In Hollywood, while living out the remaining months of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the Pat Hobby stories, a series of seventeen short stories that were published in successive issues of Esquire. The first, “Pat Hobby’s Christmas Wish,” appeared in the January 1940 issue of the magazine; the final story, “Pat Hobby’s College Days,” was published in the May 1941 issue, five months after Fitzgerald’s death on December 21, 1940.
As Fitzgerald’s contemporary protagonist, Pat Hobby is an alcoholic down-and-out motion picture screenwriter whose real career had ended long before with the arrival of “the talkies.” Unable to make the literary transition to the new medium, Hobby now lives his life on the periphery of the movie industry; he is a silent movie “structure man” who can’t write a script and won’t read a book. Hobby, however, does not see himself as a “has been.” He sees himself as an experienced writer, down on his luck but determined to regain his place in the Hollywood sun. To this end, no deed or misdeed—no matter how outrageous—is beyond Hobby’s devious imagination or beneath his non-existent principles. Pat Hobby never wins, but he never gives up. As each ill-conceived plan reaches its usually ironic and often humorously pathetic conclusion, Hobby falls into another scheme or finds himself in yet another ridiculous situation that would embarrass anyone except himself.
Pat Hobby emerges in these stories certainly as no hero to be emulated, but neither does Fitzgerald make him a villain. The author, in fact, seems emotionally detached from his character. Hobby’s daily life is presented in a straightforward narrative style; the long passages of vivid, evocative description with which Fitzgerald is so identified are missing in these stories. Hobby is generally a comic figure through whom Fitzgerald satirizes Hollywood in general and screenwriting in particular. Whatever sympathy one might feel for Hobby’s desperation is countered by his lack of scruples and outlandish behavior and by the stories’ subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—humor. When Hobby, for instance, attacks a scriptwriter with a cafeteria tray, the scene plays out on the page as slapstick comedy.
Some critics see the Pat Hobby character as an expression of Fitzgerald’s view of himself in 1940. Like his character, Fitzgerald had experience as a Hollywood screenwriter and had achieved his greatest financial success very early in his career. There, however, the similarity ends. Fitzgerald was never a Hollywood hack writer; he never worked on a “B” picture, and, with one exception, he never worked for less than $1,000 per week. (By way of comparison, William Faulkner worked for Warner Brothers in the 1940s for $300 per week.) Fitzgerald ranked among the highest paid movie writers in Hollywood.
When he wrote the Pat Hobby stories, Fitzgerald lived quietly in Hollywood, struggling with enormous financial obligations and deteriorating health, working hard to finish The Last Tycoon. Based on the chapters he had written (44,000 words) and the 200 pages of notes and background he had completed, the unfinished novel shows that Fitzgerald was doing his finest writing. The income he received from the Pat Hobby stories ($4,500) bought him time to write—until he ran out of time, dying of a heart attack at 44.
It would be erroneous, though, to dismiss the Pat Hobby stories as being merely popular narratives of commercial value. As a collection, they remain a unique contribution to the body of Hollywood literature in their portrayal of the relationship between writing and making movies. Fitzgerald was not Pat Hobby, but he understood very well the Hollywood in which Hobby scrambles to survive.