Drawings and Debutantes
There is no small amount of trepidation that the Baz Luhrmann’s newest motion picture may fall victim to over-commercialization. Those fears were not lessened when the heavily advertised December 2012 release date was suddenly scrapped in favor of the more vague Summer 2013. The director’s explanation was that the film was to be shown in 3-D and more time was needed to accommodate the new technology. Such delays do not necessarily suggest serious production issues, and in the case of The Great Gatsby, delays in release are part of the historical record of the novel.
As with any published novel or widely distributed motion picture, marketing considerations always leave imprints on the art itself. Most notable in the case of the latest printing by original publisher Scribner is the decision to offer a book cover featuring an Art Deco work depicting scenes from the Luhrmann movie.
Traditionalists abhor the new cover, citing the strong literary bonds between the original cover and the text of the novel acknowledged by the author as having influences of the cover art “written in” to the story. However, no other player has a stronger claim to the famous original cover than the publishing house that commissioned the work in 1924.
My initial reaction to the movie-themed cover was one of disdain. I would no more have a copy of Gatsby with the commercialized cover that I would Fifty Shades of Grey with any cover. My personal taste aside, though, I’m reminded of the initial reaction by many to the advent of digital readers.
Despite initial fears that Nook, Kindle and iPads would idle libraries and crush readership levels, readership levels have grown as a result of the new technology. There’s every reason to believe that new generations of readers first exposed to The Great Gatsby purchased at Wal-Mart, (the chain only offers the new cover version), will grow in later years to appreciate more than the original artwork.
The definitive story of how an obscure artist, Francis Cugat, came to create the most recognizable book cover of the past century is the essay written by Charles Scribner III. Please visit the link to learn the remarkable history behind the finished artwork that shaped The Great Gatsby.
A recent New York Times article on the decision to publish a new cover version also includes a multimedia feature illustrating the many variation of Gatsby cover are over the years including one featuring Alan Ladd who played the title character in 1949.
In addition to the creativity of Francis Cugat, (his brother, band leader Xavier Cugat is forever remembered for having married 70s Latina sex symbol Charo), human beauty also contributed to the themes and characters of The Great Gatsby.
The Big Four
Three female character stand out among other women mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Three women stand out in real life as having shaped the novel. Zelda Fitzgerald, whose own relationship as wife of the author plays heavily in the plot, is the best known, but two others’ lives directly contributed to the characters Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker.
During what would later be known as WW I, Chicago society boasted a small group of debutantes whose beauty and frequent appearances in social pages and at least one cover of Time Magazine earned them their on sobriquet.
Edith Cummings, Ginerva King, Courtney Letts and Margarett Carry were known far beyond Chicago as The Big Four. Best known among the women was professional golfer, Edith Cummings. It was Cummings that Fitzgerald openly credits as having been the model for Jordan Baker, though Cummings, unlike Baker, was known for her fair play and gracious sportsmanship.
Among Gatsby and Fitzgerald scholars is equally well known Ginerva King. King, the daughter of an old money Chicago businessman, met Fitzgerald in 1915 while the author was visiting a friend in St. Paul, Minnesota. The two are said to have been soon smitten and exchanged romantic letters for several years, much to the disapproval of King’s father. In 1916, Fitzgerald jotted down in the margins of a letter a line that would reappear in The Great Gatsby, one perhaps actually uttered by his love interest’s father to Gatsby. “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”
In 1918, Fitzgerald received a letter from Minerva announcing that she was marrying another. Readers of The Great Gatsby will recognize the identical receipt of a love lost to another when Gatsby, who like Fitzgerald, was serving in the Army when a similar letter announced Daisy’s impending marriage to Tom. Fitzgerald used Minerva as model for not only Daisy, but later as a character in The Beautiful and the Damned.
Of course this theme is repeated in real life when the author, stationed at an Army camp in Alabama, fell in love with a local beauty, Zelda Sayre. Their passionate romance was interrupted for some time when Zelda, who hailed from a wealthy family, made clear to Fitzgerald that she could not proceed romantically until her suitor was more suitably set financially, a challenge that scholars attribute to Fitzgerald’s burst of writing efforts that eventually produced the successful This Side of Paradise. Only then did Zelda agree to become the author’s wife. Again, the implications for the romance between Jay Gatsby and Daisy are painfully apparent.
From the evolving work of an obscure artist to the writer’s orbit among a society into which he was not born, the times in which Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald lived are indelibly stamped in the story for which the author is best remembered. There is a sadness to this story that shapes the identity of Jay Gatsby – and his creator.