Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald 1921-1986
Born to the most famous and celebrated couple of the 20th century, during the Jazz Age, an era that her father named himself, Frances Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her mother was the famed Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a writer and artist in her own right.
Her parents where the 'it couple' of the Jazz Age leading a wild and unconventional life as the celebrated writer and his lovely wife traversed between Europe and the U.S. for a decade. The drunken parties they threw and attended were the talk of Paris and New York City.
Nicknamed "Scottie" she led a nomadic and traumatic childhood moving constantly between countries and continents with a succession of British and French nannies. Her mother was not into mothering or nurturing and her father barely had time for her when writing. Many times "Scottie" was just ignored by her parents. And their tempestuous and alcohol fueled marriage isolated her even further.
That "Scottie" grew up to have a modicum of a normal life with talents of her own is amazing. Talent and tragedy were genetically passed on to her. And those genetics included alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, numerous failed suicide attempts by her mother and a mother with schizophrenia/bipolar disorder. Fitzgerald, too, wasn't the greatest of fathers.
She grew up in Paris, France with her parents and met all the important figures in the writing and artistic hub at that time. She met Gertrude Stein who "terrified her." Of course, Gertrude Stein could terrify anyone, not just little girls. She also met Hemingway and felt he was "a great tearing figure."
As a child she also knew Picasso, Valentino, John Dos Passos, Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, Archibald MacLeish, and Charles MacArthur: all friends of her parents and artists and writers living in Paris. Did she ever have playmates of her own? Hardly.
How did she react to her parents continuing antics? Early on she developed her life-long coping mechanism with regards to her parents behavior. It was the ability to refuse to see what she didn't want to see. Today we call that "in denial." She felt the only way to survive her parent's tragedy was to ignore it.
During her entire lifetime, Scottie never discussed her parents or childhood with anyone, even her closest friends and family. It is through her biography written after her death by her daughter Eleanor that we know about Scottie's amazing yet normal life.
Shortly before her death, Scottie began writing an autobiographical "diary" for her children. She left seventy-four typed pages and her daughter, Eleanor, took it from there and completed a biography of her mother: Scottie, the Daughter of . . . The Life of Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith (1995).
Eleanor, an artist and a writer, went through 64 boxes of letters, journals, clippings, photos, and other memorabililia left by her mother. She took five years interviewing Scottie's friends, family, lovers and associates to provide a completed and rounded out depiction of her mother.
Advice From Father
When Scottie was eleven years old, her father gave her a list of advice in a letter to her. It is presumed it was given to her on her eleventh birthday. Here is the life advice she received from her famous and celebrated father:
Things to worry about:
Things not to worry about:
- Popular opinion
- The past
- The future
- Growing up
- Anyone getting ahead of you
- Failure unless through your own fault
- Insects in general
Things to think about:
- What am I really aiming at?
- How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to scholarship?
- Do I really understand people and am I able to get along with them?
- Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
Although Fitzgerald was not a great father to Scottie, he seemed to care enough at this point to give her some little fatherly advice. He seems to be telling her EQ is as important as IQ or even more important. Emotional Quotient was important to Fitzgerald because charm and wit would get Scottie into the right circles and keep her there. He knew that was as important or more so than Intelligence Quotient. He seemed to know what life was about, even if seen through an alcoholic haze.
At least this advice is better than none from her famous father.
A Little Girl Grows up
In nearly every photo I could find of Scottie's childhood, she looks forlorn, unhappy, and unsmiling. It is only as she ages that she begins to smile in photos. Her capacity to ignore the worst parts of her parents apparently worked quite well for her.
Fitzgerald, her father, continued writing letters to her until the day he died in 1940. They were, however, letters admonishing her in some way and were, I'm sure, not pleasant for her to receive. And, with her mother in mental institutions, her relations with her parents were strained to say the least.
In 1942 she graduated from Vassar and married prominent Washington DC tax attorney, Samuel Jackson Lanahan known as "Jack." She and Jack had four children: Thomas Addison, Eleanor Ann, Samuel Jackson Jr., and Cecilia Scott.
Like her own mother, Scottie discovered that motherhood and its relentless demands did not interest her at all. She was not the nurturing type and it took its toll on her children. The eldest child "Tim" committed suicide and another of the children became a drug addict. So family tragedy, too, struck Scottie in her own family. It seems part of the Fitzgerald / Sayre genetics had been passed on to Scottie.
It was the decades of the '50s and '60s that Scottie came into her own and found her voice. Scottie and Jack were popular hosts in Washington DC during these decades. Scottie began writing and worked promoting the Democratic Party and its candidates. She worked on several Democratic presidential campaigns.
She wrote the Democratic National Committee's Digest and had a weekly column in the Washington Post. She also wrote for the New Yorker Magazine. Also, during this time she wrote musical comedies about the Washington DC social scene which were performed every year by charities.
Eventually, Jack and Scottie divorced and she married Grove Smith. That marriage also ended in divorce in 1979 and in the last years of her life Scottie retreated to Montgomery, Alabama and lived out the rest of her life in her mother's hometown.
Scottie also struggled with and suffered from alcoholism during her life and she also suffered and dealt with three types of cancer. When she died in 1986, she also was disappointed in her own accomplishments as were her parents of their own.
Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald was inducted into Alabama's Women's Hall of Fame in 1992.
I find it amazing that she lived a productive life at all given her role models and her nomadic childhood. She had her own life tragedies, but she seemed to handle them much better than her parents. Her triumphs carried her through life but she didn't dwell just on them to survive.
The lost, lonely child of the photographs became the toast of Washington DC during her prime, finally experiencing the attention she needed and craved from her parents as a child. To be noticed was probably what she needed during her adult life. I can't say I blame her.