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F. Scott Fitzgerald: the last chapter

The Last Tycoon (1941) reconsidered

Lawrence Russell

"The Last Tycoon is thus, even in its imperfect state, Fitzgerald's most mature piece of work. It is marked off also from his other novels by the fact that it is the first to deal seriously with any profession or business." [Edmund Wilson]

§ There used to be a joke in creative writing that when you finished a story you should lop off the first page and then the last page because you always did too much explaining at the start and too much moralizing at the finish. When considering whether Scott Fitzgerald's final fiction The Last Tycoon is just a tantalizing fragment of what might have been his best work since The Great Gatsby or is in fact a complete narrative with its own mystical architecture despite its interruption by his death in late 1940, it's useful to keep this old joke in mind.

The plot as exists is fairly simple, although the sociology of the setting is complex. The story is about Monroe Stahr, a "boy wonder" Hollywood film executive in charge of a large studio, three years a widower, a workaholic and loner, despite the fact that he's surrounded by legions. Most of the novel is told from the point-of-view of Cecelia Brady, the nineteen year old daughter of Stahr's fellow producer Pat Brady, with the 'off-camera' action about Stahr and his personal life in the 3rd person, possibly reconstructs by Cecelia after the fact based on gossip and perhaps conversations with Stahr himself. Cecelia is in love with Stahr, despite the age gap and the baggage he carries... although, like Gatsby, his attraction is in the romantic loneliness of the figure on the terrace who makes the parties happen but never enjoys them himself.

Fitzgerald: the Last Tycoon

Of course, like Gatsby, Stahr is a potential tragic figure because when you stand so high above the crowd, you have a long way to fall if you stumble or if someone pushes... or you decide to fall anyway, as the volition, the sensation, the romantic madness that exists between hope and failure is preferable to the corroding loneliness. Stahr is living on borrowed time anyway as he has a heart condition, a weak spring in the clock. During a flood on the studio lot caused by the L.A./Long Beach earthquake of 1933, he spots a woman who appears to be a dead ringer for his deceased wife, the screen star Minna Davis. In the confusion, the woman disappears, but Stahr soon tracks her down as he would a potential starlet seen on the street or in a drugstore. It's a short, intense romance. Kathleen Moore -- born in Ireland, educated in England -- is like Cinderella after the divorce -- experienced, exciting, fatal. She belongs, it seems, to another, leaves Stahr cruelly wounded and hitting the bottle. Cecelia fills the vacancy and the story ends -- or at least ends as much of the story as was written when it was interrupted by Fitzgerald's death from a heart attack on December 21, 1940.

Oddly, there is a narrative unity in the fragment that exists, like a long short story that wanders on too far, engages too many satellite characters, yet seems to be complete if romance is the only issue at stake. Kathleen Moore can be dismissed to the supernatural, along with the 'old Monroe Stahr' (who was a sort of Ayn Rand Superman, too lucky to be real), and Cecelia Brady gets her man, albeit reduced by alcohol and a new found dissipation that makes him more human, more real. The ellipsis leaves the future uncertain... but could it be any other way for a hero with a terminal heart condition, never mind a ghost in the closet?

Yet, it must be admitted, the end is too sudden; there are too many scenes missing, too many characters left waiting in the wings. And of course you know Fitzgerald's notes sketched further scenes to come. As Edmund Wilson, the critic and friend of Fitzgerald who edited Tycoon for publication says:

"(Fitzgerald) had originally planned that the novel should be about 60,000 words long, but he had written at the time of his death about 70,000 words without, as will be seen from his outline, having told much more than half his story. He had calculated, when he began, on leaving himself a margin of 10,000 words for cutting; but it seems certain that the novel would have run longer than the proposed 60,000 words. The subject was here more complex than it had been in The Great Gatsby—the picture of the Hollywood studios required more space for its presentation than the background of the drinking life of Long Island; and the characters needed more room for their development."

The story starts on an airliner flying from New York to Los Angeles which is forced to set down in Nashville for a few hours to sit out a storm coming up the Mississippi Valley. Stahr is travelling under the alias 'Mr. Smith' with a couple of other studio men, a writer called Wylie White and a Jewish producer called Mannie Schwartz, although Stahr has the 'bridal suite' for himself at the front of the plane. Cecelia is also on board, returning home for the summer after a semester at Bennington College, an Ivy League school for the Arts where, she says, the instructors fear and hate Hollywood instinctively. The modernity is exquisite, not only because of the clean geometry of the writing, but because the setting is on an airliner, an entirely new form of travel introduced to the public in parallel with the talkies in the late twenties, as if its dreamy vernacular was yet another Hollywood invention. The fact that Stahr flies in isolated luxury in his own suite seems preposterous, because surely there were no aircraft in the early thirties that would have a conceit such as a 'bridal suite'... the detail is fantastic, like a Jules Verne invention, and you wonder if Fitzgerald was just wandering into his Diamond Big as the Ritz mode, letting fantasy sketch the politics... Hollywood mogul, lots of dough, carries on like Captain Nemo.

