In 1923, Dartmouth College held its first ”Queen of the Snows” competition, a pageant that soon became an obsession for undergraduate socialites and their followers, and a national media event. But in 1939, in addition to the debutantes from Radcliffe and Barnard, the campus played host to a group of visitors from Hollywood. Fitzgerald and the writer Budd Schulberg, a recent Dartmouth graduate, had been hired by the producer Walter Wanger, then working for United Artists, to develop a script based on the celebration.
It was Fitzgerald’s latest attempt at a professional comeback. It had been five hard years since the publication of ”Tender Is the Night,” and he had spent them battling alcoholism, attempting — and largely failing — to jump start a screenwriting career, and occasionally writing self-lacerating confessionals for Esquire magazine.
By the time the pair disembarked from the Winter Carnival Special train from New York, Fitzgerald had already been drunk for about 24 hours, according to Mr. Schulberg. Unaware of the author’s alcoholism, Mr. Schulberg’s father had presented the travelers with two bottles of Mumm Champagne for their flight from Burbank. In New York, Fitzgerald had snuck out to a bar. And somehow, Mr. Schulberg recalled during a phone interview last month, Fitzgerald was able to procure liquor on the train as well. During the whole visit, Fitzgerald maintained a constant state of unproductive inebriation, much to the dismay of Wanger, who attended the festivities as well.
”Walter Wanger had arranged for the head of the English department and some of the top people there to meet with us and hear our projection of story lines for the film,” Mr. Schulberg said. ”Both of us looked disreputable. I don’t think, honestly, we’d changed our clothes since we’d left the airplane. And on top of all the other drinking, a favorite sociology professor of mine was a huge fan of Fitzgerald’s, and so to celebrate, at a moment when I was trying to taper Scott off, he came to the room with a bottle of whiskey and it all started all over again.”
The two never achieved sobriety and worked little. When pressed, Fitzgerald would launch into rambling memories, Mr. Schulberg said, or instigate a discussion of the character of the new generation of college undergraduates. On Saturday night, after visiting parties at the Alpha Delta Phi and Psi Upsilon fraternity houses, they returned to the inn in yet another earnest attempt to start work on their screenplay.
”We went down to the coffee shop to try to sober up,” Mr. Schulberg said. ”We went around from the back where the coffee shop was to the front steps of the inn, and there was Walter Wanger, looking immaculate and 10 feet tall. And when he saw us, his words were, ‘I don’t know when the next train out of here is, but you two boys are going to be on it.’ ” The two men returned to New York, where, with no hotel and with Fitzgerald running a 104-degree fever, they checked into Doctors Hospital. Fitzgerald stayed there for three days before returning to Hollywood. (x)