F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Crazy Sunday" is the story of a young screenwriter and his personal and professional difficulties in the complex Hollywood film industry. Intent on impressing the elite in his industry, Joel instead finds himself ensnared in the personal problems of a high-profile couple. The story was originally published in a magazine called American Mercury in October 1932. Fitzgerald included it in his final collection of short stories, 1935's Taps at Reveille.
Joel Coles, the main character, is based on Fitzgerald himself, and Joel's embarrassment at Miles Calman's party is autobiographical. At a party hosted by Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg and his wife, actress Norma Shearer, Fitzgerald had too much to drink and was booed after performing a song he meant to be humorous but which was actually juvenile and in bad taste. Rather than hide this humiliating moment in the recesses of his memory, Fitzgerald turned it over to his imagination, and it became "Crazy Sunday." The story was turned down for publication from a number of magazines for various reasons, including its ending, length, characters, and sexual content, but Fitzgerald refused to revise the story just to please magazine editors. Ultimately, American Mercury bought it intact for two hundred dollars.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a businessman and an heiress. His desire to become a writer crystallized early and remained a driving force throughout his life. Regarded as the preeminent writer of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald created characters and stories of youth, love, excess, eccentricity, and style. During his lifetime, his success was based on his standing as a niche writer. It was not until after his death that his writing was appreciated and placed among the American greats.
By the time Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in 1913, he had already begun to develop his writing skills. His work for school newspapers and theater groups had exposed him to various types of writing. At Princeton he wrote for a literary magazine, a humor magazine, and a performance club. He put in so much effort on such activities, however, that he could not keep up with his schoolwork, and he left Princeton in 1916. His return a year later was interrupted by enlistment in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Upon leaving the military in 1919, Fitzgerald worked briefly as an advertising copywriter while he revised his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). Things moved fast as he enjoyed acclaim for his novel and promptly married Zelda Sayre. Later that year, his first collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers, was published. Over the course of his career, more novels followed, most notably The Great Gatsby, in 1925. Fitzgerald also continued to produce volumes of short stories at almost the same pace as he was completing novels. "Crazy Sunday" appeared in his last collection, Taps at Reveille.
The Fitzgeralds lived the fast-paced life of the Roaring Twenties to the hilt. Much of Fitzgerald's material was drawn from his own life. Because his income was inconsistent, he accrued a great amount of debt by borrowing money from his publisher and from his agent. The 1920s were the greatest and most trying years for the Fitzgeralds. While they enjoyed a high standard of living and an exciting lifestyle, Zelda became increasingly mentally ill, Fitzgerald struggled with alcoholism, and he ultimately fell out of favor when his contemporary subject matter became passé.
The pace at which Fitzgerald wrote had slowed so that by the time Tender Is the Night (1934) and Taps at Reveille (1935) were published, American readers were enduring the Great Depression, a far cry from the carefree heydays of the 1920s. With Zelda in a mental hospital, mounting debts, and little income from his writing, Fitzgerald drank heavily, and his health suffered. He rallied in 1937, however, and returned to Hollywood (where he had worked briefly in 1927) to work on such screenplays as Gone with the Wind. A life of fast living with extreme highs and lows ended on December 21, 1940, when forty-four-year-old Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Hollywood.
Joel Coles is a twenty-eight-year-old screen-writer who arrived in Hollywood six months ago. Already, he has enjoyed some success and has impressed many of the right people. He is enthusiastic and optimistic, not yet jaded by the competitive industry he has chosen.
It is Sunday, and having been invited to a party at the home of a major director, Miles Calman, Joel imagines how he will impress him. He promises himself he will not drink and that he will prove his worthiness to be in the kind of company Miles keeps. Once he arrives, he is reunited with Stella Walker (now Stella Calman, Miles's wife), whom he knew as a struggling actress in New York. They are comfortable with each other, and soon Joel has finished a few cocktails. He meets up with another writer, Nat Keogh, and they join the other guests to watch a hired singer perform.
After the singer's performance, Joel asks Stella if he can entertain the guests with a short act he wrote. She agrees and even stands in as the second actor. As he performs, he realizes that the audience is not enjoying it, and he even hears someone "boo" him. Humiliated, he sends a note to Miles the next morning apologizing for the display. Later, he receives an invitation from Stella to her sister's house for supper the next Sunday. Delighted, he accepts.
At the supper, Joel and the other guests witness tension between Miles and Stella. Apparently, they have been fighting about Miles's lengthy affair with an actress named Eva Goebel. Stella talks with Joel about the situation, and when the discussion goes on long enough, Miles suggests that the three of them go back to their house. There, Stella, Joel, and Miles talk about the infidelity until the conversation turns to work.
The next morning, Stella invites Joel to accompany her to dinner and a theater party Saturday night while Miles is out of town. He agrees but plans to tell Miles about the invitation. Miles changes his plans because he does not want Stella going out with Joel or anyone else. Even though Joel realizes he is in love with Stella, he assures Miles that he would never make a pass at her. Miles invites Joel to join them at the party, and Joel accepts.
Joel arrives at the theater to meet them, discovering that Miles went on his trip after all. He thinks Stella looks breathtaking, and when she suggests skipping the party and going to her house, he agrees. A telegram from Miles is there, but she is suspicious. She is not convinced that he has really gone away on business. He may be seeing his mistress, she surmises.
Joel tells Stella he is afraid that she is using him to get back at Miles. She admits that she is attracted to him but adds that she loves Miles and is uncomfortable about the evening she just shared with Joel. He prepares to leave, a little vexed but also a little relieved, when the phone rings at midnight.
Shortly after midnight, Joel has hurriedly made love to Stella. He pours himself a drink, and as Stella leans toward the telephone, Joel picks it up to hear the wired message that is replaying. It says that Miles has been killed in an airplane accident. Stella is vaguely aware of the message, but Joel insists on having her doctor or a friend present before she hears the news. As she realizes that Miles is dead and Joel is stalling, she becomes frantic and insists that he stay with her. He continually presses her for the name of a girlfriend to come to be with her.
A messenger delivers a telegram confirming the phone message, and Stella has trouble absorbing the news. Joel manages to get in touch with some of her friends to come to be with her, but she begs him not to leave. Feeling that she is only clinging to him in an effort to keep Miles's memory alive, Joel leaves once other people begin to arrive. As he leaves, Joel is overwhelmed by the enormous presence of Miles, even in death.
Miles Calman is a Hollywood director who commands a high level of respect in the industry. The narrator explains that he "was the only director on the lot who did not work under a supervisor and was responsible to the money men alone." The films he directs are those he considers worthy of his artistic vision, and he is known for being uncompromising. Still, he is depicted as having problems and frailties: He has been carrying on a lengthy affair with another woman (after cheating on his first wife with Stella); he is "tall, nervous, with a desperate humor and the unhappiest eyes Joel ever saw," and "one could not be with him long without realizing that he was not a well man."
For all his success in his career, Miles is basically insecure. He is jealous of Stella to the point of being hypocritical. He makes excuses for his inability to stop seeing his mistress altogether, yet he cannot think of Stella going to a party with Joel. In all likelihood, it is his insecurity that leads him to seek female attention and admiration in affairs.
Stella Calman is Miles's young, beautiful wife. She knew Joel when she was a struggling actress (Stella Walker) in New York. Reunited, she finds herself attracted to Joel for reasons she does not fully understand. She seems to enjoy her ability to capture his attention, but she also seems to sense a certain kinship with him. Perhaps she feels out of her element among the Hollywood elite, and she associates Joel with her past.
When Stella discovers Miles's affair, however, she seems determined to find in Joel the intimacy and validation lacking in her marriage. Her insecurity and self-doubt are clear in her emotional shifts from Miles to Joel and back again. Her naïveté is evident in the fact that she was Miles's mistress during his first marriage, yet she is stunned when he takes a mistress during his marriage to her.
Joel Coles is a twenty-eight-year-old screen-writer who has been in Hollywood for six months pursuing a career as a screenwriter. In his first six months, he has landed some "nice assignments" and is proud of his accomplishments and potential. The narrator tells the reader that Joel is "not yet broken by Hollywood," adding that he is an enthusiastic worker. His high opinion of himself is bolstered by the invitation he receives to Miles Calman's home for a party. Imagining the Hollywood celebrities that are sure to be there, Joel pictures himself fitting right in with them and impressing Miles in the process. The embarrassment he endures at the party does not destroy his ego, however, as he is flattered by the attentions of Miles's wife, Stella.
Even as a young man, Joel is no stranger to theater life. His mother was a successful stage actress whose career took Joel back and forth between New York and London. It was during his time in New York that he first met Stella, who was a struggling actress and an admirer of Joel's mother.
Joel is immature and ill-equipped to handle the issues surrounding his relationship with Stella. This may be because his early life revolved around theater, or it may be because at such a young age he has had few meaningful personal relationships. Regardless, he falls in love too easily and for the wrong reasons, and he has difficulty knowing how to have integrity with Miles and affection for Stella. Ultimately, he has no tools to help Stella handle the tragic loss of her husband, and his only recourse is to leave.
Nat is a screenwriter and an acquaintance of Joel's, described by the narrator as "the good-humored, heavy-drinking, highly paid Nat Keogh." Although he drinks and gambles too much, he is highly successful in his career; he makes enough money to hire a manager in addition to an agent. Nat is friendly and reassuring to Joel after the embarrassment at Miles's party.
All three of the main characters exhibit insecurity that prompts them to reach out for external approval and reassurance. Fitzgerald shows how insecurity strikes anyone, regardless of background, career success, or personal egoism. More specifically, he seems to be revealing that insecurity is prevalent in Hollywood.
Joel possesses the antithetical combination of insecurity and arrogance that is common in youth. On the one hand, he perceives himself as a talented writer ("He referred to himself modestly as a hack but really did not think of it that way") who is ready to move among the elite in his industry. He even considers himself somewhat superior professionally because he can refuse alcohol (so he claims), unlike many of his peers. At the same time, he desperately seeks approval from others. He seeks the approval of Miles, Stella, and the partygoers, always switching his focus according to whom he thinks he can best impress. When Stella starts paying attention to him, he finds her irresistible, despite the fact that she is married to a powerful director and personal acquaintance of his. Even when he realizes that she is using him, he does not cut her out of his life right away. He is simultaneously disappointed and relieved when she suggests that her chauffeur drive him home. His conflicted feelings stem from his insecurity, his need to feel desirable, and his vague awareness of ethics.
Stella's insecurity is evident in her pursuit of Joel, which accelerates when she discovers Miles's affair. Initially, she enjoys the way Joel admired her and how he reminds her of her past. She knew him during a time of less social pressure, scrutiny, and judgment. His comment that she looks sixteen makes her feel youthful and carefree. When she learns that Miles has been unfaithful, Stella turns to Joel as a confidante and an admirer. She knows he is captivated by her, and in the wake of the rejection and self-doubt brought on by the affair, she needs another man to make her feel desirable. Ironically, this is exactly what Joel predicted in their first conversation.
Despite his professional success and large circle of friends, Miles is deeply insecure. He is repeating the pattern of his first marriage, in which he took a mistress to make him feel sexy. He is seeing a therapist to work out his personal problems, but there is little evidence of progress. In his career, Miles is confident and unconcerned about making everyone happy, but in his personal life he craves reassurance and validation.
Topics for Further Study
- Besides Fitzgerald, William Faulkner also worked in Hollywood in the 1930s. Research Faulkner's experience in Hollywood and draw comparisons and contrasts with Fitzgerald's Hollywood years. Prepare a "movie pitch" about these two literary figures in Hollywood. For fun, consider casting your movie with contemporary actors and actresses.
- In what ways did the Great Depression affect the Hollywood film industry? What kinds of films were produced during this time, and who were the prominent actors and actresses? What insights does your research give you into American culture and the American psyche?
