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Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

 (1901 - 1948)
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was active/lived in Alabama, New York / Europe.  Zelda Fitzgerald is known for modernist painting, human and animal figures, floral desigsn, writing.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
The following information is from Sara Megan Kay, who writes:"While I may not be a complete authority about her, I have read several books and explored the few websites solely dedicated to her, and while I am online I try my best to find more people who appreciate her legacy and build an online community. I started the first and only webring for websites about Zelda, and I also have the only Yahoo! Group dedicated to her as well."

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald:

Born: July 24th, 1900
Died: March 10th, 1948
Parents: Anthony Dickinson Sayre and Minnie Machen Sayre
Siblings: Marjorie, Daniel, Rosalind, Clothilde (nicknamed Tilde), Anthony Jr.
Spouse: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald- married April 3rd, 1920
Children: Frances Scott Fitzgerald (Scottie)- born October 26th, 1921

Anthony Sayre was a judge of the Alabama Supreme Court and highly respected even at the start of his career. His family background was impressive- his uncle was John Tyler Morgan, who had been a U.S. Senator. His wife's (Minnie Machen) father was Willis B. Machen, also a U.S. Senator. Nicknamed "The Wild Lily of the Cumberland" as a young woman, Minnie had aspired to be an actress and very nearly took a job at the Drew-Barrymore theatre company.

Their marriage resulted in six children- Marjorie was born around 1886 and was a sickly child from birth. Their firstborn son, Daniel, was born in 1887 and died at 18 months from spinal meningitis. Rosalind was born in 1889, Clothilde in 1891, and Anthony Jr. was born in 1893. Zelda was the youngest- named after a character in a novel Minnie owned. She was her mother's favorite, was nursed until she was four years old, and was given all the freedom she desired. Zelda was a wild child growing up and did exactly as she pleased, her antics becoming cemented into the memories of everyone who grew up with her.

Some of her childhood friends included Tallulah Bankhead (who became an actress), Sara Mayfield (who married one of Zelda's former beaus, John Sellers), Eleanor Browder, and Sara Haardt (who married H.L. Mencken). When she met Scott Fitzgerald, she was the belle of the county- every young man (soldier or not) was out courting her and aspiring to win her heart. She kept a scrapbook containing memorabilia of every important event in her life, and she had a box full of the soldiers' insignia pins.

Eventually it was Scott who won her, but their engagement was broken in July 1919 because of the fact that Scott had no money to properly support her. He had big dreams of being a great writer but at the time he was struggling. When Scott's novel This Side of Paradise was published in 1920, it was a wild bestseller and made Scott an overnight star. He and Zelda married on April 3rd, 1920.

Their first years of marriage stand out in history as the most colorful and decadent years that made The Jazz Age. This Side of Paradise was so successful that they spent their money almost as fast as they earned it. Their only daughter was born in 1921. Her name was originally supposed to be Patricia but she was shortly christened Frances Scott Fitzgerald. They moved to France and became friends with expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy, as well as fellow writer Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley.

In 1924 the golden couple of the Jazz Age seemed to be at their peak-living like royalty on the French Riviera, Scott was working on The Great Gatsby, Scottie was growing up, and Zelda enjoyed swimming daily and got a deep bronze tan. Then they met Edouard Jozan, a dashing French aviator. Zelda became instantly smitten because Jozan represented everything that Scott was not-tall, ruggedly handsome, athletic, courageous and strong. They had an affair but it was never confirmed whether they had sex or not. Scott was furious when he discovered the affair, challenged Jozan to a duel which never happened, and allegedly locked Zelda up in their villa for a month to keep her away from Jozan. Jozan got transferred (he was in the French military, after all) and left Zelda a photo of himself and a letter written in French, which she tore them all up without looking at either of them. This is possibly when her descent into madness began.

One of the most major episodes prior to her breakdown occurred in 1927 when she threw herself down a flight of stairs while she and Scott were dining out with Gerald and Sara Murphy at an inn where Isadora Duncan was also dining. As quoted from Gerald Murphy, who witnessed the event: "Scott didn't know who she (Duncan) was, so I told him. He immediately went to her table and sat at her feet. She ran her fingers through his hair and called him her centurion. But she was an old lady by this time. Her hair was red, no purple really- the color of her dress- and she was quite heavy."

