By Daniel Webster
F. Scott Fitzgerald is remembered today as the herald of the “Jazz Age” of America in the 1920s, an era when taboos about sexuality were happily being broken and people were given license to swill gin and generally to have a good time, after the horror that was World War I. And, of course, he is most famous for his supposed “masterpiece,” The Great Gatsby, the subject of more high school book reports than any other 20th-century novel, save Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird.
However, I must here confess that the story of Jay Gatsby and the torch he carries for the shallow “flapper” Daisy Buchanan has always left me cold. Instead, I would like to recommend Fitzgerald’s least-known and very last work: The Pat Hobby Stories—which were written, quite literally, “from hunger.” By the time he’d gotten around to penning these tales, he was a dead-broke and pretty well forgotten. Esquire magazine, under the editorship of Arnold Gingrich, was just about the only publication that was willing to consider publishing his work. And it was in this magazine that the exploits of Pat Hobby were published from January of 1940 to May of 1941—meaning that several of them appeared posthumously, as Fitzgerald died in December, 1940.
Pat Hobby bears certain similarities to Fitzgerald himself in his waning days. However, whereas F. Scott was certainly considered a has-been by the end of the 1930s, Pat was more of a “never-was.” Throughout this series of 17 stories, which take place just as America is getting antsy about World War II breaking out in Europe, Hobby is consistently referred to as being 49 years old, making him five years older than Fitzgerald himself would ever live to be. It seems that Hobby, who probably never had an original thought in his head, somehow managed to snag co-writing credits in some successful movies from the silent era, and perhaps even a few from the early talkies—but that since then, he has been living off the fumes of that early success. His present dilemma is that the producers now realize that he doesn’t have an ounce of talent himself, and that whatever he had once “accomplished” was due to whatever other screenwriters he was supposedly collaborating with. He now even has trouble getting onto the studio lot; and when he does get on he’s constantly coming up with some scheme to be put on salary again, so that can get a studio office, where he can swill booze while doing as little real writing work as possible. As Fitzgerald himself wrote, “Of course, he’s a complete rat.”
Each of the stories revolves around some scheme or “angle” that Pat is trying to work. Usually, he tries to act as if he’s a veteran screenwriter with great ideas and a way with words, and attempts to pal around with those writers who still fit that description, to one degree or another. The studio brass know all too well what he’s up to, yet he is often successful in talking his way into “another three weeks, at two-fifty a week,” or whatever the case may be.
The Pat Hobby Stories are a joy to read and as funny as hell. It’s great fun to see this good-for-nothing try to work one of his angles, only to be hoisted on his own petard by the end of the story.
Arnold Gingrich finally got around to collecting these stories in 1962. And I’m happy to say that The Pat Hobby Stories can still be bought from Amazon and other online booksellers in both a paperback edition and in a Kindle version at a very reasonable price.
Daniel J. Webster, who is among the vanguard of the New Formalists writing poetry in English today, in addition to having completed several volumes of verse has translated poetry and short stories from German and Russian. He now resides in Japan, where he teaches English at Keio University, as well as at the Universities of Waseda and Meiji.