- What do you think happens with Joel and Stella after the events of the story? Write another section for the story, trying to mimic Fitzgerald's narrative voice, letting the reader know what the nature of their relationship was, what direction Joel's career took, and any other additions you would like to make to the story.
- Imagine you are a psychologist in Hollywood at the time and one of the main characters (Joel, Stella, or Miles) is your patient. Prepare notes from your first few sessions, along with your assessment of your patient's psychological health, problems you observe, and solutions or exercises you would like to suggest. Feel free to include predictions.
In the competitive culture of the Hollywood film industry, appearance is critical. Fitzgerald touches on this in "Crazy Sunday" through Joel. Anticipating his evening at Miles's party, Joel resolves to stay away from alcohol because he knows Miles judges writers who drink too much. Joel wants to make a good impression and show that he fits in with Miles and his friends. In reality, Joel knows he drinks too much, but he wants his appearance to conform to Miles's standards. The narrator explains, "Calman was audibly tired of rummies, and thought it was a pity the industry could not get along without them." Knowing this, Joel hopes that Miles will be in earshot when he turns down an offer of cocktails. At the party, however, Joel has some drinks and realizes too late that he is humiliating himself before his peers. He fears that the damage to his image may be irreparable, which could mean the end of his career. In his embarrassment, he struggles to maintain the appearance that he is still self-assured, and the narrator remarks that "he clung desperately to his rule of never betraying an inferior emotion until he no longer felt it." Later, Joel, self-conscious in his silk hat, reveals his awareness of appearance when he waits for Stella and Miles at the theater. He is beginning to understand that appearances in Hollywood often mask reality.
Fitzgerald uses foreshadowing to hint at Joel's misfortune at Miles's party and later with Stella. In Part I, Joel is full of the anticipation of the party and promises himself he will not have anything to drink. The first indication that alcohol is a stumbling block for Joel is when the narrator comments, "Ordinarily he did not go out on Sundays but stayed sober and took work home with him." The first words spoken by Joel in the story are to himself, when he declares, "I won't take anything to drink." Joel's fears about lowering his inhibitions at such an important party foreshadow his humiliation when he breaks his promises to himself and has several cocktails. By the time the narrator reveals "He took another cocktail—not because he needed confidence but because she [Stella] had given him so much of it," the reader knows that his confidence is false.
The closer Joel gets to Stella, and the more attracted he is to her, the more he begins to realize that she lacks the self-assuredness to make her own decisions. This character weakness foreshadows the demise of their relationship when she tells Joel that she is attracted to him but loves Miles. By this time, Joel has learned that Stella is overly influenced by Miles and probably only liked Joel because Miles liked him first. He remembers a conversation in which Miles said, "I've influenced Stella in everything. Especially I've influenced her so that she likes all the men I like—it's very difficult." In retrospect, Joel realizes that the signs of her rejection were there all along.
Film Industry Setting
As the story opens, the narrator describes the day-to-day reality of working life in Hollywood. He writes:
Behind, for all of them, lay sets and sequences, the long waits under the crane that swung the microphone, the hundred miles a day by automobiles to and fro across the county, the struggles of rival ingenuities in the conference rooms, the ceaseless compromise, the clash and strain of many personalities fighting for their lives.
Besides overt descriptions, the narrator subtly describes the setting of the story in ways that are reminiscent of the film industry itself. Room descriptions sound like settings, and physical environments are sometimes described in relation to their emotional impact. Miles's house is described as having been "built for great emotional moments—there was an air of listening, as if the far silences of its vistas hid an audience." Later, the Calmans' home is described this way: "Under the high ceilings the situation seemed more dignified and tragic." These are aspects that someone in the film industry would notice. In introducing them into the story, the narrator also supports the theme of the importance of appearances.
Hollywood in the 1930s
Early in the 1930s, color and sound came to Hollywood movies. This heightened public interest in American movies, which in turn catapulted the celebrity status of actors, actresses, and musicians. Not surprisingly, many studios capitalized on the new capabilities of film by producing musicals. This tendency toward light fare was ideal for movie-goers whose Depression-era lives contained enough tragedy and anxiety. Excitement and adventure was also evident in the popularity of gangster movies and westerns. But the Great Depression dragged on through the years, and while Americans sought the two-hour escapes offered by movies, their ability to afford them dwindled. By 1934, one-third of the nation's movie theaters had closed their doors. To stay afloat, Hollywood studios were forced to utilize less expensive means of production in order to pay the high salaries that popular celebrities earned. Without major names on the marquis, movies were rarely very successful. Among the big names that drew crowds were Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Mae West, W. C. Fields, Marlene Dietrich, and James Cagney. First introduced in 1934, Shirley Temple movies provided a loveable figure of innocence and hope for struggling moviegoers.
Movies in the 1930s represented everything that real life seemed to lack—romance, adventure, glamour, fantasy, and happy endings. Some historians have noted that in the 1920s, movie protagonists often cruised effortlessly into their happy endings, but in the 1930s movie producers depicted happy endings coming about as a gradual change of fortune. In The Nickel and Dime Decade: AmericanPopular Culture during the 1930s, Gary Dean Best quotes Will Hays, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America president in 1934:
No medium has contributed more greatly than the films to the maintenance of the national morale during a period featured by revolution, riot and political turmoil in other countries.… It has been the mission of the screen, without ignoring the serious social problems of the day, to reflect aspiration, achievement, optimism and kindly humor in its entertainment.
Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer
The party that Fitzgerald fictionalizes in "Crazy Sunday" is based on an actual party he attended, hosted by Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer. Thalberg was a very successful Hollywood producer whose rise to prominence was well known among his contemporaries. Having never completed high school, he got a job at a movie studio, where he worked hard and eventually became a major executive at MGM Studios. Thalberg had a special focus on screenplays and worked closely with writers. He was known, however, for protecting the integrity of some projects by having two writers work simultaneously on a script without letting them know. Born with a heart defect, Thalberg never expected a long life and often overworked himself to the point of collapse, intent on finishing his projects according to his vision. He died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven. The movie producer in The Last Tycoon is based on Thalberg, as is Miles Calman in "Crazy Sunday."
Compare & Contrast
- 1930s: Despite the Great Depression, this decade is a memorable one for the American film industry. Shirley Temple movies, epics like Gone with the Wind, and feel-good films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington make this an important decade in American film and culture.
Today: In 2003, American moviegoers spent almost $9.5 billion on tickets. In decidedly more stable and prosperous years than the Depression era, Americans have more to spend on movies but do not rely as heavily on them for emotional relief and escape.
- 1930s: In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment is ratified, overturning the Eighteenth Amendment's prohibition on alcohol. This is the first time a constitutional amendment is repealed.
Today: Laws regarding the sale of alcohol primarily dictate the legal age at which a person can purchase alcohol. There are still counties that are "dry," meaning that the sale of alcohol is illegal in that area.
- 1930s: Fitzgerald's status as a popular author wanes, as most readers and critics have lost interest in his work. Because he is so strongly associated with the Jazz Age (1920s), he finds it difficult to sell his fiction in the 1930s.
Today: Fitzgerald is considered one of the great American authors, and his works are taught in schools and universities around the world. According to Scribner, readers buy half a million copies a year of his works.
Norma Shearer was an actress in Hollywood who enjoyed success in silent and sound films. She was nominated numerous times for an Academy Award, winning once. Early in her career, she modeled while she waited for her big break. Her modeling experience helped prepare her for the facial expressions necessary for success in silent movies. Once she began making movies for MGM, her celebrity status rose quickly. Having made numerous silent movies, married Thalberg, and started a family in the 1920s, she and her husband decided to pursue bringing sound to movies. Luckily, she had a voice that allowed her to bridge her career from silence to sound. In the early 1930s, she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. After Thalberg's death, Shearer continued her acting career and stayed active in the movie business. Although she remarried, she was buried alongside Thalberg upon her death at the age of eighty.
"Crazy Sunday" was included in the last collection of Fitzgerald's short stories published in his lifetime, Taps at Reveille. Unfortunately, by the time the book was published in 1935, few reviewers were interested in Fitzgerald's work. Those who were interested noticed the changes taking place in Fitzgerald's maturing fiction. In F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, Alfred Kazin quotes a New Republic review by T. S. Mathews: "The yearning toward maturity is even more noticeable in some of these short stories than it is in his novels." Mathews adds that many of the characters grapple with the fact that life requires them to mature and behave like adults. Although "Crazy Sunday" is well liked among Fitzgerald's readers, there is little critical commentary about it beyond grouping it with Fitzgerald's better-known Hollywood stories, such as the Pat Hobby series of short stories and his unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon.
Much commentary on Fitzgerald's short fiction in general sheds critical light on "Crazy Sunday." In Student Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, author Linda Pelzer observes that Fitzgerald's best short stories share connections with his novels. She writes, "All of his best stories are connected thematically to his novels. In fact, several seem to anticipate or repeat not only thematic concerns, but also plot elements and figurative motifs that are integral to the novels." "Crazy Sunday" is set in Hollywood, and a main character (Miles) is said to be based on Irving Thalberg. Both of these elements are repeated in The Last Tycoon.
Bussey holds a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies and a bachelor's degree in English literature. She is an independent writer specializing in literature. In the following essay, Bussey examines F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Crazy Sunday" and how its main character, Joel Coles, exhibits emotional immaturity in all of his relationships.
Based on an embarrassing incident from F. Scott Fitzgerald's own experience in Hollywood, "Crazy Sunday" is part autobiography and part pure fiction. The main character, Joel Coles, is a young screenwriter who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is enjoying a measure of success. Trying to impress all the right people, he instead humiliates himself and finds himself in the middle of a marriage on the rocks. Throughout the story, Fitzgerald portrays Joel as emotionally immature in every relationship he has. He is immature in his relationship to himself, creating a self-image that is often convenient and reassuring if not always accurate. He is immature in his relationships with others, seeking approval and validation from whoever is most likely to give it. And he is immature in his relationship to his career and his industry, setting professionalism aside in favor of soothing his ego. As the story progresses from beginning to end, Joel experiences no personal growth and misses opportunities to gain wisdom because he is too immature to seize them.
First, Joel lacks the maturity to be honest with himself and exercise discipline or self-control. He knows that he drinks too much, and he promises himself not to have any drinks at Miles Calman's party. Within the first hour, he has broken this promise, accepting a cocktail because Stella, Miles's beautiful wife, gives it to him. Rather than exhibit the self-assuredness to refuse the drink politely, he feels that he has no choice but to take it and drink it. He makes excuses that he believes are legitimate reasons to make poor decisions. Once he begins drinking, he is unable to moderate his behavior at all. To him, the first drink is never the last, and he paves his own road to ruin.
Fitzgerald shows how Joel's mind-set changes with the effects of the alcohol. He feels warm and friendly toward the others at the party, and he feels overconfident in his ability to conduct himself appropriately. This reveals his immaturity because he has been drunk enough times to know better; he should know that drinking lowers important inhibitions and alters the good judgment he needs in the company of his industry peers. However, living in the moment, he leaves such wisdom behind and once again falls prey to the deceptive powers of alcohol.
Joel also fails to be completely honest with himself about his own talent and importance in the Hollywood studio scene. He has only been working for six months, yet he exhibits admittedly false humility about his talent, feels completely entitled to be among the Hollywood elite at Miles's party, and sees himself as superior to other writers such as Nat Keogh. He initially looks down on Nat because of his reputation for being a heavy drinker, which is not only hypocritical but also ignores the fact that Nat is extremely successful and very well paid for his work in their competitive industry.