According to the biography Scott Fitzgerald by Jeffery Meyers, Duncan was in the process of writing her memoirs and she was asking Scott for advice; he was interested so she gave him her hotel and room number. Zelda had been watching them and suddenly got up from the table and threw herself down a nearby flight of stairs. Her knees were bleeding, but she was not seriously hurt and returned with no explanation as to why she did it. Murphy said: "I was sure she was dead. We were all stunned and motionless. I don't remember what Scott did. The first thing I remember thinking was that it had not been ugly. I said that to myself over and over again. I've never been able to forget it."

Zelda had become increasingly jealous of other women whom she thought were having affairs with Scott. In the most extreme case was Lois Moran, a rising silent film actress who met Scott when she was 17. Zelda became so resentful over the affair that she threw her platinum and diamond wristwatch (an engagement present from Scott) off from a train while quarreling about Moran. Her eccentric behaviors grew more disturbed, to where close friends noticed that there was something very wrong.

Around this same year Zelda rediscovered her love for the ballet (she'd danced as a child but quit when she was 17), and so she enrolled with the Diaghilev Russian ballet troupe. Her teacher was Lubov Egorova (Princess Nikita Troubetska) and soon the dance was her major obsession. It took up all of her free time to where she was never home and worked herself to exhaustion. Because she started too late to be a prima ballerina, her efforts were futile and if she kept studying she would only garner supporting roles in ballet because of her age. Still she studied for a few more years and had her first nervous breakdown as a result of the physical and mental stress taking its toll on her.

To quote from Zelda "April 23rd, 1930: Zelda has her first breakdown in Paris. On her way to ballet lessons in a taxi, she changes into her ballet practice clothes. The taxi gets caught up in a traffic jam. Worried that she is going to be late for practice Zelda jumps out of the taxi and runs through the streets of Paris in her ballet clothes to Madame Egorova's practice studio. Scott enters her into Malmaison clinic outside Paris. Zelda discharges herself on May 11."

From 1930-1931 Zelda is admitted into the following hospitals: Malmaison (outside of Paris), Valmont (Switzerland), and Les Rives de Prangins (also in Switzerland). In July 1931, Zelda was released from Prangins and in September the Fitzgeralds left Europe and returned to America permanently.

They lived in Montgomery to be close to Zelda's family. Scott's father had recently died, and Judge Sayre passed away on 11/17/1931. Zelda carried on until February 12th, 1932, when she had her second breakdown and was admitted into Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore. Around this time she started her only novel, entitled Save Me the Waltz, which would be published in October and was dedicated to one of Zelda's doctors at Phipps, Mildred Squires. This began a big fight with Scott, who was in the process of writing Tender is the Night, and had been drawing on the same Paris and Riviera experiences that Zelda wanted to use in her novel.

Eventually the book was edited and rewritten to Scott's liking and the book was published. On June 26th she was discharged from Phipps. After the suicide of her brother Anthony in August 1933, the failed production of her play Scandalabra, and the accidental fire at La Paix (a house the Fitzgeralds were renting, Zelda had been burning old clothes when she unintentionally started the fire), Zelda had her third mental breakdown in 1934. She was admitted into Sheppard-Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland, but was transferred a month later to Craig House (located in New York), and back again to Sheppard-Pratt in May.

During this time she got the chance to read Scott's new novel, Tender is the Night. It affected her profoundly. Scott mercilessly exposed Zelda in his characterization of Nicole Diver. He drew upon Zelda's most private letters to him, written in the anguish of her early months of her illness in Switzerland. He snipped and pieced them together some of them virtually word for word with very little regard for Zelda's reaction or for the precarious balance of her sanity. Unlike Scott's censoring of Save Me The Waltz, Scott's fictional exploitation of Zelda's mental illness was laid bare for everyone to read."

She stayed at Sheppard-Pratt until April 1936 when she was transferred to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. She remained there off and on for the rest of her life.

She was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic. For a number of years she became covered in ecxema as a partial result from her breakdowns. The doctors administered many different "cures" which brought the excema under control but did not entirely cure her. For several years she became fanatically religious- she read the Bible incessantly, lost a lot of weight and tried many times to "save" her friends and family from a hell-bound fate.

She painted because she found it therapeutic and soothing, and her art was shown at museums and sold to friends who liked it. She also wrote a number of short stories and articles, most of which were published in the early and mid 1930s.

Scott moved to Hollywood in the mid 1930s to become a screenwriter, a career move which was mostly disastrous and he made barely enough to send Scottie to Vassar and to pay for Zelda's hospitalizations. There he met Sheilah Graham- with whom he began a stormy affair until his death in 1940 when he died in Graham's apartment.

