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The Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment F.Scott Fitzgerald Screenplay Collection

The University of South Carolina's F. Scott Fitzgerald Screenplay Archive, acquired in April 2004, preserves 2,000 pages of Fitzgerald's manuscripts, revised typescripts, and working drafts for the screenplays he wrote for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1937 - 38.

This previously unknown archive, the largest assemblage of Fitzgerald manuscripts offered for sale at one time, clarifies the distorted record of his Hollywood work and provides evidence for his seriousness as a screenwriter.

During his 18 months on the MGM payroll, Fitzgerald worked on three major screenplay assignments: Three Comrades, for which he received his only screen credit; Infidelity, intended for Joan Crawford but cancelled because the subject of adultery was unfilmable in 1938 - unless the offending partner was punished; and The Women, which was rewritten by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin before production.

Budd Schulberg, the last writer to have collaborated with Fitzgerald on a movie assignment, remembers Fitzgerald's determination to develop his screen-writing skills. Schulberg, who later wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront, said, "Unlike all the famous Eastern writers who came to Hollywood to replenish lost fortunes and ‘take the money and run,' Fitzgerald regarded the motion pictures a unique 20th-century art form that demanded as serious attention as their novels and plays."

Dr. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Jefferies Professor of English, said the new documentary evidence "fills the largest gap in our knowledge of Fitzgerald's career and his professionalism. It will yield long-term benefits for teaching and research."

The collection has been purchased for the library through Bart Auerbach Ltd. (New York) and William Reese Company (New Haven), from private funds, including an initial $100,000 contribution from an anonymous USC alumnus, a multiyear commitment from library endowment income, and bridging support from the USC Research Foundation and the USC Educational Foundation.  Fitzgerald’s writing in Hollywood was “work for hire,” under contact to MGM, and this archive has been acquired by the University following formal agreement as to rights in the material between the University and Warner Bros/Turner Entertainment, as successors to MGM’s interest in the material.

 

Three Comrades

Fitzgerald went to MGM in July 1937 with a six-month contract at $1000 a week.  He was assigned to write the screenplay for Three Comrades, a 1929 novel about postwar Germany by Erich Maria Remarque, for producer Joseph Mankiewicz. He submitted two-thirds of the screenplay on September. On September 4, Fitzgerald wrote to Mankiewicz requesting that he be allowed to work alone on the revisions. Mankiewicz replied on September 9 that what Fitzgerald had submitted was "simply swell" and that he could continue alone. However, Fitzgerald was assigned E.E. Paramore as a collaborator to help with construction. Fitzgerald and Paramore disagreed over the latter’s role; Paramore regarded himself as an equal partner, but Fitzgerald wrote to him on October 24, "I prefer to keep the responsibility for the script as a whole."

Fitzgerald and Paramore submitted six revisions of the screenplay, dated November 5, 1937, December 7, December 13, December 21, January 21, 1938 and February 1. Mankiewicz heavily revised the final script, but screen credit was shared by Fitzgerald and Paramore. Fitzgerald resented Mankiewicz’s interference, noting in his copy of the shooting script, "37 pages mine about 1/3, but all shadows + rhythm removed."

Three Comrades, directed by Frank Borzage and starring Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan, Francheot Tone, and Robert Young, was released on June 1938; a box office success, it ranked as one of the 10 best movies of the year.  The movie brought Fitzgerald his only screen credit; and MGM renewed his contract for a year at $1,250 per week.

The archive for this motion picture consists of approximately 1300 manuscript, revised typescript, and mimeographed pages, including hundreds of pages in Fitzgerald’s hand,  made up in part of the following:

  1. Working manuscript draft of script, dated 8/2/37, ca. 150 leaves.
  2. Revised typescript draft, 104 leaves, plus inserts and interleaves, dated 8/4/37, with revisions in Fitzgerald’s and others’ hands.
  3. Miscellaneous manuscripts material, mostly in Fitzgerald’s hand, including various drafts of portions of the script, conference notes, etc.
  4. Miscellaneous manuscripts, including FSF’s manuscript of script opening (21 leaves), a substantial treatment, and associated material, between 200-300 pages, mixed FSF manuscripts and other hands (most likely Paramore’s), many items dated variously between October and November 1937.
  5. Substantive portion of a mimeographed script, dated 5 November 1937, with revisions in another hand (most likely in Paramore’s). Remaining portions of this mimeo script are interspersed in lot immediately below. 
  6.  Approximately 150 pages, largely typescript, but with some manuscript, dated variously October – December 1937.
  7.  Mimeographed script, approximately 120 leaves, dated 2/1/38.
  8.  Additional related manuscript leaves in Fitzgerald’s hand.
     

Infidelity

In early 1938 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer assigned Fitzgerald to Hunt Stromberg’s production unit to work alone on a movie for Joan Crawford, whose movies he studied in order to tailor the role to her acting abilities. MGM had acquired rights to "Infidelity," a short story by Ursula Parrott; but Fitzgerald was to write virtually an original story. He worked from February to May on a 104-page screenplay about wealthy Nicolas and Althea Gilbert. Althea discovers that Nicolas has had a one-night affair with a former sweetheart, and she develops a platonic relationship with a former suitor. The project was abandoned because the subject of marital infidelity was taboo in Hollywood in 1938.

