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The Disenchanted in Hanover

F. Scott Fitzgerald's note to Budd Schulberg.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's note to Budd Schulberg.

Pasted into Budd Schulberg’s first-edition copy of Tender Is the Night, now housed in Dartmouth College’s Rauner Special Collections Library, is an unassuming note scrawled on Hanover Inn stationery. It reads, “Bud (sic): Am upstairs doing a sort of creative brood, Scott.” Then, added below is, “Changed – gone out with Walter.”

The “Walter” referred to is Walter Wanger, Dartmouth Class of 1915, the Hollywood producer of over sixty movies, including Coconuts, Tarnished Lady, The Long Journey Home, Cleopatra, and the lesser-known Winter Carnival (1939). “Scott,” of course, is none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, the voice of the lost generation and giant of twentieth-century literature. The “sort of creative brood” was, in truth, the continuation of a drunken bender started two days earlier that Malcolm Cowley described as Fitzgerald’s “biggest, saddest, and most desperate spree.”[1]

In 1939, Walter Wanger Productions decided to use Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival as the backdrop for a college romance story. By 1938, Carnival had become so famous that it attracted winter sports enthusiasts from the universities of Oslo and Munich as well as about 5,000 students, guests, and visitors from all over the United States. In fact, there was discussion following the 1939 Carnival as to “whether [Dartmouth’s] largest social event of the year should be curtailed.”[2] Wanger hired recent Dartmouth graduate Budd Schulberg, just three years out of college, to write the script. To assist the young writer, he secured the more experienced F. Scott Fitzgerald. Schulberg, upon learning that he would be working with Fitzgerald, exclaimed, “My God, isn’t Scott Fitzgerald dead?” The unflappable Wanger responded, “On the contrary, he’s in the next office reading your script.”

"Keg O' Rum tickets, one bearing Walter Wanger Production's blanket consent to film the carnival participants.

Fitzgerald and Schulberg spent five days in Hollywood failing to make headway on the project. Instead, they discussed literature, college life, and Hollywood itself. Schulberg was a tremendous fan of Fitzgerald’s writing, and the older writer, who had made only a pittance the past year on his royalties, was surprised. “I didn’t think anyone your age read any of those books,” he told Schulberg. Schulberg later admitted that he lied to Fitzgerald, telling him that his friends read him as well, when, in fact, “Most of my radical, communist-oriented peers looked on him as a relic.”[3] After an unproductive week, Wanger insisted that the pair attend the upcoming Winter Carnival for inspiration and research. Fitzgerald protested (he said he remembered Carnival well enough from his Princeton days), but he needed the work and could not refuse his producer’s demand.

The subsequent cross-country tale of drunken pathos has become legendary. Schulberg’s father, a major Hollywood producer, was thrilled that his son would be working with Fitzgerald, whom he admired. To send them off in style, he presented his son with two bottles of champagne for the eighteenhour flight from Los Angeles to New York. Schulberg, completely unaware of the extent of Fitzgerald’s alcoholism, persuaded him to toast the ensuing trip. When the bottles were empty, Fitzgerald was off the wagon and in no shape to write the script they had been hired to complete.

In New York, Schulberg left Fitzgerald in the hotel, where Scott planned to take a bath and work out some ideas for the script. When Schulberg returned, he found an unpunctuated note from Fitzgerald: “Pal you shouldn’t have left me Pal because I went down to the bar Pal and then I came back and looked for you Pal and then I went down to the bar again Pal and I’ll be waiting for you there Pal when you get back Pal.”[4]

Schulberg dragged him from a bar three doors down and the two tried to get serious about their work, but neither was in any condition to get anything done. Matters only got worse when they boarded the “Carnival Train” from New York to Hanover. The train was a weekend special devoted to transporting young women and other revelers to the College’s famous party. Fitzgerald easily obtained a bottle of gin and proceeded to get drunker, then the pair detrained at a scheduled stop for a late-night snack and returned just in time to watch the train leave the station. After finding a ride in a Model T without heat (they kept toasty by sipping applejack in the backseat under a blanket), they finally made it back on board the train and on to Hanover. There they discovered that they were without a room at the Hanover Inn and had to make do with a storage space in the attic furnished only with a metal bunk bed. Over the course of the alcohol-clouded weekend of “research,” they never once worked seriously on the script.

