The InsiderOne Daily Report
Wednesday, February 7, 2001
New Tycoon, Same As The Old Tycoon
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: F. Scott Fitzgerald never finished his last novel, "The Love of the Last Tycoon." He was, perhaps, a third done with it when he died of a heart attack in 1940 at age 44. According to Fitzgerald expert Matthew J. Bruccoli, the author thought he was a failure. By the time he had turned 40, the celebrity that had accompanied the 1920 publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, had faded, and the "protagonist and exponent of the Flapper Age," as the Chicago Daily News put it in his obit, "was almost as remote from contemporary interest as the authors of the blue-chip stock certificates of 1929... no one was mistaking a story writer for the Herald of an Era." Fitzgerald had relocated to Hollywood, where he tried his hand as a contract writer for MGM. Failing at that, he was surviving by writing short stories for magazines including Esquire. I recently reread his brilliant fourth novel, Tender Is the Night, the one he wrote after The Great Gatsby, and I just finished his incomplete yet fascinating last work. "Tender Is the Night," a "story of deterioration," as Fitzgerald put it, was published in 1934. It is filled with brilliant prose, and in some ways may be a greater work than "The Great Gatsby," although I wouldn't put up much of a fight if you made the case for "Gatsby." In reading his final work, I was surprised, shocked even, to find that despite his alcoholism and ruin, Fitzgerald's talent remained with him right up to the end. If he'd been able to finish "The Love of the Last Tycoon," I am confident it would stand as the definitive portrait of Hollywood. As it is, what Fitzgerald did write captures the entertainment business with chilling accuracy. The book is a portrait of Monroe Stahr (based on real-life movie mogul Irving Thalberg), who runs a major Hollywood studio. Stahr is 35 when we meet him, but he has held the throne at the studio since he was just 25, surviving, as Fitzgerald put it in his notes, "the talkies, the depression, [and] carried his company over terrific obstacles and done it all with a sense of growing kingliness." Though it would have been easy to make Stahr a one-dimensional villain, Fitzgerald didn't do that. Instead, we see a fully realized human being, with strengths and weaknesses and a keen intelligence, who can love and be emotionally hurt. Yet despite all that, Stahr is ultimately a villain, a man with great power who wields it as he pleases, making or destroying careers. Like many men of power and privilege, he sees the people who work for him as easily replaceable. If one director can't deliver what's needed, toss him out and bring in another. Toward the end of the novel there's a scene between Stahr and Brimmer, a member of the Communist party. Stahr, who has been negotiating with the Writers Guild, tells Brimmer, "I never thought that I had more brains than a writer has. But I always thought that his brains belonged to me because I knew how to use them. Like the Romans I've heard that they never invented things but they knew what to do with them. Do you see? I don't say it's right. But it's the way I've always felt since I was a boy." Funny how something written over half a century ago remains so relevant.
Datastream: The Afghan Whigs have called it quits, according to their label, Columbia Records. Leader Greg Dulli is already working on a second solo album, the follow-up to last year's superb Twilight As Played By the Twilight Singers. The Whigs were together for 14 years, recording six albums, including their critically acclaimed masterpiece, Gentlemen, as well as 1965 and Black Love. The problem, according to a label press release, was "geographical distance" between the bandmembers. Dulli was in L.A., bassist John Curley and drummer Michael Horrigan were in Cincinnati and guitarist Rick McCollum was in Minneapolis. In a statement released to the media, the group said of its years together, "It was a blast."
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.