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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume VIII, Number 2, Fall, 1977 From Words to Images: Five Novelistsin Hollywood Tom Dardis. Some Time in the Sun. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.274 pp. Stephen Snyder I Since the l930's when serious writers first migrated to Hollywood, the popular phrase to describe their exodus has been that of "selling out.''! In the popular eye the movie empire has been envisioned as a prurient Mammon unconscionably exploiting and ruining the literary artists drawn to her by the lure of great lucre. This view was conventionalized by Edmund· Wilson in his book, The Boys in the Back Room (1941), wherein he notes1 that "both West and Fitzgerald were writers of a conscience and with natural gifts rare enough in America or anywhere; and their failure to get thel best out of their years may certainly be laid partly to Hollywood, with its already appalling record of talent depraved and wasted." 1 Budd Schulberg 's novel, The Disenchanted (1950), reinforced this popular cliche by focusing upon a writer, transparently modeled on Fitzgerald, who is plagued ,1 by a sense of failure and waste in his Hollywood career. The myth of the Hollywood Mammon was challenged by Leslie Fiedler and replaced with one of his own in which the writers became Gentile boys in search of an archetypal Jewish father (many early studio heads were Jewish) lured to the glitter of the studios by a desire for self-destruction. 2 In his recent study, Some Time in the Sun, Tom Dardis treats the Holly· wood careers of five major writers - Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner. Aldous Huxley, Nathanael West and James Agee - and suggests that their1 motives for working there were more mundane and their careers more successful than had been previously supposed. Fitzgerald, he suggests, wa~· largely restored in Hollywood, financially and creatively, from the nadir of his career in 1935 and 1936. Likewise, his fellow literary artists in 207 1 Hollywood received not only money but recognition withheld by the reading publicand, in most cases, stimulation of their creative powers. Most could nothave gone on writing at all without the financial support of the movie , empire.Unfortunately, as Dardis' thesis is limited to this aspect - only tangentiallyexploring the creative problems and influences felt by each writer in moving to a new medium - its value and the weight of scholarship whichsupports it is, likewise, of limited value to either literary or film criticism. I In 1936, as Dardis reports, Fitzgerald's earnings from the sale of all hisbooks was $81.18 (p. 24). Hollywood employment represented not a "sellout," but an act of grace, endowing financial solvency - his $1,250 perweeksalary helped repay debts to Maxwell Perkins and Harold Ober totalling$40,000 (p. 19) - and a degree of literary recognition - Edwin Knopf,his employer, having continued to admire his works despite their slippingreputation. Moreover, as Dardis suggests, if Fitzgerald felt frustratedin Hollywood, his despondency was probably less that of a writer whofelthis work degrading, than of one who took it seriously as an artistic endeavor. His letter to Joseph Mankiewicz, in which he implores his collaboratorto "have a moment of clear thinking" and restore his screenplay of"Three Comrades" to its '"pre-Mankiewicz" quality (p. 39),3 suggests the spiritof a man who desired artistic success as a filmmaker. If Fitzgerald detestedthe collective manner of film production (although he helped with manyscripts, including Gone With the Wind he received few screen credits), hecouldalso see in the medium a potential to "make the novelist archaic," 4 thusanticipating Marshall McLuhan's vision of the passing of the Gutenbergageand its regime of words. Morespeculative, yet perhaps more interesting than either of these rather indisputablefacts, is the possible effect that his Hollywood sojourn had onFitzgerald's attitude toward the medium of cinema, the moving image. There is no doubt that Fitzgerald had analyzed the components of cinema inthisway before his final visit. In his 1936 "Crack-up" piece for Esquire henoted that the image is a "grosser power" than the word, capable only of"triteness"(pp. 28-29). How strange that a few years later his sympathetic narrator in The Last Tycoon would open that...


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