Snow sculpture of Eleazar Wheelock on the Green Dorothy Gardner 1939 Winter Carnival Queen, with Nat Sample, Delta Tau Delta '40, in front of snow sculpture.

The pair stumbled right into a classic Dartmouth Winter Carnival. The weekend kicked off on Friday with comic ice skaters Russ Jones and Vera Hruba in the “Keg O’ Rum” program elaborately staged on a frozen artificial pond on the golf course. A giant snow sculpture of Dartmouth’s founder, Eleazar Wheelock, stood on the Green, three-foot beer stein in hand, while fraternities and dorms erected smaller sculptures across campus, including Ferdinand the Bull, several depictions of Wheelock in various states of revelry, and “The God of Winter” based on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

"Queen of the Snows" Dorothy Gardner, held aloft by her subjects.

Future environmental activist J. Willcox Brown ’37 created a scare with a campus-wide hoax about stolen liquor permits (blaming Harvard, naturally). But most important of all, judging by the headlines in the student paper, the all-male student body welcomed 1,044 “girls” to campus in what The Dartmouth described as a bewildering “female blizzard.” On Friday night, a committee that included a faculty member, a visiting dignitary, and three students roamed the crowds to select a group of women for the Queen’s Court, from which Dorothy Gardner, a senior from Smith up for her weekend date, was selected Queen of the Snows: “I feel a little throb-throb about the whole thing … of course it’s wonderful,” she was heard to say. Apparently, winter sports were also part of the festivities. All the while, Wanger’s production team was organizing shoots across campus to create “atmosphere” for a film without a script.[5]

Schulberg, exhausted by the trip and its excesses, and well aware that his scanty continuity script was going nowhere, tried to sound confident in his assessment of the project when he sat down with Julian Koenig of The Dartmouth. Despite his neophyte status, Schulberg tried to sound worldly by casually mentioning, “it’s not too easy, you know, to cram the whole of this ‘Dartmouth Spirit’ into a Carnival story and really grasp it. It’s a whole year’s job … and there’s plenty of headaches.” He then tossed off frustrations with his admission, “We’ve torn up a couple of ideas already … and this morning we threw out the entire script we just completed. The Hollywood way of doing things, you know.” Never mentioning Schulberg’s co-writer, or the trials of the weekend, the article notes that the young writer did “not enjoy his stay overly,” because it was “professional,” not a “holiday.” Still, The D reported that Schulberg “has what it takes to make it.”[6]

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Walter Wanger at Dartmouth.

Wanger, anxious to show his old school that he had made it, paraded Fitzgerald through a series of social events, where the drunken writer was humiliated by the snobbery of Dartmouth professors, who treated him as an out-of-print has-been, no longer relevant in American letters. Wanger and Fitzgerald sat down for an interview with Dartmouth reporter John Hess ’39 (who later would become lead writer for the soap opera Love of Life and contributor to hit shows like One Day at a Time, The Rockford Files, and M*A*S*H). Hess focused on the still-relevant movie producer and barely noted Fitzgerald’s presence at the interview. After a lead paragraph on Wanger, he added:

In a chair directly across from Mr. Wanger was Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who looked and talked as if he had long since become tired of being known as the spokesman of that unfortunate generation of the 1920’s. Mr. Fitzgerald is working on the script of Mr. Wanger’s picture, “Winter Carnival.”[7]

The humiliation drove Fitzgerald to drink more feverishly: Schulberg recalls trying to force a nearly comatose, hallucinating Fitzgerald to bed on Saturday night, then going back out to find “a friendly fraternity bar.” He was shocked when Fitzgerald soon tracked him down, and the two continued to drink the night away. Stumbling back to the Hanover Inn, they found Wanger waiting for them. He summarily fired both writers, who immediately boarded a train to escape the “arctic hell” they had made for themselves. Finding that no hotel in New York would take them in their condition, Fitzgerald asked Schulberg to check him into Doctor’s Hospital and to divert a visit that he had arranged with his daughter, then a student at Vassar.

