Editor's note: The following book chapter was rekeyed and reprinted on July 11, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Arcade Publishing, New York. The chapter was previously included in a book titled Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. The book was first published in 2002 by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, England, and the ISBN number is 1-55970-688-0. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the volume, please contact the Arcade Publishing at 212-475-2633.



 

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise

Part IV, Creative Voices, January 1927-1929, Chapter 13

a book by Sally Cline

 

Nineteen twenty-seven started modestly. Though in an immodest place: Hollywood, home of stars, melodrama and, if you were lucky, mighty big bucks.

It was the lure of the bucks that tempted Scott when United Artists invited him to Los Angeles to write an original flapper comedy for Constance Talmadge. They offered an advance of $3,500 and a further $12,000 if they accepted his script.

Zelda and Scott left Scottie and her nanny with Scott's parents, who now lived in Washington and were nearer than Zelda's parents. They travelled west on the Twentieth Century Limited train, where Zelda's painter's eye took in 'the red and purple streaks of a Western dark' and later described the landscape feather-stitching along the tracks. She saw 'a green and brown hill, a precipitate tunnel... an odd gate, a lamppost; and a little lead dog', trees and houses on green mountains that 'seemed on probation'.[1] Hollywood itself, as they approached, appeared provisional.

'We reached California in time for an earthquake. . .' she wrote. 'White roses swung luminous in the mist from a trellis outside the Ambassador windows; a bright exaggerated parrot droned incomprehensible shouts in an aquamarine pool ... geraniums underscored the discipline of the California flora.'[2]

From their luxurious bungalow on the hotel's grounds, Zelda wrote constantly to five-year-old Scottie, illustrating notes with drawings of Hollywood events or memories of her darling 'Boo Boo'. [3] Boo Boo bounces on her head in a tutu, legs high. Zelda's and Scottie's heads peep through a heart while the word 'love' spirals the drawing. Boo Boo is lost in the woods, hanging soulfully onto a tree. Sometimes she draws 'love' with wings flying towards Scottie thousands of miles away.

Like her winged affection, Zelda's letters and drawings flowed. January 1927: 'Dearest Darlingest Little Boo Boo... It is so hot here ... even Daddy sleeps under one blanket... It is the most beautiful country... Eucalyptus and Poinsettias grow as tall as trees... this is the biggest and most beautiful hotel that I have ever seen... John Barrymore lives next door and Pola Negri across the way.' As well as the 'two leading vamps of the cinema', other neighbours were Zelda's friend Carl Van Vechten and Scott's friend from Rome Carmel Myers.

Late January 1927: 'Dear dearest Little Boo Boo, Mummy is sitting out here without a coat in the most glorious sunshine... wishing you were here... I would love to show you the lovely red and blue parrot on the terrace... If you were here you would not like the little pool because it's very shallow and not for people who can swim so beautifully, like you. You and I could go in the big one.'

Hollywood, she told Scottie, 'is not gay like the magazines say but very quiet. The stars almost never go out in public and every place closes at midnight... Daddy let me buy a very very pretty black suit that makes me look very proud and prosperous... [but] I am crazy to get back East... I want so badly to see my Boo-Boo... write to me, you old lazy bones.'

Scottie, however, did not write for several weeks. But still Zelda's letters poured out. After mixing daily with film celebrities, among whom Ronald Colman particularly impressed her, a wave of inferiority swept over her: 'Everybody here is very clever and can nearly all dance and sing and play and I feel very stupid.'

Zelda became skeptical about Hollywood's improbability: 'At first,' she told Scottie, 'it was very lovely and impressive, but... everything is on the surface and we soon began to feel there was nothing here but decorations... ' Hollywood was peddling fake fun and implausible dreams, but Zelda did not buy them. The more she missed Scottie, the more unrealistically demanding became her letters.

By February Zelda, having been 'properly moved by the fragility of Lillian Gish', having 'dined at Pickfair to marvel at Mary Pickford's dynamic subjugation of life ',[4] still pined for Scottie's answer. 'I am as cross as a bear and two elephants, a crocodile, a lizard and a kangaroo with you for never writing to me - I do not believe you know how to write.'

