Wednesday, October 21, 2009

her voice is full of money

What can be learned from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tax returns?

To start with, his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles. Until 1937 he kept a ledger—as if he were a grocer—a meticulous record of his earnings from each short story, play, and novel he sold. The 1929 ledger recorded items as small as royalties of $5.10 from the American edition of The Great Gatsby and $0.34 from the English edition. No one could call Fitzgerald frugal, but he was always trying to save money—at least until his wife Zelda’s illness, starting in 1929, put any idea of saving out of the question. The ordinary person saves to protect against some distant rainy day. Fitzgerald had no interest in that. To him saving meant freedom to work on his novels without interruptions caused by the economic necessity of writing short stories. The short stories were his main source of revenue.

Until the Hollywood years (1937–40), Fitz­gerald handwrote his income tax returns. During the Hollywood years, the returns were prepared by accountants and typed. He, of course, kept his ledgers by hand. Regardless of how they were transcribed, the returns and the ledgers reveal a great deal about Fitzgerald—how he lived and how he struggled.