Literary scholars will point out that undiscovered and unpublished manuscripts by famous authors sometimes are unpublished simply because they were unpublishable in the first place. As critic Sarah Churchwell wrote in an August 10, 2012, piece in the Guardian, “You might expect that a writer as celebrated as Scott Fitzgerald would have no unpublished material languishing in archives — but you would be wrong. Perhaps as many as 15 short stories that he was unable to sell have never appeared in print; many more have been published once and then forgotten; a few have been lost.”
For more than a half century one of those unpubished stories was “Temperature,” written in 1939, a year before his death at age 44, and filed away in the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University’s Firestone Library.
This year the editor of a magazine devoted to short stories and mysteries, the Strand Magazine, came across the story, and then secured the permission of the Fitzgerald estate to publish it in his current issue.
While some of the Princeton Fitzgerald papers consists of unfinished work and outlines, “Temperature” is a fully developed story, says Andrew Gulli, the editor of Strand, which is based in Michigan and named after the famous British literary magazine. “This manuscript was very well-written, the typescript is very clean.”
Gulli suspects “Temperature” may have been compromised because of the author’s feud with his literary agent, Harold Ober. “The manuscript is dated July 7, 1939. And Fitzgerald had sent a letter to his agent a week later, in which he asked to stop being represented by Harold Ober because Ober was tired of advancing Fitzgerald loans in lieu of work that had not been delivered to him,” Gulli says.
“Temperature” was written while Fitzgerald was living in Hollywood, trying his hand at screenwriting, and beginning his uncompleted final novel, “The Love of the Last Tycoon.” A New York Times reviewer, J. Donald Adams, took note of the flashes of literary brilliance in that work. Fitzgerald “had lived and worked in Hollywood long enough before he died to write from the inside out; the material was clay in his hands to be shaped at will,” he wrote.
The hero of “Temperature,” Emmet Monsen, a science writer (who makes frequent appearances in the “pictorials” because of his striking looks and his acquaintance with a certain Hollywood starlet) has returned from a trip abroad to research tropical tides and fungi. Even though he has taken ill with what doctors think is an enlarged heart, a condition that strangely leaves him sweaty and feverish, Monsen is eager to re-connect with the actress:
Elsa Halliday was a brunette with a high warm flush that photographed, and long sleepy eyes full of hush and promise. With the exception of Hedy Lamarr, she had made the swiftest rise in pictures of the past two years. Emmet did not kiss her, only stood beside her chair, took her hand and looked at her — then retreated to a chair opposite, momentarily thinking less of her than of his ability to control the damp on brow and chest.
“How are you?” Elsa asked.
“Much better. Let’s not even talk about it — I’ll be up and around in no time.”
“That’s not what Dr. Cardiff said.”
At this Emmet’s undershirt was suddenly wet.
“Did that ass talk about me?”
“He didn’t say much. He told me you ought to take care of yourself.”
Emmet managed to tack away from the subject.
“You’ve done some grand work lately, Elsa. I know that — though I’m a couple of pictures behind. I’ve seen you in movie houses where only a few people could read the dubbed titles — but I’ve watched their eyes and their lips move with yours — and seen you hold them.”
She stared into an imperceptible distance.
“That’s the romantic part,” she said. “How much real good you can do to people you will never meet.”
“Yes,” he answered.
She must not make remarks like that, he thought, recalling the plots of Port Said Woman and Party Girl.
“You have the gift of vividness,” he said after a minute. “Like the fifteenth century painters who discovered motion where there was no motion —”
He realized he was beyond her and retreated quickly: “At the time when you and I were very close your beauty used to frighten me.”
“When I dreamed about us getting married,” Elsa supplied, coming awake.
“I used to feel like those bankers who try to be seen with opera singers — as if they’d bought the voice like a phonograph record.”
“You did a lot for my voice,” Elsa said. “I still have the phonograph with all the records, and I may sing in my next picture. And the Picasso prints — I still tell people they’re real — though I’ve developed a lot of taste now: I get inside information about which paintings are going to be worth anything. I remember when you told me a painting could be a better investment than a bracelet —”
She broke off suddenly.
“Look Emmet — that isn’t why I came out here — to talk about all those old things. We may be shooting again tomorrow and I wanted to see you while I could. You know — catch up? Really talk about everything — you know?”
This time it was Emmet who was scarcely listening. His shirt was now drenched and, wondering when there would be dark evidence on his shirt collar, he buttoned up his light coat. Then he was listening sharply.
“Two years is two years, Emmet, and we might as well get to the point. I know you did help me and I certainly did lean on you for advice. But two years —”
“Are you married?” he asked suddenly.
“No. I am not.”
“That’s all I wanted to know. I’m not a child. You’ve probably been in love with half the leading men in Hollywood since I’ve been gone.”
“That’s what I haven’t done,” she answered, almost tartly. “It shows how little you know about me, really. It shows how far people can drift apart.”
Emmet’s world was rocking as he answered.
“That could mean either there’s been nobody — or else that there’s somebody in particular.”
“Very much in particular.” As if ashamed of the emphasis her voice became less brisk. “It’s awful telling you this, when you’re sick and maybe going-I mean, it’s an awful hard position for a girl. But I’ve been so busy: in pictures you’re just an ottoman — you’ve got no more control of your time than if you were a shop girl type or —”
“You going to marry this man?” Emmet interrupted.
“Yes,” she said defiantly. “But I don’t know how soon — and don’t ask me his name, because you might be delirious sometime — and these columnists would drive a girl crazy.”
“This isn’t something you decided within the last week?”
“Oh, I decided a year ago,” she assured him, almost impatiently. “Couple of times we planned to go to Nevada. You have to wait four days here —”
“Is he a solid man — will you tell me that?”
“Solid is his middle name,” said Elsa. “Catch me tying myself to some shyster or drunk. Next January I move into the big money myself.”
Emmet stood up — he could now time the moment when the damp would arrive at the lining of his coat.
“Excuse me,” he said.
In the pantry he steadied himself at the sink, then tapped on the secretary’s door.
“Get rid of Miss Halliday!” he said, catching a glimpse of his face — white, hard, and haggard in a mirror. “Tell her I’m sick — anything — get her out of the house.”
“Do it quickly!” he added unnecessarily.
“I understand, Mr. Monsen.”
He went on out, feeling for the pantry sink, then for the swinging door, the back of a kitchen chair. A speech of contempt ran through his head in savage rhythm: “I never think much of a man who reaches for a glass of whiskey every time anything goes wrong.”
But he turned to the closet where there stood a brandy bottle.
A rash youth taking down his first few gulps of spirits is moved to a blatant expressionism: an Englishman climbs, an Irishman fights, a Frenchman dances, an American “commotes” — though the word is not to be found in the dictionary.
Thus it happened to Emmet — he commoted. It was in the bag from the instant that the cognac tumbled into contact with his burning fever . . .
As the story continues, Monsen creates a major “commotion.” Think of any Hollywood bad boys and their tantrums you get the idea of the clay in Fitzgerald’s hand. The July-October issue of Strand can be purchased at the website, www.strandmag.com.
Excerpt copyright 2015 Eleanor Lanahan and Christopher T. Byrne, trustees under agreement dated July 3, 1975, created by Frances Scott Fitzgerald Smith. F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Manuscipts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.