The Baltimore Literary Heritage Project

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald pic
F. Scott Fitzgerald, article title
Never a party of any kind in the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing with the prettiest of the young married women, chatting with the most popular of the debutantes, and finding their company charming, while his wife, a dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons, now in haughty disapproval, and now following him with solemn, puzzled, and reproachful eyes.
-From "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Baltimore played a major part in the lives of the Jazz Age's most well-known couple, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Here, Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night, and Zelda finished her novel, Save Me the Waltz.

Born in 1896 and educated at Catholic private schools and, briefly, at Princeton, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald achieved fame early and enjoyed a relatively short but prolific writing career. He published his first novel in an effort to win the hand of his love, Zelda Sayre. That book, This Side of Paradise, published in 1920 received both critical praise and financial success.

He married Zelda that same year, and they became the Roaring Twenties couple. To keep up with an increasingly extravagant lifestyle, Fitzgerald wrote popular stories for The Saturday Evening Post and more literary ones for The Smart Set. In 1924, Fitzgerald produced what most consider his best work and what some consider The Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby.

During the next few years, Zelda's mental health deteriorated. In 1932, Fitzgerald brought her and their daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, to Baltimore. They rented a house just north of Rodgers Forge on the grounds of La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, while Zelda received treatment at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital and later at Sheppard Pratt Hospital. After a fire at La Paix (which Towson firefighters attributed to electrical problems but which many people attributed to Zelda), Fitzgerald moved to 1307 Park Avenue in Bolton Hill, not far from the monument to his famous ancestor, Francis Scott Key.

One night on his way home, according to historian Frank Shivers, a drunk Fitzgerald jumped out of the car in which he was riding as it approached the Key monument and hid in some nearby bushes. When the driver (a young Garry Moore, who later became a radio and television star) asked what he was doing, Fitzgerald said, "Shhh! I don't want [Uncle] Frank [Francis Scott Key] to see me this way!"

While in Baltimore, Fitzgerald finished Tender Is the Night, a book he'd been working on for years. The autobiographical novel about a psychiatrist who is nearly ruined by his marriage to a mental patient represented for Fitzgerald another chance at literary acclaim. Published in 1934, Tender Is the Night did not receive the reviews he'd hoped for, and he was gravely disappointed. Today, however, the novel is widely praised.

Fitzgerald left Baltimore for good in 1937. He did like the city, though, even if his time here wasn't all peaches and cream. He enjoyed knowing that Edgar Allen Poe lived here and that his distant relation had been honored with a statue. It afforded him time to write, as well as the company of people he admired, including H. L. Mencken and Gertrude Stein. He set a few of his short stories in Baltimore, among them "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Benediction."

Zelda spent most of the rest of her life in mental hospitals. Said Fitzgerald, "I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanitariums." After Zelda entered Highland Mental Hospital in North Carolina, Scott Fitzgerald traveled to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter. There he met and fell in love with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. A heavy drinker throughout his life, most probably an alcoholic, Fitzgerald once said, "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Graham's apartment in 1940 while working on The Last Tycoon. He was 44. Zelda died in 1948 in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital.

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