September 25, 2010
Fitzgerald Theater

Saint Paul, MN

«archive page

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Listen (MP3)
Listen (RealAudio)

GK: It’s the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the fair-haired boy born in a second-floor apartment on Laurel Avenue in St. Paul, who used to sit up in the second balcony of this theater and watch plays and then go home and tell the whole story to his mother Mollie and father Edward and sister Annabelle. You could say that a writer developed his narrative skills up there in the balcony.

TR (FITZ): Most of them were not very good plays so I felt free to improvise.

GK: His elegant father was a business failure and his eccentric mother embarrassed him, and he felt like an outsider living a couple streets away from the well-to-do. He went away to Princeton but he flunked out. Enlisted in the Army but missed out on the war. Fell in love with Zelda who turned him down because he had no money. His first novel was rejected. And then he came back here in the summer of 1919 and lived in a tiny room in the attic of his parents’ house and rewrote the novel and it was published, a big success, he married Zelda at St. Patrick’s in New York, he was hailed as the voice of the Jazz Age, and he was launched at the age of 24. ---- Quite a story.

TR (FITZ): Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.

GK: The tragedy came later and it didn’t happen here, it happened in Paris and Baltimore and North Carolina and Hollywood, so we don’t have to talk about that. The St. Paul Fitzgerald is perpetually 24 and he sits on the front porch of that boarding house on Summit Avenue just east of Kent and he talks about literature and how something new is just about to happen and that something is him.

TR (FITZ): You seem to know me very well.

GK: All I know is what I’ve read about you.

TR (FITZ): Then I guess you don’t know me very well.

GK: We think about him in St. Paul. I used to think he was a great writer and now I don’t but it doesn’t matter-----

TR (FITZ): What did you say?

GK: Whatever he is, he’s still ours, and up on Summit Avenue is the rowhouse where he wrote his first novel and where he ran out into the street to stop cars and tell people it had been accepted for publication. Here in Minnesota, we don’t run into the streets as a rule and try to stop cars, but the publication of your first novel is an enormous moment.

TR (FITZ): This Side Of Paradise was the biggest success of my life. Bigger than Gatsby. Much bigger than Tender Is The Night.

GK: So on these fall nights, in the smell of dry leaves and smoke in the air, you go walking down Summit Avenue past the big brick mansions with their lights on and music drifting out and people are dancing inside (ROB FISHER, GHOSTLY BAND, FADES IN), beautiful young women in liquid dresses dancing with young men with the confidence of jungle cats, all this promise of elegance and grandeur makes you think of F. Scott Fitzgerald------

SS: Hi. I’m Lindsay. You wouldn’t happen to have a match, would you?

GK: You bet. (STRIKES MATCH, POOF OF FLAME. SHE TAKES A DEEP DRAG. EXHALES.) You look like you’re waiting for someone.

SS: I am. My boyfriend. He doesn’t know it but we’re breaking up tonight. And tomorrow I’m going to Hollywood. RKO is doing a remake of “The Great Gatsby”. And I’m up for the role of Daisy Buchanan.

GK: Congratulations.

SS: Well, I don’t have it yet ----- there are thirty of us up for the role ----- but I am positive I’m going to get it.

GK: Good for you. You sure look like a movie star.

SS: Yes. Well---- I expect I’ll never return to St. Paul ever again. Too bad. And in a way, not----- My agent told me I should go blonde, that it shows off your skin better, so I did----- what do you think? I have to go back----- she did it too white----- I wear these blue contacts but they’re too bright. I asked for sky blue, they gave me cobalt. Anyway. I’m thinking of switching to green but I think it makes me look older so----- maybe not-------- I used to wear my hair longer but it just got too big and you know, acting is all in the eyes ----- it’s all in the eyes. You don’t want people looking at your hair ----- so I cut it short. A little too short, but it’ll grow out. Can I ask you something?

GK: Sure.

SS: Do you recognize me? Do you? Tell me the truth.

GK: I sort of do.

