70 years ago today, F. Scott Fitzgerald died an untimely death, his life cut short by alcoholism, tuberculosis, and eventually a series of heart attacks. He was only 44 years old. Today, we remember Fitzgerald with some vintage audio – the author of The Great Gatsby reciting John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” from memory. (Listen here or here.) Fitzgerald deviates several times from the text before going completely off the rails. And then the poem, a meditation on mortality and the transience of beauty, cuts off abruptly halfway through. A rather fitting metaphor for Fitzgerald’s own life.
According to Park Bucker, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina, the recording was likely made around 1940, during Fitzgerald’s last year, perhaps in a self-recording phonograph booth in Southern California. When Fitzgerald died, he was living in Los Angeles, a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter, hoping to write one last great novel. In her Paris Review interview, Dorothy Parker described Fitzgerald’s bleak last days: “It was terrible about Scott; if you’d seen him you’d have been sick. When he died no one went to the funeral, not a single soul came, or even sent a flower. I said, ‘Poor son of a bitch,’ a quote right out of The Great Gatsby, and everyone thought it was another wisecrack. But it was said in dead seriousness.”