Second, Joel is immature in his relationships with other people. He is insecure and tends to shift his focus away from those who might reject him, moving toward those who are likely to accept and even admire him. When he feels vulnerable, he is less honest with others than he is with himself. Trying to shrug off the bad reception of his performance, Joel keeps his disgust to himself and clings "desperately to his rule of never betraying an inferior emotion until he no longer felt it." He craves external validation, especially from people he considers impressive. When he receives the invitation to Miles's party, he imagines all the ways he will impress the important director, but after one cocktail, he practically forgets about Miles and focuses entirely on Stella. Similarly, when he feels accepted by the group at the party, he feels warm toward them. The narrator comments that Joel "felt happy and friendly toward all the people gathered there.… He liked them—he loved them. Great waves of good feeling flowed through him." But when he senses their rejection during his performance ("the thumbs down of the clan"), he puts on emotional blinders and concentrates on Stella. In the morning, his first order of business is to send an apologetic note to Miles, but when he receives an ego-boosting message from Stella, he forgets about Miles again.
Joel's relationship with Miles is somewhat complicated. On the one hand, he wants to stay in his good graces for personal and professional reasons, but on the other hand, he continues to see Stella. He likes being on the "inside" with Miles, and at some level, he wants to be honorable. His integrity, however, is too shallow to motivate his decision with and about Stella. When she asks him to accompany her to a party while Miles is away, Joel makes sure to let Miles know. Yet when Joel finds himself unexpectedly alone with Stella, he does not leave. In the story, the purpose of Joel's relationship with Miles is to force him to make adult decisions. Joel struggles—and fails—to be mature, but this relationship seems to be the first one that has ever forced him to face such issues.
In his relationship with Stella, Joel exhibits the most immaturity. He knows her from their years in New York, but now things are different in the Hollywood scene. Their familiarity is what brings them together, and Joel feels a little awkward at first. The narrator writes, "He felt he should say something more, something confident and easy—he had first met her when she was struggling for bits in New York." Perhaps this is why when they first talk at the party, Joel makes inappropriate remarks to her about possible insecurities. Because he is insecure, he assumes she is, too. He says:
So you have a baby? That's the time to look out. After a pretty woman has had her first child, she's very vulnerable, because she wants to be reassured about her own charm. She's got to have some new man's unqualified devotion to prove to herself she hasn't lost anything.
Despite these remarks, Stella still feels comfortable with Joel. Although he actually knows very little about her emotional reality, she probably thinks that he understands her intuitively and may even be inviting her to consider him as her "new man." While Stella talks to Joel about her feelings, her marital problems, her own insecurities, and other personal matters, Joel all but tunes out her words and ponders her beauty. He allows himself to be distracted by her appearance, her clothes, and her mannerisms, with no real interest in getting to know her as a person. At her sister's house, she begins venting her emotions to him about Miles's affair:
She sat down vehemently on the arm of Joel's chair. Her riding breeches were the color of the chair and Joel saw that the mass of her hair was made up of some strands of red gold and some of pale gold, so that it could not be dyed, and that she had on no make-up. She was that good-looking—
Only a few paragraphs later, the narrator explicitly tells the reader that Joel often ignores Stella's words in favor of taking in the details of her clothing and appearance: "Sometimes he pretended to listen and instead thought how well she was got up." Stella believes that Joel is paying her the attention she wants, when really he is only admiring her beauty. Particularly revealing is that Joel realizes he is in love with her when she suddenly switches from indignation about Miles's affair to protectiveness of him in his career. Perhaps he sees in her a lack of emotional maturity and a short emotional attention span. For Joel, of course, being in love with her only means that he wants to be around her to admire her, feel admired by her, and perhaps pursue a physical relationship.
In the end, when Stella receives the news that Miles is dead, she needs Joel the most, and his response is to call her friends so he can leave. Here is his opportunity to undergo personal growth and be in a supportive adult relationship, but he is too insecure. Not only is he intimidated by the presence of Miles, even in death, but he realizes he does not love Stella because he believes she only likes him because Miles liked him first. Neither of these factors is good for his ego, so he cannot stay. If he had possessed more maturity earlier, he would never have let the situation with Stella go as far as it did anyway.
What Do I Read Next?
- Considered by most critics to be the definitive biography of Fitzgerald, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1981), by Matthew Bruccoli, provides a unique depth of understanding of the author and his work.
- Fitzgerald's last and unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon (1941), was inspired by his experiences and acquaintances in Hollywood. Set in the 1930s film industry, it explores themes of true love, power, and greed.
- Aaron Latham's Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (1975) provides a context for Fitzgerald's fiction and screenwriting produced during his years in Hollywood. Latham recreates Fitzgerald's day-to-day life in Hollywood, drawing from original interviews, anecdotes, and existing research.
- The Great Depression: America, 1929–1941 (1985), by Robert S. McElvaine, provides a comprehensive look at America's Depression years. McElvaine covers economics, politics, entertainment, family, culture, and more.
Third, Joel is immature in his handling of his career. He is fortunate that his arrival in Hollywood is met with opportunity equal to his talent. This initial success, however, leads him to believe he is a seasoned writer ready for great things in his industry. While it is important to be confident in his work, he allows himself to become overconfident, which will stunt his growth as a writer. Not believing he needs to improve much will prevent him from working on perfecting his craft. The other reason he does not take his career seriously enough is that when he is faced with a conflict between professionalism and ego, he chooses ego. At Miles's party, he should never have asked to perform. In the moment, however, he believed he had the chance to impress his peers and enjoy their applause. By allowing his judgment to be clouded, he humiliated himself professionally and retreated to Stella's (and, the next day, Nat's) reassurance. He is incapable of managing his own career in a mature and responsible way.
Although Joel experiences no growth over the course of the story, there is hope for him. Amidst his inappropriate remarks, drinking, self-centeredness, and insecurity, he makes occasional comments that reveal substantial insight. When Stella learns that Miles has died in the plane crash, she begs Joel to stay with her. A moment of insight actually overcomes him despite the effect her attention must have had on him:
He stared at her, at first incredulously, and then with shocked understanding. In her dark groping Stella was trying to keep Miles alive by sustaining a situation in which he had figured—as if Miles' mind could not die so long as the possibilities that had worried him still existed. It was a distraught and tortured effort to stave off the realization that he was dead.
To be successful as a writer and as a man, Joel will have to mature and grow as a person and overcome his own self-consciousness and need for validation. He will have to allow more moments of insight to reveal themselves so that he can write believable, moving, and compelling screenplays. Only by developing sensitivity to the human condition will his talent be able to make him the writer he already believes himself to be.
Jennifer Bussey, Critical Essay on "Crazy Sunday," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Martinelli is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. In this essay, Martinelli examines how the public exposure of private relationships inhibits the characters' ability to develop a meaningful love for one another.
In "Crazy Sunday" F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale of Hollywood citizens Joel Coles, a young, up-and-coming screenwriter; Miles Calman, a powerful movie director; and Stella Walker (Calman), a beautiful, famous actress and Miles's wife. As to be expected, the lives of famous, Hollywood inhabitants receive much more exposure and attention than an ordinary, everyday citizen. Calman and Walker are no exception. Their public actions are scrutinized, watched and reported. Yet beyond what they do in public, Calman and Walker are under a constant, inquisitive eye that desires to see past their public actions, deep into their private lives. Coles, on the other hand, experiences no overt analysis from the public realm. He lives his life publicly in a way that is similar to most individuals. He moves through life as an active participant and contributor, but when he returns to his private realm, he feels removed from the public realm. Also, because of his ordinary stature, his private life is of no interest to the public. Thus, his private life is truly his own, in that he can decide to share it or to keep it completely isolated. However, as his life overlaps with Calman and Walker's life and relationship, the destructive, invasive power that public scrutiny holds over the private realm becomes unwaveringly apparent.
"To be successful as a writer and as a man, Joel will have to mature and grow as a person and overcome his own self-consciousness and need for validation."
To better examine the concept of a public realm overpowering the private in "Crazy Sunday," it is best to turn to German-born philosopher, Hannah Arendt. For Arendt, the public realm is common. This means that everything that is seen or heard in this realm is intended to have the widest possible publicity. There is no expectation that what occurs in the public realm would be, in any sense, unavailable to any other person. The public realm is used to communicate and validate reality. To bring ideas, stories or art into the view of the public realm brings them into reality. The existences of things in the private realm, e.g., thoughts, feelings or passions, are inherently shadowy. This means, of course, that anything completely internalized lacks any alternative perspective and, thus, an individual has no way to verify the validity of such a thing without the analysis of another person. Arendt writes in The Human Condition, "Each time we talk about things that can be experienced only in privacy or intimacy, we bring them out into a sphere where they will assume a kind of reality which, their intensity not withstanding, they never could have had before." With the new reality of private things in the public realm, the privacy of the things inherently dissolves; Meaning that when an individual discusses feelings or thoughts, these thoughts necessarily lose their shadowy reality.
Of course, Arendt does not only delve into the nature of the public realm. However, it is with respect to the public realm that she derives the meaning of "private." For Arendt, the extreme definition of private is to live outside of reality. Arendt states that the denial of this movement from private to public "means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life." However, Arendt also does not believe that a wholly public life is worthwhile. The private realm holds as much importance in the definition of the human condition as the public realm. The private realm is removed from the scrutiny of the prying and inquisitive eyes of the public. For Arendt, "the four walls of one's private property offer the only reliable hiding place from the common public world, not only from everything that goes on in it but from its very publicity, from being seen and being heard." The thoughts, feelings and passions that exist only in the shadowy sphere outside of the public realm remain outside of reality. They are perfectly and completely intimate. Therefore, just as it is necessary to be seen and heard in the common realm, to be empowered with the ability to retreat from it is also essential to a truly human life. Roughly, what Arendt proposes as a truly human life is an individual's ability to facilitate the ebb and flow between the public, common realm and the private, personal realm. To live exclusively within the public or the private realm is not simply the denial of the other, it is the denial of what it means to be human.
With this Arendtian framework in mind, Fitzgerald's "Crazy Sunday" explodes with deeper meaning. In the story, Coles is a young screenwriter with a bright future in Hollywood. When he is invited to a Sunday night party at the home of powerful director, Calman, and his famous actress wife, Walker, he has his future in mind. Coles is aware of his position in the public realm at the Calman's home. He intends to keep himself sober, as he knows that his actions will be under a great amount of scrutiny at such a high-profile party. Fitzgerald writes, "Miles Calman's house was built for great emotional moments—there was an air of listening, as if the far silences of its vistas hid an audience." Here, in Calman's house, Fitzgerald describes the Calman's private realm as a deeply inadequate separation from publicity and it would appear that the stage was set for the performance of Miles's and Stella's private affairs. Oddly, the first blunder of the story is at the hands of Coles.
The night of the party, Coles meets the beautiful and alluring Walker. Against his better judgment, her actions result in a drink finding its way into his hand. As the party and socializing continues, Coles becomes slightly intoxicated and, with the persuasion of Walker, decides to perform in front of Calman's guests. Unfortunately, Coles's skit pokes fun at Hollywood's shallowness. His performance reveals his personal disgust with Hollywood, which is not only the industry he courts, it is also the industry that supports his audience. Needless to say, his performance is ill received and he is booed off stage. It would appear, from Fitzgerald's descriptions of the house, that only Calman and Walker would suffer because it is their home and privacy that is overexposed to the public. However, Coles's actions the night of the party fore-shadow the power of the public realm and how the exposure of thoughts, feelings or passions to publicity changes their reality. Coles feelings are no longer his own: he has now opened himself and his ideas to the interpretation and scrutiny of all other individuals within the public sphere.
"Essentially, Calman and Walker's overexposed private life never gives them a true sense of privacy and, thus, they are damned to never develop a truly human concept of love for one another."