Fitzgerald doesn't name the aircraft model, although the writing is naturalistic and authentic. The early workhorse aircraft for the transcontinental routes was the Ford Trimotor, an elegant radial engine machine that could carry nineteen passengers, or twelve if their seating was convertible to sleeping bunks, although this seems an unlikely candidate for Fitzgerald's scenario.

Fokker-32 airliner at Glendale, California

Quite possibly he was thinking of a German airliner, the Fokker F-32, a four engine Art Deco leviathan that Western Air Express (later became TWA) used for its luxury-minded clientele flying in and out of Glendale, California, in the early thirties. This Fokker monoplane was designed for fantasy, affording the passengers the illusion of flying in small rooms decorated with art panels, lighting sconces, and cushioned davenports beside the curtained windows. In the early 1930s it was a long flight from the east coast to the west coast, as these aircraft usually had to land and refuel every 500 miles, and avoided night flying as they navigated by following natural landmarks and painted concrete arrows set into the landscape. And landing just to avoid bad weather -- as happens in The Last Tycoon -- was common, and passengers often had to spend time in hotels and/or take the train for some sections of the journey.

However, the Nashville stop isn't entirely at the service of realism, as Fitzgerald sets up the tease romance between the ambitious writer Wylie White and the young adventuress Cecelia Brady by having them hire a taxi and visit The Hermitage, the home of America's 10th President, Andrew Jackson, where they sit on the steps and await the dawn, talk about Hollywood and flirt. There seems to be no reason for The Hermitage scene other than the fact that Mannie Schwartz, who accompanies the couple as a "chaperone" decides he's abandoning the journey back to Hollywood, although the reason isn't immediately clear. He writes a note, gives it to Wylie to pass along to 'Mr. Smith'. When they reboard the plane, Cecelia realizes 'Mr. Smith' is in fact Monroe Stahr, an associate of her father, someone she has known since childhood, a man 15 years her senior, an easy romantic fixation for the young and restless Bennington junior. As for Schwartz -- himself once the CEO of a movie combine "like United Artists" -- it seems he's lost favour with Stahr, the boss of bosses, and has decided to drop out entirely. Just what the reason is remains in the political shadow of the culture that Stahr casts; you might not think of it at the time, but perhaps it's an omen, a signal of things to come. While Schwartz carries an air of quiet defeat and resignation, you're not sure what his direction will be -- suicide or revenge or the gutter or resurrection. Within the story fragment that exists, the true meaning and function of this character remains moot, although his cautionary note to Stahr perhaps says it all:

Dear Monroe, You are the best of them all. I have always admired your mentality so when you turn against me I know it's no use! I must be no good and am not going to continue the journey let me warn you once again look out! I know. Your friend MANNIE'

In the 1977 Elia Kazan film version the ending is written as an act of treachery when Pat Brady (Robert Mitchum) calls a board meeting and has Stahr (Robert de Niro) removed from power, advised to "take a vacation". There is due cause for this -- Stahr got drunk and punched the 'communist' union leader Brimmer (Jack Nicholson) when they failed to come to an agreement about the rights of some studio members of The Screenwriters' Guild. While Stahr got the worst of the fight, it was witnessed by Brady who uses the incident as an opportunity to displace his partner and stymie the budding romance with his daughter Cecelia. While Stahr's case of hubris might have its own rationale for this studio putsch, the political subtleties are just too subtle as filmed. Despite its A-list cast -- Robert de Niro, Theresa Russell, Ray Milland, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Dana Andrews, Donald Pleasance, John Carradine, Anjelica Huston -- and a script by the premier stage dramatist of the day, Harold Pinter, the film fails to capture Fitzgerald's cultural insight and story mysticism.

