Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read this book because Neal Gabler mentions it in his work about Hollywood and the Jewish movie moguls.  The lead character, Monroe Stahr is said to be based on the real life figure of Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind of the Movies in the 1930's.

This book is an unfinished novel; Fitzgerald died in the course of writing it. He finished 6 chapters and left notes and an outline.  The publisher Charles Scribner's Son published the six chapters and included the outline with the publisher's reconstruction of the possible conclusion of the narrative.

Not only does this contribution show a great writer, but also describes a sympathetic, sensitive character of the producer Stahr.  It is a clear inside view of how Hollywood produced a movie in the 1930's.  Fitzgerald also worked as a Hollywood screenwriter.

One sees the raw absolute power of the producer in a film in those days.  There is a profound scene in the book when the protagonist, Stahr crashes in on a film production crew in progress and announces to the director, writer and celebrity actor that he (producer) is shelving the project because 'its not working!'  Shocked at the announcement, the three key players protest: How can you shelve a production that has already cost $50,000?!  Stahr responds and explains clearly that after completion, when the film flops at the box office there will be a much greater loss of money.  Better to cut the losses then to continue wasting money.  The film can always be revived at a later date.  Stahr makes a comment about only wanting to produce quality films.  In a master stroke of manipulation, Stahr is able to solicit from the production staff what can be changed to his satisfaction.  He is able to explain what he wants in the film and the director, screenwriter and star are willing to make the changes so that the production continues and is not scrapped.

One learns that not producing a film would have terrible consequences for the director, screenwriter and actor.  They need their names promoted.  If a film is not produced then their careers become stalled or worse ended!  The producer has complete control over the lives of the production crew.

This unfinished novel is a fine study of power and leadership.

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