The next Sunday, to Coles's surprise, the Calman's invite him to another party. This time, however, the stage is set for Calman's own private destruction at the hands of prying publicity. Coles enters the party and discovers the Calman's marriage in disarray because of the director's infidelity. Walker is distraught and upset as she expounds on her husband's affairs. However, the performance of her feelings is almost too theatrical. Fitzgerald writes, "She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and the most blatant of impersonations." In this moment of crushing despair, Walker finds herself unable to shed the feeling of being viewed and continues to perform. Even in emotional pain, she does not allow herself a complete retreat into privacy—possibly because she lacks any truly private realm. With the actions of both Calman and Walker, inviting and exposing Coles to their innermost privacies, Arendt's statement that "love is killed, or rather extinguished, the moment it is displayed in public" is substantiated. The necessity of a private realm to retreat to, especially under the emotionally heavy circumstance of an exposed, extramarital affair, is revealed as a clear and obvious need in order for an individual to love and to lead a truly human life. If such a need is not met, then it is obvious that Arendt's statement about love and the public realm is resoundingly true. Essentially, Calman and Walker's overexposed private life never gives them a true sense of privacy and, thus, they are damned to never develop a truly human concept of love for one another.
Through these two crazy Sundays, Coles becomes more and more physically attracted to Walker. Even though he knows that the powerful director could crush his career, Coles is eager to seduce Walker. Maybe he is so drawn to her because he can see that their relationship is almost completely theatrical. Maybe he is simply so physically attracted to her that he cannot resist the temptation of her flesh. Whatever the impetus, Coles is persistent and Walker is only slightly resistant to his advances. On the third Saturday, Coles sets out to seduce Walker since Calman plans to be out of town watching a Notre Dame football game. Oddly, Calman originally intended to cancel his trip on account of Coles. In a conversation with Calman, Coles states:
"I hear you're flying to the Notre Dame game."
Miles looked beyond him [Coles] and shook his head.
"I've given up on the idea."
"On account of you." Still he did not look at Joel.
"What the hell, Miles?"
"That's why I've given it up." He broke into a perfunctory laugh at himself. "I can't tell what Stella might do just out of spite—she's invited you to take her to the Perrys,' hasn't she? I wouldn't enjoy the game."
Coles lies and convinces Calman that his intentions are only to accompany her as a friend. However, Calman still insists that he cannot attend the Notre Dame game, because if Coles does not go with his wife, someone else will. Regardless, Calman asks Coles to attend the party because he would enjoy his company. Coles agrees, but when he arrives at the party, it turns out that Calman changed his mind and decided to leave town. Again, Coles is motivated to seduce Walker. Calman's account of his worry that Coles would seduce his wife, then his decision to leave nonetheless is a tell-tale sign of his listless attempt to separate his private feelings from the public realm. In The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, Sheldon Grebstein writes, "[Calman's] spontaneous revelation of private matters hint that despite his show of regret and anguish at his tangled emotional condition, he secretly relishes its complications as 'good material."' Again, Calman's relationship with his wife not only suffers; it lacks any foundation in love because of his persistence to continually create heartache and then expose these private intimacies. Nothing is sacred between Calman and Walker, thus their marriage is meaningless.
After the dinner, Coles and Walker return to the stage that is the Calman's home. Coles wants to sleep with Walker. She resists, but only meekly, seeming almost inviting in her rejections of his advances. Coles continues, telling Walker, "I'm in love with you anyhow" and "come sit beside me." With his attempts falling short, Coles decides to leave the Calman's house, yet as the clock begins to toll midnight—opening the door to the third Sunday—Walker's decision to resist falters and the two make love. After their affair, Walker receives a phone call informing her of Calman's death and "Crazy Sunday" concludes with a crescendo, dashing the façade of love of the Calman's marriage against the steps of their staged, publicly exposed, and completely inadequate private lives.
Although "Crazy Sunday" was written nearly two decades before The Human Condition, it is apparent that Fitzgerald witnessed the destruction of the private realm at the hands of the public. Strangely, just as Coles mocked the industry that he courted (Hollywood), so did Fitzgerald. The author Fitzgerald worked diligently and made money as a screenwriter, but it was apparent through his short stories and novels—especially "Crazy Sunday"—that Hollywood writ large was both a simile for failed love and the conflict that Arendt aptly called the human condition.
Anthony Martinelli, Critical Essay on "Crazy Sunday," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
In the following essay, Grebstein discusses the psychological traits of the main characters.
Precise factual information which aids the reader to place an artist's work securely into a biographical-historical context is always welcome. Such information establishes a sound foundation for critical analysis and enhances our appreciation of the artist's achievements. Fortunately, any student of Fitzgerald's brilliant story "Crazy Sunday" (1932) finds an abundance of data already provided by Arthur Mizener, Dwight Taylor, Andrew Turnbull, Kenneth Eble, Henry Dan Piper, and Aaron Latham, among others. Accordingly, no further evidence is needed to prove that in writing "Crazy Sunday," Fitzgerald chose a phase of recent experience in which he suffered disappointment and disgrace, then deliberately exploited it as the basis for the story's locale, major characters, and precipitating episode. Few examples of Fitzgerald's work better illustrate the intimate yet complex relationship between his life and his art. In this instance, an unsuccessful screenwriting stint in California during the fall of 1931 and a drunken episode at a party given by the Thalbergs were soon after transformed into a work of fiction that still endures, after almost half a century, as perhaps the best American short story about Hollywood.
But if the biographical basis is manifest, what of the art? Here one can perhaps offer a contribution, for to this point there has been surprisingly little aesthetic discussion of the story. The treatments that do exist pay insufficient attention to the work's subtle and controlled method. My essay will attempt just that.
As its most obvious theme or subject, "Crazy Sunday" contrasts the physical beauty, charisma, or talent of its major characters—Joel, Stella, Miles—with the element of instability, weakness, or tendency toward self-destruction which seems to coincide, even be necessary, to their beauty and talent. Joel drinks to excess. Miles is exhausted, marked for death. The alluring Stella is emotionally fragile, subject to hysteria. What Joel first says to Stella as a conversational gambit—"'Everybody's afraid, aren't they?"'—becomes a portentous cue to this dimension of character.
The story's atmosphere and action are thus intensely psychological, not only in the specifically psychiatric sense conveyed in Miles's talk of his psychoanalysis and personal troubles, but more important in that the narrative emphasizes states of feeling and the impressions people make upon one another from moment to moment. In this, Fitzgerald expresses his vision of one aspect of the Hollywood milieu which differentiates it from the run of common life: there the most private matters—marital infidelity, sexual problems—are discussed as though they were public knowledge. Relationships that would take months, even years, to develop in "real" or "normal" life are accelerated, foreshortened, developed in one or two brief encounters. In this concentration and distillation of experience, Fitzgerald both exercises the economy of the short story form and evokes the method of a film scenario.
The story's title alerts us to its psychological focus, although it is also deliberately ambiguous. "Crazy" applies less obviously to the day than to the characters. Sunday is celebrated because it represents a release from the confines of work, but as Fitzgerald suggests throughout the story, work is really the basis of sanity for everyone in the film industry.
Among the reasons we come to believe most in Joel's probity, the truth and reliability of his perspective, is that we actually witness him at work. We may accept that Stella is a movie star and Miles a famous producer; we view the result of their success in their impressive house. Miles's achievement and ability as producer are asserted repeatedly. But unlike Joel, their professional skills are not demonstrated to us. Even in the one encounter between Joel and Miles at the studio (on Wednesday, not Sunday), Miles is depicted as confused, jealous, wavering—a creature wholly concerned with his personal afflictions and in the grip of his fluctuating moods, rather than as a keen, tough, decisive film executive. Although Sunday is defined in the story's opening paragraph as a time for relaxation, pleasure—"individual life starting up again"—it functions most tellingly as the time for self-disgrace, self-revelation, breakdown.
Appropriately, the emphasis on the psychological dimension is reinforced by the story's dramatic stucture. This structure basically depends not upon the five formal sections into which Fitzgerald has overtly divided it, although these are important as phases in the action, but upon three crazy Sundays. In turn, each of these Sundays serves as the occasion for the exposure and humiliation of each of the main characters.
Joel, of course, is the first to crash when, pumped up by drink and the silly desire to impress the glittering array at the Calman party, he foolishly performs a skit which inherently mocks the business they all depend on. This performance, "Building It Up," betrays the worst side of him; the hired writer who professes to despise the crass elements of the film industry yet courts its favor. Despite the cruelty of his audience of celebrities, he deserves their rebuff. If he is "not yet broken by Hollywood," he certainly has been infected by it. The one saving element in the occasion is the attraction that arises between Joel and Stella.
But on the next Sunday, as the guest had humiliated himself before the host, the host now takes a tumble before the guest. Joel enters another party, only to find himself immediately embroiled in the chaos of the Calmans' marriage and made confidant to Stella's bitter recounting of her husband's just-exposed adultery. In this scene the reader actually meets Miles for the first time. On the first Sunday he had been a remote, offstage but nevertheless awesome, presence; here he is precipitously lowered, immediately introduced to us as "not a well man": an involuntary philanderer, a helpless public target of his wife's rage, and in general deeply troubled. For Joel the effect of the second Sunday is to banish his awe of Miles and confirm his desire for Stella.
On the third Sunday, Stella falls. While it is still Saturday, she can set up a seduction scene for her own purposes, lead Joel on but still keep control and hold back at the crucial moment. Joel cannot break through her composure or allegiance to her husband. However, when the first minute of Sunday tolls and with it arrives the message of Miles's death, she collapses and pleads for the consummation she had only minutes earlier resisted. And as the story concludes, with Joel's realization that he will indeed return to take advantage of Stella's vulnerability and participate in her emotional attempt to resurrect Miles, there is the promise of yet other crazy Sundays to come.
"This structure basically depends not upon the five formal sections into which Fitzgerald has overtly divided it, although these are important as phases in the action, but upon three crazy Sundays. In turn, each of these Sundays serves as the occasion for the exposure and humiliation of each of the main characters."
Inextricably intertwined with the "crazy" motif, and equally important as a thematic and structural element, is the story's emphasis upon the artificiality and theatricality of this microcosm and the conduct of its inhabitants. This motif of frenetic make-believe is rendered both metaphorically and as direct exposition. It begins at once in the simile of the characters as enchanted puppets infused temporarily with life. It is soon reinforced by the description of the producer's home as a vast-theater or auditorium: "Miles Calman's house was built for great emotional moments—there was an air of listening, as if the far silences of its vistas bid an audience." With this image the stage is prepared, not only for Joel's catastrophic performance at the Calman party but also for the significant action of the other "Crazy Sunday" scenes I have just summarized. The theatricality of the house is perfectly congruent with the intrinsic melodrama of the characters' behavior. Their extravagance and self-consciousness require a large arena: "Under the high ceilings the situation seemed more dignified and tragic." Even nature seems sensitive to the histrionic conduct of these Hollywood people, for in each of the major scenes the condition of sea or sky collaborates with the Calman house or some other extreme feature of the California setting to supply a fittingly cinematic backdrop for the plot. In the first Sunday scene, "the Pacific, colorless under its sluggish sunset," conveys an ominous mood which presages the nasty reception the unwitting Joel is about to elicit. As background for Stella's irresistible beauty and outpouring of emotion on the second Sunday, nature offers "an eerie bright night with the dark very clear outside," which highlights both the bizarre nature of the Calman marriage, as it is now revealed to Joel, and Joel's sharp realization of his attraction to Stella. Finally, preparatory to the invitation-seduction involving Joel and Stella on the third Sunday, there is Fitzgerald's most openly stated California make-believe metaphor: "the full moon over the boulevard was only a prop, as scenic as the giant boudoir lamps of the corners." The pseudo-romantic moon and the sexy streetlights combine to anticipate the action and, in retrospect, to offer an ironic commentary upon it.
