Scott Fitzgerald was a novelist, essayist, short story writer, and screenwriter from the United States. His books capturing the flamboyance and extravagance of the Jazz Age, a phrase he popularized, were his most well-known works. He wrote four novels, four story collections, and 164 short stories during his lifetime. But what happened to this iconic literary genius during the last few days of his life?
Scott Fitzgerald was mostly forgotten by the public and homeless when he died of alcoholism. Whenever he ran into people, he would say, “I’m F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’ve read my books. You haven’t read The Great Gatsby, haven’t you?”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notable Works
Fitzgerald was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and grew up in New York state. He studied at Princeton University but dropped out to join the U.S. Army during World War I. While stationed in Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, a Southern debutante who belonged to Montgomery’s exclusive country club set. Zelda agreed to marry him after publishing the commercially successful This Side of Paradise in 1920.
His second work, The Beautiful and Damned, catapulted him even further up the cultural elite. The Great Gatsby, his third novel, garnered largely positive reviews but was a commercial disaster, selling fewer than 23,000 copies in its first year.
Despite a shaky start, The Great Gatsby is today regarded as the Great American Novel by certain literary experts. Fitzgerald finished his final work, Tender Is the Night after his wife’s mental condition deteriorated and she was sent to a mental facility for schizophrenia in 1934.
Fitzgerald relocated to Hollywood, where he had an unsuccessful career as a screenwriter after struggling financially due to the diminishing popularity of his books during the Great Depression. He had a home in Hollywood with writer Sheilah Graham, his last companion before his death.
He achieved sobriety after a lengthy battle with alcoholism, only to die of a heart attack in 1940 at 44. After Fitzgerald’s death, his friend Edmund Wilson wrote and released an unfinished fifth novel, The Last Tycoon. (Source: South Carolina University Libraries)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Lifetime Achievement Accolades
The popularity of The Great Gatsby led to widespread interest in Fitzgerald himself. By the 1950s, he had become a cult figure in American culture and was more widely known than at any time during his lifetime.
In 1952, critic Cyril Connolly observed that apart from his increasing stature as a writer, Fitzgerald is now firmly established as a myth, an American version of the Dying God, an Adonis of letters whose rise and fall inevitably prompts comparisons to the Jazz Age itself.
Fitzgerald’s friend Edmund Wilson remarked seven years later that he now received plentiful letters from female admirers of Fitzgerald’s works and that his flawed alcoholic friend had posthumously become a semi-divine personage in the popular imagination.
Echoing these views, writer Adam Gopnik asserted that—contrary to Fitzgerald’s claim that there are no second acts in American lives, Fitzgerald became not a poignant footnote to an ill-named time but an ill-named time but an enduring legend of the West.
Fitzgerald’s childhood Summit Terrace home in St. Paul was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971, decades after his death. Fitzgerald despised the house and considered it an architectural abomination.
Scott Fitzgerald Society later became an affiliate of the American Literature Association. During the CoVID-19m pandemic, the society organized an online reading of This Side of Paradise to commemorate its centennial. In 1994, the World Theater in St. Paul, home of the radio broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, was renamed the Fitzgerald Theater. (Source: South Carolina University Libraries)