from the Los Angeles Times

Fitzgerald on film and television

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt

Merrick Morton / Paramount Pictures

LONGING: Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button, and Cate Blanchett is Daisy. Fitzgerald made a rare foray into fantasy with the short story

Before ‘Benjamin Button,’ there were ‘Gatsby, ‘Tycoon’ and more.

By Susan King
December 29, 2008


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magical short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was a hard sell during the early days of the Roaring ’20s, when magazines were hungering for one of the author’s more down-to-earth flapper stories. “Benjamin Button” was a rare foray for Fitzgerald into the fantasy genre — a quixotic tale of a man who was born with the body of an old man and grew younger as the years passed. “Button” finally found a home at Collier’s, which published it on May 27, 1922.

According to Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, Fitzgerald was “probably attracted to this form by its tension between romanticism and realism, for the challenge of fantasy is to make events convincing.”

Fitzgerald became a member of the “lost generation” of novelists and playwrights who came to Hollywood in the 1930s to try their luck — and help their dwindling coffers — at screenwriting. But Fitzgerald’s stint at MGM was short-lived and disappointing. His only screen credit was for co-writing the post-World War I love story “Three Comrades.”

When Fitzgerald collected “Button” in his classic 1922 “Tales of the Jazz Age” anthology, he noted that “the story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s to the effect that it was pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. By trying the experiment upon only one man in a perfectly normal world I have scarcely given his idea a fair trial.”

Fitzgerald, who long battled alcoholism, died on Dec. 21, 1940, at the age of 44 at the Hollywood apartment of his lover, Sheilah Graham. Just as Twain had said, the worst part of his life came at the end.

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