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Wes & Erin continue their discussion of “The Great Gatsby”; the ongoing development of our approach to the discussions; Arnold Rothstein and the fixing of the 1919 World Series; Fitzgerald’s neighbors on Long Island, including Ring Lardner and Ed Wynn; the contemporary feel of the novel; the NYC movie-making scene in the early 20th century; Marilynne Robinson; and possibilities for the next episode, where because of a weird time warp we talk as if “A Woman Under the Influence” will follow “The Great Gatsby” when it has always already preceded it.
Wes: So we just got done talking about The Great Gatsby. How do you think that went?
Erin: I think it went pretty well. I mean, there’s always a lot more to say. Unfortunately on things that occurred to me as I’m reading where I say to myself: “got to mention that on the show.” And then probably I’ll remember what those things are later. [laughter]
Erin: But I still think we got to a really good you know, sampling.
Wes: I thought it went well. I wasn’t as over prepared as I am sometimes. So you know, listeners could give us feedback on what they like, But we’re trying to kind of figure out what works, so we’re trying different approaches. So with this one, we decided to… we would start in media res anywhere we liked, and we would roam about the text as we liked, and not give too much synopsis, assume readers had read it and really talk less to the listener than to each other and let the listeners be eavesdroppers, [laughter] eavesdropping on the eavesdroppers -that’s an interesting way to put it- eavesdropping on the conversation. And I like that. I think that works well. I hadn’t thought through as many of the things that I wanted to think through, as I have in some of the previous episodes, but I think that can work really well, sometimes thinking out loud and not being too… we’re thinking in the moment and not being too wedded to my notes and to some agenda. I come away from an episode like this feeling like I have learned something from you and from the whole process of being inspired with some thoughts and ideas as the episode goes on, which is which I like.
Erin: Yeah, I like that, too. I always learn something from you, though, even if you have notes or whatever you know, it’s not like…[laughter] Unfortunately, I, yeah, I rely far too often on the strength of my own memory, which can be really good, but there is a there is a limit to it [laughter] so…
Wes: Yeah, I know that’s the thing. You do have a great memory, and I think I’d have a better memory if I weren’t ….
Erin: …if you were more lazy like me and didn’t do as much. [laughter]
Wes: Well, the more obsessional you get, the more detailed, you know, like me, trying to outline chapters and… it is actually better. I mean, I’m learning as we do this, like what the best way to prepare for these sorts of conversations is, because we have a limited amount of time and the quality of the podcast relies on our spontaneity. You can’t be completely spontaneous and unprepared, so it’s really… it’s…
Erin: It’s a hard balance.
Wes: It’s a hard balance, you know. You can kill some of the vitality… (thinking back to Myrtle again) [laughter] …can kill some of the vitality by overthinking it. But yeah, if you’re too spontaneous, then it’s formless and you don’t get a chance to really think through some of the things you might want to say…
Wes: …about a book like this. There’s so much to say.
Erin: Well, like, for instance… well actually it occurred to me after we had this kind of meta conversation while we were recording, I really wanted to talk more about the 1919 World Series and then I was thinking… and then I was thinking: “Oh, I could just talk about that on the after show.” That’s about what this is made for. For me to talk baseball. So the thing that I love about Wolfsheim’s character is that he’s supposed to be Arnold Rothstein, who was a real guy who really did fix the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal, where Cincinnati Reds overtook the highly favored Chicago White Sox, then christened “the Black Sox” afterwards. But anyway, I just… I love the fact that that is the association that Fitzgerald wants us to make with the kind of person that Wolfsheim is, because the 1919 scandal represented, I think, a kind of a loss of innocence similar to the Kennedy assassination. I mean -and I don’t want I don’t want to overstate it- but this was the loss of innocence, I think, that led to the twenties, in the way that the Kennedy assassination, or maybe, you know, in ‘68 like the student riots and the RFK and Martin Luther King assassinations kind of led to the late sixties and seventies. So I think it’s important, maybe, that during all of these kinds of like… I don’t know, I have a rough idea about this, I haven’t really thought it through all the way. But the ways in which these eras of decadence are preceded by a loss of innocence is really important. So the Black Sox scandal really just kind of brought to light something that already existed in baseball for a long time, which is the idea of fixing things. The idea of gambling was actually part of baseball’s culture from the beginning. But then once it became big business