Within this prevailing context of theatricality, each of the main characters appears both genuine and artificial. Stella seems especially at home in the melodramatic mode and glows as the story's most vivid incarnation of the enchanted puppet motif. A creation of Miles Calman—perhaps Miles's most successful production, "'a sort of masterpiece"'—it is almost impossible to tell what is hers and what his. Despite the depth of the feelings she exhibits as the narrative progresses, including pain, anger, and grief, Joel persists in thinking of her as an actress: "She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and most blatant of impersonations." In accordance both with the norms of her Hollywood status and to enhance further our sense of the theatrical, Fitzgerald usually presents Stella to us in vibrant color and exquisite clothing or, said otherwise, in the suitable make-up and costume for her role.
As actor in his own life story, Miles Calman creates almost as much fantasy and melodrama in his career and marriage as in the films he produces. Miles's spontaneous public revelations of private matters hint that despite his show of regret and anguish at his tangled emotional condition, he secretly relishes its complications as "good material." The series of telegrams he sends Stella, culminated by a message from others announcing his death, would work splendidly in a film script as a kind of montage. Because Fitzgerald is pursuing personality above all, the story presents Miles with a minimum of detail about his appearance. Unlike Stella, Miles is depicted almost wholly in black and white. However, upon our first direct encounter with him there is a brief but striking passage emphasizing Miles's eyes and the incongruous juxtaposition of "curiously shaped head" and "niggerish feet." This peculiar deseription does not, I believe, suggest only a heaven-earth or brain-body dichotomy as intrinsic to the artistic personality, but also transmits Fitzgerald's reliance upon the racial stereotypes of Negro and Jew and their supposedly inborn traits and talents as exhibited in show business. In this he was imitating a technique prevalent in Hollywood films until very recently.
Joel as performer is rendered most indirectly and tacitly of all. His overtly histrionic behavior diminishes as the story proceeds. Even so, in his carefully selected wardrobe for the second Sunday and in the calculation of his moves during the attempted seduction, he remains something of an actor almost to the very end.
I venture one final observation on the theme of theatricality and its relationship to the story's dramatic structure. Although Joel, Stella, and Miles all participate as players in the story's three big scenes, the size and nature of their roles shift significantly. Each, as it were, has the opportunity to lead, yet each in turn takes a subordinate or minor part. In the first scene, Joel plays the lead, Stella a highly visible but nevertheless supporting role, and Miles the smallest part. His presence is important; we know he stands in the background as one of the crowd, but we do not observe him directly or hear him speak. He really serves as audience or witness. In the second scene, however, Miles and Stella are co-featured, with Joel relegated to the role of audience or witness. The final scene casts Joel and Stella together again, this time as co-stars but with Stella's lines and action paramount. As in the first scene, Miles again functions as distant onlooker; indeed, even though he is physically absent, he exists more than ever as a dominant presence in the minds of the others. Note also that the varying interplay of the three characters, staged primarily in the Calman house in each of the three "Crazy Sunday" scenes, occurs at equivalent intervals in the story's formal divisions, Sections I, III, and V, and provides an unobtrusive but pleasing structural symmetry. Moreover, the placement of the Joel-Stella scenes at the beginning and end of the story works as a form of closure. Interspersed with these major scenes and temporarily to relieve their focus on the leading characters, there are a number of quick, sharp glimpses at others: Nat Keogh, a group of bit players at the studio, the passing crowd outside a theater. Such sidelights help to create a fullness of vision, an entire ethos.
Fitzgerald's treatment of character in "Crazy Sunday," provokes some of the same tantalizing questions we ask of The Great Gatsby. Although the story seems to be about Miles Calman, is he truly its hero or protagonist? I think not. Essential as Miles is to the situation, the significant change happens to Joel. Admittedly, if Joel is too much the opportunist to win our full approval or admiration, nevertheless in comparison to Miles and Stella he does emerge as the story's most credible and thoroughly developed character. Despite his participation in all the crazy Sundays, he overcomes his initial lapse and gains authority as the story progresses. Certainly his emotional status at the end of the story is markedly improved over his condition at the beginning. We recall his unwittingly significant remark: "'Everybody's afraid, aren't they?"' I agree with Robert Sklar that Joel belongs to that class of Fitzgerald protagonists who illustrate that fate (or history) rather than free will controls man's destiny, yet I would also insist that by the third crazy Sunday he is clearly far saner, more aware, more in command than on the first. Initially an insecure and obsequious outsider, self-consciously flattering his hostess and straining to make conversation, he moves quickly into the deepest lives of Hollywood's great. In contrast, the concluding scene reveals him speaking and behaving with considerable poise and acuity: protecting Stella from the consequences of her hysteria and himself from an impossibly awkward entanglement. Still susceptible to her beauty, he at least has the presence of mind to realize her motives and to choose a more advantageous time—in short, to operate by some of his own terms. After all, what Fitzgerald hero can permanently resist a beautiful woman? In short, Joel is neither lovable nor virtuous, but we do get to know him, understand him and most important, to trust his perceptions to a considerable degree. This evolution in Joel's character from weakness toward strength is clearly evident by a simple comparison of his conduct and speech in Section I with that of Section V. As soon as he learns about Miles's death, his speech becomes terse, direct, functional. It employs the syntax of command: "'I want the name of your doctor,' he said sternly." Likewise, his actions exhibit the same assurance: "Resolutely Joel went to the phone and called a doctor." Joel's self-control in this final scene is emphasized all the more by Stella's hysteria.
The development of Joel's sanity, as overtly demonstrated by action, exposition, and dialogue, is subtly corroborated throughout by the story's narrative perspective. The choice of narrative viewpoint or voice could, as we know, pose problems for Fitzgerald, but in this case both the selection and execution are wholly felicitous. Almost instantaneously the authorial perspective merges with that of the protagonist, producing a single unified voice and consciousness.
Although the first page conveys the quality or mood of editorial omniscience, with a detached author making statements about who the characters are and what they think, the mode quickly becomes selective omniscience—the limited focus upon the sensibility of a single character. (One key phrase in the story's second sentence cues the selective mode and distinguishes it from the editorial: "for all of them." The "them" really functions as would "us" in an I-narrative.) Indeed, after Joel is introduced in the story's second paragraph, nothing that happens from that point is, or would be, beyond his knowledge or witness—including the analysis of the thoughts and motives of Miles and Stella. What occurs, then, as intrinsic to the selective-omniscient mode when properly rendered, is a merging of the writer's voice and vision with those of his central character. The story is told in the third person, but it assumes the impact and the immediacy of a first-person narrative. The third person voice also retains the author's flexibility to provide appropriate stage directions and to probe into his characters' psyches. This merger of external and internal perspectives is further enhanced by the story's increasing emphasis on dramatic scene and dialogue as it proceeds. Virtually all of Sections IV and V are dialogue, interrupted only by brief passages of exposition. The natural impact of dialogue, the "dramatic" effect, even carries over into the exposition so that it registers as internal monologue. Note this passage as an example:
Joel thought of Miles, his sad and desperate face in the office two days before. In the awful silence of his death all was clear about him. He was the only American-born director with both an interesting temperament and an artistic conscience. Meshed in an industry, he had paid with his ruined nerves for having no resilience, no healthy cynicism, no refuge—only a pitiful and precarious escape.
With only minimal editorial revision—merely change Joel to "I"—the passage could easily be transmuted into an I-narrative.
Concomitant with the story's portrayal of film people and its dramatic structure, much of its aesthetic method depends upon the visual, both as the reader's attention is focused upon the characters' eyes and in the visual exchanges among the characters. With the exception of a few bright splashes of color—especially the red-gold and ice-blue associated with Stella—the story's most vivid imagery is reserved for eyes. I count about forty direct references in the story either to eyes or to actions of sight: seeing, looking, watching, staring, etc. Whatever the clothing, manners, physical structure, or presence of the characters, their eyes betray the deepest truth about them.
Joel is initially described as "a handsome man with … pleasant cow-brown eyes," but these are soon to be shadowed by "dark circles of fatigue." This indication of stress belies the cheerful and dashing clothes Joel has donned for the occasion. Only one small imperfection mars Stella's beauty, "the tired eye-lid that always drooped a little over one eye," but this functions subliminally as the physical blemish which foreshadows her later psychic collapse. Similarly, the reader's first sight of Miles Calman shows him with "the unhappiest eyes Joel ever saw." In the next look at Miles, a few pages later, the extent of his weariness—a premonition of his death—is defined as "life-tired, with his lids sagging." Most vivid of all are the two images used to describe the hostility of Joel's audience at his disastrous parlor game. As he begins, "the Great Lover of the screen glared at him with an eye as keen as the eye of a potato," and as he concludes in failure, "the Great Lover, his eye hard and empty as the eye of a needle, shouted 'Boo! Boo!"' Another, more sympathetic, evocation of movie people is conveyed by the depiction of bit-players, "the yellow-stained faces of pretty women, their eyes all melancholy and startling with mascara." Compositely, what Fitzgerald saw in the eyes of these Hollywood folk was indeed depressing.
As one aspect of its style that I find reminiscent of Hemingway in such stories as "Hills Like White Elephants," some passages of "Crazy Sunday" also take such words and phrases as "look," "look out," "see," and "eyes" and build them into unobtrusive little runs of incremental repetition, playing off on the varying usages and shadings of meaning inherent in the colloquial language. The first party scene is one such. It happens again early in the attempted seduction scene, as Joel is initially encouraged to approach Stella by a visual transaction in the theater: "Once he turned and looked at her and she looked back at him, smiling and meeting his eyes for as long as he wanted." As the scene progresses, it continues to utilize the visual dimension with unusual emphasis:
On into the dark foliage of Beverly Hills that flamed as eucalyptus by day, Joel saw only the flash of a white face under his own, the arc of her shoulder. She pulled away suddenly and looked up at him.
"Your eyes are like your mother's," she said. "I used to have a scrap book full of pictures of her."
"Your eyes are like your own and not a bit like any other eyes," he answered.
Something made Joel look out into the grounds as they went into the house, as if Miles were lurking in the shrubbery.
Clearly, Joel's attraction to Stella depends not on what she is but upon what he sees, a combination of visual appeal and sexual desire, epitomized in this: "Still as he looked at her, the warmth and softness of her body thawing her cold blue costume, he knew she was one of the things he would always regret."
I find another Hemingwayesque touch in the deliberate omission of action which is then cued by the dialogue. The first example is visual, capitalizing on a look in Joel's eyes and a facial expression that Stella sees but we do not:
There she was, in a dress like ice-water, made in a thousand pale-blue pieces, with icicles trickling at the throat. He started forward.
"So you like my dress?"
The second delicately omits certain physical details and gestures of the failed seduction:
"Come sit beside me." Joel urged her.
It was early. And it was still a few minutes short of midnight a half-hour later, when Joel walked to the cold hearth, and said tersely:
"Meaning that you haven't any curiosity about me?"
"Not at all. You attract me a lot and you know it. The point is that I suppose I really do love Miles."
"And tonight I feel uneasy about everything."
Between "early" and "And," thirty minutes' worth of important but undescribed activity and conversation occur yet are not communicated explicitly to the reader. Fitzgerald trusted our imaginations. Reinforcing the dialogue and its conspicuous omission, there is the striking objective correlative "cold hearth," should anyone have missed the point. Apparently there is neither a fire in the fireplace of the Calman mansion at this precise moment during the California Christmas season nor for Joel a sufficiently warm response from his ravishing hostess.
