When F. Scott Fitzgerald (b. 1896) died of a heart attack at age forty-four, on December 21, 1940, in Hollywood, he left behind a novel-in-progress about the motion picture industry. A few weeks later, his companion, the Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham, sent the author's draft materials to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, at Charles Scribner's Sons. After considering several options, including hiring another writer to complete the work following Fitzgerald's outlines and notes, Perkins enlisted the literary critic (and friend of Fitzgerald) Edmund Wilson – whom Graham had also contacted shortly after the author's death – to shape and edit the manuscript for publication. As titles, Fitzgerald had considered “Stahr: A Romance,” after the novel's central character, Monroe Stahr, a Hollywood studio executive, and “The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western,” giving the work a different, perhaps more ironic, genre connotation. Wilson's version was published in October 1941 as The Last Tycoon: An Unfinished Novel, in a volume with The Great Gatsby and five of Fitzgerald's most important short stories.
“Unfinished works by great writers form a category as haunting as it is unsatisfactory,” the novelist Alan Hollinghurst has written. “In gratifying a curiosity about what might have been, they heighten the feeling of loss.” One certainly feels a sense of loss at Fitzgerald's early death, yet in the case of The Last Tycoon what exists in published form seems almost more of a benefaction than a cause for regret.