Last Tycoon (Fitzgerald)

The Last Tycoon (aka The Love of the Last Tycoon)
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1941
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780020199854

The Last Tycoon (aka The Love of the Last Tycoon), edited by the preeminent Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, is a restoration of the author's phrases, words, and images that were excised from the 1940 edition, giving new luster to an unfinished literary masterpiece.

It is the story of the young Hollywood mogul Monroe Stahr, who was inspired by the life of boy-genius Irving Thalberg, and is an exposé of the studio system in its heyday. (From the publisher.)

See the 2016 series with John Bomer and Kelsey Grammer. Listen to our Movies Meet Book Club Podcast as Hollister and O'Toole discuss the movie and book.

Author Bio
Birth—September 24, 1896
Where—St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Died—December 21, 1940
Where—Hollywood, California
Education—Princeton University

F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, though he was always referred to as "Scott." Minnesota born and Princeton educated, Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 to critical and popular acclaim.

That same year, He married Zelda Sayre, the queen of Montgomery, Alabama youth society, and the two lived a boisterous, decadent life in New York City. (See LitCourse 5 with Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" for an idea of their life.) To better afford their extravagant lifestyle, the couple moved to France, where Fitzgerald befriended Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, becoming part of the legendary group of expatriate writers and artists, which Stein labeled the "Lost Generation." In Paris he wrote his finest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).

Zelda was eventually hospitalized in 1930 for the first of many breakdowns, and Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood (William Faulkner was there, too), where his heavy drinking ended his screen writing career. In 1934 he published Tender Is the Night. He died there of a heart attack six years later at the age of 44.

The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, doomed character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. (129)

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to create the myth of Fitzgerald's eventual demise and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though much of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is always tinged with his disappointment with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott rented an estate in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and began work on Tender Is the Night, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries one of his patients. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda published her own version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and succeeded in getting her doctors to keep her from writing any more.

Tender was finally published in 1934, and critics who had waited nine years for the follow up to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about it. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, posthumously published as The Last Tycoon (based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg). Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a well-known gossip columnist, in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940, and on December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Sheilah Graham's apartment and died. He was 44. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Of all our novelists, Fitzgerald was by reason of his temperament and his gifts the best fitted to explore and reveal the inner world of the movies and of the men who make them. The subject needs a romantic realist, which Fitzgerald was; it requires a lively sense of the fantastic, which he had; it demands the kind of intuitive perceptions which were his in abundance.... Monroe Stahr, the movie big shot about whom the story is centered, is Fitzgerald's most fully conceived character.... Fitzgerald has created a memorable figure in Stahr, Hollywood's "last tycoon"; he had marvelously conveyed the atmosphere in which a mammoth American industry is conducted; he would have ended, we can see, by bringing it clearly into focus as a world of its own within the larger pattern of American life as a whole.
J. Donald Adams - New York Times (11-9-1941)

Literary detective Bruccoli has produced a remarkable feat of scholarship in this welcome critical edition of the novel Fitzgerald began during his final year (1940) while working in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Generally considered a roman a clef, the story charts the power struggle of self-made, overworked producer Monroe Stahr (modeled on MGM producer Irving Thalberg) with rival executive Pat Brady (a stand-in for MGM head Louis B. Mayer). It is also the story of Stahr's love affair with Kathleen Moore and is (partly at least) narrated by Cecelia, Brady's cynical daughter who is hopelessly in love with Stahr. After Fitzgerald's death in December, his conflicting drafts for the novel were reworked by Edmund Wilson, who spliced episodes, moved around scenes and altered words and punctuation. Bruccoli, Fitzgerald biographer and editor of Cambridge's critical edition of The Great Gatsby, has restored Fitzgerald's original version and has also restored the narrative's ostensible working title, one that implies that Hollywood is the last American frontier where immigrants and their progeny remake themselves. Equally significant are other entries in this volume: Bruccoli's informative introduction; letters by Fitzgerald, Wilson and Maxwell Perkins; facsimiles of Fitzgerald's notes and drafts; and textual commentary, including helpful explanations of the novel's numerous topical references.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Last Tycoon:

1. How would you describe Monroe Stahr as a film producer? Is he someone to admire? Do you consider him ruthless, corrupt, a bully, fair minded, obsessed with power, concerned about those who work for him?

