F. Scott Fitzgerald via Biography YouTube Channel F. Scott Fitzgerald via Biography YouTube Channel

Today in History - F. Scott Fitzgerald stamp is issued

Wed, Sep. 27, 2017
CAIRO – 27 September 2017: September 27 marks the day the U.S. post office released a stamp in 1992 to honor author F. Scott Fitzgerald, famous for having written The Great Gatsby.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota to a family that had once seen better days, having gone from wealth to poverty. He is named after his distant relative, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” America’s national anthem. Despite this, Fitzgerald was torn as to what his legacy would be; uncertain of the path he would take in life. While the allure of fame called to him, he feared a future filled with nothing but famine.

His rich imagination served him well however, and while studying at St. Paul Academy, a 13-year-old Fitzgerald managed to get his first ever story published at the school newspaper. Though he was unpopular amongst his peers, the young author didn’t give up. His talents were further encouraged when he was sent to the Catholic Newman School in New Jersey, where Father Sigourney Fay helped encourage him to pursue a literary career.

In 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to complete his education, and enrolled at Princeton University, where his writing really began to take root.

At Princeton, Fitzgerald began several important friendships with critics Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop, and even had his first love, the beautiful Ginevra. He also focused hard on his writing, producing work for The Princeton Tiger, the university’s humor magazine, and contributed to the Nassau Literary Magazine.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald was so wrapped up with his work that his academic life suffered, and he eventually flunked out of the university, losing Ginevra on the way. On academic probation, Fitzgerald realized he had no choice but to enroll in army during World War I. He feared dying before having completed a novel, so he began to hurriedly to work on a book titled The Romantic Egotist. While rejected by publishers, they liked his potential and encouraged him to try again with future work.

It was while he was stationed at Alabama in 1918 that he met his future wife, Zelda Sayre, and fell madly in love. Alas, it would be the start of what would become an infamously tragic relationship. Luckily for Fitzgerald, the war ended before he was ever sent out to fight, and so the first thing he did was to visit Zelda in New York, with hope to both marry her and find instant success.

Fitzgerald wouldn’t be so lucky. He was unable to find success as a novelist, and Zelda called off the engagement. Returning to St. Paul, he returned to work on The Romantic Egoist, revising and rewriting it until it became This Side of Paradise, a romantic story heavily derived from Fitzgerald’s own life about a man dealing with rejection by two rich women. When it was published in 1920, Fitzgerald became an instant success.

Cover for This Side of Paradise via Wikimedia

Impressed, Zelda finally married him a week after the book’s publication, and Fitzgerald basked in both his personal and professional success. The two would later have a daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, who would grow up to become a writer for various news publications, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Working at The Saturday Evening Post, Fitzgerald supported his lavish lifestyle, having entered the world of the high-class and loving every second of it. During his time at the Saturday Evening Post, Fitzgerald wrote numerous short stories, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” about a man who aged in reverse and was adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt in 2008.

Of course, this high-rise life couldn’t last. Fearing the shadow of debt, the Fitzgeralds moved to Europe, hoping to be able to quiet things down. It was here that in 1925 Fitzgerald managed to complete his most famous work, The Great Gatsby, hailed by later critics as a novel that truly defined the Jazz Era. The book was adapted numerous times as a film, including a 1974 adaption that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and more recently a 2013 blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

However, life would only go downhill for Fitzgerald by this point, as the debts the couple acquired continued to pile up, regardless of how well paid he was for his work. Zelda’s mental health began to take a dive, and Fitzgerald’s alcoholism had begun to grow worse. Eventually, by 1930, Zelda suffered a breakdown and was forced to spend the rest of her life in a mental health institution, which only made things far worse for Fitzgerald’s growing alcohol problem. In 1934, his novel, Tender Is the Night, failed to achieve any sort of critical or commercial success, which devastated the author. He took to the bottle for comfort, going down a path of no return.

Fitzgerald tried his best to turn around, and had moved to Hollywood in 1937 to start a career as a screenwriter in Hollywood. There he met his third love, Sheilah Graham, a famous Hollywood gossip column writer, and lived a quiet life with her. He had even stopped drinking, and was working on his next novel until a heart attack in 1940 ended everything for him at the age of 44.

Though he died just as he had attempted to fix his life, Fitzgerald’s legacy grew greater than he could have ever hoped, his works becoming recognized long after his death as masterpieces of their time, stories that truly captured life both as a rich American and speaking to the universal experiences of love and loss.

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