On this day in 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issues an F. Scott Fitzgerald commemorative stamp.
Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a once well-to-do family that had lost much of its wealth and influence. A well-off aunt sent Fitzgerald to boarding school in New Jersey in 1911 and later to Princeton. Although Fitzgerald engaged actively in theater, arts, and other campus activities, his financial background was considerably poorer than those of his classmates, and he resented what he perceived as his outsider status. He left Princeton after three years and joined the Army during World War I.
During his Army service, he was stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, where he fell in love with Zelda Sayre, daughter of a State Supreme Court justice. She rejected the young man, fearing he would not be able to support her. Fitzgerald vowed to win her back. He moved to New York and wrote This Side of Paradise (1920), which immediately launched the 23-year-old writer to fame and fortune. Impressed by his success, Zelda agreed to marry him, and the two began a whirlwind life of glamorous parties and extravagant living in New York.
Unfortunately, the Fitzgeralds lived far beyond their means and soon found themselves deeply in debt. They moved to Europe, hoping to cut back on expenses. There, they befriended other expatriate writers, including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. While in Europe, Fitzgerald finished his masterpiece The Great Gatsby (1925). However, Europe proved no cheaper for the Fitzgeralds. Although Fitzgerald published dozens of short stories–178 in his lifetime, for which he was amply paid–the couple’s debts mounted. Fitzgerald plunged into alcoholism, and his wife became increasingly unstable. In 1930, she suffered the first of several breakdowns and was institutionalized. She spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium. Fitzgerald’s next novel, Tender Is the Night, failed to resonate with the American public, and Fitzgerald’s fortunes plummeted. In 1937, he moved to Hollywood to try screenwriting. He fell in love with a Hollywood gossip columnist, stopped drinking, and began renewed literary efforts, but died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.