Any F Scott Fitzgerald bio will usually make reference to the time the great American novelist spent working as a script-writer in Hollywood – a living illustration of the American Dream. While this lucky or well-earned break into the glitzy movie-making world and the Jazz Age had its advantages in ‘bread-and-butter job’ terms – we can only guess at Fitzgerald’s feelings about the necessity of adding market-driven, lucrative script-writing to his more creative repertoire.
Did he then sympathise with poor old Pat Hobby, his self-created fictional alter ego character? Certainly, in Pat Hobby Himself’ he dreamed up a well-rounded and highly credible little character, albeit a ‘sad loser’ who had become just an empty shell of his once- glamorous and highly desirable self. Yet the character is not unattractive and there seems to be no malice in F Scott Fitzgerald’s depiction of him.
In the Pat Hobby short story ‘A Patriotic Tale’ we imagine a fat, perspiring balding little man on the wrong end of middle age, no longer sought after as a movie film writer, but instead headed down a slippery slope of his own making towards failure and dissipation. Now grateful for any small crumbs of script writing work the movie moguls can throw him, unlucky ‘Pat the loser’ finds himself slaving over a B movie script in a back office. Unable to stay on task due to constantly dwelling on the bereavement he feels at the loss of his glamorous career and lifestyle, Pat misses the point of even this most menial of briefs he has been asked to complete.
Poor old Pat Hobby has now become a re-writer! His brief is to ‘clean up’ or maybe even propagandise a simple bio documentary film about General Lee and how that general overcame his own bitterness and eventually accepted a US commission from the President. The P word puts Pat Hobby in mind of the most illustrious moment of his own life – when he too met a president of the United States. Sad Pat goes off into a daydream about how the president even complimented him on the swimming pool in the Beverly Hills mansion house garden he once owned.
Dazed, and totally missing the point, Pat suggests his own more romantic storyline for the general’s bio, perhaps forgetting for a moment that it is no longer he who is in the creative driving seat and also that he is supposed to be working on non-fiction. Exasperated, his boss asks him whether he actually wants the job he has been kindly offered. Pat agrees that he needs the work, and tries to knuckle down to the demeaning bio task.
It isn’t long however, before poor old ‘Pat Hobby Himself’ is distracted again from the job in hand – firstly by an imagined thirst for an alcoholic drink and then by the appearance of an exciting movie starlet who is approaching down the corridor with Pat’s boss. Perhaps remembering that long-lost day during the Jazz Age when he was introduced to the president as an equal in terms of career success, poor old Pat steps forward for an introduction.
To his horror, the group seem not to even notice him, so wrapped up are they in the glittering company of the pretty new rising star. Worse still, it appears the omission was not accidental – it wasn’t even as if they had not seen him. An afterthought ‘Hello Pat’ from his boss’s back as he leads the glamorous party away, confirms Pat’s worst suspicions that he has been upstaged, ignored, humiliated. Feeling slighted, Pat returns to his desk to hammer the final nail into his own coffin of success.
Instead of writing about how great it was that the general overcame his own bitterness and turned it to his own good and the good of a great nation by accepting a US commission form the president, Pat writes his own version in which he has the general tell the president where he can stick his commission!
We can only imagine the consequences for Pat in his first day at the last writing job he’s ever likely to get offered! One ironic reflection is that Pat has forgotten that even at the height of his powers he always had an Achilles heel. Yes, it was true he did once get an invitation to a jazz age style lunch at the movie set with the president, but it was only because a more famous celebrity couldn’t make it and he had been asked to make up the numbers!
A salutary tale perhaps, from F Scott Fitzgerald, who perhaps in Pat, painted a spectre of what he feared could just as easily happen to him when the American dream and it’s ’mists of success’ lifted and floated away?
The Crack Up