Critical Essay on ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’
Based on an embarrassing incident from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own experience in Hollywood, ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ is part autobiography and part pure fiction. The main character, Joel Coles, is a young screenwriter who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is enjoying a measure of success. Trying to impress all the right people, he instead humiliates himself and finds himself in the middle of a marriage on the rocks. Throughout the story, Fitzgerald portrays Joel as emotionally immature in every relationship he has. He is immature in his relationship to himself, creating a self-image that is often convenient and reassuring if not always accurate. He is immature in his relationships with others, seeking approval and validation from whoever is most likely to give it. And he is immature in his relationship to his career and his industry, setting professionalism aside in favor of soothing his ego. As the story progresses from beginning to end, Joel experiences no personal growth and misses opportunities to gain wisdom because he is too immature to seize them.
First, Joel lacks the maturity to be honest with himself and exercise discipline or self-control. He knows that he drinks too much, and he promises himself not to have any drinks at Miles Calman’s party. Within the first hour, he has broken this promise, accepting a cocktail because Stella, Miles’s beautiful wife, gives it to him. Rather than exhibit the self-assuredness to refuse the drink...
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Public Exposure of Private Relationships
In ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale of Hollywood citizens Joel Coles, a young, up-andcoming screenwriter; Miles Calman, a powerful movie director; and Stella Walker (Calman), a beautiful, famous actress and Miles’s wife. As to be expected, the lives of famous, Hollywood inhabitants receive much more exposure and attention than an ordinary, everyday citizen. Calman and Walker are no exception. Their public actions are scrutinized, watched and reported. Yet beyond what they do in public, Calman and Walker are under a constant, inquisitive eye that desires to see past their public actions, deep into their private lives. Coles, on the other hand, experiences no overt analysis from the public realm. He lives his life publicly in a way that is similar to most individuals. He moves through life as an active participant and contributor, but when he returns to his private realm, he feels removed from the public realm. Also, because of his ordinary stature, his private life is of no interest to the public. Thus, his private life is truly his own, in that he can decide to share it or to keep it completely isolated. However, as his life overlaps with Calman and Walker’s life and relationship, the destructive, invasive power that public scrutiny holds over the private realm becomes unwaveringly apparent.
To better examine the concept of a public realm overpowering the private in ‘‘Crazy Sunday,’’ it is best to turn to German-born...
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The Sane Method of ‘Crazy Sunday’
Precise factual information which aids the reader to place an artist’s work securely into a biographicalhistorical context is always welcome. Such information establishes a sound foundation for critical analysis and enhances our appreciation of the artist’s achievements. Fortunately, any student of Fitzgerald’s brilliant story ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ (1932) finds an abundance of data already provided by Arthur Mizener, Dwight Taylor, Andrew Turnbull, Kenneth Eble, Henry Dan Piper, and Aaron Latham, among others. Accordingly, no further evidence is needed to prove that in writing ‘‘Crazy Sunday,’’ Fitzgerald chose a phase of recent experience in which he suffered disappointment and disgrace, then deliberately exploited it as the basis for the story’s locale, major characters, and precipitating episode. Few examples of Fitzgerald’s work better illustrate the intimate yet complex relationship between his life and his art. In this instance, an unsuccessful screenwriting stint in California during the fall of 1931 and a drunken episode at a party given by the Thalbergs were soon after transformed into a work of fiction that still endures, after almost half a century, as perhaps the best American short story about Hollywood.
But if the biographical basis is manifest, what of the art? Here one can perhaps offer a contribution, for to this point there has been surprisingly little aesthetic discussion of the story. The treatments that do exist...
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Hollywood in Fitzgerald: After Paradise
As Arthur Mizener has remarked in The Far Side of Paradise, the movies fascinated Fitzgerald, ‘‘as they must fascinate any artist, because, as a visual art, they have such exciting possibilities of greatness, for all their actual shoddiness, and because they offered Fitzgerald what always drew him, a Diamond-as-Big-as-the-Ritz scale of operation, a world ‘bigger and grander’ than the ordinary world.’’
According to Henry Dan Piper, scriptwriting offered little challenge to Fitzgerald, but ‘‘he had always been fascinated by the motion-picture industry as literary subject matter.’’ This would have been especially true for Fitzgerald around 1924 since movies were not only becoming established as the popular medium of the day, they were also becoming an art form. Fitzgerald, says Piper, had foreseen the movies as art and at one time had suggested a film about the craft of moviemaking:
As far back as 1920, so he said, he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade D. W. Griffith that the craft of movie making itself was a wonderful subject for a picture. According to Fitzgerald, Griffith had laughed at him, but the success of Merton of the Movies not long afterwards proved Fitzgerald right.
With the publication of The Great Gatsby on April 10, 1925, followed by its disappointing sales record, Fitzgerald would have had every reason to look toward Hollywood if his next...
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