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Zelda and Scott.

One week from today we open a play which tells the story of Zelda Fitzgerald.  I was drawn to this play for many reasons. But, it seems there is always something of the unknown that pulls me one way or the other artistically.  Maybe its this quest to find my artistic gender heritage as an individual.  Maybe a deep need to tell stories of interesting women who are NOT put on a pedestal or marginalized.  Maybe.  Maybe.  All of it.

A personal loss yesterday meant we were to attend a funeral.  My Spouse did not pre-load his Garmin with the address.  For some reason, he printed a yahoo map and I was to navigate.  We were in Rockville and we were turned around.  I looked up from the printed directions to see banners with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name up and down the street.  I looked over my right shoulder and realized we were beside the final resting place of this most notorious couple.  Talk about timing!

Something to process. Chills ensued.

Zelda and Scott are buried together in Rockville, MD.  They never lived there, but Scott’s father did.  The final monument reads:

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940

His Wife

Zelda Sayre

July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948


The quote is the final sentence in “The Great Gatsby”.

Zelda found Scott to be too poor to marry at first.  He was smitten with her.  Many were.  She was the “it” girl.  Later called the “Golden Girl”.  The “Original Flapper”.  “This Side of Paradise” was published by Scribner’s in 1920.  Money was no longer an issue it appeared so, the engagement resumed, which led to the marriage, which led to the birth of their first and only child on October 26, 1921.  “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925.  By then, they had spent much time in Europe and bellied up to the bar with the American expatriate community in Paris, including (but definitely not limited to) Hemingway.


Zelda began to notice a theme of plagiarism in the work of Scott:

“[i]t seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home” (Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, 388).


Here lies the powerful conflict in the play we are producing and in that specific world – the larger more epic questions arise.  What does it means to be a female artist in this world and how does that collide with traditional roles and expectations?  On some level, do we women all eventually become either mad or hollow? Is that the final choice?  It can’t be.

Zelda was a woman born in 1900 with great gifts, and into a family that could provide her hearts desire.  She was torn between the traditional role of the good-wife-who-lands-the-best husband, and eccentric-artist-who-expresses-the-unknown.  She was exploding with expression.  Any kind of expression.  Her paintings are amazing works.  And, she wrote a play entitled, “Scandelabra”, which I have yet to read.  It was difficult for her to get published in her day.  She was also a dancer.  Accepted into a Russian ballet troupe at the ripe age of 27!

Scott was working on his fourth novel in the late 1920’s to pay for their high lifestyle in New York.  Zelda’s schizophrenia ultimately kicked in with little release in 1930.  In 1932 she checked herself into Shepherd Pratt Sanitarium in Towson, MD. Scott rented a place there in the suburbs called, “La Paix” where he continued work on the Dick Diver story.  This is thought to be a telling of his trials with Zelda-well, everything is thought to be that.  She had never stopped writing.  After handing her novel to Scott and waiting too long for response she appealed to Scribners for feedback.  They offered her publication after the first read.  By this time Scott was a full fledged alcoholic and a very controlling husband.  It can be argued that he wanted to “protect” Zelda from the world and from her own internal demons. The two defined the jazz age.  Some would say they launched it.  He romanticized her and I don’t know that she entirely disliked it.


Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), Fitzgerald’s second collection of shorts contains one of his most famous short stories “The Diamond As Big As the Ritz”. His second novel, also adapted to the screen, was published the same year, The Beautiful and The Damned (1922);

“I love it,” she said frankly. It was impossible to doubt her. …. At her happiness, a gorgeous sentiment welled into his eyes, choked him up, set his nerves a-tingle, and filled his throat with husky and vibrant emotion. There was a hush upon the room. The careless violins and saxophones, the shrill rasping complaint of a child near by, the voice of the violet-hatted girl at the next table, all moved slowly out, receded, and fell away like shadowy reflections on the shining floor–and they two, it seemed to him, were alone and infinitely remote, quiet. Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….–Ch. 2


Our play also deals with very different writing styles.  The traditional linear form and the swirling content that is often connected to the female writer.  The play does not follow a linear timeline either.  We spin and swirl.  I was struck while watching a rehearsal the other day with this dialogue exchange:


I was playing this wedding? And all the Father of the Bride wanted to hear was…

(He hums the opening to Minuet in G)

The problem was, the piano had this really slow key. You know, the kind that, once you push it down, it takes forever to come back up again?


