Happy Birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century and the chronicler of America’s jazz age of the 1920’s and its “Lost Generation,” was born September 24, 1896 in St. Paul Minnesota. He died a mere forty-four years later in Hollywood, California, of a heart attack, though alcoholism and tuberculosis may have contributed to his undoing.
Though born in the Midwest and died on the West Coast, Fitzgerald is in many ways remembered most for the time he spent in between in New York, no small part of which was spent in the Village. In fact, Fitzgerald made quite an impression upon the Village, and clearly the Village made quite an impression upon him too.
Unsurprisingly for a man so associated with the literary avante-garde of the 1920’s, and the countercultural lifestyle of that era, Fitzgerald often gravitated to the Village. A favorite was Chumley’s, the speakeasy on Bedford Street that opened in 1926. Legend has it that the hard-drinking Fitzgerald had a tryst with a woman in a booth there, and wrote part of the Great Gatsby within it’s atmospheric walls.
Fitzgerald was also known as a regular at the Minetta Tavern at 113 MacDougal Street. Like Chumley’s, the Minetta Tavern attracted the creme de la crème of the literary crowd of its day. And while it occupied the home of a former speakeasy, unlike Chumley’s this post-prohibition watering hole, which opened in 1937, served alcohol in the wide open.
But while alcohol was still illegal, Fitzgerald was not shy about criticizing the repressive laws and quaint mores of the day. In 1923, when the police raided one of the more notorious speakeasies in the Village, Cushman’s Cabaret at 160 West 4th Street, Fitzgerald defended the allegedly illegal goings-on, including dancing by un-escorted underage girls. Under the headline “Novelist flays drys, exalting our flappers,” Fitzgerald told the Daily News in 1923 that “prohibition is the cause of conditions found in such places” and that “petting parties don’t hurt a girl so much as a lot of reformers would have us believe.”
But Fitzgerald didn’t just defend notoriety in Greenwich Village; he created some as well. Most famously, he and wife Zelda were photographed one evening leaping into the fountain at Washington Square Park (though some reports say it was Union Square). Zelda had risen to fame as showgirl in the “Greenwich Village Follies,” and their frivolity was later immortalized with a painting depicting the scene on the curtain of the Follies’ show, thus permanently cementing the connections between F. Scott and Zelda and the carefree life associated with Greenwich Village at the time.