Tag Archives: Deej Webb

Great Gatsby: Great Neck Fires Back

Westport has laid out a strong case as the setting for “The Great Gastsby.”

Great Neck is firing back.

Westporters know the story: historian Deej Webb and filmmaker Robert Steven Williams say that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgeralds’ 1920 sojourn here informed not only the author’s physical description of Jay Gatsby’s mansion, but also much of the novel’s emotional power.

They also believe that Westport influenced nearly all of Fitzgerald’s ouevre.

Not so fast, Long Island counters.

“Everyone knows that Great Neck was the setting for ‘The Great Gatsby,’ don’t they?” a flyer from that town’s historical society asks.

And then answers: “Apparently, not everyone!”

“There are those who believe that Fitzgerald was really talking about — of all places — Westport, Connecticut,” the Great Neck Historical Society explains.

After mentioning Webb and Williams’ PBS film and companion book — plus stories in the New York Times, Newsday and more — the GNHS announces that the duo will discuss their findings and answer audience questions at a “special presentation.”

It’s this Sunday (October 21), 1:30 p.m. at the Great Neck Public Library main branch. GNHS president Alice Kasten will “defend” — their word — Great Neck’s “historical and literary honor” (ditto).

She recently took Webb and Williams on a Great Neck tour, “pointing out details to substantiate the long-held belief that Fitzgerald was writing about Great Neck and Port Washington.”

“They even interviewed me for their film,” she says. “I showed them how Fitzgerald had to be writing about our hometown.”

The GNHS calls this a “bound-to-be-controversial program.” It’s free, and open to the public.

Which means Westporters — defending our own honor — can pack the house. Click here for directions!

(Hat tip: Marcia Falk)

Great Scott! Annual Gatsby Day Is Proposed

On May 14, 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald signed a lease to rent 244 Compo Road South.

Deej Webb — whose film and book about the famous couple’s wild time in Westport has shined a light on both their literary legacy, and our town’s Jazz Age days (naked swims at Compo Beach!) — wants to make May 14 an annual holiday.

It would be called “Great Gatsby Day.”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Photoshopped in front of their Westport home.

The 1980 Staples High School graduate/history teacher/amateur historian is circulating a petition. Citing Westport’s influence on “The Great Gatsby” (and other Fitzgerald novels), it says:

We want to insure that the town celebrates and treasures its connection with the Fitzgeralds and the book.

Furthermore, in times of rapid change we wish to ensure that this town’s marvelous history is not lost.

Webb envisions events at the Westport Historical Society and Westport Library; a tie-in with the Longshore flapper party; a walking tour of Longshore-influenced scenes from “Gatsby” and “The Beautiful and the Damned,” and more.

He’s open to other ideas from the community too.

Maybe another naked swim at Compo?

(To view — and sign — the petition to make May 14 “Great Gatsby Day in Westport,” click here.)

Friday Flashback #93

Earlier this week, I posted a story about Deej Webb’s great new book about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s memorable 1920 sojourn in Westport. The central thesis is that those 5 months influenced everything else the famous author wrote — including “The Great Gatsby.”

Webb’s “Boats Against the Current” is filled with fascinating photos — notably several of Frederick E. Lewis’ 175-acre property that later became Longshore.

There’s this, of the mansion that we now know as the Inn at Longshore and Pearl restaurant:

(Photo/courtesy of Alden Bryan)

There were references too to Lewis’ lighthouse. It may have inspired some of the scenes in The Great Gatsby.

I’ve posted the photo below before. But I erroneously identified it as showing a big bash at Longshore. In fact — according to Webb — this is “a glittering summer party, complete with band, at the Lewis estate.” It certainly does look Gatsby-esque.

There’s also this fascinating map, drawn in 1921 by noted artist John Held.

Held included the lighthouse (right above the words “Long Island Sound”).

Check out the enormous boat sailing up the Saugatuck River, just south of downtown.

And — if you’re really eagle-eyed — you’ll notice that Held misspelled Bridge Street as “Brigde.”

What else stands out? Click “Comments” below.

Filmmakers Fight To Save F. Scott’s Home

In 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent a memorable summer in Westport.

It’s taken a lot longer — more than 2 years — for another pair of locals to make a film about the literary-and-fast-living couple.

But the video project began even way before that.

