Monday, February 11, 2008

Read this Yarn


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I've already exhorted readers of Dartlog to read Nick's piece on Fitzgerald once before, but if you haven't made your way over to it, then I hope this post will convince you. Some choice excerpts:

The story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1939 trip to Dartmouth for Winter Carnival is proverbial, even if the best known version has it simply that the novelist got very drunk in Hanover. Even this condensed form has appeal: the man of letters who does not uphold the supposed dignity of his profession is both comic and tragic. Yet an investigation of the Budd Schulberg papers, recently acquired by Dartmouth College Library, reveals a tale that, fleshed out, gains still more gravity and comic appeal.

It’s a yarn that Schulberg ‘36 related many times in publications, at conferences, and in fictional form in his 1950 novel The Disenchanted. Like any drinking story, it seems to alter with each telling to provide maximum entertainment, usually through emphasis but occasionally in presentation of facts. (Did Schulberg really take Fitzgerald to Psi U or simply feint in that direction?) But Schulberg, the acclaimed novelist of What Makes Sammy Run? and Academy Award-winning screenwriter of On the Waterfront, tells it well each time. What follows is the ‘39 bender according to Schulberg, which is drawn from several accounts and rendered using a combination of quotation and paraphrase. His is the controlling view, since he stuck by Fitzgerald more closely than anyone else during their brief excursion.


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[. . .]

“As we got on the plane, we were still talking,” Schulberg recalled, “We were talking about Edmund Wilson, we were talking about communism, we were talking about the people we knew in common, like Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens. All of this was going on and on. And it would have been great fun if we didn’t have this enormous monkey—more like a gorilla—of Winter Carnival on our backs. We got to sipping champagne through the next hour or so; it was very congenial. It was really fun, I thought, and then we cracked the second bottle of champagne. We went on merrily talking and drinking. Every once in a while we would say, ‘You know, by the time we get to Manhattan we’d better have some kind of a line on this Winter Carnival.’ And we tried all kinds of things; we really did try.”

In Manhattan, they stayed at the Warwick Hotel, where they worked for a bit on the story, to no real end. “Scott,” he said, “You’ve written a hundred short stories, and I’ve written a few: I mean between the two of us we should be able to knock out a damn outline for this story.”

“Yes, we will, we will. Don’t worry, pal. We will, we will,” said Fitzgerald.

[. . .]

We now know, of course, that Fitzgerald was not tired but three sheets to the wind.

Having more or less survived the faculty ordeal, the pair proceeded back to the Inn, where Schulberg encouraged Fitzgerald to take an invigorating nap. He lay down on the bottom bunk, and Schulberg, believing Fitzgerald asleep, snuck off to visit some fraternity chums. Sitting at the fraternity bar not long after this escape, Schulberg felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Fitzgerald.

“I don’t know how he got there or found me, but he did. And he looked so totally out of place. He had on his fedora and his overcoat. He was not in any way prepared either in his clothing or his mind for this Winter Carnival weekend.”

Supporting him by the arm, Schulberg walked Fitzgerald out of the house and down Wheelock street. He seemed suddenly to regain his energy and suggested having a drink at Psi U.

“And when we got to the Inn.... I tried to fool Scott. I was trying to get him back in the room. I said, ‘O.K., Scott, here we are,’ and he realized what I was doing and got very mad at me. We had sort of a tussle and we fell down in the snow, kind of rolled in the snow.” After this was resolved, they decided to visit a coffee shop.

“[At the coffee shop] it was humorous in a way because there were all those kids enjoying Winter Carnival, and everybody was so up, and we were so bedraggled, so down, worried, in despair.” Suddenly, Fitzgerald went into his element, and told “this marvelous detailed, romantic story of a girl in an open touring car (he described how she was dressed). Over the top of the hill is this skier coming down, and she stops the car and looks at him. Scott described it immaculately well.”

Having finished the coffee, they proceeded back to the Hanover Inn, on whose steps loomed—“as in a bad movie—or maybe in the movie we were trying to write” —none other than Walter Wanger, dressed in a white tie and top hat “like Fred Astaire.... He was not a tall man, but standing a step or two above us and with a top hat, he really looked like a Hollywood god staring down at us.”

“I don’t know what the next train out of here is,” Wanger intoned, “but you two are going to be on it.”

“They put us on the train about one o’clock in the morning with no luggage,” Schulberg remembers,” They just threw us on the train.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A different Schulberg story... he supposedly had a perfect GPA but in his senior year had a class from a professor whose grading scale was:
D for most
C for decent writers
B for those as good as the prof himself
A: only God could merit an A

Schulberg got a B, and his overall GPA took the hit. However, he appealed to the department chair, and won, using the fact that he submitted the same paper to the New Yorker and got it published.

Is there any truth to this campus version of an urban legend?