and there was this idea of, you know, making baseball this hallowed institution with American heroes like Shoeless Joe, who Babe Ruth borrowed his batting stance from. Shoeless Joe Jackson, who’s considered, you know, the ultimate power hitter of his day. And Ruth modeled his swing after Shoeless Joe’s. So this idea that when baseball was kind of overtaken by money and these magnates and this big business that it was then somehow above reproach and it was invested with all of these spiritually qualities, I mean, some of which are inherent to the game of baseball, because it’s a beautiful game and everything else. But like once people realized that there was this sort of, you know, money-making opportunity, it became almost like Hollywood, where suddenly we have to have moral messages imbued in the movies, and we have to make sure everything is (quote-unquote) “on the up and up”. And really, of course, behind the scenes, it’s just as rotten as it ever was and then, you know, the veil drops. Anyway. Sorry, I have just had that spiel trapped in my system, and I needed to get it out. But anyway…
Wes: No, that’s… that’s good. When I was looking into the background for this, I ended up pulling up a page… a Wikipedia page on Rothstein, right? You look at his life and then he was gunned down early on. It’s like a.. really kind of… like a classic mobster type of lifestyle. But I thought: “Wow! I got to read more about this guy” and then I scrolled down to see where he’s been represented in film or TV. So I guess it was… Have you seen Boardwalk Empire? Apparently…
Erin: I haven’t.
Wes: Okay, so I’m not sure how prominent a role he plays in that, or what kind of role he plays in that. But anyway, yeah, it may be really what I’ve learned more about… What I thought was actually looking at his bio, I’m like: “There’s got to be a film, right? There’s got.. someone’s got to have done a film about this guy. And so that’s when I looked down all that stuff. But the other thing that interested me in the background to this is just the extent to which it’s based on Fitzgerald’s own life when he lived on Long Island and the new-money people were actually like writers and Hollywood people… Not Hollywood people, but writers and film people, like Sir Ring Lardner, who I thought: “Yeah, Erin must know who that is” [laughter] …because I don’t. You know, I’ve heard the name, but he was a short story writer and apparently he was highly thought of by Hemingway and Fitzgerald and others, and somehow he got rich doing it [laughter] I don’t know how he ended up in that community, but Lou Fields, Ed Wynn…
Wes: …these are people, I just don’t really… you know, this is all new to me, all this stuff so…
Erin: Wel, Ring Lardner’s expertise extended to baseball, and he was actually one of the… you know, his accounts of the Black Sox scandal, where some of the most famous accounts and he in particular felt really betrayed by that instance. But, yeah, these were all personalities like, I don’t know, who would be the equivalent today? The only name I could think of is Maureen Dowd, though, you know, a columnist with a particular air about her, or him, [laughter] –as is always the case with Fitzgerald’s friends, except for Zelda- with this particular panache, you know, writing for these top papers. It was really kind of like a golden age, the twenties, of the column as an art form, maybe…
Erin: …and a lot of these pro-stylists like Damon Runyon, for instance, who wrote these popular stories. There was an appreciation for the effort and the flare that actually went into those.
Wes: You’re reminding me of the fact that the novel… I was surprised how contemporary the novel seems. Part of it is just like these sorts of… like a mob character like Wolfsheim is just… that’s a contemporary trope as well, it’s not dated in any way, even though we might associate it with a particular era. It’s part of our cultural vocabulary. But otherwise I was, with all the cars zipping around, I thought: “Okay, I want to see…” (you know they’re going over the bridge, I think it’s at the Queensboro Bridge that they go over at one point). I wanted to see, anyway, what the cars… I’m thinking, is it still model T Ford stuff or is it more advancement? No, it’s, you know, it’s… cars looked quite different by 1922 and I thought: “and they’re talking about going to the movies or just reading the background…” I was kind of thinking: “God! It’s amazing that people were getting famous for being in movies right before there was even sound or there’s sound…” [laughter]
Erin: Oh, absolutely.
Wes: And this was 100 years ago. I’m just thinking. And yet the way the characters talk about all of this stuff, it just… it has the same quality as the way we would talk about it today, And then New York, what the kind of feelings in New York inspires. You know, there’s that great scene going over the bridge where he describes that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to it on the regular podcast, but everything feels contemporary to me. It doesn’t actually feel dated, even though the novel and the films based on it, right, are. The novel is, in a way, a period novel, and any adaptation of it will play that up. It feels so surprisingly contemporary.