Schulberg’s knowledge of the college scene was essential to the project, and he was quickly rehired by Wanger with two other writers, Lester Cole and fellow Dartmouth graduate Maurice Rapf ’35 to complete the script.

Maurice Rapf, Charles Reisner, and Budd Schulberg, from a Walter Wanger Productions publicicty shot for Winter Carnival.

Even though he was no longer on the payroll, an apologetic Fitzgerald sent several letters and notes to Schulberg with ideas for the script and observations he had made about the culture of the Ivy League and Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival. In one letter, now preserved as part of the Budd Schulberg Papers in Rauner Special Collections Library, Fitzgerald suggested an opening that would evoke Dartmouth’s beginnings: A throng of squaws on snowshoes were to burst in on “Ebenezer” [Dartmouth’s founder, Eleazer Wheelock] busily engaged in educating a group of Native American men. The scene would turn to wild dancing then fade to the modern-day train station full of young Dartmouth students awaiting the arrival of their Carnival dates. Still, Schulberg was impressed by Fitzgerald’s insights:

I was amazed at the deadly accuracy with which he dissected a campus he had not revisited in years, and in his criticism of an educational system that tends (with certain notable exceptions) to make men conform rather than challenge established ideas.[8]

Supporting players Helen Parrish and James Corner in Winter Carnival.

Eighteen months later, Fitzgerald was dead at age forty-two, destroyed by alcoholism and perceived by most at the time as the voice of an unimportant and utterly irrelevant generation — a failure. The interview with The Dartmouth during Carnival Weekend was the last he ever granted. It took almost a decade for his works to come back into print; now, of course, he is required reading on syllabi across the country, including at Dartmouth. Schulberg’s trajectory was quite different: The author of the best-selling What Makes Sammy Run went on to win an Oscar for his script for On the Waterfront. While his fateful weeks with Fitzgerald may not have produced a masterpiece, they helped to shape his career and inspired his novel The Disenchanted.

The film Winter Carnival went on to be produced (without Fitzgerald’s opening scene), and was a minor success for Wanger. It is revived each year at Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival with a campy glee that looks past the tragedy it helped to create for one of America’s foremost literary figures. Schulberg reflected on the film’s cult status at Dartmouth, “it’s become a tradition at Winter Carnival. They show it at midnight on Saturday night, and the kids just absolutely flip out, I mean, it beats the Marx Brothers for comedy. They just scream with laughter and fall out of their seats. I’ve sat there with them and thought, ‘Oh, if they only knew. If they only knew …’”[9]


[1] The story of Fitzgerald’s Carnival weekend has been told many times. Budd Schulberg has recounted it numerous times, most notably in his “Old Scott,” Esquire (January 1961): 97–101, and fictionalized in his novel, The Disenchanted (New York: Random House, 1950). Aaron Latham thoroughly lays out the entire weekend in Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (New York: Viking Press, 1971): 216–26. Unless otherwise noted, the details that follow are taken from “Old Scott” and Crazy Sundays. The Cowley quotation is from Latham, Crazy Sundays.

[2] “Plan Inquiry into Carnival,” The Dartmouth, 13 February 1939.

[3] Budd Schulberg, “Keynote Address,” F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference at Hofstra University, 1992, p. 5, typescript in the Budd Schulberg Papers, Dartmouth College Library.

[4] Schulberg, “Keynote Address,” p. 8

[5] For a rundown of all of the events, including the winter sports, see The Dartmouth, 17 January 1939; 7 February 1939; 8 February 1939; 9 February 1939; 10 February 1939; 11 February 1939; 13 February 1939.

[6] Julian Koenig, “Budd Schulberg ’36 Writes Scenario for Wanger Movie,” The Dartmouth, 14 February 1939. By the time this article appeared in The Dartmouth, Schulberg and Fitzgerald had been fired from the project.

[7] John D. Hess, “Wanger Blends Abruptness with Charm in Personality,” The Dartmouth, 11 February 1939.

[8] Budd Schulberg, “In Hollywood,” New Republic 104 (3 March 1941): 312.

[9] Schulberg, “Keynote Address,” p. 14.