The Last Tycoon
The Last Tycoon
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) American novelist, short story writer, essayist, screenwriter, and dramatist.
The following entry presents criticism of Fitzgerald's novel The Last Tycoon (1941). For a discussion of Fitzgerald's complete career, see TCLC, Volumes I and 6; for a discussion of his novel The Great Gatsby, see Volume 14; for a discussion of his novel Tender Is the Night, see Volume 28.
An unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon is concerned with the life of Monroe Stahr, a powerful Hollywood mogul. Published posthumously in an edition edited by Edmund Wilson, this work has been praised by critics for its realistic portrayal of Hollywood and its insight into the motion picture industry. Commentary on The Last Tycoon speculates on the ultimate form of the work as suggested by the six completed chapters and Fitzgerald's notes and outlines for the remaining sections of the novel.
Despite his popular success as a novelist, Fitzgerald was plagued by money problems in the last years of his life, including the support of his daughter and his institutionalized wife, Zelda. To fulfill his mounting financial obligations, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in 1937 and secured a screenwriting contract with MGM studios. While working at the motion picture company he became interested in the life of film producer Irving Thalberg; in 1937 and 1938 Fitzgerald researched Thalberg's life and the history of MGM studios, and his copious notes became the basis for The Last Tycoon. When his contract with MGM expired in 1939, Fitzgerald began writing the novel. He continued work on the manuscript during the last year of his life, supplementing his income with freelance film scripts and short stories. He died of a heart attack in 1940.
and Major Characters
The Last Tycoon is the story of the fall of a powerful Hollywood producer, Monroe Stahr, who rose from the streets of New York to head a major motion picture studio at the age of thirty-five. Following his wife's death, Stahr pursues a love affair with Kathleen Moore, an English actress who bears a strong resemblance to his late wife. His domination of the movie studio is threatened by the machinations of a scheming associate, Pat Brady, and labor disputes that culminate in a physical confrontation with a communist labor organizer. His power and influence waning, Stahr panics and arranges to have Brady murdered. Later, realizing the gravity of this action, Stahr attempts to revoke the murder contract on Brady but is killed in a plane crash before the assassin can be contacted.
Most critics view Monroe Stahr as representative of modern America, using his meteoric rise, fall, and resulting moral confusion as an allegory for the rapid change in American business and society in the early twentieth century. Initial reviews of The Last Tycoon were laudatory; several important critics asserted that the novel was destined to be considered Fitzgerald's best. Later critics have compared The Last Tycoon unfavorably with Fitzgerald's other work, denigrating the plot as melodramatic. Nevertheless, as Stephen Vincent Benet has remarked, The Last Tycoon demonstrates the "wit, observation, sure craftsmanship, the verbal felicity that Fitzgerald could always summon … But with them there is a richness of texture, a maturity of point of view that shows us what we all lost in his early death."
[In the following review, Adams offers a positive assessment of The Last Tycoon.]
It is a heavy loss to American literature that Scott Fitzgerald died in his forties. Of that fact this volume which Edmund Wilson has edited is convincing proof. When Tender Is the Night was published a few years ago there was reason to doubt whether the fine talent which had first fully realized itself in The Great Gatsby eight years before would develop sufficiently to arrive at the greater achievements of which it was capable. Tender Is the Night was an ambitious book, but it was also a brilliant failure. Coming after so long a lapse in Fitzgerald's serious writing, the disappointment it brought to those who had felt in The Great Gatsby the hand of a major novelist was keen.
So, too, is The Last Tycoon an ambitious book, but, uncompleted though it is, one would be blind indeed not to see that it would have been Fitzgerald's best novel and a very fine one. Even in this truncated form it not only makes absorbing reading; it is the best piece of creative writing that we have about one phase of American life—Hollywood and the movies. Both in the unfinished draft and in the sheaf of Fitzgerald's notes which Mr. Wilson has appended to the story it is plainly to be seen how firm was his grasp of his material, how much he had deepened and grown as an observer of life. His sudden death, we see now,...
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[Bengt was an American literary figure whose poetry and fiction is often concerned with celebrating American history and culture. In the following review of The Last Tycoon, he praises Fitzgerald's realistic and complex portrayal of Hollywood.]
