F. Scott Fitzgerald died 76 years ago today – December 21, 1940. An alcoholic and in poor health, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at the age of 44.
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald was living in Hollywood with gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham. Fitzgerald had moved to California in 1926, earning a living doing screenplay revisions and rewrites. He also began work on a novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, which was unfinished at the time of his death and later edited and arranged by writer/critic, Edmund Wilson, and published posthumously as The Last Tycoon. Beginning in 1939, Fitzgerald wrote a series of 17 short stories for Esquire Magazine about a has-been Hollywood hack named Pat Hobby, a character clearly based on Fitzgerald himself. The stories were collected and published as The Pat Hobby Stories in 1962.
In tribute to Fitzgerald and Pat Hobby I am rerunning:
"Ben Nutty Slings the Blues."
Ben Nutty's pockets bulged with quarters, dimes and nickels, giving him a jingly, lop-sided gait as he lurched off of a Southwest Airlines jet at the Las Vegas International Airport.
The trip from California, though only a short flight, had been rather stressful. Ben's wife, Leena, had been hoping for a warm, relaxing desert weekend helping her mother celebrate a milestone birthday, but Ben, currently between freelance gigs and with little else to do since losing his corporate communications job nearly two years prior, had somehow convinced her to allow him to tag along. "Perhaps I'll hear the siren song of the creative muse amongst the wail and clatter of the slot machines," Ben had said, hoping his colorful prose would convince her he meant business.
"Just remember that we're going for mom, not so that you can chase your 'muse,'" Leena had told him, already beginning to regret her decision.
"Of course, of course, the old dear will be first in my thoughts the entire weekend," Ben assured her.
Ben had agreed to handle the travel arrangements, and hence they found themselves sprinting through the Oakland airport five-minutes prior to departure. Once on-board, while Leena struggled to accommodate her carry-on luggage, Ben sat mulling over potential cocktail orders and eye-balling the still-boarding passengers in search of a suitable third seatmate for their row. "Ah, she's perfect," thought Ben, as a young woman of indeterminate Asian lineage made her way down the aisle. At about 110 pounds she fit the key factor Ben sought in a seatmate. That she be attractive was a less important, albeit hopeful attribute, however one of his numerous phobias was to be wedged beside a thick, malodorous individual. The young lady heading toward him was far from thick, and, in Ben's mind, exuded a soft hint of cherries and almonds.
"This seat is available," Ben had said, indicating the window seat with a smile and a wave of his fedora. The young woman eyed him carefully, then, apparently receiving better vibes from Leena, who smiled somewhat apologetically, climbed across Ben and settled into her seat. Ben then spent the remainder of the 1-hour flight regaling the poor woman with tales of the writer's life. "We're heading to Vegas to scope out good locations for the screenplay I'm working on," Ben had told her. "We'll spend one night at The Bellagio, another at Winn's; maybe hit the Mirage, even though The Mirage is so 1990's. It's all gratis of course. The studios want to make sure we're happy. They know they've got a potential blockbuster on their hands. It's going to be sort of a cross between Ocean's 11 and Dawn of the Dead. Zombies are so hot right now and ours are going to be really hot. We're in talks with George Clooney and Brad Pitt to play the main zombies. Even with rotting flesh, Brad and George will still put ladies in those theater seats."
"Thank God it's a short flight," Leena muttered to herself, cracking her book.