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The Last Tycoon and Max Eastman: Fitzgerald's Complete Political Primer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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Unfortunately for American letters, when F. Scott Fitzgerald died he left behind a brilliant and extensive but critically problematical set of fragments of a Hollywood novel, tentatively entitled Stahr a Romance or The Love of the Last Tycoon A Western, but published as The Last Tycoon. Although the published edition has been available for fortyodd years, the need to decipher its unfinished design persists. The plot is cut off; the disorderly notes provide contradictions and minimal help in interpretation; the extant texts exist in a number of states, none final; and Edmund Wilson's edition raises grave doubts. Nevertheless, Tycoon is a most ambitiously planned novel, conceived in the moral and metaphorical amplitude of Fitzgerald's full artistic maturity, assimilating at least as absolutely as elsewhere in the canon his cultural perceptions and ambiguities regarding the quality of American civilization.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1987

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Author's note: I am happy to express my gratitude for aid provided by the Division of Humanities and the Research Council, Colgate University. Both Professors Joseph L. Slater, Colgate University, and William O'Neill, Rutgers University, read an earlier version of this essay, correcting and improving the Eastman sections; neither is responsible, naturally, for the thesis and its application.

1. Citations in my text (where page numbers appear in parentheses) are to Wilson, Edmund's edition in Three Novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Scribner's, 1953)Google Scholar as are citations to Tender Is the Night and The Great Gatsby. Regarding Fitzgerald's tentative titles, see Bruccoli, Matthew J., “The last of the novelists”: F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon” (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977), frontispiece, pp. 113–14, 118, 124, 145, 151.Google Scholar

2. Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” pp. 47, 48, 84, 122, 124, 125–26Google Scholar. Bruccoli makes clear how insistent is the need for a critical edition.

3. Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Crack-Up, ed. Wilson, Edmund (New York: J. Laughlin, 1945), p. 285.Google Scholar

4. Ceplair, Larry and Englund, Steven, The Inquisition in Hollywood Politics in the Film Commuunity 1930–1960 (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor-Doubleday, 1980), pp. 94, 126.Google Scholar

5. Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” p. 152Google Scholar. The notes Bruccoli prints add to those given in Wilson's edition of Tycoon. References to Hollywood's labor situation, often given a socialist cast, are frequent in the drafts and notes.

5a. Eisenstein, S., Film Form, ed. and trans. Leyda, Jay (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1949), p. 96.Google Scholar

6. Mast, , A Short History of the Movies (Indianapolis and New York: Pegasus, 1971), p. 424Google Scholar. Any standard film history will demonstrate how correctly Fitzgerald has this lesson down.

7. On his copy of Capital, which Fitzgerald gave to Sheilah Graham, he marked off for her attention “The Working Day”; furthermore, as if to align it with the Hollywood political theme of Tycoon, he wrote in the outer margin next to the paragraph on “‘small thefts’ of capital from the labourer's meal and recreation time,” “They do this at M.G.M. in a big way; so the secretaries say” ([New York: Modern Library, 1936], p. 267Google Scholar-copy at Princeton University Library). Also see Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” p. 140.Google Scholar

8. Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” pp. 144, 150.Google Scholar

9. Sklar, , Movie-Made America: A Social History of the American Movies (New York: Random House, 1975), p. 239Google Scholar. Himself a member of the appropriated writer class, Fitzgerald had painful first-hand experience of alienation from work. His attempt to inject politics into his scenario of Erich Maria Remarque's Three Comrades – made available in Bruccoli, Matthew J.'s edition, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Screenplay for “Three Comrades” (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978)Google Scholar – was eviscerated, and its presentation of the rise of Nazism, pervasive anti-Semitism, and acute class victimization taking place in Germany was erased. A German official was invited to a private screening to censor the film, thus protecting the German market for M.G.M. See Roffman, Peter and Purdy, Jim, The Hollywood Social Problem Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), pp. 209–11Google Scholar. Experiences like this lie behind Tycoon.

10. Van Wyck Brooks, , America's Coming of Age (1934; rpt. New York: Doubleday-Anchor, 1958), p. 70.Google Scholar

11. Short History, p. 39.Google Scholar

12. Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” p. 69.Google Scholar

13. See also ibid., pp. 69, 75.

14. To Fitzgerald's eye, so thorough and undiscriminating is the mechanism of political censorship wielded by management that even the comic scapegoat Pat Hobby is instructed to eradicate any trace of party line from a film on the Spanish Civil War. See The Pat Hobby Stories (New York: Scribner's, 1970), p. 117.Google Scholar

15. Fitzgerald foresaw in the intensifying anti-Semitism the awful persecution of Jews that lay in the future: “But I shall not come to the aid of the party – any party. For we and the Jews are going to be butchered[.] We the liberals because we were too kind, the Jews because they were too wise” (The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Bruccoli, Matthew J. [New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Bruccoli Clark, 1978], p. 321).Google Scholar

16. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” (The Crack-Up, p. 69).Google Scholar

17. Cf. “bright tan prayer rug of a beach” (Tender, p. 58Google Scholar); and in “The Last of the Belles” The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York: Scribner's, n.d.), p. 248Google Scholar: “as though they were on a magic carpet.”

18. Here Fitzgerald permits himself license. With the reference to the Ford factory in Dearborn, Michigan (p. 122), time is moved up to May 26, 1937, and the brutal events occurring at the Ford River Rouge plant. Frankensteen, a major figure in the emergence of the UAW, was severely beaten by Ford's hired thugs. See Bernstein, Irving: Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933–1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), pp. 569–71.Google Scholar

19. Marx, Karl, The Poverty of Philosophy, trans. Quelch, H. (Chicago: C. H. Kerr & Co., 1920), pp. 173–74, and 131–33, 189.Google Scholar

20. Another indication of the shifting emphasis of the work can be detected in the stylistic variations that move from the tough-guy diction of the thirties idiom (curiously out of character when spoken by a consumptive Bennington graduate of 25 or so) to heavily romantic purple prose (pp. 64, 75), as Fitzgerald regresses to the stylistic formula of the popular magazines. This inconsistency stands, of course, only because Fitzgerald had not reached a final text.

21. The Crack-Up, p. 77Google Scholar. Cf. Marx, Karl, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Milligan, Martin (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961)Google Scholar: “The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power … I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women” (p. 138). Of course, Fitzgerald could not have noted the coincidence between passages

22. Graham, Sheilah, The Garden of Allah (New York: Crown, 1970), pp. 213, 160ffGoogle Scholar., gives the factual basis for the royalty theme in Tycoon.

23. “Staring up at them, he saw that they were his stars as always-symbols of ambition, struggle and glory” (The Notebooks, p. 284Google Scholar); the text was also used in “Basil and Cleopatra.”

24. In Gatsby, Daisy's voice, full of money, is seductively and magically haunting. But a decade later, Fitzgerald, his economic awareness less impressionable, and stiffened by Marx, portrays Nicole, the offspring of an “American ducal family without a title” for whom all the world labors and produces, on a shopping spree, oblivious, yet all the time “containing in herself her own doom” (Tender, p. 114).Google Scholar

25. Quoted from an inscription for Norma Shearer; Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” p. 14; also p. 30.Google Scholar

26. Fiedler, Leslie, An End to Innocence (Boston: Beacon Press, n.d.), p. 181Google Scholar; and more recently, Way, Brian, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction (New York: St. Martin's, 1980), p. 162.Google Scholar

27. Mizener, Arthur, The Far Side of Paradise: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1949; rpt. New York: Vintage, 1959), p. 319Google Scholar. For a list of paramodels from life tallied with fictional characters, see Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” pp. 1920Google Scholar; also Murray, Edward, The Cinematic Imagination Writers and the Motion Pictures (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972), p. 182Google Scholar. The Tarletons can be identified with Frances and Albert Hackett.

28. Eastman, , Love and Revolution (New York: Random House, 1964), pp. 465, 466Google Scholar. Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, eds. Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Duggan, Margaret M. (New York: Random House, 1980), pp. 83, 9293Google Scholar. The Lilly Library, Indiana University, housing the Eastman papers, holds only two letters from Fitzgerald to Eastman, one in 1927 (?), and another in 1938. A letter dated October 4, 1926, from Mrs. Eliena Eastman to her husband, who was researching his book in Paris, illustrates how socially involved the Eastmans and Fitzgeralds were at this time. I want to thank both David A. Randall, Lilly Librarian, for supplying me with fragmentary autograph notes of Tycoon, and Elfrieda Lang, Curator of Manuscripts, who searched the Eastman papers for me. The Fitzgerald collection at Princeton University contains a single letter from Eastman to Fitzgerald – and none going the other way – asking about the location of a quotation in Gatsby, 11 23, 1938Google Scholar. Fitzgerald's response, at the Lilly Library, cites the passage; Fitzgerald is flattered that Eastman recalls the quotation.

