Tag Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Day Tripper

Yesterday’s New York Times NY/Region section included a “Day Trip” feature to Westport.

Readers in the tri-state area — around the world, really — learned some interesting things about our town.

The itinerary begins at Match Burger Lobster, Staples grad Matt Storch’s new restaurant next to Fleishers Craft Butchery. Who knew that his kitchen crew shucks more than 500 pounds of lobster each week — or that lobster tastes better in winter, because cold water makes it sweeter?

From the restaurant, the story suggests, visitors can walk over the William F. Cribari Bridge. It’s named, the Times says, for “a beloved traffic conductor,” though “beloved traffic cop” is a bit clearer.

Bill Cribari, “beloved traffic conductor.” (Photo montage courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

“The short span provides vistas of the nautical town and entree to uninterrupted sidewalks through a Gold Coast neighborhood of mansions that are not above running weekend tag sales,” the paper excitedly reports.

The next 3 paragraphs talk about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s 1920 rental on Compo Road South, near the Longshore entrance. Friends said the couple were “reveling nude in the orgies of Westport,” even though Zelda called the town “unendurably dull.” Imagine what they would have done in a livelier place!

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

“Day Trip” moves on to “secluded Compo Beach.” The Times describes it as “rocky (and) shell-studded….Tranquil and contemplative in winter, the sunsets are gorgeous.”

The final part of a day in Westport, apparently, should be a stop at the Black Duck. The paper calls it a “watering hole,” and singles out this feature: the $11 martini.

The martini “may be the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard, a further way to unwind after a leisurely day. Founded in 1978, too bad it wasn’t around for the Fitzgeralds,” the Times concludes, with both lame humor and a dangling modifier.

The best place for an $11 martini. (Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

(Hat tip: Peter Perry)

Jim Hammond, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Famous Writers And The Westport History Rabbit Hole

Jim Hammond grew up in Westport. He graduated from Staples High School in 1979, but has not been back for a long time.

Jim Hammond

A few weeks ago, he heard about the controversy surrounding TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest.

That led him down the “06880” rabbit hole — and a story on fellow Staples alum Deej Webb’s documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in town.

That spurred him to write and post an essay on his philosophy-and-literature website — 2 of his passions, since he was a teenager.

And THAT led him to send these thoughts to “06880”:

Fitzgerald lived on South Compo Road, near what is now Longshore, in the summer of 1920. J. D. Salinger also lived on South Compo, from about 1950 to 1952.

I read a Salinger short story, and asked my mother, Nancy Hammond, about old Westport. She lived there from 1957 to 1997, and was involved in local politics.

When she arrived, Westport was home to the Famous Artists School, which purported to turn people into artists. Prominent artists like Norman Rockwell lent their names to the scam.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty.

You would send in a sample of your work. They would write back, saying you had great potential, and should enroll in their school. Salesmen combed the country, recruiting gullible students. Ads filled the newspapers, Money rolled in.

It was so profitable that a Famous Writers School was also established in Westport, using the same template. Bennett Cerf of Random House was a founder. Prominent writers like Clifton Fadiman, Bruce Catton and Mignon Eberhart lent their names. By 1969 the stock price had risen from $5 to $40.

The next year, Jessica Mitford published an exposé, called “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers,” in the Atlantic Monthly. An investigation was launched, the stock price fell, and in 1972 the Famous Writers School went bankrupt.

JD Salinger

When J.D. Salinger moved to Westport, Famous Artists School had been going for 2 years. It’s likely that he heard about the school. In 1952 he published a short story about an art correspondence school, called “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

When I was growing up in Westport, the phrase “Famous Artists” rang in my ears. The school rented space from Eddie Nash on Riverside Avenue. Since money was rolling in, they decided to build a new headquarters.

They chose my neighborhood as the site. Specifically, they selected an area we called the Gravel Pit. Now known as Partrick Wetlands, it’s between Partrick Road, Wilton Road, the Merritt Parkway and Newtown Turnpike.

According to rumor — spread by my mother, in countless phone conversations — Famous Artists School planned to build a large office, with a parking lot for 1,000 cars.

