Imagine living like the most famous literary couple of the Jazz Age. You can do that now, by renting a former residence of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.
The Fitzgeralds lived in a second-floor apartment in the historic district of Cloverdale, in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1931 to 1932.
Zelda worked on her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, and Scott worked on Tender Is the Night. It was the last home they would share with their daughter, Scottie, who turned 10 during that time before she went off to boarding school.
Zelda Sayre, born in 1900, the youngest of six children, grew up a child of privilege nearby, in Montgomery’s oldest residential neighborhood, Cottage Hill.
As a debutante, Zelda, along with her dear friend Tallulah Bankhead, loved dancing, flirting with boys, drinking, smoking, and generally behaving in manners scandalous for the time, her reputation secure only because of her father’s social standing as a wealthy judge.
Zelda met F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country-club dance in 1918, when he was stationed outside Montgomery.
She impressed him with her beauty and wit; she, in turn, was taken with his literary ambitions. A long-distance courtship ensued; they got married in New York City in 1920, after publication of Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise.
The newlywed couple lived in hotels in Manhattan, where their outrageous behavior—drinking, smoking, cavorting in public fountains—provoked outcries and got them kicked out of more than one place.
Not the least bit chastened, they both relished the attention.
The restless Fitzgeralds moved around quite a bit, to a summer house in Connecticut, where they scandalized the locals; to Scott’s home state of Minnesota, where Zelda gave birth to Scottie; to Paris, where Scott wrote The Great Gatsby and Zelda had an affair and demanded a divorce, which Scott didn’t grant.
In 1930, Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in a sanatorium in Switzerland.
In 1931, the Fitzgerald family returned to the United States to the house at 919 Felder Avenue, in Montgomery.
1920s Flappers Slang
Zelda, Scott, and Scottie moved in to the two-bedroom second-floor apartment, complete with living room, dining room, bath, and kitchen, after Zelda’s first hospitalization and her father’s death.
The house, built in 1910, was subsequently subdivided into four apartments in the late 1930s and had fallen into disrepair when it was rescued from demolition in the 1980s and turned into a nonprofit.
Now the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, the house is a stop on the “Southern Literary Trail,” which also includes the homes of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Miller.
The first-floor houses letters, first-edition books, 11 of Zelda’s paintings, and other artifacts; the second-floor apartment is available for $150 per night on Airbnb, a canny way to raise funds to support the museum.
Evoking the Fitgeraldian past, the residence is stocked with jazz albums, has a balcony overlooking magnolia trees, and is scattered with pillows embroidered with Zelda’s quips, like “Those men think I’m purely decorative and they’re fools for not knowing better” and “I wish I’d done everything on Earth with you.”
Scott Fitzgerald hated Zelda’s novel, Save Me the Waltz; he felt it was a thinly disguised damnation of their relationship. The two fought bitterly, their rows exacerbated by alcohol abuse.
The mid to late 1930s saw Scott Fitzgerald move to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting; he moved the increasingly erratic Zelda to a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina.
They took one last disastrous trip together, to Cuba, in 1938, after which they never saw each other again. He had a relationship with a young gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham, in California.
Scott Fitzgerald, a chronic alcoholic, died when he had a third heart attack in 1940 at age 44, in Graham’s home. Seven years later, awaiting electroshock therapy, Zelda died in a locked room when a fire broke out at the North Carolina mental hospital. She was 47.
E.L. Hamilton has written about pop culture for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. She lives in central New Jersey, just west of New York City