Places: The Last Tycoon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1941

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Hollywood

*Hollywood. Last Tycoon, TheSection of the city of Los Angeles that is traditionally regarded as the center of the American film industry. “Hollywood” is not so much a place as it is an idea, and Fitzgerald’s novel is an attempt to understand that idea and give it flesh and form. While the novel provides details of things that characterize Southern California–for example, the primacy of automobiles and the lassitude Stahr notices in those who have lived too long in the climate–there are also social observations peculiar to the film industry. In a subculture obsessed with celebrity and success, nothing is so chilling as the specter of failure, and the ghostly figures of has-beens stalk these pages: Manny Schwartz, a former studio boss who commits suicide; a cameraman mysteriously blacklisted after someone starts a rumor that he is going blind; a faded actress, and Johnny Swanson, a has-been cowboy star. The rarefied few who are successful live in a small, closed world, huddled together against threatening forces from outside.

Stahr’s studio

Stahr’s studio. The film studio is Stahr’s true home, much more so than the house he is having built in Santa Monica or the lonely Bel Air home in which he currently is living. The studio is the place he knows better than any other, where he works and often where he sleeps, as well as the place where he meets Kathleen. Chapter 3 sketches out his typical working day at the studio; it consists of little of the “glamour” typically depicted in old Hollywood films about Hollywood. Instead, it depicts Stahr attending to his business: discussing filmmaking with a discouraged writer, acting as therapist to an impotent actor, holding a story conference with writers and directors, hosting a visiting Danish prince, defending his desire to make “quality pictures” to the studio’s cautious money men, helping the blacklisted cameraman, and using all his resources to discover the identity of the attractive young woman whom he glimpsed the night before. The studio is a place of business, a company engaged in the manufacture of dreams, and Stahr, for all that he is a dreamer, is also a businessman. At one point he compares himself to a chief clerk who knows where everything is. However, the truest picture of Stahr’s place in his world may be the scene following an earthquake in chapter 2, when Stahr walks through the studio and is hailed by workers on the set who regard him as a hero, “the last of the princes.”


*Hermitage. Former home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, a Greek Revival mansion near Nashville, Tennessee, where Manny Schwartz kills himself at dawn. The pilgrimage that Cecelia, Wylie White, and Schwartz make to the Hermitage begins as a joke, a spur-of-the-moment side trip when their cross-country flight is grounded by a storm. However, Fitzgerald uses the visit to contrast an older frontier America with the dream-America Stahr and the film industry are creating in Hollywood. Cecelia notices the green of the woodland trees and the real cows (her first glimpse of farm animals was a herd of sheep on a movie lot). Andrew Jackson, a self-made man like Stahr, is evoked as a heroic figure from America’s past (like the actor costumed as Abraham Lincoln in the studio commissary), admired if not quite understood by those engaged in creating the present.

*Santa Monica

*Santa Monica. Seaside community in Southern California where Stahr is having a new home built. He takes Kathleen to the unfinished, roofless house, which has a quality similar to that of a movie set. Stahr even speaks of having grass brought in as a prop. The house’s incomplete state, with some rooms finished, others not yet built, reflects Stahr himself. He has devoted himself only to work for such a long time that the domestic side of his character, symbolized by the house, is underdeveloped. It is here that he forges a tentative relationship with Kathleen, whom he takes to the beach for the running of the grunion. The image of the small silver fish coming in with the tides, “as they had come before Sir Francis Drake” (who visited California in 1579), evokes an unspoiled world already lost to the fickle and impermanent structures of human civilization.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. A well-indexed collection of contemporary criticism on Fitzgerald. Includes an article that focuses on social statement and technique in The Last Tycoon. The novel is also discussed in considerable detail in other articles.Ebel, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. 1968. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A good introductory reference, which includes biographical information; readings of novels, stories, and articles; and critical responses. The Last Tycoon is referred to throughout. Includes bibliography, chronology, and index.Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald. London: Edward Arnold, 1992. An accessible reading of Fitzgerald and his work that refers to criticism and to scholarship. The chapter on The Last Tycoon draws from Fitzgerald’s letters, in which he discusses his intentions and plans for the novel. Includes a chronology, bibliography, and index.Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details.Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. London: Vision, 1989. The article on The Last Tycoon argues that the novel is memorable not because it is a faithful portrait of the motion-picture industry at a particular time, but because of the way Fitzgerald uses this material to explore relationships among creative individuals, industry, and society.Seiters, Dan. Image Patterns in the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986. In his discussion of The Last Tycoon, Seiters offers a detailed analysis of such images as water, decay, transportation, communication, and the contrast between light and dark.
Categories: Places