Not the…!

(He points “you’ve got it.” She giggles)

How do you play the Minuet in G, when you’re missing the main attraction?


You transpose everything up a half. And improvise.

“You transpose everything up a half.  And improvise.”

Welcome to the world of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

“Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions, fabricating their philosophical drawbridges from emotional retractions and scalding marauders in the boiling oil of sour grapes. ” Save Me the Waltz, 1932


Scott was enraged about the publication of Zelda’s “Save Me the Waltz”.  He was able to speak with Scribners and make edits on Zelda’s work before it was published.  In what I believe to be a far more devastating blow to his wife, he spoke to Zelda’s Dr’s and made it clear that she was not to cover his “material” in her writing anymore.  Meaning their relationship and specifically their time in Europe-it is believed.  Very soon after, in 1934, he penned “Tender is the Night”.  A follow up to “The Great Gatsby” and a counter to “Save Me the Waltz”.  Readers waited 9 years to behold this volume.  It was received with mixed reviews.

“Save Me the Waltz” is currently in the lobby of Venus Theatre awaiting silent auction.  At the age of 32 Zelda was legitimately published!  Clearly, she would say that Scott had published her words much sooner.  Now, in the year 2010, much of her work is published and available.  How fortunate are the readers of this day?


P.H. Lin has Zelda saying the following:

I don’t do tears, Jelly Bean. Tears only make you rust. And when you’re a dancer, as am I? You want to stay mobile. Always. Mobility is the prime necessity… if you hope to function. And be considered remarkable, inside or out.


As for Scott, well you probably know a lot about him that I haven’t even mentioned here.  He’s a legend.  His drinking caught up with him.  Mixed with what he insisted were attacks of tuberculosis.  He had his first heart attack in 1940 in Schwab’s Drug Store.  By then he was living in Hollywoood and had a relationship with Sheilhah Graham.  He (I SWEAR!) lived on North Laurel Avenue.  His apartment was two flights up so he moved in with Graham only one block away on N. Hayword Ave, she had a ground level.  The two attended the film, “This Thing Called Love”.  Upon leaving Scott felt dizzy and bemoaned that people probably assumed he was drunk.

The next morning he clutched the mantel and fell to the floor with his second, and this time deadly, heart attack.  Graham quickly sought out the building manager, Mr. Culver, and he gave her the final news.  (Culver was the founder of Culver City.)

Scotts remains were shipped to Bethesda, MD.  His funeral service was in Baltimore attended by 20-30 people.  His daughter Scottie and Dorothy Parker were two of the small number in attendance.  Parker was overheard quoting from “The Great Gatsby”, “the poor son-0f-a-bitch”.  Scott was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery.

As for Zelda, well she always signed herself into sanitariums and out when she felt well enough to take on the world.  The “Original Flapper” spent time at Shepherd Pratt in Baltimore/Townson.  It was a reputable facility.  Still is.  But, you can imagine the stigma.  Then and now.  She had a history of mental illness running through her Father’s side of the family.  And, it did catch up with her.  Scott definitely had his flaws, and their financial ups and downs were almost as notorious as their extra-marital love affairs.  But, there was something to it all.  Some kind of love/hate compassionate rivalry that kept them all ablaze throughout most of their lifetimes.

Zelda was from the South and she ended up back in the South in her final sanitarium.  In 1936 she signed into the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, NC.  She and Scott last saw one another in 1938.  She painted.  She painted a lot.  And, she was working on her second novel.  After 12 years in Ashland, in 1948, there was a fire in the hospital.  Zelda died in that fire.  She was 48.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the remains of the couple were moved to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, MD.  A woman named Frances Lanahan “worked to overturn the Archdiocese of Baltimore ruling that Fitzgerald died a non practicing Catholic, so that he could be at rest at the Roman Catholic cemetery where his father’s family was laid.”  Well, I understand that traditional Catholics don’t believe in divorce so I s’pose there wasn’t much debate about Zelda being moved right along with him.  That’s my assumption anyway.

Both Zelda and Scott each left this world in the midst of writing their next great novel, respectively.

“Advice From a Caterpillar” by Zelda Fitzgerald.

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