Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - High Life

Article excerpt

New York

My first copy of The Great Gatsby cost me $2. It was the year 1953, the cover was dark blue with city lights in the background, and a pair of mournful green eyes looking at nothing in particular. I had just finished Tender Is the Night, so I took Gatsby home in exhilaration, not unlike going home with the girl of your dreams - well, almost. I was not to be disappointed. Although I never related to Gatsby the way I did to Dick Diver - Jay reminded me of a couple of men I had met in my 15 years of life, whereas Dick was someone tragic whom I aspired to - it was the most glamorous of novels. It was lyrical as well as brutal, and like all Scott's novels magical, mystical and full of romance.

Here's the narrator Nick Carraway: 'There was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life . . . It was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and it is not likely I shall ever find again.'

The story of Jay Gatsby, who came so mysteriously to West Egg, of his sumptuous entertainments and of his obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan is well known. Three films have been made, among which the second, with Alan Ladd playing Gatsby, is by far the best. The last and most expensive one had a ludicrous Robert Redford trying to play a cool Jay, and an ever so flighty Mia Farrow as Daisy. During the planning of the movie, the producer Robert Evans had told me that they were trying to get Truman Capote to write the screenplay. I knew Evans from way back, when his name was Shapiro. He is still with us and he's OK, but very Hollywood.

(His late brother Charles was a friend. ) I had heard rumours about Capote's drugtaking and inability to deliver and said so.

'Well, who do you think we should get, you?'

said Evans dismissively.

Francis Ford Coppola wrote it and very surprisingly for such a good writer messed it up. Looking cool and calling everyone a sport was not what Gatsby was about, and nor was the hero symbolised by having a hell of a lot of new shirts and beautiful clothes.

That was Shapiro's view, or rather Evans's.

Many have called The Great Gatsby the best American novel ever written. Something to do with the way it's structured. I don't know how one measures such things, but good books to me are like beautiful women: you can't compare them. I loved Gatsby and have read it two or three times. Tender I have read more than five times. (A Moveable Feast almost annually. ) When people ask me why I refuse to expand my horizons, I answer the same way Paul Newman once did about women: 'Why eat hamburgers out when you have steak at home. …

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