Fitzgerald as Pat Hobby

December 21: F. Scott Fitzgerald died in Los Angeles on this day in 1940. Over his last year or so, Fitzgerald published seventeen "Pat Hobby" stories in Esquire magazine which were later collected in book form in 1962. The stories feature a screenwriter who inhabits a circle of Hollywood hell not many rungs below their author's. Too broke to have any choice, screenwriter Hobby spends his days adding a line of dialogue here, schmoozing his way to a drink or a dame there, and trying to avoid being booted even lower down the hack writer list.

 

During the last months, in time salvaged from the movie producers and the bills, Fitzgerald also worked with more purpose and hope. But The Last Tycoon went unfinished, and not a few stories went unpublished—in Fitzgerald's view, because they did not fit either the Cracked- or Washed-Up themes, the only ones he was now allowed. The following is from a February 7, 1940 letter to his Esquire editor; Fitzgerald is trying to pitch a story which he was keen on but which the magazine was reluctant to publish while they were running the Pat Hobby series:

Why don't you publish under a pseudonym—say, John Darcy? I'm awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn't seem to be so much money in it, and I'd like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don't read me for the same reason. In other words, it would fascinate me to have one of my stories stand on its own merits completely and see if there is a response…. If the idea interests you I might invent a fictitious personality for Mr. Darcy. My ambition would be to get a fan letter from my own daughter.

In the opening paragraphs of "No Harm Trying," the Pat Hobby story published in Esquire the month before Fitzgerald's death, we are re-introduced to the screenwriter-hero, who sits in his apartment above a delicatessen, combing the newspapers in search of marketable story ideas, and remembering when:

Pat was at "the end of his resources"—though this term is too ominous to describe a fairly usual condition in his life. He was an old-timer in pictures; he had once known sumptuous living, but for the past ten years jobs had been hard to hold—harder to hold than glasses.

  "Think of it," he often mourned. "Only a writer—at forty-nine."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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