This past weekend, Flavorwire posted about how Jennifer Lawrence would be playing writer/artist Zelda Fitzgerald in a film adaptation of Zelda, Nancy Milford’s bestselling biography. That project is being developed by Ron Howard, “with an eye to direct,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, and here we are again, now writing that Scarlett Johansson will also be playing the 20s icon in a separate project called The Beautiful and the Damned. (Oh, and also, it should be mentioned that there’s currently an amazon series — Z: The Beginning of Everything — in which Christina Ricci stars as Zelda Fitzgerald, in the works for Amazon — whose pilot debuted in November of last year and whose whole first season will air in 2017.)
THR reports that this project, financed by Millennium Films, has the advantage of access granted by the Fitzgerald estate to documents transcribed in a sanatorium where Fitzgerald was being confined. She was in and out of sanatoriums in her adult life (and died in a fire at the Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC), and was diagnosed with schizophrenia — though as Therese Ann Fowler, author of Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (on which the Ricci series is based) emphasizes in the Telegraph:
While today we know it to mean severe mental illness requiring delicate and often lifelong treatment with medications, therapies, and sometimes institutionalisation, in Zelda’s time it was a catch-all label for a range of emotional difficulties. It was often applied to women who suffered depression or exhaustion brought on by impossible circumstances.
The transcripts suggest that F. Scott Fitzgerald took Zelda’s ideas without accreditation — a suggestion that’s been more and more acknowledged in the past couple of decades. Mark Gill, President of Millennium Films, said in a statement:
It was the height of the Jazz Age, so you have all of that glamor and sophistication and living large. But you also have the massive drama of fly high, crash hard. [Zelda] was massively ahead of her time, and she took a beating for it. He stole her ideas and put them in his books. The marriage was a co-dependency from hell with a Jazz Age soundtrack.
As mentioned earlier, these documents aren’t the only suggestion that Fitzgerald took his wife’s ideas: Zelda, as a Salon article from 2001 points out, was asked to review her own husband’s novel — interestingly, the novel after which this film takes its title — The Beautiful and Damned. (The novel itself is noted for its transparent fictionalized autobiographical elements about their marriage.) She’d written in the review:
It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.
The screenplay for the film was written by Hanna Weg; Millennium Films is now searching for a director.