I read The Love of the Last Tycoon so long ago, it was still known simply as The Last Tycoon.* Now, the famously 'unfinished' F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is headed to Amazon in series form. Billy Ray (Hunger Games and Captain Phillips) is writing the screenplay inspired in part by the rivalry of Hollywood heavyweight Louis B Mayer and his head of production at MGM, Irving Thalberg, Pat Brady and the novel's main character, Monroe Stahr respectively, in the novel. Apparently Mayer had a habit of claiming some of Thalberg's innovations as his own but it's broadly acknowledged that it was Thalberg who really created the studio system. The Love of the Last Tycoon, informed by F. Scott's own troubled experiences working within that same system, is as much an indictment of that system as it is the tale of a man, torn apart by the loss of his wife, struggling to move forwardm burying himself in his work.
A movie about making movies; just my cup of tea. What I'm confounded by is that I don't remember the first movie, released as The Last Tycoon in 1976 at all. How flawed a film must it be that with the legendary Elia Kazan directing a star-studded cast including Robert DeNiro as Stahr, Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis, Jack Nicholson Jean Morreau and Donald Pleasance, that it's been relegated to the forgotten file? I may have to add The Last Tycoon to the list of films I want to stream on Amazon to see if it rings any old bells.
Cecilia, Bradley the studio head's daughter, serves as narrator. Here are the first paragraphs from the first chapter of the book -
Though I haven't ever been on the screen I was brought up in pictures. Rudolph Valentino came to my fifth birthday party -- or so I was told. I put this down only to indicate that even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.
I was going to write my memoirs once, "The Producer's Daughter," but at eighteen you never quite get around to anything like that. It's just as well -- it would have been as flat as an old column of Lolly Parsons'. My father was in the picture business as another man might be in cotton or steel, and I took it tranquilly. At the worst I accepted Hollywood with the resignation of a ghost assigned to a haunted house. I knew what you were supposed to think about it but I was obstinately unhorrified.
This is easy to say, but harder to make people understand. When I was at Bennington some of the English teachers who pretended an indifference to Hollywood or its products really hated it. Hated it way down deep as a threat to their existence. Even before that, when I was in a convent, a sweet little nun asked me to get her a script of a screen play so she could "teach her class about movie writing" as she had taught them about the essay and the short story. I got the script for her and I suppose she puzzled over it and puzzled over it but it was never mentioned in class and she gave it back to me with an air of offended surprise and not a single comment. That's what I half expect to happen to this story.
You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don't understand. It can be understood too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads. And perhaps the closest a woman can come to the set-up is to try and understand one of those men.* Matthew Bruccoli, noted F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar, retitled the book, according to Fitzgerald's intention, when he put together his new annotated edition in 1994.