When Scott Fitzgerald died, a good many of the obituaries showed a curious note of self-righteousness. They didn't review his work, they merely reviewed the Jazz Age and said that it was closed. Because he had made a spectacular youthful success at one kind of thing, they assumed that that one kind of thing was all he could ever do. In other words, they assumed that because he died in his forties, he had shot his bolt. And they were just one hundred percent wrong, as The Last Tycoon shows.
Fitzgerald was a writer, and a born writer, and a writer who strove against considerable odds to widen his range, to improve and sharpen his great technical gifts, and to write a kind of novel that no one else of his generation was able to write. How far he had come along the road to mastery may be seen in this unfinished draft of his last novel. We have had a good many books about Hollywood, including the interesting and staccato What Makes Sammy Run? But the difference between even the best of them and The Lost Tycoon is not merely a difference of degree but a difference in kind. The Lsst Tycoon shows what a really first-class writer can do with...
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[Thurber was an American humorist, cartoonist, short story writer, and playwright. In the following review, he evaluates the significance of The Last Tycoon and speculates that if Fitzgerald had lived to complete the novel, it would have been his best work.]
The novel F. Scott Fitzgerald was working on when he died in December, 1940, has been on the counters for three months now. His publishers tell me that it has sold only about 3,500 copies. This indicates, I think, that it has fallen, and will continue to fall, into the right hands. In its unfinished state, The Last Tycoon is for the writer, the critic, the sensitive appreciator of literature. The book, I have discovered, can be found in very few Womrath stores or other lending libraries. This, one feels sure, would have pleased Scott Fitzgerald. The book would have fared badly in the minds and discussions of readers who read books simply to finish them.
Fitzgerald's work in progress was to have told the life story of a big Hollywood producer. In the form in which the author left it, it runs to six chapters, the last one unfinished. There follows a synopsis of what was to have come, and then there are twenty-eight pages of notes, comments, descriptive sentences and paragraphs, jotted down by the author, and a complete letter he wrote outlining his story idea. All these were carefully selected and arranged by Edmund Wilson (who also contributes...
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[Dos Passos was an American novelist, playwright, and social historian. In the following essay, he attempts to place The Last Tycoon within the context of American fiction in general and Fitzgerald's works in particular.]
The notices in the press referring to Scott Fitzgerald's untimely death produced in the reader the same strange feeling that you have when, after talking about some topic for an hour with a man, it suddenly comes over you that neither you nor he has understood a word of what the other was saying. The gentlemen who wrote these pieces obviously knew something about writing the English language, and it should follow that they knew how to read it. But shouldn't the fact that they had set themselves up to make their livings as critics of the work of other men furnish some assurance that they recognized the existence of certain standards in the art of writing? If there are no permanent standards, there is no criticism possible.
It seems hardly necessary to point out that a well written book is a well written book whether it's written under Louis XIII or Joe Stalin or on the wall of a tomb of an Egyptian Pharaoh. It's the quality of detaching itself from its period while embodying its period that marks a piece of work as good. I would have no quarrel with any critic who examined Scott Fitzgerald's work and declared that in his opinion it did not detach itself from its period. My answer would...
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[Wilson was a prominent American literary figure who wrote widely on cultural, historical, and literary matters. He is often credited with bringing an international perspective to American letters through his widely read discussions of European literature. Perhaps Wilson's greatest contributions to American literature were his tireless promotion of writers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and his essays introducing the best of modern literature to the general reader. In the following introduction to the 1951 edition of The Last Tycoon, Wilson discusses the development of Fitzgerald's work and commends the maturity of his last novel.]
Scott Fitzgerald died suddenly of a heart attack (December 21, 1940) the day after he had written the first episode of Chapter 6 of his novel [The Last Tycoon]. The text which is given here is a draft made by the author after considerable rewriting; but it is by no means a finished version. In the margins of almost every one of the episodes, Fitzgerald had written comments—a few of them are included in...
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[In the following essay, Maurer analyzes structural and stylistic aspects ofThe Last Tycoon.]
In November of 1940 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to Edmund Wilson from Hollywood about the novel on which he was then working:
I think my novel is good. It is completely upstream in mood and will get a certain amount of abuse but it is first hand and I am trying a little harder than I ever have to be exact and honest emotionally. I honestly hoped somebody else would write it, but nobody seems to be going to.
