Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.
Today is the 117th birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, born Francis Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). The son of a would-be furniture manufacturer who never quite made it big in business, Fitzgerald grew up feeling like a “poor boy in a rich town,” in spite of his middle-class upbringing. This impression was only strengthened when he attended Princeton, paid for by an aunt, where he was enthralled by the leisure class, tried out and was cut from the football team, and fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who would marry a wealthy business associate of her father’s. By the time Fitzgerald dropped out of college and entered the Army — wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform — it was little wonder he called the autobiographical novel he was writing The Romantic Egotist.
Fitzgerald’s time at an officer training camp in Alabama didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, either; the war ended before he ever made it to Europe, his book was rejected, and when he failed to make it big in New York City, his new debutante girlfriend, Zelda Sayre, called off their engagement.
Fitzgerald was probably much like most young men of his generation who dreamed of being a football star, the war hero, the wealthy big shot, the guy who gets the girl, but he actually had talent, drive, and an unshakeable faith that he could translate all that familiar yearning into something new. His revised book, This Side of Paradise, was a triumphant success. Requests for his writing came pouring in, Zelda married him, and the two of them — a Midwesterner and a Southerner — became the quintessential New York couple, the epitome of the Jazz Age, a term Fitzgerald himself coined. And although they eventually died separated, she in a mental hospital, he in debt and obscurity, Fitzgerald’s two greatest regrets remained, for the rest of his life, having failed to serve overseas and play Princeton football.
He said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
And his daughter, “Scottie” Fitzgerald, said about her parents, “People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.”
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