In December 1940 a hack screenwriter died in the sitting room of his girlfriend’s home in Hollywood.
Alcoholic, in poor health, receiving little credit for his work and dropped from a contact by MGM a year earlier, he would spend his last days working on a draft of an uncompleted novel.
When his body was later taken to Maryland for burial just 20 or so people showed up to his funeral.
The screenwriter, Scott Fitzgerald, had described himself as a ‘hack’ – in his final years at least.
Writing freelance movie scripts was some way from his previous work and promise, which included, in The Great Gatsby, one of the closest realisations of the Great American Novel.
Fast forward 70 years and the latest screen adaptation of the book earned $300m at the box office this year, with $200m more expected in re-runs and DVD sales.
Fitzgerald The Hack made it big in Hollywood after all.
This week his ghost was all around.
En route to LA in recent days I watched – and greatly enjoyed – The Great Gatsby. Days later my wife and I found ourselves at a hotel in West Hollywood, minutes from Fitzgerald’s last residence, at 1443 North Hayworth Avenue.
The street’s settled, well-manicured homes are the very opposite of the glare and bustle of nearby Hollywood Boulevard.
Passing the property and aware of the last, ill and unhappy days of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century I couldn’t help but think of Nick Carraway’s lament for the doomed Jay Gatsby.
“They’re a rotten crowd…you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”