On December 21, 1940, the day after he had written the first episode of the sixth chapter of his book, Fitzgerald died. In 1941 Scribner's published all there was of The Last Tycoon, along with part of Fitzgerald's notes for its completion, as edited by Edmund Wilson. The uncompleted novel closely matches Fitzgerald's description of it: it shows signs of being good; it reveals the author's firsthand knowledge of his subject (Fitzgerald had been in Hollywood three years); its mood, like that of a drama or of Fitzgerald's most perfectly realized book, The Great Gatsby, is upstream throughout.
Perhaps we cannot take too literally Fitzgerald's statement that he "honestly hoped somebody else would write it"—the "it" referring to the particular story Fitzgerald had in mind, the story of one of the truly great men of the movies and of...
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[Hart is an American educator and critic. Below, he examines autobiographical elements in The Last Tycoon.]
In a sense all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life had been a struggle with his "talent for self-delusion," a search for his "lost city." That search had led him from New York to Great Neck, to Paris, to the Riviera, and finally to Hollywood. When he died there in 1940, leaving the unfinished manuscript of The Last Tycoon, he was still trying to fit the pieces of his self-deluded past into a coherent and functioning whole. Edited by Edmund Wilson and published in 1941, the fragment and the notes which Fitzgerald had made for the novel indicate the care with which he was examining his theme and subject. Although The Last Tycoon describes the growing power of organized labor and Communist infiltration in Hollywood studios, it is more personal document than sociological tract; primarily, it is the story of a once-powerful and dominating personality, who, struggling with changing social patterns and with personal confusions and inner conflicts, falls into moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Conceived, as it was, after Fitzgerald's own psychological crack-up, the novel clearly represents not only the struggle with his own self-delusion, but also his final attempt to give shape and meaning to his own identity.
In this search for identity, a city like New York—and finally many cities—had a special...
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[Miller is an American educator and critic who has written extensively on such American writers as Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, and J. D. Salinger. In the following excerpt, he provides an overview of The Last Tycoon.]
In spite of all his physical and spiritual difficulties near the end of his life, Fitzgerald ambitiously began The Last Tycoon in Hollywood, where he spent the greater part of his last years writing for the motion pictures. There is a kind of heroic determination in his letters to his daughter during this period: "Any how I am alive again—getting by that October did something—with all its strains and necessities and humiliations and struggles. I don't drink. I am not a great man but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur." On November 25, 1940, Fitzgerald wrote to Edmund Wilson: "I think my novel [The Last Tycoon] is good. I've written it with difficulty. It is completely upstream in mood and will get a certain amount of abuse but it is first hand and I am trying a little harder than I ever have to be exact and honest emotionally.… This sounds like a bitter letter—I'd rewrite it except for a horrible paucity of time. Not even time to be bitter." Fitzgerald's acute consciousness of the swift passage of time now seems like a prophetic awareness of...
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[Perosa is an Italian educator and critic with a special interest in English and American literature. In the following excerpt from his critical study The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, he explores thematic, stylistic, and structural elements of The Last Tycoon, viewing the unfinished novel as a turning point in Fitzgerald's career.]
Once one is caught up into the material world, not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form … what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.
The Last Tycoon has much in common with The Great Gatsby and with Tender Is the Night, and yet it represents a notable turning point in Fitzgerald's fiction. Like Gatsby it is a tightly knit and well-constructed novel—even in its unfinished state—based on the skillful juxtaposition of "dramatic scenes" filtered through the eyes of a narrator involved in the story. Its affinity with Tender Is the Night is in the informing idea, if it is true that the story concerns a "superman in possibilities," almost an artist and a creator, who finds his defeat in a psychological and emotional epuisement and at the same time is crushed by adverse circumstances. But in comparison with Gatsby the protagonist of The Last Tycoon is more extensively defined, both on the...
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[Piper is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he discusses the development and characterization of Monroe Stahr, the protagonist of The Last Tycoon.]
