In 1920, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald honeymooned in Westport, Conn., so he could write, she could swim and they could both party their brains out.
The Fitzgeralds reigned as the king and queen of the Jazz Age. He was 23, she was 19, and their reckless high spirits – plus their drinking -- had gotten them kicked out of several New York hotels.
American literature probably owes a debt of gratitude to the New York hotel managers who disinvited the Fitzgeralds. It was in Westport, after all, that Scott met a wealthy neighbor who inspired Jay Gatsby.
When Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald honeymooned in Westport, the town had not yet evolved into a tony New York suburb. But it was getting there. A 50-mile train ride to Times Square brought commuters to Times Square, and it began to attract literary and theater types from New York.
In the Fitzgeralds’ era, Westport brought literary critic Van Wyck Brooks, Dorothy and Lillian Gish and Broadway producer John Williams for weekends in the country. A New York culture took root in the town, and by 2014, the local historical society exhibited many of the 767 New Yorker covers produced by artists living in and around Westport.
Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Martha Stewart, Sandy Dennis, Harvey Weinstein and Shirley Jackson all made their homes in Westport.
How Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Honeymooned
The Fitzgeralds blew into town in a secondhand sports car in May of 1920. Neither had a clue how to keep house, so closets filled with dirty laundry and neither of them cooked. Eventually they hired a house boy named Tana.
Scott and Zelda wed on April 3, 1920 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and frolicked in New York City. But Scott needed to get back to writing his second novel, and so they honeymooned in Westport from May to September. Zelda rented a large colonial home where he had a separate room in which to write and she could swim every day. Their neighbor, a multimillionaire named F.E. Lewis, let her cut across his property to walk to Compo Beach.
Lewis had inherited a fortune – what would amount to $300 million in today's dollars -- and he lived on a 175-acre estate called Longshore.
Today, it’s the Inn at Longshore, hosting corporate events and destination weddings. Back then, Lewis threw extravagant parties that Scott and Zelda attended. They weren’t the only celebrities he invited. Dancer Anna Pavlova, magician Harry Houdini and movie star Marie Dressler came too. At one party he featured camels, elephants, vaudeville acts and a cowboy and Indian show. Theatrical producer David Belasco, mentioned in the Great Gatsby, came, and John Philip Sousa wrote music for one of his parties.
When Scott and Zelda didn’t go to New York for weekend parties they invited friends to stay with them. They drank heavily and fought often.
A Princeton friend came to visit and wrote,
Went to visit Fizgeralds in Westport…stayed drunk for two weeks straight. Atmosphere of crime, lust, sensuality, pervaded the home.
Another classmate, critic Edmund Wilson, found the couple ‘reveling nude in the orgies of Westport.’
They tore along the Boston Post Road in their sports car with occasional stops at roadhouses to replenish their gin supply. Then Zelda wrecked the car by driving over a fire hydrant.
At a party, they reported a false fire alarm. According to one story, the firefighters asked where the fire was and Zelda pointed to her breast and said, "Here."
After the Fitzgeralds honeymooned in Westport, they moved to a New York City apartment near the Plaza Hotel. They later moved to Great Neck, Long Island, from 1922 to 1924, then to Paris, all the while spiraling downward into alcoholism, madness and early death. Scott managed to finish only four novels.
For many years, people thought Scott Fitzgerald patterned the setting for his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, on Long Island.
Then in 1996, a New Yorker writer named Barbara Probst Solomon asked whether Gatsby included a blend of their time in Great Neck and that first beachy summer when Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald honeymooned in Westport?’
Author Richard Webb, Jr., grew up in Westport, and he was sure the answer was yes. In 2018 he published his book, Boats Against the Current: The Honeymoon Summer of Scott and Zelda: Westport, Connecticut 1920.
The title alludes to the ending of Gatsby, one of the most famous in American literature:
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.