Last Tycoon (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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The Last Tycoon (Aka The Love of the Last Tycoon)
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1941
208 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August, 2012

Fitzgerald died before he finished The Last Tycoon. But as critic Edmund Wilson wrote at the time, despite its unfinished and unpolished state, "it is far and away the best novel of Hollywood we have." Many think it remains so 70 years later.

Monroe Stahr, the eponymous tycoon, is a film producer at the top of the Hollywood heap. Charismatic, brilliant, and expert in every aspect of filming, Stahr has built the production system over which he rules. He is Hollywood royalty. And he falls in love.

He first meets his beloved as she floats on a flood of water, perched on the great Siva's head. It's a wonderful piece of symbolism if ever there was one (Siva is the Hindu Shiva the Destroyer). The mortal woman is mysterious, possessed of an unearthly beauty, and a dead ringer for Stahr's dead wife. He's done for.

Many consider Monroe Stahr to be Fitzgerald's most fully realized character. The author gives him a depth lacking in some of his other more famous heroes.

Like many brilliant men, [Stahr] had grown up dead cold....and then instead of being a son-of-a-bitch like so many of them were, he looked at the barrenness that was left and said to himself, "This will never do." And so he had learned tolerance, kindness, forbearance, and even affection like lessons.

Stahr conquered Hollywood at the young age of 23: mastering every facet of production and impressing his elders with his uncanny ability to figure large numbers in his head. By the age of 35, when we meet him, he rules his studio with tough paternalism. He controls writers, directors, camera men, and actors. Some resent him, many love him, and all revere him.

But his life is empty. Immersed in his work, he spends 18 hours, 7 days a week on the job because he must..and because he has no reason not to. Nothing else of value exists in his life. Until he meets the beautiful Kathleen Moore riding on Siva's floating head. But by then, Stahr is ready for another fall, this one a fall from power.

The novel ends abruptly, but most versions offer Fitzgerald's notes and the full outline of his intentions. All of it makes for a fascinating read. Not a huge Fitzgerald fan (gasp!), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Tycoon. It's humorous, smart, with a wonderful young female narrator, and penetrating—both into the makeup of its hero and the makeup of Hollywood.

See our Reading Guide for The Last Tycoon.

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