Review: The Love of the Last Tycoon

The Love of the Last Tycoon
The Love of the Last Tycoon
F. Scott Fitzgerald
New York: Scribner Paperback, 1994

Review Copyright © 2000 Garret Wilson — June 4, 2000, 9:30a.m.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died before he completed The Love of the Last Tycoon. This tale of the movie mogul Monroe Stahr and his later love after long losing his wife reflects the state of the story as Fitzgerald left it. Matthew J. Bruccoli arranged a collection of working notes by Fitzgerald and added some of his own thoughts as well. But the result it not a finished Fitzgerald work.

While there is a semblance of a story, there are obvious jumps, breaks, and pauses. The plot seems to sputter along like an ancient jalopy, slowly jerking down long, monotonous dirt roads only to turn a corner and coast smoothly down a hill next to a lake, silently reflecting the beauty of surrounding snow-capped mountains. It might have been an excellent addition to Fitzgerald's portfolio, had he finished it. He didn't.

From his working notes, one can surmise that Stahr was to eventually die in a plane crash in Oklahoma (or some other isolated area in the middle of America) during a trip to New York (151). This never occurs during the book. Even the ending of this published edition doesn't seem like an ending at all: "That's how the two weeks started that he and I went around together. It only took one of them of Louella to have us married" (129).

One looking to satisfying a craving for another Fitzgerald masterpiece will not come away satisfied. One the other hand, as a glance into the process Fitzgerald used for writing a novel the book is fascinating. One can see from the notes the long process of writing a book includes changing the book, adding characters, removing characters, shortening and lengthening the book. One can understand that those pithy little sections that Fitzgerald liked to insert were sometimes composed independently with the idea of fashioning a context around them.

The prose one expects from Fitzgerald appears from time to time:

Stahr smiled at Mr. George Boxley. It was a kindly fatherly smile Stahr had developed inversely when he was a young man pushed into high places. Originally it had been a smile of respect toward his elders, then as his own decisions grew rapidly to displace theirs, a smile so that they should not feel it — finally emerging as what it was, a smile of kindness sometimes a little hurried and tired but always there, toward anyone who had not angered him within the hour. Or anyone he did not intent to insult aggressive and outright.

Mr. Boxley did not smile back. He came in with the air of being violently dragged though no one apparently had a hand on him. He stood in front of a chair and again it was as if two invisible attendants seized his arms and set him down forcibly into it. He sat there morosely. Even when he lit a cigarette on Stahr's invitation one felt that the match was held to it by exterior forces he disdained to control (30-31).

On the other hand, Fitzgerald's dialogue seems to have become more informal and a bit harsher in his later years:

They were out of hearing range and Stahr stopped suddenly and looked at Red with blazing eyes.

"You've been photographing crap," he said. "Do you know what she reminds me of in the rushes — 'Miss Foodstuffs'" (51).

The bits of racial references in the story could be interpreted both as an insight into the movie industry of the time or a shortcoming on Fitzgerald's part:

"Don't you call them poor old Sambo?"

"We don't call them anything especially." After a moment he said, "They have pictures of their own" (94).

What perhaps is most enlightening is the realization that all of Fitzgerald's novels could possibly be, at their root, simply attempts to understand the drive of the main character. While all of his novels have included excellent prose, character studies, and imminent disaster, each of them might really be about finding out what makes the main character work. What motivates him. Why he does what he does. And why he is doomed to succeed yet never have a chance to enjoy his victory.

Boxley knew he could sit with Wylie White tonight at the Troc raging at Stahr, but he had been reading Lord Charnwood and he recognized that Stahr like Lincoln was a leader carrying on a long war on many fronts; almost single-handed he had moved pictures sharply forward through a decade, to a point where the content of the "A productions" was wider and richer than that of the stage. Stahr was an artist only as Mr. Lincoln was a general, perforce and as a layman" (107).

The Love of the Last Tycoon is the last word in an unfinished sentence from Fitzgerald, and required reading for those who are impressed with Fitzgerald the novel creator.