×

In Search of a Great ‘Gatsby’: Hollywood’s F. Scott Fitz and Starts

Hollywood’s history with Fitzgerald’s novel is a troubled one, but Baz Luhrmann looks to define it on new terms

Baz Luhrmann took me by surprise four years ago when he confided over lunch that he intended to shoot “The Great Gatsby” as his next movie — he explained that he had become obsessed with the “Gatsby” story. I told him that I, too, admired the great F. Scott Fitzgerald novel but could never quite figure out its story — nor could the three directors who’d made previous “Gatsbys.”

Luhrmann is a brilliant filmmaker and I’m eager to see his lavish 3D re-telling of the classic jazz age saga (it opens wide on May 10). I’m also curious to discover how Warner Bros’ smart marketers under Sue Kroll will sell this sophisticated New York epic to young filmgoers worldwide who expect their 3D fare to be “Avengers”-like and think jazz means Jay-Z.

The film depicted in its trailer is certainly “hot” — Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire cavorting across a pastiche of flashy period backgrounds against the music of Beyonce and Bryan Ferry (and, of course, Jay Z). All this promises an edgy contemporary movie about young people with big dreams.

It’s smart positioning; I lived through Paramount’s 1974 effort to capture the “Gatsby” magic — a project that turned out to be a New York fashion show in search of a movie. Luhrmann clearly has a different “Gatsby” in mind (indeed, he built a period New York in Australia).

SEE MORE: The Gotham 50

There will still be tie-ins with Prada, Tiffany and Brooks Bros. There will also be a major social media push to build on the female audience base. Mulligan already is portrayed in the May Vanity Fair and Vogue in haute couture dresses that look both period and “today.” DiCaprio poses in sleek white flannels supposedly representative of the clothes Fitzgerald wore at Princeton (but the outfit is also reminiscent of DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes look in The Aviator). A major jazz age party is planned for the “Gatsby” opening in Cannes to bolster the appetite of international filmgoers.

Overall, “Gatsby” has had a frustrating Hollywood history. He was first portrayed in a silent movie starring Warner Baxter in 1926, a year after the novel’s publication, then re-invented in 1949 as an Alan Ladd vehicle.

Fitzgerald’s daughter, Scottie Lanahan Smith, was sufficiently appalled by these movies that she banned further remakes. Only a major fusillade of persuasion on the part of Robert Evans and producer David Merrick induced her to change her mind and part with the rights one more time.

SEE MORE: ‘Misfire’ Gives Insiders’ View of Shooting Gallery

The 1974 deal triggered epic battles over script and cast. The hottest writer around, Truman Capote, was hired to adapt the novel, but Capote was drinking heavily at the time and his script turned out to be a mere re-typing of Fitzgerald. Francis Coppola was then recruited for a tab of $350,000 and delivered a superb screenplay; indeed, the possibility of another Coppola-Brando co-venture was intriguing with Brando playing an older, brooding Jay Gatsby. Both, however, still harbored post-Godfather resentments and a deal didn’t come together.

In the end, corporate politics intruded and a youthful Robert Redford ended up with the Gatsby role, Jack Clayton was named director and Mia Farrow was cast as Daisy. While Coppola received screenplay credit, the nuances of his script were totally lost.

Still, the project riveted the attention of the fashion world. Ralph Lauren, then an ambitious young designer, created the roaring ’20s wardrobe and every brand from Ballantine’s Scotch to Kenzo lined up for tie-ins.

SEE MORE: Mayor Bloomberg Keeps New York Humming with Thriving Showbiz Sector

Filmed for a mere $6.5 million — perhaps one-twentieth of the current film’s budget — the film overcame its flaccid reviews and rolled up solid numbers at the box office. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote that the film was “as lifeless as a body that had been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool.”

Luhrmann is the not the sort to be daunted by problems of the past. To his thinking, “The Great Gatsby” remains a great book, its film potential untapped. And as far as the world’s filmgoers are concerned, this will be their first and only Gatsby and the power of its style and vivid characters will prevail.

And F. Scott Fitzgerald and his fans finally may finally stop cringing at Hollywood’s efforts to embellish the “The Great Gatsby” legend.

SEE MORE FROM NEW YORK CONTENT CAPITAL / THE GOTHAM 50

More Biz

  • Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) social critic and

    Paul Krassner Recalls Lenny Bruce, Cavalier Magazine 50 Years Later

    Men’s magazine Cavalier was launched by Fawcett Publications in 1952 (motto: “For the American Male”). It was published the year before Playboy, to which it has often been compared. Imagine that this was a bastion of cutting-edge comic literature. Back in the day, Cavalier tried to be seen as slightly hipper, more youthful and considered [...]

  • LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet

    LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet Dermot McCormack President

    Live entertainment digital media company LiveXLive Media today announced that AOL and MTV veteran Dermot McCormack has been named president of the company. According to the announcement, McCormack will lead the business and creative operations of LiveXLive, effective immediately. McCormack previously served as AOL’s Global President of Video and Studios, where he oversaw the video [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly Ordered Held Without Bail

    R. Kelly has been ordered held without bond at a hearing Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The singer entered a not-guilty plea. The hearing, which follows the singer being hit Friday with a total of 18 counts of serious sexual misconduct and other charges in Chicago and New York, [...]

  • Woodstock co-producer and co-founder, Michael Lang,

    Woodstock 50 Organizers Are Optimistic but Vague Before Town Meeting

    Woodstock organizers Michael Lang and Richard Peck were optimistic but vague when speaking with reporters at a hastily announced open house for the festival held in Vernon, New York on Monday night. The town’s Vernon Downs is the most recent proposed site for the trouble festival, which has been dogged by financial and organizational problems [...]

  • What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie

    What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie Distribution Company?

    When news broke earlier this year that Jaz-O, Jay-Z’s longtime friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-again from Marcy Projects, had signed with Roc Nation, most reports glossed over exactly which company the rapper had signed with. His deal, for his Kingz Kounty Media Group, is actually with Equity Distribution, the independent distribution arm of the Roc Nation family of companies, [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content