BOOK BIZ: Fitzgerald’s story of 1940s Hollywood still rings true
Reading this book is a reminder of why good writing stands the test of time. For some reason I had missed The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s last book; the one he was writing in 1940 when he died suddenly of a heart attack. It was unfinished although he left detailed notes that his publisher included, making the ending that the author had intended — hopefully — fairly concrete. We lost this talented writer far too early. His other novels are better known than this one, but The Last Tycoon again, and finally, proves he was indeed a talented American writer.
This book is about the movie industry and centers on Monroe Stahr, a boy wonder who quickly rises to the top of the heap as a producer in a tough, competitive business and town. The narrator is young adult Cecilia, the daughter of a Hollywood mogul who takes no prisoners. What resonates so clearly is that even though Fitzgerald wrote this book in 1940, the way he describes the movie industry could be the same today.
The producer Stahr bemoans the ruthlessness of the industry — albeit he’s part of it — and the lack of quality material. A young screenwriter, Wylie White, says to Cecilia, “I’ve sat in an office and listened to some mystic stalk up and down for hours spouting tripe that’d land him on a nut-farm anywhere outside of California — and then at the end tell me how practical he was, and I was a dreamer — and would I kindly go away and make sense out of what he’s said.” I have a present-day friend who’s a script doctor in Hollywood, and that’s exactly the way he feels about it.
A reviewer for The New York Times wrote in 1941, “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.”
At the time The Last Tycoon was published, critics praised it as an ambitious book, and even in its uncompleted state, saw it as what would have been Fitzgerald’s best novel. The author marvelously conveys the atmosphere in which a mammoth American industry is conducted, and it could have been written last year.
It’s never too late to read a book by one of this country’s best novelists of all time.
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