It doesn't help that Kazan and Pinter skipped the plane (Chapter 1) entirely, opted to start their story right on the studio lot, working up a montage from the screening room and the soundstage, thereby ditching Fitzgerald's perfectly good set-up that introduces the hero obliquely through the eyes of Cecelia Brady and uses the metaphor of flight to romanticize the Hollywood 'high-flyer' set. The visual possibilities of this period in American history when airline travel was still a novelty were, for some reason, ignored. Either Kazan or Pinter were too stage-locked in their thinking or there was a budgetary constraint that led to this aesthetic blunder. It certainly helped kill the magic. While the (not so) secret world of the studio film set with the actors and technicians doing their thing has some appeal to the curious public, it all makes for a messy immersion into the world of Monroe Stahr which is just the back story to his romance. A cameo by Jeanne Moreau playing the diva during a film shoot does not replace the plot function of the ingenue Cecelia Brady, the hopeful writer Wylie White, the condemned producer Mannie Schwartz, and the man with the gold nugget ring with the embossed letter 'S' (as if he was Superman) who reads scripts in the plane's bridal suite and sits with the pilots in the cockpit:

'Stahr sat up front all afternoon. While we slid off the endless desert and over the table lands, dyed with many colors like the white sands we dyed with colors when I was a child. Then in the late afternoon, the peaks themselves -- the Mountains of the Frozen Saw -- slid under our propellers and we were close to home.

'When I wasn't dozing I was thinking that I wanted to marry Stahr, that I wanted to make him love me....'

Beautiful, correct? And these are not words for words' sake. Fitzgerald was writing at his modern best -- straight clean lines that leave space for the imagination while driving the action. If you've read any of the Pat Hobby stories -- the Hollywood series that was published monthly in Esquire between January 1940 and May 1941 thereby spanning Fitzgerald's last days and death -- you will experience this economy of form at its most sublime. There's an urgency to the writing, where the story and only the story matters, as if delivered between drinks in some Hollywood bar. Obviously there's a 'pictorial' influence, a screenwriter's sense of scene, an oral sense of brevity rather than pretty verbal exposition. As an expose of life on the studio lot in the 1930s there is nothing to match these stories. As a 'writer', Hobby is a Falstaffian hustler who was 'big' in the silent era, and now struggles to get any screen credits at all in the talkies. Forty-nine years old and living from fantasy to fantasy -- often ripped off from some other wannabe sucker -- he lurches around the studio lot like a bit player from the silents trying to keep up to the relentless future. In fact, in one story he blunders into the middle of a live scene while trying to graft a loan from a producer and is then forced to wear a iron stunt vest and allow himself to be driven over by the star. Desperate for money, he agrees but the scene goes awry and he's left in a ditch all night trapped by his iron vest until rescued by a studio cop at dawn.

Many screenwriters no doubt felt as if they were wearing an iron straight jacket as they laboured cruelly, tricked by easy promises and their own desperate optimism. Fitzgerald was definitely writing under such pressure in the three years before his death, recovering from his 'Crack-Up' period, struggling to find the cash to pay for his wife's medical quarantine, their daughter's school, and whatever it takes to pay for food and lodging. It was a tough life for writers; even exalted figures like William Faulkner and Aldous Huxley, lured to Hollywood by the prospect of big money, struggled to pay for the groceries.

Pat was forty-nine. He was a writer but he had never written much, nor even read all the 'originals' he worked from, because it made his head bang to read much. But the good old silent days you got somebody's plot and a smart secretary and gulped benzedrine 'structure' at her six or eight hours every week. The Director took care of the gags. After talkies came he always teamed up with some man who wrote dialogue. Some young man who liked to work.

"I've got a list of credits second to none," he told Jack Berners. "All I need is an idea and to work with somebody who isn't all wet."

(A Man In The Way, pub. in Esquire, February 1940)

Fitzgerald: The Crack-Up Fitzgerald: The Pat Hobby Stories

Here, it's as if Fitzgerald was reconnoitering his own fade-to-black as he too passed into middle age, found himself writing scripts that never made the screen, or if they did, someone else's name was on the credits. His books were out of print, he was alcoholic, his wife in the madhouse, and he was living like a nomad. Pat Hobby is by no means a self-portrait by Fitzgerald -- he's uneducated, doesn't read if he can help it, never stayed married more than a month or two -- although he's a barometer of sorts. Where the examination of Hollywood studio culture is almost naturalistic in Tycoon, in Pat Hobby the gestalt is a full-throttle uninhibited expose. To be sure, it's often burlesque, an absurdity that could be easy fiction, yet the authenticity is beyond any thespian fraud dreamed up by a screenwriter with a grudge. The economy of form in these stories approaches minimalist perfection. Although they were probably written in haste 'for the money', their pictorial narratives move with the montage speed of a superbly edited series of film shorts on a common theme.

'I saw that the novel was becoming subordinated to a mechanical and communal art that whether in the hands of Hollywood merchants or Russian idealists, was capable of reflecting only the tritest of thoughts, the most obvious emotion.' (Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up)

Fitzgerald outlined a possible 31 chapters or scenes for Tycoon, and only completed 17 before his death. He imagined Stahr going for revenge against Brady, hiring an assassin to take him out, then having second thoughts; yet before he can decommission the hit, is killed in a plane crash in Oklahoma while en route to New York. The appeal of this plot is in the circularity, the looping of Chapter one as the shape of fate, and its deadly irony when considered against Stahr's cocksure judgment.

Some say Fitzgerald was a nasty piece of work, and seems to have had a habit of using women as characters first and lovers second. On his first attempt at Hollywood in the late twenties, he had an affair with the starlet Lois Moran who later ended up as the template for Rosemary Hoyt in Tender is the Night (1934). Of course, there's nothing unusual in this -- writers use people they know either consciously or unconsciously all the time for their characters -- and whether or not there is/was some moral treachery involved here is a matter of opinion and political memory.

Kathleen Moore = Sheilah Graham

'Stahr did not answer. Smiling faintly at him from not four feet away was the face of his dead wife, identical even to the expression. Across four feet of moonlight the eyes he knew looked back at him....'

A supernatural event... or just a desperate widower's needy hallucination? Stahr doesn't seem to be particularly desperate, although the minions who serve him might be. The lack of information about his deceased wife contributes to the feeling that this is a man who doesn't look back, who just keeps moving confidently into the future at 24 frames per second. Yet, as we come to learn, he is a lonely man, one who never allows his name to appear in the credits of the many films he produces.

Stahr's romance has a mythical sense about it, as if Fitzgerald was not only writing about himself and Sheliah Graham, but also about that sort of Orphic love whereby the dead lover returns from the underworld simply to draw the bereaved to the other side. As femme fatales go, Kathleen Moore is a beautiful consolation prize hijacked by Minna Davis for one last dance in the moonlight before Stahr's own inevitable departure. His partially constructed beach house where he romances Kathleen is merely an ante-chamber between sex and death, the incomplete 'present' which can only be measured by the distance between first and last love, now one and the same. It's possible that Stahr is suffering from movie hypnosis, whereby his aesthetic ideal is bound to come back at him in an ghost studio that is forever inside his head. An earthquake delivered Kathleen to him, as if the flood drew her from the underworld riding on the giant head of Siva, and, while entirely natural in the course of events (there was an earthquake in the Los Angeles area in 1933 that broke water mains and caused buildings to collapse), the incident paints itself in symbolism.

Although the giant head is detritus from a jungle set, some might think the Hindu god 'Shiva' was/is misspelled deliberately as 'Siva' in order to suggest the Jewish ritual of consolation for the bereaved. The ambiguity is interesting, as the Hindu Shiva is the god of destruction (in order to make way for a new cycle of creation), and certainly fits well with the minor disaster that has struck the studio lot. Yet the Siva head is just a film prop, another Hollywood fiction that serves the dream factory. So when Stahr saves his dead wife's incarnation from the flood, perhaps he's become a victim of the fantasy he has staged so often for the public. You can read too much into the background architecture of Fitzgerald's narrative, of course, although incidents such as this trigger associations.

Fitzgerald obviously based Kathleen's character on his last paramour, Sheilah Graham, the well-known Hollywood gossip columnist who emigrated from England in 1933, ditching an older, paternalist husband and a gig as a chorus girl in London's West End. It was a hot romance, a sweet mix of body beautiful and elegant words, but of course volatile as Fitzgerald was vibrating between addiction and poverty, and Graham was carrying secrets that only love could unlock:

As she put it in her book College of One (1966), during his great drinking binge of 1939, he screamed “all the secrets of [her] humble beginnings” to the nurse taking care of him. That same day, my mother and Fitzgerald grappled over his gun, and she made the pronouncement of which I think she was rather proud, “Take it and shoot yourself, you son of a bitch. I didn't pull myself out of the gutter to waste my life on a drunk like you.” What Fitzgerald had screamed to the nurse, my mother eventually told me, though she never brought herself to write it in any of her books, was that she was a Jew. (Robert Westbrook, novelist & son of Sheilah Graham)

