F. Scott Fitzgerald And Others by Ben Shahn
When it comes to the height of style in 1920's America, F. Scott Fitzgerald was the man. His writing, his relationships, his dress, and his lifestyle were all at the forefront of what the Jazz Age had to offer. Both observer and participant in the roaring days of the 1920's, Fitzgerald literally defined the times:
Named Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald after Francis Scott, the author of the Star-Spangled Banner (and a second cousin thrice removed), he was born in 1896 to a Catholic family in St. Paul, Minnesota. That boy from an upper Midwest town would eventually come to coin the term "Jazz Age" - a time that today is looked upon as flamboyant, carefree, high-flying and bursting with style and energy.
Fitzgerald served in the army, studied at Princeton (though he didn't earn a degree), and got his start writing for the Saturday Evening Post and Vanity Fair. Writing stories for these publications wasn't his first love (that was novels), but they paid for at least some (he was deep in debt) of his lavish lifestyle.
Living in homes from Long Island to the French Riviera, Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, led the way as Jazz Age trendsetters. They appeared much as the characters depicted in Fitzgerald's novels, from his first, This Side of Paradise, to his most heralded, The Great Gatsby. Indulgence and irreverance were the attitudes in his life and writing during what Fitzgerald called "a new generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken".
Fitzgerald ran with contemporaries who were the elite of the day. He was particularly dazzled by the wealthy American couple Gerald and Sara Murphy, so much so that they inspired the characters Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is The Night. They were the ultimate socialites and known for living and entertaining well.
The Party Goes On
After a lifelong battle with alcoholism and splitting from Zelda, who had long suffered from schizophrenia, Fitzgerald died in Hollywood in 1940 of a heart attack. It was only posthumously that his novel The Great Gatsby was recognized as the defining literary work of its time.
Fitzgerald's style, no matter how decadent beyond his reach, still reverberates today. He's celebrated as an American style icon who not only set the bar, but experienced it firsthand, observed it in others, and defined it for an era.
Other American Style Icons:
• Benjamin Franklin
• Mark Twain
• Ernest Hemingway
• Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
• Elizabeth Taylor
Images: Time Life Pictures/PBS, Aled Lewis, Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/NY Mag, University of South Carolina, St. Paul Public Library, ,Encore Editions, Coralie Bickford-Smith, Ten East Read, Maison Kitsuné, Paramount/Everett/Rex Features via Brandish