Few books are as intriguing and bewitching as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Published in 1925, the book tells the story of one eventful summer in the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg.
The Great Gatsby, of course, features one of the most iconic characters in literature - the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby. For years, fans and academics have speculated about the man behind Fitzgerald’s creation.
Meanwhile, the real location behind The Great Gatsby’s West and East Egg setting was largely accepted as Great Neck, Long Island in New York. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald lived there for two years.
However, this view was thrown into question when celebrated author, Barbara Probst Solomon, wrote an article in The New Yorker in 1996. She suggested in the article that Westport Connecticut could have been Fitzgerald’s inspiration.
Solomon had plenty of evidence to back up her thesis. Regardless, her ideas were roundly dismissed by scholars and ignored - even by those in Westport itself. Fitzgerald scholar, professor Matthew Bruccoli, was particularly unhappy with Solomon.
Bruccoli, who died in 2008, believed that the Fitzgerald’s five month stay in Westport in 1920 was insignificant. Fiercely (and litigiously) territorial over Fitzgerald’s work and legacy, he wouldn’t hear anything that contradicted his own version of events.
While Solomon was undeterred, Long Island remained linked to The Great Gatsby - and benefited greatly by the association. All that changed in 2003 when film director, Robert Steven Williams, decided to make a documentary about Westport to remind people of its rich and impressive cultural history.
“Initially, I thought this was just a three-month project to document the Fitzgerald’s Westport period for the local historical society,” he explains. “But as we dug deeper, we realised how important the Westport period was to both Scott and Zelda.
“Along the way, we uncovered academic secrets and a lawsuit to stop the leading Fitzgerald scholar [Bruccoli] from rewriting parts of Gatsby. Most important, we were able to bring to life an overlooked period of Scott and Zelda’s that had a profound impact on their lives including their art, the novels and their love.”
Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story is a fascinating journey through Westport’s influence on The Great Gatsby. The documentary includes comprehensive interviews with an impressive number of academics and input from Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s granddaughter, Bobbie Lanahan.
There is a lot of information to digest (thankfully, Robert Steven Williams’ passion and enthusiasm for his subject is infectious). Piece by meticulous piece, the case for Westport is made clear - down to the uncovering of a mysterious millionaire who could be the true inspiration for Jay Gatsby.
The film's argument is convincing. However, Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story does not set out to deny Long Island’s role or dismiss any alternative theory. Instead, it seeks to encourage the acknowledgement of Westport’s impact and remind people (including Westport's own residents) of the town’s impressive heritage.
Actor Sam Waterston (who portrayed Nick Carraway in Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby), also features in the documentary. He sums up the situation perfectly: “very often, people get excited about the facts and forget about the artwork.”
After all, amid the evidence and the forensic examination of Fitzgerald's life and his work, The Great Gatsby is fiction. "I don't think there was any one person who served as a model for Gatsby," Lanahan concludes. We may never know exactly who or what inspired this novel. Only one thing is certain, The Great Gatsby continues to captivate its readers.
**If you would like to dive further into this story, check out Boats Against The Current - written by Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story’s executive producer, Richard ‘Deej’ Webb Jr.**