Street Scene, Christmas Morn -- Childe Hassam, 1892 (Smith College Museum of Art)
Sunday, December 21, 2008
On this day back in 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a fatal heart attack and left us too early at the age of 44. His last years were troubled and decades of heavy drinking had taken a toll on his health; he was also receiving very low earnings on book royalties, despite the successes of his youth. Fitzgerald would probably be thrilled to see how his 1922 short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is now a movie starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and even appears to be a critically acclaimed and well-made movie at that.
Benjamin Button is a man born not as a baby, but a seventy-year old, and his life progresses backward as he becomes younger instead of aging. There were times when Fitzgerald was most likely churning out stories to sell to magazines and pay for the cost of his high living with Zelda, but among those many other tales of flappers and gin were some true gems. Ernest Hemingway complained that Fitzgerald tended to write stories that depended on "magic," and I figure he might have also been referring to the time tricks with Benjamin Button. But then that was Hemingway and he just seemed to have issues with Fitzgerald for reasons of lifestyle, temperament, choice of spouse, who had been in actual combat in World War I (Hemingway) and who hadn't (Fitzgerald), and so on.
Click here to read the original Benjamin Button on-line, from Tales of the Jazz Age. It does of course depend on "magic" and suspension of disbelief, but it's still an interesting twist for someone writing a story at the age of 25/26 in 1922 to have come up with. And I hope the movie lives up to its Oscar murmurs, not only for the actors and director, screenplay author and crew involved, but to give Fitzgerald a fresh wave of attention and some worthwhile recognition.