The archive for this motion picture is a large file of revised typescript and manuscript pages (roughly 50/50), comprised in part of the following:

  1. FSF’s five-page manuscript, "Argument for Stromberg" dated 4/21/38, with 15 pp. similar additional pages, untitled, roughly same time, and other mixed manuscript and typescript (original and mimeo), heavily revised, clipped and dated variously 4/15, 4/18. ca. 75 leaves.
  2. Heavily revised typescript, dated 25 February 1938, "Infidelity F. Scott Fitzgerald", 75 plus leaves with many inserts, including inserted ms. leaves in FSF’s hand, with revisions as well in at least one other hand.
  3. Another ca. 100 leaves, all FSF manuscript of heavily revised working drafts, dated variously from 2/25/38 through 3/17/38.
  4. Another ca. 20 leaves of carbon typescript of notes, working schedule, themes, characters, etc.
  5. Another sequence of mixed typescript, carbon typescript, manuscript and mimeo typescript, dated variously, 10 May, 25 May, 27 June, 8 May, 3 May, 27 April 1938, etc. Majority of manuscript is FSF, but some of the typescript has revisions or comments in another hand. Total ca. 125 leaves.

Includes related items, such as:

"New Treatment for End of Infidelity." 10 May 1938, carbon typescript, 6 leaves, plus thirteen leaves of holograph draft for same.

Carbon typescript of FSF letter "Dear Hunt [Stromberg]: For a month I have been thinking about Infidelity, inventing and rejecting solution…." Dated in type 27 June 1938, 5 leaves, accompanied by manuscript draft, 11 leaves, for same by FSF, heavily revised.

 

Women

Fitzgerald worked for MGM producer Hunt Stromberg from May to October 1938 writing a screenplay based on the hit play The Women by Claire Boothe Luce.  The cast included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, and Rosalind Russell, all of whom Fitzgerald had to provide with equally good lines.  Toward the end of the assignment Donald Ogden Stewart was assigned to work with Fitzgerald, but they were replaced by Jane Murfin and Anita Loos when it was decided that female screenwriters were required. The 1939 movie was directed by George Cukor.

The archive for this motion picture consists of manuscript, revised typescript, and mimeographed leaves, made up, in part, of the following:

  1. Heavily revised typescript, 39 leaves, of Fitzgerald’s initial treatment or conception of the adaptation, dated 3 June 1938.
  2. Bound mixed heavily revised typescript and manuscript, ca. 200 leaves, dated 9 July 1938. Evidently, the primary draft of the Fitzgerald version.
  3. Mixed manuscript and revised typescript, including both Fitzgerald manuscript some Donald Ogden Stewart manuscript, revised typescript of various sequences and portions of the script, and treatments, etc. Includes one contiguous typescript, 33 leaves, with extremely heavy Fitzgerald manuscript revisions, plus some manuscript inserts, dated May 31, 1938, and a typescript, 5 leaves, of a FSF review of a Joan Crawford film.
  4. Two revised typescripts of the Fitzgerald draft, one a carbon, 119 leaves, dated July 9, the other typescript, denoted the "First revise," 84 leaves, both indicated as "From F.S. Fitzgerald" on outer studio wrapper.  
  5. Four drafts of the Jane Murfin revision (possibly also including work by Anita Loos), largely mimeographed typescript in studio wrappers, dated variously from October 4 1938 to April 1 1939.

Included in this file are typescripts or carbon typescripts re: Fitzgerald’s MGM work on other films, Yank at Oxford and A Star is Born (these items are specifically identified as being written by FSF), as well as others not specifically signed by FSF, as well as FSF's manuscript record of time spent on Three Comrades.

Other associated correspondence about the project, including readers’ reports addressed to FSF or studio principals. 

 

Comments on the Collection

American writers on the F. Scott Fitzgerald MGM archive acquisition
Budd Schulberg, novelist, screenwriter, and Fitzgerald collaborator:"Ever since I heard about the 2,000 pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald's screen-writing material from the MGM Studio files in Culver City, California, I have been excited at the opportunity for Fitzgerald scholars and devoted admirers to gain new insights into the final phase of his distinguished and haunted career.

"Having seen the extensive and richly rewarding Scott Fitzgerald collection that you have installed at the University Library, and knowing you to be the indefatigable and devoted keeper of the Fitzgerald legacy you are, I heartily extend to you all possible support in your endeavor to acquire this newfound treasure in the MGM archives and add it to the wondrous collection of Fitzgeraldiana you have acquired for the Library of the University of South Carolina."

John Jakes, novelist: "The acquisition is important to the teaching and study of Fitzgerald now and for decades to come. Understanding an author's process is fundamental to understanding his finished work, and that's especially true of this ‘Hollywood Period,' much of which is still befogged in rumor and half truth. Seeing how the author worked while he harnessed his genius to the studio system would be invaluable.

"It's no secret that I look on Fitzgerald as the No. 1 American writer of the 20th century. I've held that view ever since ‘The Great Gatsby' was taught in my freshman English class at Northwestern. In graduate school, I made American literature my field of concentration and would have thrilled to the opportunity to study these particular pages."

George Garrett, writer and professor emeritus at the University of Virginia: "What a catch! This is a really huge contribution to the study of American literature and, as well, for the rapidly growing field of film studies. Scholars, critics and students will be using this material for many years to come."

R.H.W. Dillard, novelist, poet and director of the writing program at Hollins College: "What a treasure trove for Fitzgerald scholars, for scholars of American literature, for film scholars and for young writers striving to learn the art and craft of the screenplay!

"To have Fitzgerald's screenplays, in various drafts, finally available for study would shed much-needed light on his approach to screen writing, about which we already know a good deal but nowhere near as much as we will now have the opportunity to know with the actual texts in hand. The opportunity for film scholars and apprentice screen writers to be able, say, to compare Fitzgerald's version of ‘The Women' both to the Clare Boothe Luce play and to the final screenplay credited to Anita Loos and Jane Murfin would be of great value even beyond the opportunity to see Fitzgerald at work. And that is just one example I could offer among many as to the practical value of this collection of manuscripts.

"The possibility that I might actually have the opportunity to see and read and use the manuscripts themselves overwhelms me."