Sunday, November 28, 2004
Famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived in Westport for only a brief time in 1920, but their six-month stay here is now part of their—and the town’s—legend and is highlighted in today’s Sunday New York Times Connecticut section.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda in front of their Westport house. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Princeton Unversity Library photo
The newspaper, in a front-page story on how Connecticut seems to have long attracted literary types, said Fitzgerald is in a category of his own.
On June 4, 1920, a small item in The Westporter-Herald announced his bigger-than life arrival in Westport: ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach,’’ the Times reported.
“Fitzgerald, 23, was the toast of Manhattan for his first novel, ‘This Side of Paradise,’ published three months earlier by Charles Scribner’s Sons. In April, he had married Zelda Sayre, who was 19, and the couple had planned a long New York City honeymoon.”
But it said by late May, they’d worn out their welcome at two Manhattan hotels and settled in Westport at 244 Compo Road South, not far from today’s town-owned Longshore Club Park.
The two-story colonial structure was built in 1780 by William Gray II, a farmer. It eventually came into the possession of William Wakeman, a descendant of Gray.
While living there, Fitzgerald began writing his second novel, “The Beautiful and Damned” and all the while the couple maintained their party animal reputations, according to the newspaper.
They entertained Manhattan friends like the drama critic George Jean Nathan, the theater producer John Williams and Princeton classmates like Edmund Wilson, who said he found the couple “reveling nude in the orgies of Westport,” the Times said.
The tempestuous couple joined the Westport Beach Club and were spotted at “wild beach parties” that took place off Hendricks Point, near Compo Beach, according to the biographer James Mellow, the newspaper said.
Mellow wrote that the couple “took mad rides along Post Road with abrupt stops at roadhouses to replenish the supply of gin.” In the midst of all this, Zelda’s parents visited from Alabama, but the couple’s behavior and lifestyle drove the elder Sayres home ahead of schedule, according to the account.
To honor that intense residency, the house now has a plaque that refers to it as the William Gray/F. Scott Fitzgerald House, the newspaper said.
Though scholars have said it was Fitzgerald’s time in Great Neck on Long Island (1922-24) that laid the foundation for his 1926 masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby,” Barbara Probst Solomon, a novelist who spent her childhood in a house near Compo Beach, made a compelling case for Westport at least planting the Gatsby seed, the Times said.
In a piece in The New Yorker during the Fitzgerald centennial in 1996, Solomon suggested that the road signs in Westport for Easton and Weston were echoed in “East Egg” and “West Egg,” and that Jay Gatsby himself may have been modeled on a millionaire/eccentric who lived near the Fitzgeralds in 1920 and was renowned for lavish Gatsby-style parties.
The current residents, James and Wendy Agah, were aware of the house’s notoriety when they bought it two years ago, according to the Times.
“As they’ve settled in, the Agahs have familiarized themselves with the Fitzgeralds’ lively Westport past. They’re particularly amused by “Invented Lives,” Mr. Mellow’s biography of the Fitzgeralds, the front cover of which shows the couple in front of the house,” the newspaper said.
“We leave the book out on a table in the front room,” Wendy Agah, who works for a wine auctioneer in Manhattan, told the newspaper. “We joke that at 3 a.m. we hear music drifting through the house and figure it’s just the Fitzgeralds throwing another party.”
The Agahs are normally unfazed by the inevitable curiosity seekers, the Times said.
“A woman walked right in the house one day, came up to me and asked, ‘When does the tour start?’,” Wendy Agah said. “We like the history of the house and the area. We like the attention it gets.”
Posted 11/28/04 at 12:45 PM
F. Scott Fitzgerald house.
It is great to see the New York Times and WestportNow.com make reference to the Fitzgeralds in Westport. Barbara Probst Solomon’s piece in the September 9, 1996 issue of The New Yorker is full of remarkable insights and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Fitzgeralds. I also wrote an article during that time titled “Centennial for F. Scott Fitzgerald, former Westport resident.” it was published in the Westport News on Friday, September 27, 1996. Currently I am working on a piece titled “From Westport to Hollywood: the Nomadic Lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”.
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