Erin: It’s important to know that too, that, I mean, early, early Hollywood, the silents, people like Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand and all those great figures… Early Hollywood was not Hollywood. It was New York City, you know. It was an outgrowth of Broadway. There were a lot of studios in… not a lot of studios, but there was, you know, there was moviemaking going on in New York.
Wes: Interesting. So I didn’t know that.
Erin: Yeah, and then eventually it became, you know, transported to a place where you could have backlots with better weather and, you know, more controlled the environment. But yeah, you know, it’s funny too, like I was thinking about… So one of the things I really hate about modern day Hollywood is just the nepotism inherent in so much of it, how so many of our young actors today are actors by right of birth. So it’s interesting now how… that Hollywood people, maybe now, are considered like old money. I mean, you know, there’s no grander name than Barrymoore in, you know, among the Hollywood elites. And, you know, so I just… I wonder how long it’s gonna take for Drew Barrymore’s kids to get into acting or whoever. So it’s It’s interesting, too, how, you know, just by having a certain staying power… like I wonder if all these East Eggers are, you know, kind of rolling in their graves over the fact that now the most exclusive parts of the Hamptons have been taken over by the younger generations, who would have been West Eggers, all of these Hollywood people, the Gwyneth Paltrows… You know, people are always surprised to know that Gwyneth Paltrow is the daughter of a movie star in her own right, Blythe Danner.
Wes: Yeah, I had no idea.
Erin: Yeah, yeah, So anyway, yeah, they all come from story backgrounds just to say that our perception of old money or of that kind of aristocratic heritage really does change over time.
Wes: Yeah. So I’m looking at a comment on Patreon by Frank, on our Postscript second coming…
Wes: Postscript. And he says he loves the idea of rotating between essays, film, poems and narrative literature, and then he talks about Marilynne Robinson having some essays. And I’ve always been a big fan of Marilynne Robinson, how about you?
Erin: Oh, me too.
Wes: Yeah. So The death of Adam. Have you read that book?
Erin: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that would be great.
Wes: So, yeah, that will go on the list. That’s a good idea, I think. I think I put her name on the list, but it’s good to be reminded. Like when I was brainstorming what essayists we would read. I mean, we could read a novel and her essays as well, too, of course,
Erin: Yeah, yeah,
Wes: And we do have some new patrons to thank. Elizabeth, Michael, Mary and Amore. Amore has a Cupid as a profile picture.
Erin: Oh… [laughter] That’s great.
Wes: Could be Cupid himself. You never know… [Erin laughs] So for our next episode, what are we doing next?
Erin: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Wes: All right, let’s find out. I’m already bound to a spreadsheet. It’s not really up to me anymore. It’s up to the spreadsheet. I guess we have some choice in this. Let’s look at some of the possibilities here. Possibly A Streetcar Named Desire? No? Why not?
Erin: Well, I mean, you know, eventually. I don’t know if I could take that so much Americanness in that.
Wes: Yeah, that’s a good point. Well, there’s Billy Budd, Annie Hall, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock…
Erin: You know what I was thinking now?
Wes: Or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
Erin: Oh, right, right. Maybe we want to do… Maybe we want to stick to things that are more mainstream, like you said for the first ones. But I was thinking A Woman Under the Influence.
Wes: Yeah. Maybe we could do that. I don’t think it matters.
Erin: Are you sure? Because I want to give us as much of a chance as possible. You know.
Wes: I think we should throw in, you know…
Erin: … a wild card?
Wes: …off the beaten path stuff.
Wes: Once in a while, even in the beginning. And… yeah, because that’s been on my mind. So we should just do that next.
Erin: I know. Well, you know, it’s just… it’s one of those things, like you think you’re getting Mexican food. Someone suggests Chinese food, and then you just have to think about Chinese food for a second. Then you’re in the mood for Chinese food. I don’t know. Anyway. [laughter] So I could adjust it elsewhere. But since I just listened to our postscript episode where we mentioned that I thought that was like the Mexican food that’s on the brain now, or the Greek food as the case maybe for Casabellas.
Erin: So.. great!
Wes. Very good. So let’s do that.
Wes: All right. Well, once again, thank you.
Erin: Thank you.