Frances Kroll was F. Scott Fitzgerald's secretary during the last twenty months of his life. She helped him organize his household, entertain Scottie when she visited during the summer of 1940, and work toward the completion of his "Stahr" novel, The Last Tycoon. Kroll was about the age of Scottie during this time period, a naive and warm-hearted girl who became Scott's friend and helper. The narrative of their friendship reads with a candor and specificity that is impressive: Kroll has only the best of Fitzgerald's interests at heart, and she is trying to document these months as an aid to readers interested. (She has consistently aided Fitzgerald's biographers.)
With prefaces by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith and A. Scott Berg, this modest book conveys a great deal of information—and the championing of the prefaces speaks to the generosity of its author. Frances Ring was not only Scott's secretary during those late California years; she was his middle-of-the-night listener (taking the family telephone into the bathroom so her conversation would not awaken others), his cook (he liked bacon and eggs and turtle soup), his financial planner (she handled all his affairs after his sudden death), and his literary mentor (as when she argued with Edmund Wilson about the ending of The Last Tycoon). As a memoirist now, she is also astute and precise. She describes Fitzgerald's overprotective treatment of Scottie as being crucial to his feeling that she would be taken care of—thus his insistence that she study hard and get a first-rate education: "He was keenly aware of a changing world for women and he wanted his daughter to be ready for that world with education, goals, self-esteem." Perhaps of more interest, she describes the startling change in the man once Maxwell Perkins had encouraged him to write the Hollywood novel: "He began to sort the notes that had been accumulating. He became transformed. The contrast was extraordinary—like watching an athlete who had let himself go to fat decide that he was going to make a comeback. . . . he made charts of segments of the book and planned how long each segment would be. He divided the segments into episodes and the episodes into chapters. Assorted jottings and anecdotes were assigned to specific areas. Stray bits of description fell into place." As Ring concludes, Fitzgerald at work was "a methodical, meticulous craftsman." He was also "animated," sparking the air "with excitement."
For the knowledge Frances Kroll Ring has that no one else was privy to, her memoir of Fitzgerald is valuable. She recounts her experience with good taste, detail, and a hint of Fitzgerald's own excitement. [End Page 318]