Fitzgerald himself was like Bronte's Rochester, a tortured man dealing with the demons that come with having an insane wife locked up in a private asylum and so you would expect this part of his unhappiness to migrate into the character of Stahr. You learn that Stahr's wife is dead some three years earlier, the circumstances left untold within the narrative that exists. She was a movie star called Minna Davis and while Stahr doesn't seem to suffer much from the memory -- he's too busy with running a big movie studio to be distracted by death, it seems -- yet his loneliness is a subtle disease, as if the memory of his dead wife is locked in his head like a ghost, and is manifested in his hunt for Kathleen Moore, which seems at first to be just an imprudent detour from the business at hand. As his character is revealed through action rather than exposition, and his interest in this unknown trespasser on the studio lot could well be nothing more than a movie man's business intuition that this babe would look good on the screen, Stahr's motive is ambiguous at first... and perhaps he doesn't know his reasons himself beyond the fact that this woman is a dead ringer for Minna Davis.

There's a faint Jamesian ghost story motif at work here, and although the modernism keeps the supernatural distant, it's keen enough to drive a sense of romantic tragedy in the making.

There were two revolutions at the close of the twenties -- the stock market crash and the advent of the "talkies' -- and both figure heavily in the cultural turmoil that landscapes the action in The Last Tycoon. The lack of spending money affected box office intakes and the talkies affected the entire movie production routine. Before, it was "tell the story in pictures" but in the thirties the pictures had to coexist with dialogue, so there was a large influx of professional writers, hopeful journalists and elite novelists and playwrights like Aldous Huxley and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unlike Huxley, Fitzgerald grasped the format requirements quickly, as his Pat Hobby stories about a hustling screenwriter reveal, and the pared down modernist narrative style that came out of films is in full force in The Last Tycoon. The 'Conference' session scenes that Stahr conducts with his producers and writers are a true insider's view of the process. Producers struggle to find 'the story' and stay on budget while writers struggle to write in scenes and be pictorial before being verbal... but verbal nonetheless.

The pictorial method came out of 'the silents' and in a sense film never left it as an aesthetic anchor. Even in action films today dialogue is mere noise, a dumbed down lyric that's just part of the soundtrack where emotion is best served by an atonal melody. How different is this from yesterday's orchestra or lone pianist emoting from the twilight below the screen? Still, the close up with a supporting monologue was now part of the drama, and the verbal skills of the theatre dramatist were in demand. The 'talkies' introduced an intellectual level and intellectuals were brought in to work in 'pairs' -- usually a man with a woman to get both sides of the dialogue, or a neophyte with an established pro -- even if oftentimes their efforts went unread or if used, their names never appeared in the credits. In The Last Tycoon, Stahr has a chain of 'pairs' writing on the same story, each a backup or alternative to the pair in front. Usually these pairs worked in ignorance of one another, although not naive to the possibility. This assembly line method of writing pairs was an innovation attributed to Irving Thalberg, the famous boy wonder producer at MGM, who died aged 37 in 1936 of heart failure, and is still considered by many commentators and Hollywood historians to be the greatest figure ever in the economic evolution and aesthetic shaping of the film industry.

So it's no surprise that most people think Fitzgerald's character Monroe Stahr was based mostly on Irving Thalberg -- like Thalberg, Stahr was married to a movie star and suffered from a congenital heart defect, and was known to already be living beyond his years. Yet Stahr is also like Fitzgerald himself, blessed with early success and the sense of invincibility that such success brings. And love -- O tainted love -- which is both a reward and a future punishment, perhaps for unwitting arrogance, or perhaps capricious fate. Fitzgerald loses Zelda to madness, and Stahr loses Minna to early death... and then, like Fitzgerald, Stahr suffers a "crack-up" when Kathleen chooses an old lover, leaves him in the lurch. Stahr's emotional geography is something very familiar to the writer, an autobiographical surrogate dressed in mythological possibility.

Perhaps because he exists only in a narrative fragment, Stahr isn't particularly real or even sympathetic as a character, especially when he appears in the 3rd person -- his 'close-up' -- and you get to see the private Stahr, the off-stage Stahr. There's something insubstantial about him, as if he can only be seen in the long view, through the eyes of others. He is most real when seen through Cecelia's P.O.V. Love is blind, the saying goes, yet here love is clear.

"He was born sleepless, without a talent or the desire for it," she says.

And later: "(Stahr) was a marker in industry like Edison and Lumiere and Griffith and Chaplin. He led pictures way up past the range and power of the theatre, reaching a sort of golden age before the censorship in 1933."

