Amid all the hullabaloo leading up to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, critics couldn’t help comparing it to the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous character. To readers’ despair, neither of the massively hyped films turned out to be an adequate adaptation of one of the 20th century’s most serious Great American Novel contenders. But the failure of the Gatsby movies tends to obscure the fact that Fitzgerald — who was born on this day in 1896 — had far more than just Jay and Daisy to offer cinema.
Most of his fans know that Fitzgerald moved to, and eventually died, chasing the big money as a Hollywood screenwriter; what most people don’t talk about, is how many of his works — both written directly for the screen or adapted from books or stories — actually made it into movie theaters or to television screens.
The Great Gatsby, 1926 and 1949
Before we dive into all the filmed works of Fitzgerald’s that don’t take place on West Egg, we should pay tribute to these two earlier adaptations of his most well-known books. Although they’re tough to find (the 1949 one was available on YouTube, but has been taken down), both are proof that Gatsby’s story has long been an obsession for Hollywood. Decades before your high school English teacher was making you read the book, directors Herbert Brenon (’26) and Elliott Nugent (’49) both tried their hand at bringing it to the screen.
The Husband Hunter, 1920
Based on Fitzgerald’s story “Myra Meets His Family,” Howard M. Mitchell’s film finds a new and old suitor teaching a notorious socialite a hilarious lesson about love.
The Off-Shore Pirate, 1921
This 1921 adaptation of Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name starred famed silent screen actress Viola Dana, and was directed by Dallas M. Fitzgerald (no relation).
The Beautiful and Damned, 1922
A possibly lost film at this point, it was publicized that the stars of this 1922 adaptation, Kenneth Harlan and Marie Prevost, would be married on the set. The public loved the stunt, and the film did well at the box office, but it was eventually revealed that Prevost was still secretly married to his first wife. People weren’t so pleased to hear that.
Fitzgerald wrote the story for this crime drama, which starred silent screen icon Clara Bow as Orchid McGonigle, a tough street gang member who wants to go straight and live a crime-free life.
A Yank at Oxford, 1938
Although uncredited, Fitzgerald helped work on the treatment for the film that was remade in 1984 as Oxford Blues, starring Rob Lowe. So if you were ever looking to play Six Degrees of F. Scott Fitzgerald, this connection could make you a winner.
Marie Antoinette, 1938
Long before Sofia Coppola existed, Fitzgerald was uncredited for helping write the screenplay of this film starring John Berryman, based on Stefan Zweig’s biography of the French queen. Interestingly enough, it was also the last project by Irving Thalberg, the famous producer who inspired Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon.
Three Comrades, 1938
Fitzgerald wrote the screenplay for this film about three young German soldiers after the First World War, and their love of a dying woman.
Winter Carnival, 1939
Fitzgerald didn’t get his name attached to this film that center’s around Dartmouth’s famous Winter Carnival, but he was probably fine with that after the movie lost a lot of money. Even though the final product didn’t bear his stamp, there are plenty of stories to tell from his time spent getting hammered with a young Budd Schulberg.
The Last Time I Saw Paris, 1954
Based on Fitzgerald’s story “Babylon Revisited,” Julius and Philip Epstein of Casablanca fame rewrote this one to star Elizabeth Taylor.
Tender Is the Night, 1962
Jason Robards beat out Henry Fonda and Christopher Plummer to star in this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s last completed novel.
The Last Tycoon, 1967
John Frankenheimer directed this television adaptation starring Jack Palance for the Playhouse 90 series on CBS.
The Last Tycoon, 1976
On paper, this one had everything you needed for a classic: Fitzgerald adaptation, a screenplay by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, the last film Elia Kazan directed, and a cast that included Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, and Jack Nicholson. Yet somehow this one just didn’t hit with the public or the critics.
Bernice Bobs Her Hair, 1976
PBS should make a yearly event of showing this 45-minute adaptation of Fitzgerald’s short story. Starring Shelly Duvall (!) and Bud Court of Harold and Maude fame, this one could be considered a camp classic, one of the best Fitzgerald adaptations, or a little bit of both.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008
A film that helps you realize your dream of watching Brad Pitt get younger and better looking over the course of three hours. Fitzgerald would have been proud. Maybe.