My mother banded together with other neighbors, and formed a group called Families for a Residential Westport.

A pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

They referred to their opponents as the Boyd Group (or The Boyds). John Boyd was a prominent Westport lawyer, who favored business and development. One of his allies, Lu Villalon, ran the local newspaper, the Town Crier.

My parents were Republicans. So were the Boyds. The battle over Famous Artists wasn’t a Republican-Democratic battle, or a conservative-liberal one. It was a development battle, similar to those fought in thousands of American towns.

My mother’s group won the battle. Famous Artists never moved to my neighborhood. They built their new headquarters on Wilton Road, along the river.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

The next development battle in Westport was over Cockenoe Island, where Northeast Utilities proposed building a power plant. Anti-development forces used the fledgling newspaper, the Westport News, to help rally support. The anti-development forces won, and the paper became the dominant one in town.

A third battle was fought over a dairy farm, Nyala, where Stauffer Chemical proposed building their headquarters. They won that fight.

Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is still standing. I plan to take a look on my next visit to Westport.

And maybe I’ll visit Partrick Wetlands too.

Zelda!

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent just a few months in Westport — way back in 1920.

But it made a lasting impact on their lives.

Now Netflix and Amazon Prime viewers can relive that crazy time through a new series called “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”

Christina Ricci plays Zelda, “the brilliant, beautiful Southern Belle who became the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age.”

In episode 9, “Scott and Zelda work through rising marital tensions at their Westport house.”

Sounds interesting.

Even if it was filmed on Long Island.

Zelda today...

Zelda today…

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

and yesterday, with F. Scott Fitzgerald in front of their Westport home.

(Hat tips: Erica Peale and Jeff Mitchell)

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.)

 

Uber Westport

Since time immemorial — well, at least since F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald summered here, guzzling bootleg gin and carousing in their motorcar up and down South Compo — Westport has had a difficult relationship with drinking and driving.

We don’t condone it, of course — particularly now, in the post-Mad Men era, when we all know its dangers.

But after a night at a party, restaurant or bar, none of us may be in condition to drive. Local taxis have sketchy reputations. And not many parents will call their kids for a ride.

Enter Uber.

Uber logoThe San Francisco-based company connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. Cars are reserved through a cellphone app. Payments are done by credit card, so there’s no need to carry cash.

When you need a car, you click on the app. GPS pinpoints your exact location, and estimates how long before a car gets to you.

You can select car types: a black car or SUV. UberX is the least expensive: usually a Toyota Camry or something similar. You can also rate your driver.

Uber operates in over 70 large cities — and, for the past couple of months, Westport.

A longtime local businessman — who requested anonymity — used it Friday night to return home from a party.

It cost $7 — including tip. (Uber says, however, there is “no need to tip.”)

He told a few friends. The next night, they texted Uber too.

3 screen shots from Uber in San Francisco.

3 screen shots from Uber in San Francisco.

They report that their cars were nice and clean. The drivers were pleasant. It’s a great economic opportunity for them to operate here, the Westport rider says.

“It’s great,” he adds. “You don’t have to worry about having that extra glass of wine. Once the word spreads, our roads will be much safer. And the parties more fun!”

Somewhere in that great speakeasy in the sky, F. Scott and Zelda are smiling.

 

Sam Waterston Channels F. Scott And Zelda

Nearly a century after F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived there, 244 South Compo Road hosted another famous name.

Actor Sam Waterston recently toured the historic home, now owned by Jeannine Flower. He then sat for an interview with Professor Walter Raubichek, a noted Fitzgerald scholar at Pace University.

The walk-through and interview were filmed by Westporters Deej Webb and Robert Steven Williams. They’re working on a project about Fitzgerald’s time in town.

Channeling F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (from left): Professor Walter Raubicheck, Sam Waterston, Robert Steven Williams, Jeannine Flower and Deej Webb.

Channeling F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (from left): Robert Steven Williams, Sam Waterston, Professor Walter Raubicheck, Jeannine Flower and Deej Webb.

