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Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

Being Discovered: An Interview with Calvin Tomkins

October 20, 2014 | by

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Gerald and Sara Murphy with Cole Porter and the Murphy’s friend Ginny Carpenter, in Venice, summer of 1923. Gerald had come to collaborate with Porter on their ballet Within the Quota.

In the late fifties, Calvin Tomkins, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, moved his family from New York City to a little community on the Hudson River called Sneden’s Landing. “The houses are built on the side of a hill fairly close together,” Tomkins told me by phone this past summer, “but in those days there were no real property lines. Everybody knew each other, and the kids wandered all over.”

Tomkins’s two daughters, Anne and Susan, eventually found their way to Gerald Murphy, then in his sixties, pruning his rose garden. As kids do, they struck up a conversation with Gerald, and when Tomkins and his wife caught up with them, Sara, Gerald’s wife, emerged from the house, taking orders for ginger ale.

“The Murphys didn’t talk about the past in those days, and it was some time before I realized they were the people F. Scott Fitzgerald had used as models for Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night,” Tomkins wrote in 1998. In the twenties and early thirties, the couple, along with their three children, spent part of the year in the south of France, on the Riviera, and the rest of it immersed in the salad days of modernism and surrealism in Paris, where they had befriended, among others, Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova; Ferdinand Léger; Dorothy Parker; Cole Porter; the Fitzgeralds; the Dos Passos; and the Hemingways. It was a fascinating life, though shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

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Gerald Murphy with Picasso.

Tomkins urged Murphy to write a memoir, but Murphy “scoffed at the notion … he had too much respect for the craft of writing, he said, to attempt something which could only be second-rate.” Tomkins reported the piece instead. It was called “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” a reference to the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert’s mordant epigram, which Murphy had once jotted down on a piece of paper. The piece ran in The New Yorker on July 28, 1962. By the time Tomkins had expanded it into a book, in 1974, “Gerald had been dead for ten years, and Sara, who died in 1975, was no longer aware of the world around her.”

Fortunately, Tomkins was, and Living Well Is the Best Revenge remains one of the most ingeniously reported profiles of the Lost Generation, with the Murphys serving to illuminate the nearly century-old American expat scene that flourished in Europe between the two World Wars. The book had gone out of print until MoMA reissued it earlier this year in a beautiful flex-cover format. I spoke to Tomkins, who’s now eighty-eight, about the Murphys’ past, Gerald’s career as an artist, and his reporting for the book.

Before you got to know them, did you know much about Gerald and Sara Murphy?

I had heard about them. The Murphys were legendary because people knew vaguely about their life in Paris in the twenties, but nobody really knew them very well. They had a party a year, I think—a garden party with candles in paper bags. More or less the whole community was invited. But otherwise, they kept to themselves. We were all very curious about them. It seemed to us that we had these exotic creatures living in our midst. Read More »

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These Big Eyes Are Lies, and Other News

May 8, 2014 | by

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Margaret Keane, Big Eyes

  • Putin has signed a law banning foul language in plays and movies; any books with cuss words will come in sealed packages, with warnings. Which words qualify as uncouth? A panel of “independent experts” is soon to convene in pursuit of that very fucking question.
  • Meanwhile, in America and the UK, an unexpurgated edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Taps at Reveille—its expletives intact; its sex, drugs, and anti-Semitic slurs restored—will arrive next month.
  • Long before the heyday of Lisa Frank, there was the pop artist Walter Keane, who became something of a household name in the sixties: his work depicted sad children with enormous, farcically melancholy eyes. But his wife Margaret deserved all the credit: “The man wasn’t a painter at all. Margaret was the creator of all the Big Eye art. Walter basked in the glory, partied with the celebrities, and reaped the rewards. As she would later relate, the tearful, doe-eyed children she painted had nothing to do with Walter’s supposed belief in children redeeming the world. The weeping waifs reflected her own sorrow.”
  • Revising the myth of Phineas Gage, who survived, in the late nineteenth century, an accident in which an iron rod went straight through his head, and who has been fodder for Psych 101 students ever since. “Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication. In truth each generation seems to remake Gage in its own image, and we know very few hard facts about his post-accident life and behavior.”
  • “How do you design cities and civic spaces in ways that account for people’s varied reactions to sound itself? Where does ‘sound’ end, and ‘noise’ begin?”

 

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The Mall Is Dead, Long Live the Mall, and Other News

April 4, 2014 | by

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Photo: Facebook, UrbanExplorationUS, via architecturalafterlife.com

 

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Author of Tender Is the Bite

January 14, 2014 | by

This week, we’re presenting Timothy Leo Taranto’s illustrated author puns. Today:
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F. Scott Spitzgerald

 

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Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice

December 31, 2013 | by

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In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.

This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read. Read More »

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The High School Literature Zodiac

November 27, 2013 | by

What does your favorite book from high school tell you about your life?

 

Tim Taranto hails from Upstate New York and attended Cornell. In addition to The Paris Review Daily, his work has appeared on the Rumpus and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Tim lives in Iowa City, where he is studying fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

 

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