The story's demands upon our sensitivity and capacity for attention characterize Fitzgerald's most serious and accomplished work. However, as an artistic performance, "Crazy Sunday" does not immediately impress us as a spectacular or dazzling work of fiction. Stylistically, even its most eloquent passages fall well short of the bravura effects of The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night. It lacks the complex symbolism and intricate stucture of "Absolution" (1924), the poignancy of "Winter Dreams" (1922), the elegant grace of "The Rich Boy" (1926). Its language is unlyrical, taut, compressed, sometimes harsh; its imagery is spare. Because of its unobtrusive method and its apparent dependence upon the verisimilitude of time, place, and character, only with difficulty does one break free of the temptation to read "Crazy Sunday" as disguised autobiography or embellished case history—and all the more when so full a dossier is available on the story's genesis and real-life prototypes. For example, Dwight Taylor's generally affectionate reminiscence of Fitzgerald in Hollywood concludes with a brusque but temptingly persuasive summary of the story which derives from his knowledge of Fitzgerald's personal tragedy and how the writer had manipulated actual events. Taylor says: "The truth is turned topsy-turvy, as in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. … Just as Jupiter is said to have taken on a variety of disguises … in order to gain access to a woman, so did Scott project himself into the skin of others in an attempt to enjoy himself without the concomitant of guilt." Psychologically, this analogy may be true in part about Fitzgerald the man. It may even apply to some phases of the mysterious process by which life is "projected" into art. But it assumes insanity or illness or atavistic impulse as the motivating force.
I would argue to the contrary. Whatever its primal or subconscious sources, Fitzgerald's best fiction demonstrates not his illnesses and failures but the manner in which he overcame them. Certainly for the reader the triumph of "Crazy Sunday" finally does not consist of its success in exorcising particular demons of bad behavior or memory but rather in its sanity as art: the craft, economy, and symmetry of the whole. Finally, the story reminds us that perhaps of all American writers F. Scott Fitzgerald best exemplifies Heine's dictum, "Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen/Mach ich die kleinen Lieder."
Sheldon Grebstein, "The Sane Method of 'Crazy Sunday,"' in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.
Robert A. Martin
In the following essay excerpt, Martin discusses the place of "Crazy Sunday" in relation to Fitzerald's other works of the same period.
As Arthur Mizener has remarked in The Far Side of Paradise, the movies fascinated Fitzgerald, "as they must fascinate any artist, because, as a visual art, they have such exciting possibilities of greatness, for all their actual shoddiness, and because they offered Fitzgerald what always drew him, a Diamond-as-Big-as-the-Ritz scale of operation, a world 'bigger and grander' than the ordinary world." According to Henry Dan Piper, scriptwriting offered little challenge to Fitzgerald, but "he had always been fascinated by the motion-picture industry as literary subject matter." This would have been especially true for Fitzgerald around 1924 since movies were not only becoming established as the popular medium of the day, they were also becoming an art form. Fitzgerald, says Piper, had foreseen the movies as art and at one time had suggested a film about the craft of moviemaking:
As far back as 1920, so he said, he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade D. W. Griffith that the craft of movie making itself was a wonderful subject for a picture. According to Fitzgerald, Griffith had laughed at him, but the success of Merton of the Movies not long afterwards proved Fitzgerald right.
With the publication of The Great Gatsby on April 10, 1925, followed by its disappointing sales record, Fitzgerald would have had every reason to look toward Hollywood if his next novel would not support him. Although The Great Gatsby contains relatively few references to Hollywood and the movies, enough remain to suggest that Fitzgerald—even after three extensive revisions—was using the medium as a background reference for the novel. Gatsby's dream of Daisy is one that must be created out of myth and metaphor, and sustained, assembled, and directed much like a silent movie in which events and emotion are symbolized through mimicry. In one such scene, Gatsby uses a movie actress and her director to impress Daisy with his ability to collect the famous and the celebrated at his parties.
"Perhaps you know that lady," Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white-plum tree. Tom and Daisy stared, with that particularly unreal feeling that accompanies the recognition of a hitherto ghostly celebrity of the movies.
"She's lovely," said Daisy.
"The man bending over her is her director."
From Fitzgerald's correspondence with Harold Ober, it is clear that he was anticipating the movie sale of Gatsby as early as May 2, 1925. It is even possible that he wrote Gatsby with the intention of making it a filmable novel. On May 2, he wrote to Ober: "By this time next week … it'll be obvious both whether I was a fool not to sell it serially and also whether the movies are interested. The minimum price would be $5000.00. If it goes to say fifty thousand copies I should want at least $10,000, and for anything over that, in the best-seller class I think I should get $25,000.00.…" Before the film rights were finally sold to Famous-Lasky-Paramount in late 1926, Fitzgerald received a telegram from Ober on April 16, 1920, concerning a possible offer:
gatsby picture possible offer forty five thousand advise acceptance cable quick ober
On the same day Fitzgerald cabled his reply:
accept offer fitzgerald
The $45,000 offer for film rights to Gatsby did not materialize, however; out of a total income for 1926 of $25,686.05, slightly more than half ($13,500) came from the film rights to his most-praised novel. By comparison, Fitzgerald's income from book sales for 1926 amounted to $2,033.20.
As Matthew J. Bruccoli has detailed in his meticulous study, The Composition of "Tender Is the Night," Fitzgerald had been working unsuccessfully on his fourth novel since the late summer of 1925. In an early version, dealing with matricide as a theme, Fitzgerald had attempted to portray a young motion picture filmcutter, Francis Melarky, who later evolved into Lew Kelly, a motion picture director. It was not until sometime in 1930 that the novel's final version emerged with Dick and Nicole Diver as the main characters and only Rosemary Hoyt faintly reminiscent of the earlier versions and the Hollywood connection. When the Fitzgeralds returned from Europe in December, 1926, Fitzgerald was offered a contract by United Artists to work on a Constance Talmadge film titled Lipstick. Fitzgerald surprisingly accepted the offer, which involved rather minimal terms ($3,500 in advance and an additional $8,500 if the film was made).
Fitzgerald's sudden decision to go to Hollywood in January, 1927, very likely served three purposes simultaneously. It provided an immediate addition to his dwindling finances; it would possibly help to solve the writing problems of the Melarky-Kelly version of Tender by adding authenticity through direct observation of the Hollywood scene that Fitzgerald lacked; and it allowed him to take that first step after he came home from Europe—to "go to Hollywood and learn the movie business." Fitzgerald's script was rejected, and the movie was never made. Nevertheless, his first trip to Hollywood brought him into the studios through his acquaintances with a seventeen-year-old actress, Lois Moran, with whom he fell in love, and Irving Thalberg, head of MGM. Both of them were to influence his future work, and both helped Fitzgerald to experience Hollywood firsthand. As a more immediate result of the trip, two short stories, "Jacob's Ladder" and "Magnetism," both written in 1927, are the first indications that Fitzgerald began to take Hollywood seriously as theme and subject. The 1927 trip was as much symbolic as substantive, and if not quite paradise, it did at least place Fitzgerald on the inside of the studio gates.
"Jacob's Ladder" and "Magnetism" deserve a higher place among Fitzgerald's short stories than has generally been accorded them by critics and scholars. "Jacob's Ladder" in particular is an important transitional story that remained uncollected until 1973, at which time it appeared in Bits of Paradise. To Robert Sklar, who saw the story's merit as early as 1967, it marked "Fitzgerald's new career as a professional writer of short stories … but it also squandered, by its very quality and breadth, nearly all of his newly acquired material." Sklar is impressed with "Jacob's Ladder" not only as a Fitzgerald story in itself but as representing through its main character, Jacob Booth, both an advance and an extension of Fitzgerald's previous protagonists. Jacob, Sklar notes, "is Fitzgerald's old hero in a new form; in a remarkable way he sets a leitmotif for the next seven years of Fitzgerald's fiction, culminating in Tender Is the Night."
"Fitzgerald's criticism of Hollywood is not of an industry but of an attitude, a veneer of sophistication and acquired appearance that is fundamentally a fake."
In his biography of Fitzgerald, Andrew Turnbull describes the brief romance that took place in Hollywood in 1927 between Fitzgerald and Lois Moran as "very pure and idealistic—never anything more than a delicate flirtation." At the time, Fitzgerald was thirty-one and Lois Moran was seventeen. Turnbull was apparently unaware of "Jacob's Ladder" and says that as a result of their flirtation, "Fitzgerald put his first emotion for her into a story called 'Magnetism,' where Lois is Helen Avery, the young movie star who causes the happily married George Hannaford to waver." Although Sklar does not mention Lois Moran in his discussion of "Magnetism" and Turnbull does not mention "Jacob's Ladder" at all, the two stories actually derive from the same incident and emotion and should be viewed as early fictional harvests from Fitzgerald's first trip to Hollywood.
Both "Jacob's Ladder" and "Magnetism" were entered as "Stripped and Permanently Buried" in Fitzgerald's Ledger following their initial magazine publications, and passages from both appear in his later work, particularly in Tender during the Rosemary-Dick Diver scenes. Turnbull notwithstanding, it was not "Magnetism" wherein Fitzgerald put his first emotion for Lois Moran but in "Jacob's Ladder," where Jacob Booth, a wealthy but bored New Yorker, meets Jenny Delahanty and decides to transform her into a movie star. After changing her name to Jenny Prince and introducing her to a movie director, he falls in love with her in a passive, romantically apathetic way, and when she becomes successful as an actress, she rejects him for an actor. Jacob is left with only her image on a movie screen. In one sense, the story is a modified version of Pygmalion, stripped down from Bernard Shaw's play and transferred to a new circumstance and Hollywood setting. In quite another sense, it is Fitzgerald using Hollywood as a metaphor for his own romantic attraction to Lois Moran (Jenny is sixteen when Jacob first meets her) and as a fictional equivalent for his own sublimated passion.
The first time Jacob kisses her, he hesitates tentatively and is "chilled by the innocence of her kiss, the eyes that at the moment of contact looked beyond him into the darkness of the night, the darkness of the world." Later, after her transformation into a professional actress, Jacob, who is now thirty-three, visits Jenny in Hollywood; she is now seventeen:
But at seventeen, months are years and Jacob perceived a change in her; in no sense was she a child any longer. There were fixed things in her mind—not distractions, for she was instinctively too polite for that, but simply things there. No longer was the studio a lark and a divine accident; no longer "for a nickel I wouldn't turn up tomorrow." It was part of her life. Circumstances were stiffening into a career which went on independently of her casual hours.
That Jenny Prince is modeled on Lois Moran is less important critically than her obvious reincarnation in Fitzgerald's later work as Helen Avery in "Magnetism," Rosemary Hoyt in Tender, and Cecilia in The Last Tycoon. On Sunday in "Jacob's Ladder," Jacob and Jenny go to three Hollywood parties because, as Jenny tells him, "that's what everybody does on a Sunday afternoon," thereby anticipating the theme and setting of "Crazy Sunday," which Fitzgerald would write in January, 1932, following his second trip to Hollywood as a screenwriter for MGM.
Among several other minor complications that Fitzgerald arranges for Jacob and Jenny, a shyster lawyer named Scharnhorst attempts to blackmail Jenny for $20,000 but is successfully disposed of through Jacob's intervention. This is the same plot device that Fitzgerald uses in "Magnetism" and that he had outlined for a projected episode in The Last Tycoon, in which Cecilia's father and Monroe Stahr are struggling for control of the studio. In this unwritten scene, Brady was to use his knowledge of Stahr's affair with Kathleen, while Stahr was to retaliate by threatening to reveal that Brady had arranged for the murder of his mistress's husband. Matthew J. Bruccoli, in his recent work, "The Last of the Novelists": F. Scott Fitzgerald and "The Last Tycoon," comments perceptively on the implications of Fitzgerald's numerous drafts and revisions but sees only "Crazy Sunday" as forming immediate background material for The Last Tycoon. It is my belief that "Jacob's Ladder" and "Magnetism" form the nucleus of Fitzgerald's entire Hollywood theme and, along with "Crazy Sunday" and the early Melarky-Kelly versions of Tender, account for nearly all of the material, characters, and plot of The Last Tycoon.
