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Barbara Probst Solomon, 90

By James Lomuscio

Barbara Probst Solomon, a former Westport writer known worldwide for chronicling Spain under Gen. Francisco Franco — and locally for inspiring a film saying F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was born in Westport — died today at her home in New York City, The New York Times reported. She was 90.

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Barbara Probst Solomon was in the audience in 2015 for a screening of “Boats Against the Current,” a documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda’s stay in Westport in 1920. The former Westporter and author, essayist and journalist whose 1996 article in The New Yorker inspired the film, posed with filmmakers Robert Steven Williams (l) and Richard “Deej” Webb. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

The newspaper, quoting her family, said that Solomon, whose essays appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker and The New Republic among others, died of renal failure.

It also cited her book “Arriving Where We Started,” Solomon’s 1972 memoir choreographing her role in the anti-Franco resistance.

Locally, she is best known for her 1996 New Yorker piece “Westport Wildlife” that highlighted the town’s riotous past, influencing Westport filmmakers Robert Stevens Williams and Richard “Deej” Webb in 2015 to produce “Boats Against the Current.”

The documentary says the 1920s wild parties at an estate that is now the town-owned Inn at Longshore, inspired Fitzgerald’s iconic work. At the time, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda had rented a neighboring house at 244 Compo Road South, which now has a Westport Historical Society plaque.

Solomon’s article casts Westport during the Roaring 20s following the passage of the Volstead Act, the informal name of the National Prohibition Act, as a haven for hooch coming in from Canada since there was no local police force to thwart bootleggers.

In a 2015 interview with WestportNow.com, Solomon, recalled sitting in the 1940s at the end of the pier on her parents’ 75-acre estate where Westport’s Saugatuck River meets the Long Island Sound.

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Former Westporter Barbara Probst Solomon’s 1996 article in The New Yorker inspired the “Boats Against the Current” documentary. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) TheNewYorker.com

Looking across the water, she could see the mansion that is now the Inn at Longshore. And she could also see the gray Colonial house where the Fitzgeralds lived two decades earlier.

“I had a little row boat, and sometimes I would row across,” she said. “I always thought of that house as the Fitzgerald house.”

“Westport was so tiny, barely a town, and it didn’t have any police,” Solomon said about the town in the 1920s. “Bootleggers came down from Canada and landed on Compo Beach.”

Legend has it that Cockenoe Island, a mile off the Westport coast and now town-owned, served as a drop off point for booze, the crumbling foundation on it once a storage area for whiskey crates.

Solomon, an author, essayist and journalist who served as U.S. cultural correspondent for Spain’s “newspaper-of-record,” El País of Madrid, said she decided to write The New Yorker piece since her young adult fascination about the Fitzgeralds still lingered.

She said she spent many hours poring over microfilm of old newspapers, such as the Westporter-Herald, in the Westport Library.

“I never intended to make this Fitzgerald thing a cause,” she said, noting that she had been spurred on by personal curiosity.

According to The Times, Solomon was predeceased by Harold W. Solomon, a law professor whom she married in 1952. He died in 1967. She is survived by daughters Carla Solomon Magliocco and Maria Solomon, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

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