A 1996 New Yorker story by Westport writer Barbara Probst Solomon linked Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby to this town. But the piece was “ignored by Fitzgerald scholars,” says filmmaker Robert Steven Williams. So he and Staples grad/social studies teacher/historian Deej Webb embarked on their own project.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

They interviewed more than a dozen academics. They dug into Fitzgerald’s archives at Princeton, and presented at a Fitzgerald Society Conference in Alabama. They even interviewed one of the writer’s granddaughters in Vermont — a woman who rarely speaks to anyone.

“What we uncovered was not only surprising,” Williams says. “It made us realize that the Westport Fitzgerald home was much more than just about Gatsby.”

So when clips of their film — Boats Against the Current — are shown at the Fairfield Theater Company on Monday (June 8, 7:30 p.m.), viewers will learn about much more than F. Scott, Zelda, the Roaring ’20s and Westport.

Williams and Webb draw attention to the fact that the home the Fitzgeralds rented — on Compo Road South, adjacent to the Longshore entrance — is for sale. And unprotected.

According to Williams, that means that “anyone could buy it, and make it tomorrow’s ‘Teardown of the Day.'”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

Williams and Webb will discuss — using over an hour’s worth of clips — why “Westport needs to save this home.” They’ll be joined by Professor Walter Raubicheck (a Fitzgerald scholar from Pace University), and Westport Historical Society executive director Sue Gold.

After all, like Gatsby itself, the Fitzgeralds’ home is a classic.

(For ticket information, click here.)

 

Woodman, Don’t Spare That Tree!

Deej Webb identified 5 “homicidal trees” on the Merritt Parkway — big ones, with the potential to fall and kill someone.

And that was before this month’s monster storm.

The 1980 Staples graduate grew up with the mindset of most Westporters:  Suburbia = trees = wonderful.  You didn’t think about the presence of trees, any more than you questioned air or cookouts.

But on his daily commute to New Canaan — he teaches high school history there — Deej saw trees that could kill him, as easily as they killed several motorists in the past few years.

He saw CL&P crews trimming branches around power lines — but leaving enormous trees standing.  The temporary fixes seldom worked.  “Four times a year, I lose power,” Deej says.  “It’s completely preventable.”

As he looked — really looked — around Westport, he realized trees are not always aesthetically pleasing, either.  Deej says that trees block what once were majestic vistas.  As an F. Scott Fitzgerald aficionado, he knows that when the author lived on South Compo, next to what later became Longshore, there were no trees at all — the author saw clear down to the Sound and across to Long Island, providing inspiration for several “Great Gatsby” scenes.

This tree sits 2 yards from my patio. I hope it doesn't kill me.

As a student of history, Deej knows that from colonial days right through to the early part of this century, there were far fewer trees in Westport.

“What we’re seeing here today is not New England,” Deej says. “It’s a man-made arboreal paradise.”

When he discussed his counter-intuitive — if not heretical — ideas with friends, they thought he was joking.  Then they looked around, saw what he saw, and figured he was maybe half-kidding.

After last week’s storm, they stopped laughing.

“Everyone I know spent a lot of time clearing their property,” Deej says.  “And now everyone is noticing how many of their neighbors’ trees  threaten their own property.”

Deej and his friends have a few ideas.  They want to work with the town to identify dangerous trees, and find discretionary funds to cut them down.  They envision a volunteer effort involving civic groups, Staples sports teams and Boy Scouts (though, Deej notes, “you can’t really hand chainsaws to kids”).

They would like to post photos on “06880” and WestportNow.com, asking:  “Why is this tree still standing?”

They hope to petition the state to take care of dangerous Merritt Parkway trees.

Yet for all his dreaming, Deej is a realist.

“I know it’s expensive,” he says.  “And I know people in Westport have fought the removal of a single tree at Longshore.  They’ll chain themselves to trees to save them.

“The environmentalists will talk about the importance of trees’ roles in oxygen.”

So he’ll settle for this:  A townwide discussion of whether Westport is overly enamored of trees.

“Is this a crackpot idea from someone with too much time on his hands?” he asks.

“Or is it an idea whose time has come?”

(“06880” readers:  Answer those questions by clicking the “Comments” link at the top and bottom of this post.  To contact Deej directly, email him:  rnwebb@optonline.net)