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All eyes turn to ‘Gatsby’ with host of events

Drunk on decadence, blitzed on extravagance and soused on sex — you have to appreciate the hell-bent hedonism of it all.

Followed by the financial deprivation of the ’30s, wartime sacrifices of the ’40s and apple-cheeked Americana of the ’50s, it’s never been rivaled for guilt-free gratification. Sure, the sex-soaked ’60s and ’70s and greed-is-good ’80s aped aspects of it, but no period did pure pleasure like the Roaring ’20s.

Coined "The Jazz Age" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was a raucous, vastly entertaining era, awash in flappers and furs. From the naughty speakeasies of the lowbrow masses to the gaudy retreats of the entitled classes, overindulgence oozed into a kind of national moral rot.

And as distinctive times demand timeless novels to chronicle their rhythms, so Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby" — at the center of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s monthlong Reading Las Vegas program and Sunday’s "A Date with Gatsby" event — captured that decade’s debauched delirium.

Published in 1925 and deemed one of the great 20th century novels, it’s the story of bootlegger Jay Gatsby and his attempts to buy respectability in the moneyed world of his love, Daisy Buchanan. It speaks eloquently to the easy affluence and callous attitudes of prosperous, post-World War I America that soon would collapse in the Crash of 1929 and onset of the Great Depression.

As the Big Read selection — an initiative of the National Endowment of the Arts to encourage communities to read and analyze one book — Fitzgerald’s classic is the linchpin for a pinwheel of programs at county libraries celebrating "Gatsby" themes and aspects of the ’20s, including: a jazz picnic and concerts; writing workshops and book discussions; screenings of the 1974 film starring Robert Redford; Lindy Hop dance classes; an interactive "Speakeasy Murder Mystery"; and a "Great Gatsby Teen Ice Cream Social."

"A Date with Gatsby," a multimedia affair at the Clark County Library, features a jazz quartet from the Nevada Chamber Symphony backing a staged reading by Las Vegas Little Theatre actors of selected scenes from author Simon Levy’s "Gatsby" play. Next weekend, "Gatsby and the Jazz Age" at West Charleston Library, produced by Tony Sacca, blends the era’s songs, dance and fashion.

For you literary scholars eager to appear flush with Fitzgerald folklore and fat with "Gatsby" minutiae, here’s a primer on the author and his masterpiece:

• Born Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald in 1896, he was named after his distant cousin, "Star-Spangled Banner" composer Francis Scott Key.

• To sustain him, he wrote magazine short stories, describing it as "whoring."

• His work quoted letters and diaries of his wife and muse, flamboyant Zelda Sayre.

• Fitzgerald considered several titles before settling on "The Great Gatsby," including: "Among Ashheaps and Millionaires," "Gold-Hatted Gatsby," "The High-Bouncing Lover" and "Under the Red, White and Blue."

• Fitzgerald is famous for the phrase, "There are no second acts in American life."

• Zelda suffered from schizophrenia, dying in a fire at a mental institution in 1948.

• Still married to an institutionalized Zelda, Fitzgerald lived with his lover, Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.

• He also toiled on movie scripts, including passages from "Gone With the Wind" that were never filmed.

• "Gatsby" was a 1926 silent film; a 1949 version starred Alan Ladd; Truman Capote adapted the 1974 version, but after he wrote two characters as gay, he was replaced by Francis Ford Coppola; a 2000 TV flick starred Paul Rudd and Mira Sorvino.

• Fitzgerald was depicted by Gregory Peck in 1959’s "Beloved Infidel" and Jeremy Irons in 2002’s "Last Call."

• Fitzgerald was an alcoholic since his college days.

• After a heart attack in 1940, he died awaiting a visit from his doctor.

• Andy Kaufman occasionally read "Gatsby" onstage to deter fans clamoring for his "Taxi" character, Latka.

• In his book "America," Jon Stewart listed "other works," including "The Great Gatsby, Written by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show Cast, As Told to F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0256.

 

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