Last spring, Westport Historical Society audiences loved Robert Steven Williams’ video featuring famous writers who lived here.
But Williams’ budget had been “zero.” He knew he could do better.
The segment on F. Scott Fitzgerald was particularly intriguing, for viewers and the filmmaker himself. To move forward, Williams contacted Westport resident Richard “Deej” Webb — an amateur historian and Fitzgerald buff — who offered to help.
The pair raised $20,000 for a film. Shooting began this summer.
Williams and Webb are giving the WHS rights for unlimited use and sale, including the premiere as a fundraiser. Attorney Alan Neigher is donating his time for legal issues, while Keir Dullea will narrate the film for a nominal fee.
Earlier this month, Williams and Webb interviewed Barbara Probst Solomon. In 1996 she wrote a groundbreaking New Yorker story linking Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby and Westport. For Williams, she recalled her childhood in Westport, and provided insights into F. Scott and Zelda’s own summer here in 1920.
That evening, the filmmakers shot the Bridge Street bridge. The scattered lights were described in The Beautiful and Damned, which Fitzgerald wrote while in Westport.
The next day they filmed Main Street without traffic, and Nyala Farms (between Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island connector).
Then came the coup de grace: the Fitzgerald house on South Compo. Built in 1758, and called Wakeman Farm in 1920, it looks much the same today as it did then.
“I wasn’t expecting Jeannine Flower, one of the owners, to be there,” Williams said on his blog.
“But she not only welcomed us into her home, she took the time to explain what she knew about the house. She was extremely knowledgeable about Scott and Zelda’s time there, and she was passionate and committed.”
Williams and Webb are passionate and committed too. They love this project — though a “black hole” is the unknown cost of securing the rights to photographs, archival footage, and use of lines from Gatsby.
But they’re forging ahead. Meanwhile, Webb is getting preparing to present the film’s thesis in November at a Fitzgerald academic conference in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s where Zelda was born.
Even in 1920, Westport must have seemed like a far different world.
PS: According to Williams, the Fitzgerald home in Westport is up for sale. It can be yours for $2,750,000.