Zelda told Scottie Scott's movie about a prison was 'very good' but that The Great Gatsby movie, which they watched, was 'ROTTEN and awful and terrible.' Zelda was nostalgic for Paris in the spring. 'I am very homesick for the pink lights and the trees and the gay streets... But most of all we are very lonesome for you.'

Scottie managed two letters to Zelda, who instantly responded: 'It was more fun to read them than eating or diving or having a new dress... Lady Diana Manners... is out here now playing in the theatre.. . we are going to have dinner with her Saturday if Daddy ever ever ever finishes his work.' Scott was finding scriptwriting tougher than he'd imagined. It would take him two months to complete the assignment. '[Daddy] says he will never write another picture because it is too hard, but I do not think writers mean what they say about their work.'

Zelda worried about her daughter. 'Please, nanny, write me if everything is all right - if you and Scottie are comfortable and happy. I'm in a panic, I want to get home and start house-hunting so bad... I am crazy to own a house. I want you to have a lovely little Japanese room with pink cherry blossoms.'

Zelda filled a scrapbook with pictures of houses. But her panic did not solely arise from homesickness.

The Fitzgeralds had met Lois Moran, a seventeen-year-old actress, at a luncheon given for them by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.[5] Scott was captivated immediately by Lois's innocence, intelligence, beauty and self-discipline. Zelda said sardonically that Lois's appeal to Scott was that of a 'young actress [who is]like a breakfast food that many men identified with whatever they missed from life'. [6]

Though Scott never visited Lois unless her mother was in attendance, nevertheless they met frequently. Zelda resented Scott's escalating admiration for Lois while Scott began to compare Zelda adversely with the starlet. Finally, something in Scott burst and he told Zelda he respected Lois because at least she did something with herself which required effort as well as talent. Underneath her Southern courtesy to Lois, Zelda was furious. Had Scott not noticed her own efforts with her writing and painting? Had he not recognized how little space he gave her to concentrate her attention on her own work rather than his? She was acute enough to perceive that Scott's anger with her partly reflected his frustration that after two years abroad he had less money than when they set out and his novel was still unfinished.

One evening when Scott left to dine with Lois, Zelda, unable to contain her distress and fury, in a fit of violence burned in the bath all the clothes she had herself designed. [7] It was an extraordinary gesture, as self-destructive as those she had made the previous year on the Riviera, but this time she savaged something she had already achieved. Over the years this frenzied act of burning would gain in symbolic significance as it became merely the first of several acts of destruction by fire.

Zelda's jealous anger and Scott's barely-concealed resentment were the undercurrents to a series of wild pranks they engaged in. At a cocktail party to which Lois Moran invited them, Scott collected the guests' watches, bangles and rings and boiled them in tomato soup. At a party given by Goldwyn, to which nobody had invited them, Scott and Zelda gate-crashed, appearing at the street door on all fours barking like dogs. Once inside, Zelda, characteristically, stole upstairs to take a bath before joining the guests. When visiting William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon, Scott shocked his host by borrowing a brassiere from Zelda to clothe one of Hearst's nude garden statues.

While writing his screenplay, 'Lipstick', Scott quarrelled with Constance Talmadge, which probably injured its chances, for when it was finished in March it was rejected. Scott had to face the fact that more than his $3,500 advance had already been used up. The Fitzgeralds slunk back east, barely surviving a quarrel over Lois Moran on their journey. In a newspaper article, Moran had revealed she admired philosophers, adored bathing suits (as did Zelda) and her favourite authors were Frederick Nietzsche, Rupert Brooke and Scott Fitzgerald.[8] Patently Scott had spent time on his favourite pursuit: 're-educating' a young woman, giving her reading lists.

Zelda, accustomed to that ploy, was justifiably angry, more so when Scott revealed he had invited Lois to visit them. In a rage she threw her diamond and platinum watch, which Scott had given her in 1920, out of the train window. It was her most expensive sentimental keepsake, costing $600 in 1920, worth about $12,000 today.[9]

Moran had certainly left her mark on Scott. Though he met her only a few more times, she nestled securely in his fiction, first as the sixteen-year-old shop girl Jenny in 'Jacob's Ladder', then as eighteen-year-old ingenue Helen Avery in 'Magnetism', before her final transformation into Rosemary Hoyt in Tender Is the Night.[10]

For Zelda, who still found Scott's attentive fictionalization of herself in his novels flattering, it would have come as a shock to see him do something similar with Lois Moran.

