The 1926 Gatsby Film Was Rotten and Awful and Terrible
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has been adapted to most conceivable forms of media: graphic novels, video games, musical theatre, and opera. Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of the classic American novel, in theaters this Friday, marks the sixth time a director has attempted to take Gatsby from page to screen. While expectations are running high for the $127 million movie, some of Luhrmann's predecessors failed to set a very high bar for him.
In 1926, Paramount Pictures released the only Gatsby film to exist in Fitzgerald's lifetime: A silent movie directed by Herbert Brenon, to which Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald devoted a night out in Hollywood. While a review in The New York Times was disappointed at best in the movie's lack of character development, noting that Daisy was most compelling for the sheer volume of alcohol she consumed, the Fitzgeralds were more direct in their appraisal. In a letter to her daughter Scottie, Zelda Fitzgerald wrote that the movie was "ROTTEN and awful and terrible"—so the couple walked out of it, according to Anne Margaret Daniel in the Huffington Post.
That 1926 adaptation is now a classic example of a "lost movie." The trailer is all that remains, but by Zelda's account, that loss might have been a modern audience's gain.
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