2. At one point we are told that, early on, Stahr had to learn, as if he were learning a lesson, "tolerance, kindness, forbearance, and even affection." Can you learn those qualities...or are they innate? We learn politeness, for instance, but do we "learn" kindness or tolerance?

3. What do you think of Kathleen Moore? Why is she so mysterious? Why does she hide her engagement from Stahr?

4. Why, when Stahr can have his pick of Hollywood beauties, is he irrevocably drawn to Moore? What is the attraction, and why is it so powerful? Is it mutual...or is Stahr more besotted that she? Does he truly love her...or is he infatuated with her as a replica of Minna Davis? What about his illness? If it seems unfair for Moore to hide her impending marriage, is it fair for him to hide his illness?

5. What do you think of Stahr's behavior (his performance?) in Chapter 4, as he watches the daily rushes with his directors and cameramen? Are you impressed by the breadth of technical knowledge or his aesthetic insight? Or are you disturbed by the way he uses (or abuses) his power over those who work for him? Is he a compulsive micro-manager? Does it matter that his judgment is "always—almost always—right"?

6. What do you think of this book...and in it's present day incarnation? Have you come away after reading Tycoon understanding a little more about movie making, all that goes into the production process—"months of buying, planning, writing and rewriting, casting, constructing, lighting, rehearsing and shooting"? Was there anything that surprised you...or jumped out at you?

7. Fitzgerald finds ways to satirize Hollywood, especially through his well known wit—there's the director, who when fired knew "that he could not have a third wife just now as he had planned." What other humor do you find in the book?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: Besides his use of humor, how else...or at what else... does Fitzgerald take aim in Hollywood? What about the faded star at the table during the charity ball in Chapter 5? Can you discern Fitzgerald's attitude toward Hollywood? Does he portray Hollywood as corrupt, cruel, shallow, funny?

9. Consider Stahr's statement toward the end of Chapter 5 when he talks with Boxley. Stahr tells the frustrated writer that "we have to take people's own favorite folklore and dress it up and give it back to them." Is he saying that the wider public is what cheapens Hollywood's artistic vision—that Hollywood creates what public taste demands? Or his he talking about making peoples' dreams come to life?

10. Talk about Cecilia Brady as a narrator—and as a character. How would you describe her narrative voice? Why would Fitzgerald have used her point of view—what does she bring to the story? What about the sections she does not narrate directly. How does she know about what happened? Did you find this back and forth confusing...or unconvincing? What happens to her by the end, based on Fitzgerald's notes.

11. Reinmund, one of the filming supervisors, is described as once "a man of some character, [but] he was daily forced...into devious ways of acting and thinking. He was a bad man now." Of what other character might the same be said? Is it inevitable that any of us would be corrupted by a corrupt system, in any profession?

12. Find out what you can about Fitzgerald's time in Hollywood as a writer. Could he have been referring to himself in the numerous comments about screenplay writers—those who "can't write," who are blocked...or find themselves double-teamed behind their backs? Is he, perhaps, Boxley?

13. What is Stahr so disturbed by the black fisherman he and Kathleen meet on the shoreline? Why does he care what the man thinks of films?

14. In Fitgerald's notes we learn that Stahr will be betrayed by his colleagues, especially by his former mentor, Brady? Why were the men determined to bring him down?

15. How does Kathleen Moore explain to Stahr that she got married immediately after spending the day with him? Is her explanation convincing? Fitzgerald's notes tell us that Stahr picks up with her again after her marriage. Were you surprised?

16. Where do you think Fitzgerald's sympathies lie—with the kind of Hollywood system that Stahr created...or with its dissolution because of its inherent corruption? The speculation is that Monroe Stahr is based on Irving Thalberg. Do a little research on Thalberg, and see if you can identify the parallels between the real-life producer and Fitzgerald's fictional one.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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