Author. One of the most celebrated of American writers, famed for his evocative stories of the 1920s. He is usually credited with coining the term "The Jazz Age" to describe that era, which he defined as "a new generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken". The implications of this simmer beneath the alluring surfaces of his fiction, where hedonistic youth and the idle rich party relentlessly to escape the moral and spiritual emptiness of their lives. And it found its most eloquent expression in "The Great Gatsby" (1925), frequently cited as among the finest novels of 20th Century literature. Fitzgerald was both a flamboyant participant and a detached observer of the high life he wrote about, giving his work its unique perspective. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, a namesake and distant cousin of the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner". He studied at Princeton without earning a degree, and served in the US Army during World War I but was not sent overseas. He spent much of this time working on his first novel, "This Side of Paradise" (1920), which made him immediately famous. That same year he married Zelda Sayre, the daughter of a prominent Alabama judge; their daughter Frances Scott, nicknamed "Scottie", was born in 1921. Fitzgerald solidified his reputation with his second novel, "The Beautiful and Damned" (1922), and the short story collections "Flappers and Philosophers" (1920) and "Tales of the Jazz Age" (1922), in which he chronicled the mood and manners of the time. Although he preferred writing novels, stories provided his main source of income and he produced over 150 tales for such fashionable magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Vanity Fair, and The Smart Set. Some have survived as classics, including "Bernice Bobs Her Hair", "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz", "The Rich Boy", "Benediction", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", and "Babylon Revisited". Following the failure of his play "The Vegetable" (1923), Fitzgerald made a conscious effort to do his best with "The Great Gatsby". The title character, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, has amassed a fortune through bootlegging and throws spectacular parties at his Long Island estate in hopes of winning the love of Daisy Buchanan, a scion of old money with whom he'd had an affair before the war. The book's various plot strands are observed at a distance by the narrator, Nick Carraway (a Midwesterner like Fitzgerald), and as he recounts the events which lead to Gatsby's tragic end, wealthy society is exposed in all its shallowness and false glamor. "The Great Gatsby" was not what Fitzgerald fans were expecting from him. T.S. Eliot hailed it as "The first step American fiction has taken since Henry James", but its otherwise disappointing reviews and sales were a serious blow to the author's aspirations. After the publication of the story collection "All the Sad Young Men" (1926), another Fitzgerald book would not appear for eight years, a period which saw the gradual decline of his personal and professional life. From the start of their marriage Fitzgerald and Zelda had plunged into a frenetic life of lavish spending and hellraising, cutting a swath through New York, Long Island, Washington, D.C., and the French Riviera, spurred on by their celebrity and view of themselves as "Jazz Age" representatives. But by the close of the 1920s Fitzgerald's severe alcoholism and Zelda's increasingly erratic behavior brought the party to an end. In 1930 Zelda was diagnosed as schizophrenic and after 1932 she would spend the rest of her life in East Coast sanitariums. The traumatic dissolution of their relationship is reflected in Fitzgerald's most ambitious novel, "Tender Is the Night" (1934), about a psychiatrist's destructive marriage to one of his patients, set among bored, wealthy expatriates in postwar Europe. It was poorly received in Depression-era America, as was the volume of stories "Taps at Reveille" (1935), triggering an emotional breakdown Fitzgerald candidly described in his long essay "The Crack-Up" (1936). Deeply in debt, he went to Hollywood in 1937 to work as a screenwriter, though not very successfully. (He received only one screen credit, for the 1938 MGM film "Three Comrades", and was among the legion of scribes who tinkered with the script for "Gone With the Wind"). His last series of stories centered on the misadventures of a drunken has-been screenwriter named Pat Hobby, which are viewed as a mocking caricature of the author himself on the loose in the Tinseltown he loathed. He found some fleeting happiness with his lover, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, and managed to stay sober in his final year, though this came too late to restore his failing health. When Fitzgerald died of a heart attack (his second) at the age of 44, he was written off as a relic of the Roaring Twenties who had squandered his early promise on personal excess. He left behind a 40,000-word draft of a novel that was published as "The Last Tycoon" (1941); even in its unfinished state it showed that his creative powers had not diminished, and some present day critics rate it higher than "Gatsby". Thanks in part to the efforts of his friend Edmund Wilson, who lobbied to get his remaindered works back into print, Fitzgerald's posthumous fame virtually exploded after World War II. The first major biography, Arthur Mizener's "The Far Side of Paradise" (1951), was followed by Sheilah Graham's bestselling memoir "Beloved Infidel" (1958), which in turn became a 1959 Hollywood movie (with Gregory Peck playing Fitzgerald). His writings have long since won him the acclaim he had yearned for when he was alive.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards