24 Great Gatsby Facts

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University of South Carolina

Going to see The Great Gatsby before it leaves theaters? Brush up on your trivia before you go. You’ll either impress your friends, or they’ll refuse to see a movie with you ever again.

The Book

1. Would a Great American Novel by any other name be as sweet? Based on the other titles F. Scott Fitzgerald considered for Gatsby, I’d have to say no. At one time or another, all of these were in consideration: Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Trimalchio; Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover.

2. Fitzgerald was quite close to choosing one of the Trimalchio titles until someone persuaded him that the reference was too obscure. The original Trimalchio was a character in a first century work of fiction called Satyricon. The story had other famous fans, too: You can find mentions of Trimalchio in Les Miserables, Pompeii, and works by H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Miller and Octavio Paz, among others.

3. The Great Gatsby was partly inspired by a French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, written in 1913. It has since been translated into English with the titles The Wanderer and The Lost Estate.

4. The famous cover of the book was designed by Francis Cugat, who later went on to become a designer for actor/director/producer Douglas Fairbanks. Fitzgerald so loved Cugat’s art that he rewrote parts of the book to better incorporate it.

5. The poet who “wrote” the novel’s epigraph never actually existed. He was a character in Fitzgerald’s previous book, This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald also occasionally used it as his pen name. Here’s the epigraph:

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”

6. At the time of its publication in 1925, the novel cost just $2.

7. Unlike Fitzgerald’s previous two novels, Gatsby was not a commercial success. It sold just 20,000 copies in the entire first year of publication.

8. Fitzgerald was convinced that the reason the book wasn’t a rousing success was because Gatsby didn’t have a single admirable female character—and, at the time, the majority of people reading novels were women. He also thought that the title, which was only “fair,” resulted in poor sales.

9. Gatsby wasn’t a critical success with everyone, either. A few of the not-so-rave reviews:

“Why [Fitzgerald] should be called an author, or why any of us should behave as if he were, has never been satisfactorily explained to me.” —The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great writers of to-day.” —The New York Evening World

“Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that.” —The Baltimore Evening Sun

The Inspirations

10. The joke’s on the Evening Sun, because not only was much of Gatsby probable; it actually happened. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to Great Neck on Long Island after their daughter Scottie was born in 1922. That’s where Fitzgerald witnessed the collision of “old money” and “new money.” People who came from Great Neck had recently acquired money, while those who came from nearby Manhasset Neck or Cow Neck had inherited theirs. Cow Neck does sound quite classy.

11. In fact, even Jay Gatsby’s lavish mansion was inspired by a couple of real mansions, including Oheka Castle, in Huntington, New York. Even today, nearly a century after construction began on it in 1915, Oheka Castle is still the second-largest private estate in the United States.

Oheka.com

Some literary scholars also liken Fitzgerald’s description of the mansion to the structure Beacon Towers, a mansion with more than 140 rooms that was owned by William Randolph Hearst and demolished in 1945.

12. Gatsby's estate wasn't all that was inspired by the real-life comings and goings of the most beloved couple of the Jazz Age. Many of the characters were based on flesh and blood friends and lovers. Daisy was based on Ginevra King, a Chicago debutante and one of Fitzgerald’s girlfriends. One Fitzgerald scholar says his romance with King was the most important relationship he experienced, even more so than the one with his wife. That may be true, considering that these words, found written in Fitzgerald’s ledger, are thought to have been said by King’s father: “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”

13. Similarly, Daisy Buchanan’s best friend Jordan was modeled on one of Ginevra’s good friends, Edith Cummings. Cummings was not only a fellow debutante—one of Chicago’s “Big Four,” the most eligible women in the city—she was also a famous amateur golfer. Dubbed “The Fairway Flapper,” Cummings won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1924, the year before Gatsby was released.

14. Speaking of Jordan Baker, her name was a play on two popular car brands of the Roaring Twenties: the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle. The play on words was meant to invoke the feeling of freedom and a “fast” reputation.

15. “Meyer Wolfshiem” is a thinly-veiled reference to Arnold Rothstein, the man behind the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. If the somewhat similar names didn’t give it away, the fact that Wolfshiem is said to have fixed the World Series probably did.

16. Gatsby himself—or at least his line of work and one of his famous phrases—may have been inspired by a WWI vet named Max Gerlach, a “gentleman bootlegger” Fitzgerald knew from Great Neck. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli discovered a newspaper clipping in one of the Fitzgeralds' numerous scrapbooks. The clipping, apparently sent from Gerlach, was a photo of the Fitzgeralds accompanied by a handwritten note that said, “Here for a few days on business—How are you and the family old Sport? Gerlach.” “Old sport,” of course, is the way Gatsby constantly refers to narrator Nick Carraway.

The Aftermath

17. So what great sum did Fitzgerald receive for writing one of the most beloved novels of all time? A $3993 advance, and $1981.25 when it was published. He later received $16,666 for the movie rights.

18. Too bad the movie, which was released in 1926, sucked—at least according to Zelda Fitzgerald. In undated letter to Scottie, Zelda wrote that the silent film based on the novel was “ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”

19. Sadly, when Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940, he had mostly disappeared into obscurity. At the time of his death, Gatsby’s publisher still had copies of the book in its warehouse—and that was from a second printing of just 3000 books. Fitzgerald’s works saw a revival in 1945. Helping in that revival: 150,000 copies of Gatsby were sent to Americans serving in WWII.

Miscellaneous

20. Mad Money host Jim Cramer has a group of 13 stocks he calls “The Great Gatsby Index,” which tracks the spending of rich people. The group: Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Lululemon, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Panera bread, Toll Brothers, Brunswick, Coach, Tiffany, Saks, Starbucks, and Estee Lauder.

21. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a deplorable speller. He was so bad, in fact, that American literary critic Edmund Wilson called This Side of Paradise "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

22. Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin, three times removed: Francis Scott Key. Key wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

23. In 1917, Fitzgerald dropped out of school—he was already on academic probation—and joined the U.S. Army. Terrified that he would be killed in the war, thus denying the world his literary genius, he hastily wrote a novel and sent it off to Scribner. The Romantic Egotist was rejected, but Scribner sent him an encouraging letter and asked him to submit again in the future.

24. Hunter S. Thompson retyped The Great Gatsby so he could feel what it was like to write like Fitzgerald.

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May 30, 2013 - 8:00pm
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