F. Scott Fitzgerald died on this day in 1940. It was a Saturday afternoon in Hollywood. Fitzgerald was eating a chocolate bar and reading the Princeton Alumni Weekly, which had just arrived in the mail, when suddenly he rose from his armchair, reached out for a marble mantelpiece, and collapsed onto the floor in a massive heart attack. He was 44 years old.
A later examination of the chocolate-smudged pages of the magazine revealed that Fitzgerald (find several of his works in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections) had been interested in an article about the 1940 Princeton football team, jotting down a roster of former players in the margin and drawing a line around this mundane passage: “Faced with such men as Reagan [a Penn player], Arico of Dartmouth, Willoughby of Yale, or Mazur of Army, a player has his work cut out for him. The first prerequisite of a good tackler is his desire to tackle. You must want to tackle. After that it is a matter of training and the ability to think quickly and act quickly.” Beside the circled passage, Fitzgerald had written in pencil: “good prose.”
Fitzgerald, of course, was one of the most celebrated prose stylists of the Twentieth Century, and to mark the date of his passing we present a fascinating documentary, F. Scott Fitzgerald: Winter Dreams, from the PBS American Masters series. Produced, written and directed by DeWitt Sage, the film won a Peabody award in 2002 “for chronicling the life of Fitzgerald, one of America’s greatest novelists, in images and ideas as lyrical and inventive as his prose.”
The film has no narrator. Instead, the story of Fitzgerald’s life is pieced together through readings of his stories, letters, and notes, and through interviews with scholars, writers (including E.L. Doctorow) and a few people who actually knew the writer. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Winter Dreams is 84 minutes long, and will be added to our growing archive of Free Movies Online. For more about the film, including an interview with the director and an interactive timeline of Fitzgerald’s life, go to the American Masters website. To read Fitzgerald’s famous short story called “Winter Dreams,” click here.