The filmmakers believe that Fitzgerald’s 6 months in Westport — May through October, 1920 — were pivotal to his writing.

(It was certainly pivotal to the newly married couple’s relationship. According to Webb and Williams, “their love was still in full bloom.”)

Scott wrote in his essay “100 False Starts” that a writer has 2 or 3 great life experiences, then recycles them over and over.

“We’ve set out to prove that Westport is one of those great experiences,” the filmmakers says. “We’re posing this to the international Fitzgerald community, and getting remarkable responses. That journey is what this film is all about.”

The film will premiere at the Westport Historical Society. No word on whether Sam Waterston will attend.

Literary Fox

In most towns, foxes hang out wherever.

Westport is not “most towns.”

Our foxes pay sly homage to our literary heritage.

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Giannone snapped this photo the other day. As every Westporter knows, it shows the South Compo Road home where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent the summer of 1920.

Literary fox

Pretty wild.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Movie

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.

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.

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.

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

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

“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.

Party Like A Gatsby

If you weren’t at Gerry Kuroghlian’s fascinating talk about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in Westport last Saturday — well, the event was last Saturday; they were here in 1920 — you were not alone.

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

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

The only folks who heard the beloved former Staples English teacher were the lucky 20 whose names were drawn after attending WestportREADS events all last month. (The book WestportREADS read was The Great Gatsby. The talk was held in the actual home the Fitzgeralds lived in during their wild time here.)

In addition to snapshots of Westport back in the day — most of the town was farmland, Saugatuck was an isolated area populated by immigrants, Green’s Farms was the wealthiest part of town — “Dr. K” painted a vivid picture of Westport’s wild side.

  • A Marmon.

    A Marmon.

    In the summer of 1920, Scott and Zelda put most of their money into a 1917 Marmon. They set out on a drive to the country, even though neither of them had had driving lessons. They stopped in Rye, but Zelda didn’t like it. So they headed for Lake Champlain, stopping in Westport for lunch. With Zelda at the wheel they crashed into a fire plug on Main Street, near what is now Onion Alley. The car was gutted.

  • They ended up living for a few months at 244 Compo Road South. Built in 1758, it was known as a “Switch House” — a switching station for people coming from downtown by trolley to switch to another trolley to get to the beach. Obviously, if you’d just gutted your car…
  • F. Scott and Zelda partied hard, hitting all of the speakeasies around. (There were plenty.) Their favorite drink was orange juice and gin.

Kuroghlian said that Fitzgerald’s books The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby were heavily influenced by his time in Westport. The house was strong enough to withstand huge parties, while Westport — which voted against Prohibition — was a perfect place for the hard-living couple.

Great Gatsby partyIf you missed Saturday’s discussion — or any other WestportREADS event — you’ve got one more chance. And this final chapter may be only slightly less crazy than F. Scott and Zelda’s high-flying summer.

This Saturday night, the Westport Library turns into a speakeasy. There will be  swanky gin cocktails (legal, now), live jazz and dancing.

The only way to attend is by registering online (click here). You’ll receive a password to get in.

Guests are encouraged to wear Roaring ’20s garb.

Which, according to some reports, is a lot more than F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald wore to some of their Westport parties.

Channeling Gatsby

You gotta hand it to Westport. When this town embarks on a project, it’s not half-assed.

Take WestportREADS. The 10th annual program — in which everyone reads the same book, then joins in a month of activities related (sometimes, um, tangentially) to it — begins next month. This year’s selection is The Great Gatsby.

Westport READS

In addition to the usual (a discussion of The American Dream; a reading by Frank Deford; films about the ’20s; a headband-making workshop;  Charleston dance lessons, and much more), there’s a talk by former Staples High School English instructor (and Gatsby expert) Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian.

What’s so great about that last one?

Oh, not much. Just that it’s in the house Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in in 1920. Where, it is said, he got the inspiration to write — you guessed it — The Great Gatsby.

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.

I hope there’s wine and cheese. Because being as realistic as possible — bringing back Prohibition — is just not a good idea.

(For the full WestportREADS program of events, click here.)