F. Scott Fitzgerald moved to Baltimore in May of 1932 to be near his wife, Zelda, who was being treated for her madness at the Phipps Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. There he found the needed tragic theme in Zelda's illness to finish his last completed novel, "Tender In the Night."
And last Saturday night the tale of the last years that Scott and Zelda spent together in Baltimore was recounted at a small party at Scott's favorite Baltimore hotel, the Belvedere.
The once-famous novelist left Baltimore for good in the summer of 1936, having finally accepted the fact that Zelda would never again be well. "I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanitarium," he wrote. Four years later he was dead in Hollywood and there was not enough money to even pay for his funeral in Rockville, Md.
The Scott and Zelda saga has since spawned a Scott and Zelda industry, and several cults have formed to perpetuate the legend. One man alone has produced 15 Fitzgerald books. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, of the University of South Carolina, for example, is coming out with the third Fitzgerald biography ("Some Sort of Epic Grandeur," Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich) this autumn.
It was a curious sort of party at the restored Belvedere, however, hosted by two New Jersey high school English teachers, Howard Moulden and Tony Sipp, to thank the amiable Baltimoreans they have interviewed on behalf of yet another Scott and Zelda project. Their manuscript is in the hands of Fitzgerald's onlychild, Mrs. C. Grove Smith, known as "Scottie," who was unable to attend the party. She sent her regrets, also noting that she has yet to read the manuscript.
The star guest who did manage to attend was Isabel Owens, 75, Fitzgerald's secretary during the Baltimore years. A conversation with her was almost impossible over the din of a three-piece jazz band, and she could hardly even converse with those around her.
During a band break, she said, "I think it's terrible the way they treat him," referring to the old gin tales, her eyeglasses slipping down over her nose. "They think I remember everything -- simply everything -- that happened almost 50 years ago. I was a young girl in my early 20s applying for a job. I didn't even know who Scott Fitzgerald was. I was a little shocked when he told me he also wanted me to be a companion to his wife, who was a mental patient."
Owens, who easily grows weary of recounting Fitzgeraldiana, said her main duties were to transcribe his stories written in pencil in a rounded, decorous hand on yellow legal-size paper. "He was not a very good speller, and sometimes there were just a few words written down. Oh, I don't understand why everyone has to tell everything. Would you want someone to do that to you? No, I didn't think so. Too much has been written already."
Another friend of Fitzgerald during the Baltimore years was newspaper columnist Louis Azrael, who has been with the Baltimore News-American for 54 years. Now recovering from a hip operation, the 77-year-old left the party early but he did recall that he and Fitzgerald once vied for actress Lois Moran, who was the inspiration for the character Rosemary Hoyt in "Tender Is the Night."
Azrael said Moran preferred his company in Baltimore, and Scott's in Hollywood. "I used to visit Scott once in a while. I felt sorry for him. He was so lonely. And it was such a long time ago." Azrael arose slowly with the aid of a cane and called for his wife, Sarah, who came to his side. "I'm sorry, but I can't talk with you any longer. Let's go home, Sarah."
All of the Fitzgerald contemporaries are quite old, and many are infirm. But authors Moulden and Sipp claim they have rounded up enough to recreate the typical daily life of the Fitzgeralds while in Baltimore.
Asked for a few unpublished stories, they resisted, claiming that if the good stories leak out it will hurt their chances of getting their book published.
The night ground to a halt after a brief Vagabond Players reading of Zelda's unsuccessful play, "Scandalabra." Most of those invited who figured prominently in Fitzgerald's life in Baltimore did not show up in the small Terrace Room where young deb Scottie Fitzgerald once held tea dances.
One wondered whether Moulden and Sipp had looked at Zelda's hospital records. They hadn't. Her records are sealed and kept in a secure area of the hospital, passed personally from director to director. It is extremely unlikely that they will ever be opened or published in any form.
Which brings us to Moulden and Sipp's book, "The Last of the Dance."
Will the world accept another backward look at Scott and Zelda, this one limited to Scott and Zelda in Baltimore?