In "Magnetism," for example, Fitzgerald made his story more integral to his theme by moving the setting to Hollywood entirely (as opposed to New York and Hollywood in "Jacob's Ladder") and by concentrating on the portrayal of George Hannaford, an actor who attracts women without effort or design. Many of Fitzgerald's first impressions of Hollywood appear in this story, and as George struggles to keep his marriage intact by fending off the unwanted attentions of several women, we see what Fitzgerald as novelist would have seen through intensely detailed scenes describing Hollywood and the movie studios. In the two passages below, Fitzgerald follows George Hannaford as he drives from his home to the studio. These passages are not only stylistically graceful, they reflect a detailed observation based on a strong sensory impression of atmosphere and place. They are as cinematically visual as anything Fitzgerald ever wrote.
George left and drove out an interminable boulevard which narrowed into a long, winding concrete road and rose into the hilly country behind. Somewhere in the vast emptiness a group of buildings appeared, a barnlike structure, a row of offices, a large but quick restaurant and half a dozen small bungalows. The chauffeur dropped Hannaford at the main entrance. He went in and passed through various enclosures, each marked off by swinging gates and inhabited by a stenographer.
The studio is seen from without and within to form a complementary perspective of Hannaford in his life and work. Following his arrival at the office, he and Schroeder (a producer) walk to the studio to watch a movie in production. As they enter "a little door in the big blank wall of the studio building," they are absorbed "into its half darkness." Fitzgerald liked this passage so much that he incorporated it virtually intact into Chapter I of Tender Is the Night:
Here and there figures spotted the dim twilight, figures that turned up white faces to George Hannaford, like souls in purgatory watching the passage of a half-god through. Here and there were whispers and soft voices, and, apparently from afar, the gentle tremolo of a small organ. Turning the corner made by some flats, they came upon the white crackling glow of a stage with two people motionless upon it.
An actor in evening clothes, his shirt front, collar and cuffs tinted a brilliant pink, made as though to get chairs for them, but they shook their heads and stood watching. For a long while nothing happened on the stage—no one moved. A row of lights went off with a savage hiss, went on again. The plaintive tap of a hammer begged admission to nowhere in the distance; a blue face appeared among the blinding lights above and called something unintelligible into the upper blackness.
Edwin T. Arnold has noted that Fitzgerald gave Dick Diver "some of Jacob's more unfortunate characteristics" and that the title of "Jacob's Ladder" suggests a reexamination of Gatsby's ladder, which "foreshadows the theme's further development in Tender Is the Night." In addition, Aaron Latham observes that when Rosemary Hoyt tells Dick Diver, "Oh, we're such actors—you and I," she is repeating precisely what Helen Avery tells George Hannaford in "Magnetism." Hannaford and Helen Avery are so totally within the movie industry that the story and plot have no other significance. In placing "Magnetism" and "Crazy Sunday" entirely in Hollywood, Fitzgerald was writing not only about a profession and popular entertainment but about an entire way of life that could not possibly be overstated—one that both defined and created in its life and work the myths and illusions of American middle-class society, which in Fitzgerald's vision of America equals the American Dream itself.
By 1931, Fitzgerald's "next novel" was still unrealized, Zelda was in the midst of a serious mental breakdown, and America was in the midst of the Depression. His short story price had risen to $4,000, while his total income in 1930 had climbed to $33,090. Though his expenses were high, Fitzgerald's second trip to Hollywood, in November, 1931, cannot be said to have resulted from financial necessity. In 1929, his income had totalled $32,448, of which $27,000 came from writing short stories, $900 from "Talkie Rights" to The Beautiful and Damned and $31.77 from all his books. In 1930, his short story sales accounted for $25,200, while his income from all books was $99. In brief, it is necessary to look elsewhere for Fitzgerald's reason for returning to Hollywood in 1931 to work on a script for MGM for six weeks on a $1,200-a-week contract.
During the four years since Fitzgerald had been there in 1927, the movies had changed from silents to sound. Given his 1936 statement in "Handle with Care" that "As long past as 1930, I had a hunch that the talkies would make even the best selling novelist as archaic as silent pictures," his trouble in writing the Melarky-Kelly version of Tender between 1926 and 1930, and his statement to Perkins that if his next novel would not support him he would "go to Hollywood and learn the movie business," his decision to return for a second try appears in a different perspective. In 1931, Fitzgerald would hardly have considered himself a "best selling novelist"; indeed, it is surprising that he could think of himself as a novelist at all, since the major source of his income after Paradise came from writing short stories for the "slicks" and from the sale of film rights and scripts to Hollywood. In that year, Hollywood needed writers who could write dialogue as well as continuity, and Fitzgerald's reputation as a popular writer was very high among producers and directors.
"Crazy Sunday" (written in January, 1932) is one of the finest stories Fitzgerald ever wrote and, like the earlier stories "Jacob's Ladder" and "Magnetism," was derived from his experiences during the six weeks he spent working for MGM and Irving Thalberg. The theme of the story derives from Fitzgerald's observation of the tragic potential that he saw existing beneath the glamor and publicity of the studios. His alter-ego, Joel Coles, is both observer and participant (as was Fitzgerald) in the story of Miles Calman, who is based on Thalberg. Joel Coles, again like Fitzgerald, is a recently arrived New York import to Hollywood and is writing continuity at Calman's studio: "He was twenty-eight and not yet broken by Hollywood. He had had what were considered nice assignments since his arrival six months before and he submitted his scenes and sequences with enthusiasm. He referred to himself modestly as a hack but really did not think of it that way."
Like the Sunday afternoon parties in "Jacob's Ladder," which Hollywood people attend because "it's sort of the thing to do.… Otherwise you don't see anybody except the people on your own lot, and that's narrow," Joel Coles attends a party given by Miles and Stella Calman at which he makes a fool of himself, and is later drawn into the Calmans' social orbit and personal lives almost inadvertently. Fitzgerald's insight into the social and political under-currents of Hollywood allowed him to merge the perceptions of a detached observer like Colts with the insider's view of Hollywood as an industry. In the two passages below, these dual perspectives flow in and out of the story to create not merely a point-of-view but a total effect, one in which Hollywood becomes not just a place but a microcosm of American society, morals, and manners. At the Calmans' party, Joel tells Stella:
"Everybody's afraid, aren't they?" he said.… "Everybody watches for everybody else's blunders, or tries to make sure they're with people that'll do them credit. Of course that's not true in your house," he covered himself hastily. "I just meant generally in Hollywood."
Between Sundays, however, which Fitzgerald says was "not a day but rather a gap between two other days," work in the studio continues in sharp contrast to the craziness of Sunday afternoon digressions into the "gossip and scandal" of Hollywood:
With Monday the week resumed its workaday rhythm, in sharp contrast to the theoretical discussions, the gossip and scandal of Sunday; there was the endless detail of script revision—"Instead of a lousy dissolve, we can leave her voice on the sound track and cut to a medium shot of the taxi from Bell's angle or we can simply pull the camera back to include the station, hold it a minute and then pan to the row of taxis"—by Monday afternoon Joel had again forgotten that people whose business was to provide entertainment were ever privileged to be entertained.
Thus the two Hollywoods, one composed of Sunday afternoons at Miles Calman's house—built, as Fitzgerald says, for "great emotional moments"—and the other of the Hollywood bourgeoisie of film technicians, craftsmen, and extras, are portrayed as mutually exclusive elements of the film industry. The "other" Hollywood of the story congregates for its emotional moments at the studio commissary during the week. Following his disgrace at the Calmans' party on Sunday, Joel enters the studio restaurant the following day:
… he found a gloomy consolation in staring at the group at the next table, the sad, lovely Siamese twins, the mean dwarfs, the proud giant from the circus picture. But looking beyond at the yellow-stained faces of pretty women, their eyes all melancholy and startling with mascara, their ball gowns garish in full day, he saw a group who had been at Calman's and winced.
As intentionally grotesque as the group in this passage might appear, they are no less "sad" or "melancholy" than Stella Calman herself. Though Stella and Miles live in a Beverly Hills mansion looking "out toward the Pacific … the American Riviera and all that," Fitzgerald's criticism of Hollywood is not of an industry but of an attitude, a veneer of sophistication and acquired appearance that is fundamentally a fake. As Stella gradually reveals some embarrassing details of her life with Miles, Joel begins to see her insecurity and superficiality emerging during a conversation in her home:
Under the high ceilings the situation seemed more dignified and tragic. It was an eerie bright night with the dark very clear outside of all the windows and Stella all rose-gold raging and crying around the room. Joel did not quite believe in picture actresses' grief. They have other preoccupations—they are beautiful rose-gold figures blown full of life by writers and directors, and after hours they sit around and talk in whispers and giggle innuendoes, and the ends of many adventures flow through them.
Sometimes he pretended to listen and instead thought how well she was got up—sleek breeches with a matched set of legs in them, an Italian-colored sweater with a little high neck, and a short brown chamois coat. He couldn't decide whether she was an imitation of an English lady or an English lady was an imitation of her. She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and the most blatant of impersonations.
"Crazy Sunday" is important not only for its realistic view of Hollywood life but also because it anticipates The Last Tycoon through the character of Miles Calman, to reappear in altered form as Monroe Stahr in Tycoon, both of whom are variations on Irving Thalberg. Like Calman, Stahr was to be killed in a plane crash and similarly possesses "both an interesting temperament and an artistic conscience." Like Joel Coles in "Crazy Sunday," Cecilia Brady in Tycoon is "of the movies but not in them," which echoes close Fitzgerald's description of Rosemary Hoyt in Tender when he says, "she was In the movies but not at all At them."
Fitzgerald received only $200 for "Crazy Sunday," as opposed to his usual price of $4,000. The story was turned down by Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Saturday Evening Post "on the grounds that its publication might anger the movie studios and jeopardize these magazines' lucrative movie-advertising accounts." After the story appeared, Fitzgerald received a letter from Edmund Wilson, who told him: "I thought your story in The Mercury was swell—wish you would do something more about Hollywood, which everybody who knows anything about it is either scared or bribed not to tell about or have convinced themselves is all right."
"Crazy Sunday" was the last, certainly one of the best, Hollywood stories that Fitzgerald wrote until he began The Last Tycoon in 1939. As Matthew J. Bruccoli has written in his introduction to As Ever, Scott Fitz—, "It is impossible to understand Fitzgerald's career without understanding his feelings about money." Numerous Fitzgerald critics have consistently overlooked this constant element in Fitzgerald's life and have attributed his final sojourn in Hollywood to a simple need for more money, an artistic retreat, or a depletion of the talent that had sustained him as a writer of popular fiction between 1920 and 1936. While there may be some validity in all of these views, Fitzgerald's own ledger is perhaps the most revealing source, together with his correspondence with Harold Ober, his literary agent. Between 1931 and 1936, Fitzgerald's income declined from an all-time high in 1931 of $37,599 to an all-time low in 1930 of $10,180.91. In 1931 he earned $31,500 from the sale of nine short stories and $5,400 (after commissions) from his work for MGM; his total income from book sales in the same year amounted to $100. By 1936, however, magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and Collier's were returning his short stories with the comment that they needed a different kind of story or that they were "too crazy … weak … and improbable." One editor suggested that a rejected story was not a typical "Fitzgerald piece," while another commented on a revision: "The new version of Scott Fitzgerald's story is a vast improvement over the first one. The writing has all the old Fitzgerald quality, but the plot values and the psychology are a bit hazy. For that reason, we must regretfully return the story." One month later, in July, 1937, Fitzgerald left for Hollywood and $1,000 a week as a scriptwriter for MGM.
