Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TG Errs Again

As the intelligent Sparky points out in her comment on the last entry, Max Perkins was F. Scott Fitzgerald's editor, not his agent! (Sound of TG slapping his forehead.) Of course he was, TG knew that, he was just carried away with his rant about Agents These Days and how good writers used to have it back when men were gentlemen. So here's the story...

Fitzgerald had two agents, Harold Ober was his East Coast literary agent and his Hollywood agent was H.N. Swanson. Swanson was the far more interesting of the two; TG will get to him in a moment.

Ober graduated from Harvard in 1905 and two years later became a litereary agent. He opened his own agency in 1929 and represented authors such as Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Pearl Buck and J. D. Salinger, among other writing luminaries. His agency, which is about as blue chip as it gets, is still in operation though Ober died in 1959.

Now for Swanson, known to one and all in Hollywood as Swanie. There's a good article from People magazine about him, which is where TG stole most of the following info.

In 1924 the 27-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald asked H.N. Swanson to read his just-completed novel, Trimalchio in West Egg. "I told him it was the best thing he'd ever written, but I told him he had to change the title. The one he had wouldn't sell eight books. He asked what I had in mind. 'Gatsby.' I told him. 'The Great Gatsby? Scott was a smart man. He took my advice."

Swanie was Clark Gable's friend and golfing partner, he lunched with Disney, barhopped with Bogie and partied with the wild Fitzgeralds. (At one soiree Scott gleefully emptied guests' handbags into a kettle of water, then brought the brew to a boil.) In the early 1940s he negotiated a $750-a-week screenwriting contract for Raymond Chandler, then an unknown. ("He was an odd man, but he could write like a fool and had a great cynical flair for screenplays.) Swanson claimed that Heningway "didn't have a friend in the world and couldn't write without booze, which was true of many of my writers." (TG has discussed this in an earlier entry). Swanie introduced Faulkner to producer Howard Hawks, gave screenwriting tips to Fitzgerald and discovered Elmore Leonard in the mid-'50s. "He was a pup writing Westerns," Swanson said. "I told him to forget the cowboy stuff and write stories with women in them. He did, and I made him a millionaire."

Swanie worked hard right up until the end. He was 90 years old when he landed a $4.5 million, two-book contract for Elmore Leonard. "I get top dollar for all my writers," says Swanie.

TG would have liked Swanie. What fun these guys had, drinking, dumping the contents of the lady's purses into boiling water, living the life of manly writers. Scott burning through money like the drunk that he was, Zeldo going nuts. As an aside, or maybe it's the real point of this entry, TG drove by Scott and Zelda's grave the other day. Drove by, yes, because the small graveyard where they are enterred is now literally in the middle of the highway in Gaithersburg, MD. Maybe they like it there: it's loud and there's action, just like the way they used to live.


  1. A small pedantic correction: FSF is buried in St Mary's Catholic Church Cemetary in Rockville.
    Intersection of Rt 355 (Rockville Pike) & Rt 28 (Veirs Mill Rd).
    Zelda is buried beside him.
    Epitaph: "So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

  2. I'm not sure why I said Gaithersburg, of course it's Rockville.