Zelda's and Scott's autobiographical fiction had always held messages and warnings for each other, sometimes recriminations, occasionally prophecies. In 'Jacob's Ladder' the hero, Jake, a failed tenor who has made a fortune in real estate, perceives himself, like Scott, as Pygmalion, and promotes young Jenny to Hollywood stardom. Scott made Zelda see what he saw in Lois: 'the face of a dark saint with tender, luminous eyes', the face of 'an intense little Madonna', a beautiful young woman who was 'somehow on the grand scale'. Initially the disillusioned older Jake neither finds her desirable nor sleeps with her, but finally he 'rode away in a mood of exultation, living more deeply in her youth and future than he had lived in himself for years'.[11] This was not a line calculated to increase Zelda's sense of security.

In 'Magnetism' George, a charismatic thirty-year-old film actor, is married to Kay, a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, now burdened with child and English nanny. They, like the Fitzgeralds, are seen as the ideal celebrity couple. But as George and Kay's marriage wears out, George studies eighteen-year-old Helen. Helen staves off George's sexual passion with the light line 'O, we're such actors, George - you and I', a line echoed by Rosemary in Tender Is the Night. But just as it is hard for Kay to be content that her husband did not have a sexual encounter with Helen when he views Kay as 'one of those people who are famous beyond their actual achievement'[12], so it was for Zelda to take comfort from Scott's platonic dalliance with Lois, accompanied by the same bitter accusation.

Zelda would also use that Hollywood episode in 'A Millionaire's Girl', but she waited three years to retaliate. That too becomes a story of a young film actress, Caroline, who rises to stardom. But Zelda intends her heroine to be a more forceful character who achieves not merely movie star status but also marriage to a man with millions. Zelda's story ends with a description of the marriage three years later, when 'so far they have kept their quarrels out of the divorce courts, but... [they] can't go on forever protecting quarrels'.[13] What Zelda published in 1930 she already knew in 1927.

Zelda had begun dreaming repetitively about her daughter,[14] so it was with great relief that they went to collect her from Washington, stopping in Baltimore to see Mencken. Scott did not endear himself to the Sage by singing Hemingway's praises, then informing him Ernest was all set to beat him up. Nor did Scott endear himself to Sara Haardt and Sara Mayfield when he made 'scathing remarks' about Zelda.[15]

Sara Haardt's tuberculin infection had temporarily cleared, and she had resettled into a room on Charles Street in Baltimore, writing and surviving her up-and-down romance with Mencken. Gossip columnists, having linked his name with actress Aileen Pringle, were now linking it with evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and novelist Rebecca West. Angrily, Sara Haardt told Mayfield that Mencken was now 'a closed chapter in my book'. [16] Mencken, however, continued to promote Sara's writing, and at Joseph Hergesheimer's literary party Zelda and Scott overheard Sara referred to as 'the future Mrs. Mencken'.

Scott felt that in rural peace he could complete his novel, so, after collecting Scottie, the Fitzgeralds stayed at the Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, while they house-hunted, helped by Scott's Princeton roommate John Biggs and his wife Anna. [17] In late March Biggs, now a Washington lawyer and writer, found them Ellerslie, a nineteenth-century colonial-style house at Edgemoor, near Wilmington, on the banks of the Delaware River. Zelda later described in detail the four Doric columns, the portico, the 'sombre horse chestnuts in the yard and a white pine bending as graciously as a Japanese brush drawing' which surrounded Ellerslie.[18] It was a house whose thirty rooms were so enormous that Zelda had to design outsize furniture, then have it specially made in Philadelphia. With characteristic flair she painted maps of France on the garden furniture, and Scottie remembers her painting stars and flowers on wooden lawn chairs. Zelda planted hedges of her favourite tissue-paper white roses and trailed yellow climbing roses over fences. Her imagination was endless. Scottie recalled how 'she painted my bed with red and white stripes' and the bedroom walls with fairytale scenes.[19]

 

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