Now considered to be one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not highly celebrated during his lifetime. Only decades after his death would he gain critical acclaim thanks to the belated popularity of The Great Gatsby. The novel has not only stood the test of time; it’s also part of countless high school English reading lists today. Here are a few facts about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wild career.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald is related to the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, or F. Scott Fitzgerald as the world knows him, was named after the lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics for the United States's national anthem. Key is Fitzgerald’s second cousin three times removed. Fitzgerald valued this family connection so much that he once cried "don't let Frank see me drunk" when he was driven past Key's monument in Baltimore.
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Army.
At Princeton University, Fitzgerald wrote for a number of publications and tried out for the football team, but his grades were so low that he flunked out in 1917. Fitzgerald subsequently joined the Army, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in World War I. Fitzgerald was so worried about dying without publishing a novel that he spent more time writing than in combat training. He was not sent overseas to fight, and his 1936 short story "I Didn’t Get Over" admitted his regret.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald rose to fame with This Side of Paradise.
While still at Princeton, Fitzgerald had written an unpublished novel he titled The Romantic Egotist. Around the same time, he was trying to woo the socialite Zelda Sayre. Sayre told Fitzgerald that she wouldn’t marry him unless he published the book. Fitzgerald kept working and editing his draft, and the revised final novel, retitled This Side of Paradise, was accepted for publication by Scribner’s. His semi-biographical account of his experience at college and during the war years reflected the issues facing other young men of the 1920s, and the initial printing of 3000 copies sold out within three days. The novel’s commercial success not only launched his writing career, but it also persuaded Sayre to say yes.
4. The Vegetable, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s only full-length stage play, was a failure.
Fitzgerald made a brief foray into political satire with his play The Vegetable, subtitled From President to Postman. The plot follows a railroad clerk named Jerry Frost who decides to run for president if he can’t make it as a postal worker, a critique on Americans’ relentless striving up the social and professional ladders. Fitzgerald thought it would mark the beginning of his theater career when it premiered in 1923 at Atlantic City’s Apollo Theatre, but it was a flop. Fitzgerald needed to write more short stories to pay off all the debt he incurred from its failure.
5. F. Scott Fitzgerald worked briefly as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
Fitzgerald worked as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., making uncredited revisions to the scripts for Madame Curie (1943) and a number of other forgettable films. He also proposed projects and scripts, but the studio always rejected them. Fitzgerald was known to write long, flowery backstories for characters that resembled novels more than Hollywood movies. Director Billy Wilder lamented Fitzgerald-as-screenwriter as “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.” Fitzgerald’s one and only screenplay credit is for the 1938 drama Three Comrades.
6. The Great Gatsby wasn’t a bestseller in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lifetime.
Though The Great Gatsby is considered a literary classic now, it wasn’t always well-loved. In 1929, four years after it was published, Fitzgerald earned royalties as small as $5.10 and $0.34 for the American and English editions of the novel, and it sold fewer than 25,000 copies in his lifetime. His last royalty check only amounted to $13.13, which came from copies he purchased for himself.
7. F. Scott Fitzgerald died before he finished his fifth novel.
Fitzgerald was working on his fifth novel, The Last Tycoon, when he died in 1940. He wrote about his experiences in Hollywood, with characters loosely based on people he had previously worked with. The half-finished novel was prepared for publication by Fitzgerald’s close friend, the literary critic and writer Edmund Wilson. When the book was released posthumously in 1941, The New York Times’s reviewer claimed, “it would have been Fitzgerald’s best novel and a very fine one.”