SS: I mean it’s okay if you don’t, I just want to know. I’m on Twitter and I’ve got 84,000 followers. Can you believe that? My Facebook page recorded the fastest growth in friends of anybody in Minnesota. Anybody. It just exploded. And I’m not even in the movies. But I will be. I know I will be. Listen----- I’ll be right back. (BRIDGE)

GK: There’s a statue of Nathan Hale up there, on a pedestal, hands tied behind his back, another American who died young, and a stone’s throw from it is another park that used to be a vacant lot where the Fitzgerald boy used to play with his friends though he wasn’t that good at sports.

TR (FITZ): I miss St. Paul. I experienced a great intensity of feeling and felt a sort of immaculateness of purpose, and I used to walk down Summit Avenue on a fall night with the mist in the air ----- past those brick and stone
mausoleums of the rich and I pitied them. The rich are different from you and me. They are soft and cynical. And I was not. I had the capacity of wonder. A willingness of the heart. Youth!

GK: That line about the rich are different from you and me was one of the lines people quoted a lot after you died, you know.

TR (FITZ): Oh. It’s strange what people remember.

GK: And people quote that line: “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o' clock in the morning, day after day.”

TR (FITZ): Really-----

GK: From The Crack-Up.

TR (FITZ): I know where it’s from.
GK: Sorry, I was just trying to be helpful-----

TR (FITZ): I know my own work. I’ve had 70 years to look it over.

GK: Of course, sorry.

TR (FITZ): I’ve also looked at some of yours.

GK: Oh.

TR (FITZ): You had a few good lines here and there. I could see what you were going for. Too bad it got Laway from you. You got all soft and sentimental about the Midwest. I had to quit reading it.

GK: Anyway, your line about “three o’clock in the morning” -----

TR (FITZ): “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o' clock in the morning, day after day. At that hour the tendency is to refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream.”

GK: What did you mean by that?

TR (FITZ): Could we talk about something else? Depression is such a dreary subject. Let’s talk about you and your depression-----

GK: Let’s play some music.

TR (FITZ): Let’s do that.

GK: Do you remember a tune called “Love Nest”

TR (FITZ): You mean, “Just a love nest
cozy with charm,
Like a dove nest
down on a farm.
A veranda with some sort of clinging vine,
The a kitchen where some rambler roses twine.
The a small room,
tea set of blue;
best of all, room
dream room for two.
Better than a palace with a gilded dome,
is a love nest
you can call home.” That one?

GK: That’s the one.

TR (FITZ): A man plays “Love Nest” at the piano as Gatsby turns and lights Daisy’s cigarette, his hand trembling, and he sits down next to her on a couch across the room, in the dark, and they listen to the melody.

(LOVE NEST, PIANO)

GK: You once said, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

TR (FITZ): I said that?

GK: You did.

TR (FITZ): I don’t remember. I think death is like swimming under water.

GK: How about “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.” You remember writing that.

TR (FITZ): Sure.

GK: What did you mean by it?

TR (FITZ): Just what it says.

GK: Well, how would you paraphrase it then?

TR (FITZ): I wouldn’t.

GK: Oh. Okay.

TR (FITZ): If you say something clearly the way you want to say it, why would you say it another way?

GK: Okay. Sorry.

TR (FITZ): Is English your first language?

GK: Yes, sir.

TR (FITZ): I’m a romantic. Not a sentimentalist like you but a romantic. Quite different. A romantic has a tragic sense. He hopes that love will last though he knows it won’t and he keeps on hoping right up to when it dies. So he holds opposing ideas in his mind and still functions. Next question.

GK: How about a song called “Three O’Clock In The Morning”?

TR (FITZ): What about it?

GK: Do you remember it?

TR (FITZ): Of course.

GK: It’s in The Great Gatsby, isn’t it?

TR (FITZ): Have you read the book?

GK: I have.

TR (FITZ): Then why ask? It’s a song that comes from a lighted room at the top of the stairs in Gatsby’s house and Daisy hears it and looks up and she feels the song calling her to leave her husband and see what’s at the top of the stairs.

(THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING)

GK: You said once that you believed in work and courage and the old graces of courtesy and politeness. And intelligence and good manners and beautiful gestures.

SS: Who are you talking to?

GK: Oh. Hi. I thought you’d left.

SS: I did. I came back.

GK: Right. Good.

SS: Are you all right?

GK: Sure.

SS: I mean, you were standing here talking and gesturing as if there were somebody here------ which there isn’t.

GK: It’s okay.

SS: I had to return some calls. My agent really thinks I’ve got the inside track on playing Daisy Buchanan. She told me it’s a done deal. And I think I can play 18, don’t you? Eighteen. What do you think? Tell me the truth.

GK: But in The Great Gatsby, Daisy isn’t 18. She’s at least thirty, maybe older.

SS: Well, in the movie she’s 18. So---- what do you think?

GK: Sure. Why not?

SS: Guess my age. Truthfully. Go ahead.Take your time. Do you think I’ve had work done? Do you?

GK: You mean, on your face?

SS: Of course, on my face.

GK: No.

SS: You mean that? You don’t think so?

GK: I don’t see any.

SS: He was a great surgeon. He just took a few tucks around the hairline, pulled it back ---- botoxed the forehead and I had my eyelids raised ----- a lid lift ----- how old do you think I am?

GK: I don’t know.

SS: Guess.

GK: Twenty-two, twenty-three.

SS: Ha. Thirty-eight.

GK: Really.

SS: Really.

GK: Amazing.

SS: Hey, you get what you pay for. Nice talking to you.

(MUSIC)

TR (FITZ): I’ve got to go. Nice talking to you.

GK: I was going to ask you another question----

TR (FITZ): That’s enough questions. Let me ask you a question.

GK: Just one more----

TR (FITZ): Why do you start a story with the line, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon”? What’s the thinking there? It’s like saying, “Nothing happened to me and now I’m going to tell you about it.” Did you know that people use recordings of your stories to put their children to sleep? You are the only living American author who relaxes people to the point of unconsciousness? Is that something you were trying for or did it just happen by accident?

GK: I’m going to have that cut out of the tape, Mr.
Fitzgerald.

TR (FITZ): I’m not sure I WANT this theater to be named after me.

GK: What do you mean?

TR (FITZ): I mean, take some chances, man. Don’t just stand there murmuring pleasantries. Say what you think! Stand up for yourself.

GK: Okay, I think Hemingway was a much better writer than you.

TR (FITZ): Atta boy.

GK: Faulkner was better. Willa Cather was a better writer.

TR (FITZ): Now you’re talking.

GK: T.S. Eliot wasn’t, but Saul Bellow was.

TR (FITZ): Never heard of him.

GK: So we were doing you a favor when we named this theater after you.

TR (FITZ): It’s a nice theater, I’m not saying it isn’t. Good luck with it.

GK: You’re leaving?

TR (FITZ): So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

GK: Thanks for dropping by.

TR (FITZ): We were a restless generation, sir. We went to a party and we always wondered if there weren’t another party even more wonderful not far away. We were spoiled and charming. We thought we were like no one else. We worked hard to be clever, to be fascinating, and for awhile our name was on everyone’s lips, but people get tired of a name after awhile, and suddenly I woke up one morning with a rather large crack in my heart, and found that I was tiresome to my friends and I was pitied by my enemies and my hair was thinning and so was my enthusiasm, and then I withdrew from the amusements and curiosities of life and reduced my ambition to that of doing my best to live each day with some honor and not be frightened and to sit waiting for death. It came sooner than I expected.

SS: Hey.

GK: Hi.

SS: I had to come back and ask you a question.

GK: What’s that?

SS: Do I know you? I mean, are you famous?

GK: No, I’m not.

SS: Are you sure?

GK: Positive.
SS: Weren’t you in a movie once?

GK: A long time ago.

SS: Which one?

GK: You never heard of it.

SS: You sure?

GK: Positive.

(PLAY OFF)

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy