledged for several years as the top American writer both seriously and, as far as prices went, popularly. I had been loafing for six months for the first time in my life and was confident to the point of conceit. Hollywood made a big fuss over us and the ladies all looked very beautiful to a man of thirty. I honestly believed that with no effort on my part I was a sort of magician with words—an odd delusion on my part when I had worked so desperately hard to develop a hard, colorful prose style.
Total result—a great time and no work. I was to be paid only a small amount unless they made my picture—they didn’t.
The second time I went was five years ago. Life had gotten in some hard socks and while all was serene on top, with your mother apparently recovered in Montgomery, I was jittery underneath and beginning to drink more than I ought to. Far from approaching it too confidently I was far too humble. I ran afoul of a bastard named de Sano, since a suicide, and let myself be gypped out of command. I wrote the picture and he changed as I wrote. I tried to get at Thalberg1 but was erroneously warned against it as “bad taste.” Result—a bad script. I left with the money, for this was a contract for weekly payments, but disillusioned and disgusted, vowing never to go back, tho they said it wasn’t my fault and asked me to stay. I wanted to get East when the contract expired to see how your mother was. This was later interpreted as “running out on them” and held against me.
(The train has left El Paso since I began this letter—hence the writing—Rocky Mountain writing.)
I want to profit by these two experiences—I must be very tactful but keep my hand on the wheel from the start—find out the key man among the bosses and the most malleable among the collaborators—then fight the rest tooth and nail until, in fact or in effect, I’m alone on the picture. That’s the only way I can do my best work. Given a break I can make them double this contract in less [than] two years. You can help us all best by keeping out of trouble—it will make a great difference to your important years. Take care of yourself mentally (study when you’re fresh), physically (don’t pluck your eyebrows), morally (don’t get where you have to lie) and I’ll give you more scope than Peaches.
Reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons from The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, pages 16-17, edited by Andrew Turnbull. Copyright © 1963 Francis Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan. Title supplied.
1.MGM’s “wonder-boy” producer, Irving Thalberg; the model for the hero of Fitzgerald’s unfinished,The Last Tycoon.
2.On Fitzgerald in Hollywood, see further: Aaron Latham, Crazy Sundays, 1971.