When, in the fall of 1936, Fitzgerald learned of [Irving] Thalberg's death, his first emotion had been one of relief. "Thalberg's final collapse," he wrote a friend, "is the death of an enemy for me, though I liked the guy enormously.… I think … that he killed the idea of either Hopkins or Frederick March doing Tender Is the Night." But whatever resentment he had felt toward Thalberg living soon evaporated after he had spent eighteen months on the M-G-M lot that no longer had Thalberg to guide its destiny. For, as Crowther documents again and again in his history of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, neither M-G-M nor the industry at large was able to find a successor to fill his place. Thalberg's death marked the ultimate triumph of the commercialism that for so many years he had successfully held at bay. The battle between the idealists still loyal to Thalberg and the cohorts of the New York financiers was still raging on the M-G-M lot when Fitzgerald arrived a year later. But the end was already in sight. It was this epic conflict, symbolized by the heroic figure of the dead producer, that Fitzgerald intended to portray in the most ambitious of all his books, The Last Tycoon.
The earliest evidence that Fitzgerald had...
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[Lehan is an American educator and critic who has written extensively on the twentieth-century American noveL In the following excerpt, he examines the diversity of influences on The Last Tycoon.]
In October of 1931, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood where he made $6,000 for five weeks' work at M-G-M. There he met Irving Thalberg, who had come to Hollywood in 1919 to assist Carl Laemmle at Universal Pictures and who, in the meantime, had worked his way to the very top of the industry. In 1937, Harold Ober, Fitzgerald's agent, got him another contract at $1,000 a week with M-G-M. Thalberg had died, at the age of thirty-seven, the year before; and Fitzgerald saw his death was a turning point for the industry. Thalberg, Fitzgerald believed, was an idealist in a materialistic world. The feud at M-G-M between Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer was for Fitzgerald a matter of principle—whether the movies were an art form, as Thalberg maintained, or merely a profitable industry, as Mayer insisted; whether Hollywood should be more concerned with quality films or with profit.
Since Fitzgerald had depicted in Gatsby and Dick Diver [in The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night] the idealist in a materialistic world, he could warm to the struggle between Thalberg and Mayer. He was also excited by the personal qualities of Thalberg—a man of energy, power, and decision who lived a heightened and glamorous life—and...
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[Below, Piacentino offers a study of the moon imagery in The Last Tycoon.]
Although regarded as a flawed fragment, a falling off from F. Scott Fitzgerald's earlier fictional achievements, The Last Tycoon, edited by Edmund Wilson and published posthumously along with the author's notes and plans in 1941, a year after Fitzgerald's death, is a work of conscientious craftsmanship. Rarely lavished with the same stupendous appraisal as some of Fitzgerald's earlier novels, particularly The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, and some of his stories, The Last Tycoon has attracted considerable attention among some of Fitzgerald's most respected critics. Henry Dan Piper, for example, in commenting on the novel's technique and style [in F Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait], viewed it as employing the "dramatic and more economical design of The Great Gatsby." And James E. Miller, in his astute critical assessment [F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique], remarked that it is best to accept The Last Tycoon "for what it is, an unfinished novel of a highly gifted writer, valuable for revealing how a genuine craftsman goes about his craft." "The six chapters of The Last Tycoon, together with the sketches and notes," Miller continued, "provide valuable insight into the creative act. They tell us something of the art that, years before had gone into The Great...
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Bruccoli, Matthew J. "Planning The Last Tycoon [Fall 1939]" and "Writing The Last Tycoon ." In his Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 461-68, pp. 470-80. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
Recounts the conception and drafting of The Last Tycoon.
Eble, Kenneth. "The Last Tycoon." In his F Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 148-51. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963.
Compares The Last Tycoon to other Fitzgerald novels.
Freeman, David. "The Great Hollywood Insider." Los Angeles Times Book Review (3 April 1994): 2.
Mixed review of Matthew Bruccoli's 1994 edition of Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon.
Giddings, Robert. "The Last Tycoon: Fitzgerald as Projectionist." In Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life, edited by A. Robert Lee, pp. 74-93. London: Vision Press, 1989.
Asserts that The Last Tycoon is "an impressive and moving fragment" because in this novel Fitzgerald explored "some of his driving interest in the creative processes and their relationship with industry and mass society."
Mizener, Arthur. "The Maturity of Scott Fitzgerald." In his F Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays, pp. 157-68. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:...
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