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24 Hours That Changed Literature

This is one of the more interesting little tidbits I’ve discovered about an author since I’ve started this project.

Nathanael West died the day after his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940.

Here’s how our friends at Wikipedia describe his death:

On December 22, 1940, West and his wife Eileen McKenney were returning to Los Angeles from a hunting trip in Mexico. Possibly distraught over hearing of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death (Fitzgerald died on the 21st, his death was made known the next day), West ran a stop sign in El Centro, California, resulting in a collision in which he and McKenney were both killed. McKenney had been the inspiration for the title character in the Broadway play My Sister Eileen, and she and West had been scheduled to fly to New York City for the Broadway opening on December 26. West was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens,New York, with his wife’s ashes placed in his coffin.

Fitzgerald was 44. West, 36.

That has to be one of the strangest coincidences in the annals of literarydom ( I made that word up in case you were wondering). How do two close friends, both writers, die within 24 hours of each other from totally unrelated causes: West, a car crash and Fitzgerald, heart attack?

That’s just eerie, man. Eerie.

Also, Fitzgerald and West were connected through the nature of their work–both were burned out on Hollywood and portrayed its harsh realities in their books. With West, that came in the form of The Day of the Locust, which I’m reading through right now.

When Fitzgerald died, he was working on a similarly themed novel called The Last Tycoon, which was eventually published posthumously in 1941.

So who knows whether West was “possibly distraught” over Fitzgerald’s death (as the Wikipedia entry claims) when he wrecked the car that killed him and his wife. Whether distraught driving led to his death or not, the timing of their deaths was a terrible coincidence.

Two amazing authors who died well before their time.

More details about this over at Entertainment Weekly.

Image via Find a Grave. 

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fate Love

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  2. Ted Fontenot #

    Ian Hamilton’s Writers in Hollywood 1915-1951 has some extensive comments on West and Fitzgerald’s time on the cross in Hollywood. Hamilton may be remembered for trying to force Salinger’s hand in a proposed biography. He unsuccessfully tried to quote extensively from Salinger’s works and unpublished letters. Hamilton’s book on writers in Hollywood is very good, well-researched and very readable. I’ve read it a few times. Has great anecdotes, often very funny, usually about how the writers were at loggerheads with the movie producers. Hamilton’s take on the writers v. producers isn’t one-sided. For instance, he makes it quite clear that Fitzgerald was quite unrealistic in his expectations of what he could get from the movie producers. And Fitzgerald was not a very good screenwriter. (It’s really said how he was out of his element, but it was by no means entirely Hollywood’s fault.) Neither was Faulkner, but at least Faulkner knew and accepted his place in the system. Faulkner had no illusions; he was in it for the bucks and knew he was far down the pecking order.

    According to Hamilton, West was terrible driver:

    “The “world’s worst driver,” West had been involved in many an auto wreck—he habitually drove fast, was known to make U-turns across six lanes of rush-hour traffic, and was more or less color blind. He was also famous for daydreaming at the wheel; several of his friends refused to drive with him.”

    As for the close friendship thing, Hamilton says “the two had never been close friends, but Fitzgerald had once or twice gone out of his way to praise West’s fiction, and West was grateful….” West was almost always in dire financial straits, as his books had not sold well at all. West was the brother-in-law of S. J. Perelman, the great comic writer, who had a hand in writing some for the Marx Brothers. West and his wife had only been married a few months.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
    • Great stuff, Ted. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like West’s crappy driving was more to blame than any type of grief.

      Like

      January 9, 2014
  3. Mabel #

    That’s not as crazy as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on July 4, 1826. 🙂

    Like

    January 9, 2014
    • Sissy #

      Beat me to it!
      On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, no less.

      Like

      January 12, 2014
  4. Reblogged this on Curiosidades na internet.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  5. Interesting, but sad. 44 and 36!

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  6. A reblogué ceci sur fashionmusician.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  7. L’ha ribloggato su Dentro il cerchio.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  8. Tragic and brilliant! I feel like this has all the components of a great short story. Hmmmm. . .

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  9. Also, ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ by West is a great read, definitely worth checking out.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  10. Super interesting, thanks for sharing.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  11. bookgeeking #

    This was really interesting. Sad but intriguing, I had not heard of one of the authors, and I have only read one book by F Scott Fitzgerald. Nice Post.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
  12. Hi, rob. I haven’t been able to send you email message telling you my address to get my book. I”m posting it on your blog, that’s the only way I’m able to get in toouch with you. It is Gladys Mercado, 3890 Cambridge St.,, Apt. 212, Las Vegas, NV 89119. Please delete address as soon as possible. Please let me know you’ve gotten my message. Thank you.

    Like

    January 9, 2014
    • I responded and deleted your address the other day. Got it! Never saw what book you wanted though?

      Like

      January 9, 2014
      • Lucille #

        Now maybe this address should be deleted?

        Like

        January 11, 2014
  13. They were both so young.

    And I’m a bit sad about the crappy driving revelation – my mind went to a secret love affair between the two men which would have been a far better story.

    Like

    January 10, 2014
  14. A good story nicely expanded by Ted. Eerie indeed, but mostly sad. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    January 10, 2014
  15. Wow, that’s crazy. I had no idea!

    Like

    January 10, 2014
  16. Fascinating, what an extraordinary coincidence. I have written a series of posts about bizarre author deaths on my blog, but I knew nothing about West’s demise.

    Like

    January 10, 2014
  17. Hi Robbie, where is the Sandy Hook money gone? The news says no one knows where you are

    Like

    January 11, 2014
    • That isn’t me. I’m Robert Bruce. This guy is Robbie. I’m 37. He’s 33. Someone emailed me earlier today to give me a heads up on this. It’s not me.

      Like

      January 11, 2014

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