Friday, April 12, 2013

The Gold Coast of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby"

Although Baz Luhrmann's upcoming film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, was shot on location in Australia, the original inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel was our own Long Island.

While based in New York in the early twenties, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda rented a house at 6 Gateway Drive in Great Neck, which would become the inspiration for the novel's West Egg. Just across Manhasset Bay, the neighboring village of Sand's Point would become known as East Egg. The north shore of Long Island, dubbed the “Gold Coast”, was at its heyday lined with over 1,200 grand country homes dotting the shoreline. Approximately 400 of these survive today; many are still in private hands, while others are open to the public.
6 Gateway Drive © Great Neck Library

The Fitzgeralds, perhaps surprisingly, moved to Long Island to save money after the birth of their child. The Gateway Drive house, a short walk from the Great Neck Long Island Rail Road station, rented for only $300 a month (about $3,000 in today’s money), compared to the $200 a week they were spending to stay at a hotel in Manhattan. Though Fitzgerald had enjoyed some success on the heels of his first and second novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned, the celebrity couple was well known to live extravagantly—and often above their means.

As development on Long Island’s North Shore increased, the larger, more private, and thus more fashionable, estates were spreading eastwards towards Sands Point (East Egg). Villages like Great Neck became more populated, with smaller plots of land and a closer vicinity to one’s neighbors. The Fitzgeralds fellow residents included theater folks (like Groucho Marx and Basil Rathbone), stockbrokers, bootleggers, and fellow writers like Fitzgerald’s neighbor and friend, Ring Lardner. 

Swope's 325 East Shore Road © Great Neck Library
F. Scott Fitzgerald likely drove his rented Rolls Royce over to Lardner’s house on the bay, where it was said the two liked to sit on the porch, drinking and looking out across the water, and next door to Fitzgerald’s publisher, Herbert Bayard Swope’s, “Gatsby-style” parties. Swope would eventually move across the bay and buy a grand estate called as Keewaydin, which is often referred to as one of Fitzgerald's inspiration for the character Daisy Buchanan's home.