Lieutenant Fitzgerald

November 19: F. Scott Fitzgerald's only professional play, The Vegetable, got its only performance in his lifetime on this day in 1923—a tryout in Atlantic City at which no producer expressed interest. Subtitled "From President to Postman," the satire announces its inspiration with a prefatory quotation taken from "a Current Magazine":

Any man who doesn't want to get on in the world, to make a million dollars, and maybe even park his toothbrush in the White House, hasn't got as much to him as a good dog has—he's nothing more or less than a vegetable.

Fitzgerald wrote the comedy while working on The Great Gatsby, and the two share some common ground—flappers, bootleggers, ordinary folks beckoned by the green light, in this case the idea that anybody can and should be President. When Jerry, a nobody with zero ambition, is installed in the Oval Office, the nation descends into chaos and Fitzgerald's satire turns political. Enter General Pushing, fresh from a meeting of military commanders and anxious to push his agenda:

GENERAL PUSHING.  I knew things weren't going very well with you, Mr. President…. The people are restless and excited. The best thing to keep their minds occupied is a good war. It will leave the country weak and shaken—but docile, Mr. President, docile. Besides—we voted on it, and there you are.

JERRY.  Who is it against?

GENERAL PUSHING.  That we have not decided. We're going to take up the details tonight….

President Jerry declines to go to war, whereupon he is impeached by Chief Justice Fossile and the Senate Committee on Inefficiency.

 

By all accounts, Fitzgerald's own year-long military career, which began in Fort Leavenworth on this day in 1917, was less than distinguished. He spent much of his time in uniform writing his first novel, The Romantic Egoist, his notebook hidden behind his copy of Small Problems for Infantry. He made no impression upon the captain in charge of his platoon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and such an unfavorable one upon his other senior officers that his training had to be extended. One story describes him going AWOL while on leave, later showing up with a bottle and two women; another describes him falling off his horse while on parade, and being given extra riding lessons.


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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