Mrs. Yvette Eastman, at no small cost to her time and energy, kindly reviewed files in her home but found no traces of their correspondence. I am most appreciative. It is only fair to quote from her letter to me regarding my identification of Brimmer with Eastman: “I haven't read the book in which the character Brimmer plays a part so that I can't even hazard an opinion about the likelihood of your presumption…. it would have been more fun to agree or disagree with you.” See too Schulberg's ascription of Brimmer's characterization to a nameless communist organizer in Fitzgerald and “The Last Tycoon,” p. 100.Google Scholar

29. The Notebooks, p. 89.Google Scholar

30. See any photograph of Eastman. The resemblance, incidentally, I spontaneously and independently registered when I met Eastman on February 7, 1965. It would be ungracious not to express my gratitude to Professor Joseph L. Slater, who cordially introduced me to Eastman, a guest in his home, and consequently to Eastman's work.

31. O'Neill, William L., The Last Romantic: A Life of Max Eastman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 291, and p. 70.Google Scholar

32. Eastman also arranged and edited a documentary, Tzar to Lenin, which was shown in 1937, favorably reviewed, and referred to in Wilson, Edmund's To the Finland Station (1940; rpt, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday-Anchor, 1953), p. 391Google Scholar. Eastman in a lead article, “A Reply to the Stalinists,” Section 11, Sunday Times, 21 03 1937, 3Google Scholar, col. 8, defends the film. Stahr runs off “Russian Revolutionary films” as preparation for his meeting with Brimmer (p. 118); although Fitzgerald's notes for Tycoon include a catalog of such films, Eastman's is not among them. See too Eastman's Love and Revolution, pp. 492ff., 272, 144ff., 235ff., 147, 533, 527.Google Scholar

33. Eastman, , Love and Revolution, p. 168Google Scholar. Elaborated in my “Fitzgerald's Retort to Hemingway's ‘Poor Scott Fitzgerald,’” Notes on Modern American Literature 2 (Spring 1978): [5–8].Google Scholar

34. I wish to record my debt to Alexander P. Clark, Curator of Manuscripts, now retired, and Wanda M. Randall, Assistant to the Curator, and to their staff at the Princeton University Library for their informed and unstinting cooperation during my visit to study the Fitzgerald papers. Clark also kindly showed me a list of books owned by Fitzgerald.

35. Hemingway's description of Eastman: “[He] looks like a big, jolly, middlewestern college professor” (By-Line, ed. White, William [New York: Scribner's, 1967], p. 31)Google Scholar. The title page of Fitzgerald's copy of The Enjoyment of Poetry identifies Eastman as “formerly Associate in Philosophy at Columbia University.”

36. Confusion still exists over whether Eastman joined the Communist Party. See New York Times obituary, “Max Eastman, Poet, Editor, Radical and an Authority on Bolshevism, Dies at 86,” 03 27, 1969, 50Google Scholar, cols. 1–6. Eastman took to Russia a Workers' Party card but never used it. See Eastman, , Love and Revolution, pp. 165, 272, 332Google Scholar; O'Neill, , Life of Max Eastman, p. 86.Google Scholar

37. I have been prompted by authorities on political history to enlarge the “composite” quality of Brimmer, and play down Eastman's role in forming Brimmer's portrait. Other possible types for Brimmer have been pointed out to me: Joseph Freeman, John Howard Lawson, and Albert Rhys Williams. These identifications corroborate my belief that Fitzgerald saw a representative experience in Eastman. Still, both here and in note 33, the numerous details I supply all trace back very accurately to Eastman and insist on his primacy. I also want to record in sharp focus an admittedly small biographical annotation and a fact of culturalliterary history. Fitzgerald owes a specific debt both intellectually and imaginatively to his acquaintance with Eastman; Eastman's memory deserves the submerged, generous compliment Fitzgerald pays him, and Fitzgerald would not have hesitated to acknowledge that obligation.

38. (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925), pp. 29–31, 106.

39. Eastman, , Love and Revolution, pp. 446, 460.Google Scholar

40. I quote from the U.S. edition with its slightly altered title: Marx and Lenin, The Science of Revolution (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1927), pp. 122–23, 4041, 26, 46, 141–49, 182–86, 201–4, 210–11.Google Scholar

41. Eastman, , Love and Revolution, pp, 454–55, 626–27Google Scholar; and see “Sees Reds Becoming Soft,” New York Times, 03 29, 1937, 10Google Scholar, cols. 4–5, where Stalin is quoted, referring to Eastman “as among the Soviet Union's enemies”; and in “Topics of the Times” for March 30, 1937, 22, col. 4 is another reference to Stalin's accusation.