Well, perhaps it's the P.O.V. shift that dims the portrait, removes the light. Fitzgerald builds Stahr as an idea, a quasi-Nietzschean superman, the sort of Promethean hero that Ayn Rand developed in antipathy to communism and its sublimation of the individual. Stahr is a master of the 'quick read', both of scenarios and people. And an individualist.

Boxley = Huxley?

Boxley, rhymes with Huxley, so who knows, maybe Fitzgerald used Aldous Huxley for this character, the English novelist whom Stahr has under contract, even though he doesn't know how to write a film script. Huxley had the same problems and frustrations as 'Boxley' with both the studio system and trying to master the 'pictorial' method of screenwriting. When he and his wife Maria first arrived in Hollywood in 1937, they put up in the Garden of Allah, where both S.J. Perelman and Fitzgerald were staying, so Fitzgerald would've seen first-hand Huxley's naive entry into the motion picture industry.

Actually Stahr -- like his real-life model, Irving Thalberg -- handles the frustrated novelist diplomatically, and their encounter reveals his legendary 'long-view' way of doing business. The Boxley name -- like Huxley -- has cachet, which the studio can benefit from even if nothing he writes actually makes the screen. Besides, as Stahr says, sooner or later he'll figure it out. This scene has a certain authenticity to it, and while amusing, doesn't discredit Boxley/Huxley, and illustrates Stahr's industrial approach to the art.

Another clue that Boxley resembles Huxley is that Huxley worked on a screen play about Madame Curie, which Fitzgerald later took over. What happened to Huxley's 145 page attempt? According to Salka Viertel, the writer who eventually got the screen credit, the producer gave it to his secretary to read, who proclaimed that "it stank" and was therefore immediately forgotten.

In 1938 Huxley wrote a novel called After Many a Summer Dies the Swan based on Randolph Hearst the newspaper tycoon; it might have had some influence on Orson Welles and his Hearst project, Citizen Kane, and likewise on Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has a heart-felt line in The Crack-Up which describes both himself and Stahr: "The ego would continue as an arrow shot from nothing to nothingness." The fatalism here underscores the romanticism of both success and tragedy, and the paradox of life and death. As it stands, there's no way of knowing if Fitzgerald's hero is a winner or a loser within the human scale of such measurements. You suspect that like his previous heroes, Stahr is a slave to beauty, the hidden muse behind his art... albeit that his art is industrial art, a dark room seance for the masses. The familiar Fitzgerald masochism is there, the need to suffer in order to keep the flame alive. When Orpheus failed in his attempt to recover Eurydice from the Underworld, he went homosexual, and as a consequence was ripped to pieces by some jealous Thracian women... apparently. While Fitzgerald didn't project this fate onto Stahr exactly, he was to be destroyed in an aircrash, a counterpoint irony to the hit he ordered on Brady.

If you have a copy of Tycoon that includes Fitzgerald's notes for the rest of the novel, you can consider the work as a post-modern narrative that allows the reader to impose his or her own preferences, decide the fate of the characters. Mannie Schwartz commits suicide... Brady manipulates a film editor into killing Stahr... Kathleen reappears as the film editor's lover... maybe the plane is booby-trapped... maybe the wreckage is found by some teenagers who loot the baggage, forget to tell the authorities about the bodies in the snow... maybe there's a big Hollywood funeral... or maybe Stahr and Kathleen end up on a nice warm beach before Pearl Harbor changes everything. Fitzgerald hadn't decided; he was mulling options.

Perhaps one should look at the ending of The Great Gatsby to see how it might've gone for Tycoon, as writers repeat patterns, and Fitzgerald was no different. The summation would come from Cecelia Brady, as she is the correlation to Nick Carraway, the bedazzled neighbour who befriends Jay Gatsby and is the only mourner at his funeral. Because the studio is run by a majority of Jewish businessmen, that angle would be explored, just as it is in Gatsby when Carraway visits Wolfsheim, Gatsby's business partner in a futile quest to get him to appear at the funeral. Gatsby was shot in his swimming pool by mistake, although the shooter thought it was no mistake, merely drew the wrong conclusion from the right information; this sort of ironic justice would play out in The Last Tycoon.

A roman à clef masterpiece? Possibly. The Last Tycoon is certainly a historical marker for all sorts of reasons beyond its importance within Fitzgerald's work. But if this fragment -- this uncompleted novel -- was all that Fitzgerald had ever written, would there be enough cultural gravity out there to keep it going like, say, that other famous fragment, Coleridge's Kubla Khan?

© LR September 2016

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