A World of Speculation

Not. A collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s screenplays goes to the University of South Carolina after being dug out of a file cabinet in Warner Brothers Studios somewhere. (I have an image of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones sees where the Lost Ark might be warehoused.)

Apparently, Fitzgerald wasn’t much of a screenwriter, since only one of his screenplays made it into production, after much rewriting, but he worked hard at it and produced many drafts and background materials.

A couple of things jumped out at me from this story. First:

“He took screenwriting very seriously,” [said Matthew Bruccoli of the University of South Carolina], “and it’s heartbreaking to see how much effort he put into it.” The new archive reveals, among other things, that Fitzgerald approached every screenplay as if it were a novel and often wrote long back stories for each of the characters before setting down a word of dialogue.

That’s what Robert McKee recommends as the general process for screenwriting.

It didn’t work out, all the same. “Billy Wilder, Fitzgerald’s friend and admirer in his Hollywood days, always thought the notion of turning him into a screenwriter was a little misguided. He once compared Fitzgerald to ‘a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.'”

McKee’s categorization that screenplays deal in image; stage plays deal in dialogue; and novels deal in the inner life is probably as good an explanation as any of why Raymond Chandler would be a more successful screenwriter than Fitzgerald and why, for that matter, Henry James’s plays never did well either.