42. Eastman, , Love and Revolution, pp. 491, 545, 582Google Scholar. Eastman dates the beginning of his doubts at March 1930. See too Eastman, Max, Stalin's Russia and the Crisis in Socialism (New York: Norton, 1940), pp. 1012.Google Scholar

43. (New York, 1934), pp. viii, 208, vii; and Love and Revolution, p. 602.Google Scholar

44. Harper's Monthly Magazine 174 (January 1937): 302, 314.Google Scholar

45. Eastman, , Stalin's Russia, pp. 248–49, 246, 250, 254–55Google Scholar. As Eastman looks back on the Russian pilgrimage in Love and Revolution, imagery of a drab landscape and sleeping peasants proleptically conveys his disillusion on approaching Russia; the death of his old political self is imaged by his fear and sense of entrapment in the coffinlike sleeping compartment where he lay as his train hurtled across the Russian countryside (pp. 313–14, 404). Cf. the metaphor “few signs of life in a politically dead landscape” (Stalin's Russia, p. 45).Google Scholar

46. Stalin's Russia, p. 259Google Scholar. Just so, Eastman felt himself governed by “reckless extremes to which such abstract ideals could carry me. This need for extremism, a need to line up fiercely with the ideal against the real…” (Love and Revolution, p. 14).Google Scholar

47. An original, early – and sound – survey of political responsibility in the novels, including Tycoon, is Light, James F., “Political Conscience in the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Ball State University Forum 5 (1964): 1325.Google Scholar

48. The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Turnbull, Andrew (New York: Scribner's, 1963), p. 52.Google Scholar

49. F. Scott Fitzgerald In His Own Time: A Miscellany, ed. Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Bryer, Jackson R. (N.p.: Kent State University Press, 1971), pp. 285, 270, 299Google Scholar. Donald Ogden Stewart in his reminiscence of Fitzgerald notes the writer's attraction to Communism and his final rejection of it in these late years (“Recollections of Fitzgerald and Hemingway,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1971, ed. Bruccoli, Matthew J. [Washington, D.C.: Microcard Editions, 1971], p. 188).Google Scholar

50. Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, ed. Kuehl, John and Bryer, Jackson R. (New York: Scribner's, 1971), pp. 57, 263, 267.Google Scholar

51. The Notebooks, pp. 56, 65, 160, 322.Google Scholar

52. The Letters, p. 102Google Scholar; Fitzgerald refers to Chapter X, Part III of Capital.

53. The Notebooks, p. 321Google Scholar; The Letters, pp. 6465, 77.Google Scholar

54. The Crack-Up, p. 79Google Scholar. In the chapter “The Myth of the Dialectic,” pp. 179–98Google Scholar, esp. 194: “The Dialectic then is a religious myth.” Of the study, Fitzgerald wrote to Wilson: “It is a magnificent book-just as it promised to be in The New Republic” (The Letters, p. 349)Google Scholar. Fitzgerald owned Boris Souvarine, Stalin (New York: Alliance Book Corp., Longmans' Green and Co., 1939), in which Eastman is mentioned most favorably four times, for example, as “the American communist writer and the scrupulously accurate annalist of this crisis [Lenin's Testament]” (p. 348).Google Scholar

55. The Notebooks, p. 202.Google Scholar

56. Ibid., p. 153, also p. 326; The Letters, pp. 6465, 433.Google Scholar

57. Dear Scott, p. 177.Google Scholar

58. The Letters, p. 417.Google Scholar

59. Ibid., pp. 251, 528.

60. Fitzgerald and The Last Tycoon, p. vii.Google Scholar

61. Hamlin Garland quoted in Smith, Henry Nash, Virgin Land (1950; rept. New York: Vintage, 1957), p. 288.Google Scholar

62. Tender in Three Novels, p. 231.Google Scholar

63. Gatsby in Three Novels, p. 137.Google Scholar

64. Tender in Three Novels, p. 222.Google Scholar

65. Contrast Fitzgerald's tolerance against Updike, John's flippant references to Eastman, who is unnamed, in Bech: A Book (New York: Knopf, 1970), pp. 71, 97Google Scholar. See also the excellent essays in Diggins, John P., Up from Communism (New York: Harper and Row, 1975)Google Scholar; also rectifying this neglect are O'Neill's political biography and Milton Cantor's briefer Max Eastman (New York: Twayne, 1970).Google Scholar

66. Dear Scott, p. 57Google Scholar; Fitzgerald … A Miscellany, p. 285.Google Scholar

67. The Notebooks, p. 296.Google Scholar

68. Stories, pp. 99, 113.Google Scholar

69. This anticipated scene cancels the classic children's genre it limns, from Little Women, Tom and Huck, and Penrod forward to Fitzgerald's own narratives of Basil and Josephine. “Absolution” should be seen as the pivot between them and the final scene planned in Tycoon.

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