As I have suggested throughout this article, Fitzgerald always was a commercial writer and yet chose to think of himself as primarily a novelist. If his novels and short story collections did not meet his extravagant style of living, there was always another short story to write for the popular magazines or a quick movie script for Hollywood to make up the difference. After 1931, however, partly due to the Depression, partly due to his own inability to write stories the magazines wanted, and partly due to his own emotional depression, Fitzgerald's short story market simply disappeared. If he had become too closely identified with the Jazz Age or the persona of "The Crack-Up" articles (which he later disowned), the ultimate cause for his move to Hollywood was that as a writer he had no place else to go that would provide him with the income he thought he needed and deserved. The only place left was Hollywood, his third and final source of substantial earnings. By the time Fitzgerald settled in at the Garden of Allah hotel in Hollywood in July, 1937, his 1925 projection to Maxwell Perkins had come full circle. He had, indeed, discovered that not only would his "next novel" not support him, but that what he had earlier considered as "trash" in his short stories was no longer wanted either. He had at last gone to Hollywood "to learn the movie business."
Of the fiction written during his last years in Hollywood, The Last Tycoon and "The Last Kiss" (written in 1940, published in 1940, published in 1949—probably a rejected fragment from the novel), taken together with a handful of the Pat Hobby stories, clearly indicate that Fitzgerald was primarily a novelist and short story writer who had the misfortune to run out of money and material at the same time. Because of its recurring presence in Fitzgerald's work as myth and metaphor, Hollywood is of primary importance in any critical assessment of his work. If Fitzgerald's life ended there on the far side of paradise, it is nevertheless Hollywood-in-Fitzgerald that helps to place his best fiction into perspective as contemporary chronicles of a particular time and place. As Henry Dan Piper has observed, "In Hollywood Fitzgerald, at any rate, had found his greatest theme." This is quite possibly what Fitzgerald meant when he wrote in a letter to his daughter during the winter of 1939: "Sorry you got the impression that I'm quitting the movies—they are always there."
Robert A. Martin, "Hollywood in Fitzgerald: After Paradise," in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.
In the following essay excerpt, Prigozy examines the development of Fitzgerald's short fiction and the evolution of his style.
A writer's failures may tell us more about his art than his successes. Certainly, unpublished works may better reveal unfinished struggles than the whole or partial successes that manage to find their way into print. This observation is particularly applicable to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who during his lifetime devoted inordinate energy to getting as much of his work widely published as he could, who always wrote with a steady eye on remunerative, large-circulation magazines. Unlike his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, whose large body of unpublished efforts his widow is now gradually and with much fanfare allowing into print, Fitzgerald left relatively little: some movie scripts, early drafts of some novels, and a handful of short stories and short-story fragments.
Fitzgerald's unpublished stories are particularly illuminating on several counts: through their glaring weaknesses they illustrate more clearly perhaps than anything he ever wrote, the technical problems that plagued him throughout his career, in the novels as well as in the shorter works. They reflect too the acute emotional difficulties he faced in the years following a serious physical collapse. Their chief value, however, is the light they throw on his developing style in the last years of his life. For the unpublished stories are truly transitional pieces in Fitzgerald's struggle to find new forms of expression for his most mature vision of American life and society. He was forced to recognize that many of his old fictional practices were moribund. The romantic rhetoric that had for fifteen years hauntingly underscored the tragic dissolution of his heroes no longer came easily. But while his interests never flagged and his perceptions never dulled, his formidable artistic task in the late thirties was to express them in a manner consonant with the sobriety of the Depression era and the recognition of his own senescence. These unpublished stories—all of them from his middle to late period—reveal Fitzgerald in the midst of a struggle with the right hold of the past, the dead weight of facile plot tricks, now stale and unresilient. Although failures, they tell us more than his commercial successes, for they indicate that his unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was not simply a final, inexplicable resurgence of creative energy, but the product of five years of effort that came to a tragically abortive end just as success was within reach. This study of the following eight unpublished stories offers a concentrated critical view of Fitzgerald's least productive years and a new appreciation of the troubled exertions that led to his final triumph.
First we should survey briefly the development of Fitzgerald's short fiction. The apprentice stories are amateur expressions of subjects and themes Fitzgerald would treat with far greater virtuosity five or ten years later. Several were, in fact, revised and published in commerical magazines or interpolated in whole or in part, usually without revision, into This Side of Paradise (1920). Despite youthful romanticism and multi-episodic clumsiness, they illustrate the author's facility in plotting, his professional approach to problems of scene construction and point of view, his lifelong concern for nuance of expression. Like most of his major fiction, they rely more heavily on setting and social fabric than on complexity of incident.
"In his middle period (1929–35), the plots revert to the apprentice level, but the subjects are more serious and wide-ranging than they were in his most productive years.…"
Fitzgerald's best stories date from his early years as a successful writer, from 1920 through 1928. ("Babylon Revisited," 1931, and "Crazy Sunday," 1932, are the only really first-rate stories written after this period.) They rarely depart from the traditional nineteenth-century popular form with its rich social milieu, leisurely narrative, gradual character development, and, notably in Fitzgerald's work, evocative romantic rhetoric. (Fitzgerald's greatest story, "Babylon Revisited," combines a multi-episodic plot and unhurried characterization with economy of language, narrative simplicity, and rich sensory impressions. Fitzgerald would return to elements of this style years later.) In too many of his partial successes of this period, as he describes the antics of golden flappers and idealistic young philosophers, the idea seems subservient to the style as love-conquers-all, sometimes with verbal precision and elegance, sometimes with extravagant (and banal) flights of romantic rhetoric.
In his middle period (1929–35), the plots revert to the apprentice level, but the subjects are more serious and wide-ranging than they were in his most productive years: problems of marriage in middle age, unfulfilled lives, the generation gap, erosion of old values, the new morality, responsibility for others, the meaning of the past—both for the individual and for America—and the drift toward death. This is a transition time for Fitzgerald; with his mind on the social upheavals accompanying the Depression and on his own private misery, he rarely experiments with form. His best work during the mid-thirties is confessional prose, e.g., "The Crack-Up" (1936). His late stories, perhaps in imitation of these essays, are frequently undistinguishable from the prose sketches he began turning out for Esquire from 1936 on, when the big commercial magazines were rejecting his short stories. Fitzgerald's major fictional problem in this period, as both unpublished and published stories reveal, is the organization of plot: how to cast new subjects into tried, familiar forms. Thus, typical stories of these years are strangely discordant—serious statements forced out of trivial situations, overly complex yet predictable plots, trite and mechanical resolutions. More than any others, they earned for Fitzgerald the reputation as "hack," but viewed in the context of his whole career, they display not so much his diminished talent as his failure to adapt new techniques to new interests. The unpublished stories, with the exceptions of "Dearly Beloved" and "Thank You for the Light," are characteristic of the middle rather than the late stories.
Fitzgerald did not solve his technical problems until the year preceding his death, and then only fitfully in the stories. Arthur Mizener's commentary accompanying the previously unpublished "Dearly Beloved" in the New York Times on August 20, 1969, points up the "special" quality of Fitzgerald's late stories, "News of Paris …" (1939–40, published 1947) and "The Lost Decade" (1939): they "evoke a judgment, not a world." The vivid scene rather than the whole story lingers in our memory; with a few selected details, usually in atmosphere or decor, Fitzgerald creates a mood against which the dramatic situation stands out in relief. In "News of Paris," merely two lines, "It was quiet in the room. The peacocks in the draperies stirred in the April wind," provide the ideal background for a brief but haunting retrospective account of dissolution, apathy, and tired sexuality in the pre-Depression boom. Published in Esquire from 1936 to his death, the late stories are typically elliptical, unadorned, curiously enervated, often relying exclusively on dialogue rather than on the expansive, adjectival narrative so prominent in his earlier efforts. They are, in fact, barely stories at all—rather, brief sketches or vignettes, anecdotal, dramatized, minimally plotted, and, for Fitzgerald, unmistakably experimental. The Last Tycoon combines the compression of the late stories with the spare yet evocative prose that frequently marks Nick Carraway's narrative in The Great Gatsby.
The length of Fitzgerald's stories parallels their chronological development. Apprentice stories are anywhere from 800 to 8,000 words; during the next ten to fifteen years, stories of 10,000 words are not uncommon. Late stories are, as noted above, brief, usually 500 to 2,000 words, the result partly of Esquire's stringent space limitations, partly of Fitzgerald's experimental techniques. His stories are complicated as a rule, with three to ten parts, plus epilogue, and three or more episodes subdivided according to shifts in scene, chronology, setting, and dialogue. From first to last, they are distinguished by delicate nuances of language, manners, and milieu that are often better than the stories as a whole. Although the unpublished stories fail even on the level of "slick" entertainment, they too offer, if only occasionally, glimpses of those delicate details that reveal the author at his best.
Ruth Prigozy, "The Unpublished Stories: Fitzgerald in His Final Stage," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 2, April 1974, pp. 69–90.
Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 50, 51, 58, 71.
Best, Gary Dean, The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s, Praeger Publishers, 1993, pp. 73–83.
Diorio, Carl, "Valenti Valedictory View an Eye-Opener," in Variety, March 29, 2004.
Eble, Kenneth, "F. Scott Fitzgerald: Chapter 7: Stories and Articles, 1926–34," in Twayne's United States Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall, 1999; originally published as "Chapter 7: Stories and Articles, 1926–34," in F. Scott Fitzgerald, rev. ed., Twayne's United States Authors Series, No. 36, Twayne, 1977.
"F. Scott Fitzgerald," in Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2004.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, "Crazy Sunday," in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Collier Books, 1986, pp. 404, 410, 412, 415.
Grebstein, Sheldon, "The Sane Method of 'Crazy Sunday,"' in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, p. 283.
"Irving G. Thalberg," in International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 4, Writers and Production Artists, St. James Press, 2000.
Kazin, Alfred, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, World Publishing, 1951, p. 108.
Pelzer, Linda C., Student Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greenwood Press, 2000, p. 26.
Prigozy, Ruth, "F. Scott Fitzgerald," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 86, American Short-Story Writers, 1910–1945, First Series, edited by Bobby Ellen Kimbel, Gale Research, 1989, pp. 99–123.
Sapienza, Madeline, The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Vidal, Gore, "Scott's Case," in New York Review of Books, Vol. 27, No. 7, May 1, 1980, pp. 12–20.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection, Scribner, 1995.
Edited by Fitzgerald expert Matthew J. Bruccoli, this collection contains forty-three of Fitzgerald's short stories. In his selections and introductions, Bruccoli makes a case for Fitzgerald's stature as an important short story writer.
French, Warren, ed., The Thirties, Everett/Edwards, 1967.
Students interested in reading more about Fitzgerald's life and work in Hollywood will be interested in the chapter by Jonas Spatz titled, "Fitzgerald, Hollywood and the Myth of Success." Spatz comments on such works as The Last Tycoon and the Pat Hobby stories, as they relate to the Hollywood phase of the author's career.
Kuehl, Richard, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Focusing on eight of Fitzgerald's hundreds of short stories, this treatment explores the evolution of the author's themes, subjects, and structure in his short fiction.
Tate, Mary Jo, F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work, Facts On File, 1997.
Ideal for students of Fitzgerald's work, this reference includes correspondence, biographical information, work summaries, and critical commentary in an accessible format.
Westbrook, Robert, Intimate Lies: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham: Her Son's Story, HarperCollins, 1995.
While in Hollywood, Fitzgerald had a stormy romance with a columnist named Sheilah Graham. Although she published her memoir about the relationship after Fitzgerald's death, this book (written by her son) seeks to tell the story objectively, culling information from letters, diaries, and other accounts.
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