Zelda was unable to attend the funeral or see him buried. During his last few years he was drinking too much and wouldn't stop even though countless doctors told him he was going to die if he didn't stop. He was working on his novel The Love of the Last Tycoon, which was about love and power in Hollywood. It was released posthumously in 1941, and edited by his old friend Edmund Wilson.

Scottie married Jack Lanahan in 1943, and again Zelda was unable to attend. But she did function on her own and checked herself into Highland when needed. On March 10th, 1948 a fire broke out in Highland (not caused by Zelda but bad wiring) and killed nine patients including Zelda, whose body was identified by a charred slipper underneath it.

Scott's books would become major classics, especially The Great Gatsby, even more so than when they were first released. Most of his books have been made into movies- The Great Gatsby in 1926, 1949, 1974, and 2001; Tender is the Night in 1962 and 1985; and The Last Tycoon in 1976 starring Robert DeNiro (as Monroe Stahr).

Zelda's paintings (which she did many while hospitalized) have a permanent home in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Her work is slowly being appreciated, art and writings alike.

Zelda by Nancy Milford
Sometimes Madness is Wisdom by Kendall Taylor
Scott Fitzgerald by Jeffery Meyers (for the dates to the movies about Scott's books)

My Tribute to Zelda (Sara Megan Kay)

Zelda's Passions

The Shrine of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald;action=info;b=

Biography from The Johnson Collection
Frequently overshadowed by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was a writer, dancer, and painter who suffered from many demons. Her work in all three art forms was an attempt to establish her own identity. Born to a prominent family in Montgomery, Alabama, beautiful Zelda Sayre was the proverbial belle of the ball. She met Lieutenant Fitzgerald at a country club dance while he was stationed at Camp Sheridan during World War I; they wed in 1920. The author once declared, “I married the heroine of my stories.”

The Fitzgeralds maintained a highly visible and glamorous lifestyle throughout the 1920s and came, in the eyes of many, to embody the Jazz Age. Zelda was often described in newspapers of the day as the quintessential flapper. The couple’s routine was also itinerant: New York hotels; a summer rental in Westport, Connecticut; family visits to Montgomery; a rented estate near Wilmington, Delaware; transatlantic trips with stays in Paris, the French Riviera, Rome, and Capri—moves motivated alternately by work opportunities, social invitations, or recurring financial difficulties.

Their circle of associates included Gertrude Stein, Romaine Brooks, Ernest Hemingway, and Sara and Gerald Murphy. In the late 1920s, Zelda rekindled her youthful passion for ballet and studied in Paris with a Russian woman affiliated with the Diaghilev troupe, but the physical and mental demands eventually took their toll. She suffered her first breakdown in April 1930 and spent the next several months in and out of hospitals near Paris and in Switzerland. Her diagnosis, contested by some, was schizophrenia. In the fall of 1931, the couple returned permanently to the United States. 

Despite being institutionalized intermittently, Zelda Fitzgerald wrote and painted. In 1932, she published Save Me the Waltz, a heavily autobiographical novel, similar in approach to Scott’s Tender is the Night, which was issued two years later. She also authored a play, articles, and short stories.

She had her first painting lesson at age twenty-five, exhibiting a good deal of natural talent. Stylistically, Fitzgerald’s paintings display the influence of modernism in their abstraction and an awareness of surrealism in their fanciful quality. When she introduced figures—both human and animal—she tended to exaggerate their muscularity, inspired perhaps by her interest in dance. Ethereal flowers, probably initiated while in Capri, are the focus of many watercolors, and sometimes are highlighted with gouache. Regrettably, many of her paintings have been lost or destroyed.

Zelda Fitzgerald spent months hospitalized in Baltimore, New York, and Asheville, North Carolina, although she did experience lucid periods. She was never committed, but chose to submit herself for treatment.

She died at the Highland Hospital in Asheville in a fire caused by faulty wiring. A figure of perennial popular fascination, Zelda Fitzgerald has been the subject of several novels and books. The Montgomery Museum of Art holds a number of her works in its permanent collection.

Submitted by Holly Watters.
Collection Assistant
The Johnson Collection

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About  Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Born:  1901 - Montgomery, Alabama
Died:   1948 - Asheville, North Carolina
Known for:  modernist painting, human and animal figures, floral desigsn, writing