Tag Archives: “The Great Gatsby

Today Is Westport’s 2nd Annual Gatsby Day. Party Time!

Exactly one year ago today, Westport celebrated its first-ever Gatsby Day.

May 14 was the 99th anniversary of the day a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on South Compo Road.

It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”

The iconic (and Photoshopped) shot of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of their Westport home.

But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.

With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.

In case you missed last year’s Gatsby Day event, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe read a declaration. Richard Webb and Robert Steven Williams — Westporters who have study Westport’s impact on Fitzgerald, and keep it alive via a documentary and book —  cracked a bottle of champagne. One other person showed up to watch.

Celebrating last year’s first-ever Gatsby Day are (from left) Robert Steven Williams, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (with proclamation), Richard Webb, and Westport Museum of History & Culture executive director Ramin Ganeshram. (Photo/David Matlow for WestportNow)

The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home.

It was supposed to have been the site of Westport’s 2nd annual Gatsby Day. A big celebration was planned foro today. After all, “centennial” sounds a lot more impressive than “99th anniversary.”

The COVID virus scuttled all that. So Webb, Williams, the one or two random people who may have showed up today, and all the rest of us will have to do the next best thing: enjoy last year’s part-legalistic, part-whimsical proclamation.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at the Compo Beach bathhouses, in the summer of 1920. (Courtesy of F. Scott Fitzgerald Trustees and Richard Webb)

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS COME – GREETINGS:

Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire.

Whereas, It was also the year Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came to Westport, 1920.

Whereas, 99 years ago, on this very day, the Fitzgeralds signed a lease right here at 244 South Compo Road. Owned by the Wakeman family, this New England colonial stood defiantly then, as Scott once wrote. And today, this façade looks very much like it did when they lived here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here, on South Compo Road.

Whereas, The Fitzgeralds spent their honeymoon months here. Both Scott and Zelda would repurpose this Westport experience in fiction and essays. Zelda would even paint this home on a lampshade that showcased places that meant something special.

Whereas, most remarkable, the seeds of The Great Gatsby are here on Compo Road.

Whereas, we are gathered here today to celebrate the impact of two remarkable cultural icons that launched in Westport a revolutionary American literary movement that has influenced in innumerable ways every aspect of the creative life of the United States.

Party at 244 Compo Road South! From left: Tana, their butler; John D. Williams,  Broadway actor, director and producer; Zelda Fitzgerald; John Jean Nathan, author and critic; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Princeton classmate Alexander McKaig. According to historian Richard Webb, Zelda may have been having an affair with Nathan at the time. McKaig kept a diary of his Westport visits, an excellent window into their time here. (Courtesy of F. Scott Fitzgerald Trustees and Richard Webb)

NOW, THEREFORE, I, James Marpe, by the authority vested in me by the laws of Westport, do hereby proclaim May 14, 2019, as

Great Gatsby Day

So that residents of Westport and fans of the Fitzgeralds, far and near, can celebrate the joy and intrigue that comprised their stay here, back in 1920.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the Seal of (governing body) this 14th day of  May, in the year of 2019  that we are here to mark the inauguration of the first annual Great Gatsby Day in Westport.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, resplendent in matching white suits, ready to leave Westport to visit Zelda’s parents in Montgomery, Alabama. According to Richard Webb, 
“a woman wearing such a suit at that time was considered so scandalous they were denied entry into at least one hotel on the trip south.” (Courtesy of F. Scott Fitzgerald Trustees and Richard Webb)

Finally, Town Honors F. Scott Fitzgerald

On May 14, 1920, a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on Compo Road South.

It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”

The iconic shot of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of their Westport home.

But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.

With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.

On May 14, 2019 — 99 years to the day after that now-legendary lease-signing — Westport will officially recognize that event.

The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home. First Selectman Jim Marpe will stand there, and declare “Great Gatsby Day” in town.

The official proclamation — a combination of legalese and whimsy — begins:

“Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire….”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here, on South Compo Road.

But that’s not the only Fitzgerald-Westport connection this month.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, the Westport Community Theater presents a costumed stage reading of The Vegetable.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry.

Richard “Deej” Webb — the Westport historian who collaborated with Robert Steven Williams on a film and book that describe the Fitzgeralds’ Westport sojourn, and make the strong case that it heavily influenced The Great Gatsby — calls it “his worst work.”

The Vegetable is Fitzgerald’s only full-length play. It was his lone attempt to establish himself as a successful playwright, and his sole foray into political satire.

The plot involves an accidental president who undergoes impeachment. Coming during the corrupt administration of Warren Harding — who died the year it was published — it was “ahead of its time,” Webb says.

To call it forgotten today is an understatement. According to Webb, it was last performed in the 1990s.

The WCT has modified it a bit. What Webb calls “a racist scene” has been edited out.

That may have been a product of its time. But nearly a century later, impeachment is back in the news.

And — at least in Westport — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are too.

(The staged reading of The Vegetable is Saturday, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 203-226-1983.)

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.)

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.)