I’ve always been fascinated by the sad love story of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, which started in the city where I was born and ended in my adopted city of West Hollywood. Growing up in Alabama, I heard about F. Scott Fitzgerald early as his story was part of local lore. While stationed at Ft. Sheridan during World War I, the aspiring writer attended a country club dance where he met and was instantly besotted by Montgomery belle Zelda Sayre. The high-spirited Zelda was the most popular girl in town, mostly because her erratic behavior made her fascinating. Later it would become obvious that she had serious mental issues but by the time Fitzgerald figured that out, he was married to Zelda and the couple had a child.
Zelda was Scott’s muse, providing inspiration for his best-selling books like “Tender is the Night”, “The Beautiful and the Damned” and “The Great Gatsby” but the marriage proved to be toxic for both. By the late 1930s, Zelda was admitted to the first of several mental institutions and Scott was a full-blown alcoholic. After his early success as a chronicler of the Jazz Age, Scott was broke and desperately in need of cash to keep his wife hospitalized. In search of steady employment, Scott moved to Hollywood to look for work as a screenwriter. In 1937, he checked into the Garden of Allah on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. This hotel was conveniently located for the writer, being close to the Chateau Marmont where he often visited friends, and Schwab’s Pharmacy where he purchased cigarettes and other necessities.
When the Garden of Allah closed down in 1959, Time magazine gave this summary of the type of crowd the hostelry attracted. “Through the intoxicating Twenties and Thirties, the Garden of Allah was more house party than hotel. Robert Benchley was resident clown; John Barrymore kept a bicycle there so as not to waste drinking time walking between the separate celebrations in the sprawling, Spanish villas. Woollcott, Hemingway, Brice, Flynn, Olivier, Welles, Bogart, Dietrich all lived at the Garden during its green years.”
While Scott fit right in with the hard-drinking literary crowd at the Garden of Allah, he did not find it as easy to ingratiate himself with the studio execs. His friend Billy Wilder described the novelist as “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.” The highest points of his tenure in Hollywood included polishing the scripts for the hit films “Gone with the Wind” and “A Yank at Oxford.” The low points were having only one screen credit for the 1938 film “The Three Comrades” and a large pile of rejection slips. Scott was not enjoying his work but knew the $1,250 a week he was getting from MGM was more than a forgotten writer could get elsewhere during the Great Depression.
It was during this difficult time that the writer began a romance with British-born gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who at the time was a nationally syndicated rival to Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. Soon the couple was living in separate apartments at 1443 N. Hayworth and 1403 N. Laurel because back then, unmarried couples couldn’t openly live together. By 1940, the 40-year-old Scott’s health was going downhill rapidly as his years of alcoholism caught up with him. Despite abstaining from alcohol, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and suffered a heart attack while standing in line at Schwab’s to buy cigarettes.
On December 21, 1940, Scott returned to Sheilah’s apartment from a trip to Schwab’s and began to have chest pains. He collapsed and died from a heart attack at the young age of 44. His last meal consisted of a pastrami sandwich from the nearby Greenblatt’s Deli. Zelda suffered an even sadder fate, dying in a mental institution fire in Asheville, NC, at the age of 47.
Sheliah fared much better, using her relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald as inspiration for her best-selling book “Beloved Infidel” which was made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr. The apartments once occupied by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham are still standing as is the Chateau Marmont. Unfortunately, we’ve lost his other favorite haunts.
Lovely article, Linda. Also a huge Fitzgerald fan. Many years ago, the City got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for The Big Read to read The Great Gatsby throughout the City. We did a wonderful walking tour of various sites that Fitzgerald frequented in WeHo. We also did a production of Bernice Bobs Her Hair, one of his classic short stories. And directed by Genevieve Morrill, who used to run a small theatre company that specialized in staging literary works. Thanks again for this article – brought back great memories.
Thanks for the comments. Did you ever see the 1976 TV movie of Bernice Bobs Her Hair starring Shelley Duvall? It’s currently streaming on Freevee.
It breaks my heart the Garden of Allah is now an open dirt field! Playboy founder Hugh Hefner got to go there on his first trip to LA and loved it. Then he found out it had gone downhill but, on a later trip, he stayed there anyway with the whores and junkies because he wanted to soak in the old ghosts and memories of the place for it was, inevitably, made into a parking lot.
The Garden was gone years and years ago. The ill maintained business on that corner made it an eyesore for the strip. Most things come to an end and this one needed to be gone. What was left were unoccupied depressed business failures. The McDonalds was a horrid and filthy location full of mostly street people the nastiest of McDonald’s employees. The drive through was poorly designed and dangerous. Good riddance. Just the facts mam.
As a West Hollywood resident who also loves Fitzgerald, accounts of his later life here always intrigue me, thank you for this. I’m a bit confused though; I’d thought (from a forward in a Fitzgerald book) that MGM put him up in a bungalow in the valley while he was writing for that studio. I heard that the Schwabs heart attack happened when he drove over Laurel Cyn to head to a party on this side of town/stopped to buy cigarettes/had the heart attack in line/then continued onto his party! LOL
There are enough Fitzgerald stories to fill several books! I know I’ve read a few over the years. He worked in Hollywood long enough to have lived in several places but the apartments he shared with Graham were in West Hollywood. The plot of land where the Garden of Allah stood is just outside the current boundaries of West Hollywood. He suffered at least one prior heart attack before the one that ended his life.
Love this, thank you. So I have a question, was Garden of Allah where the recent McDonald’s and Chase Bank located in the City of West Hollywood as boundary lines are drawn today or is that Los Angeles County? I’ve written about this corner and have previously been taken to task that it’s LA County. Thanks for advising. Either way it doesn’t take away from the story here.
Answer to your question: Yes it was
Yep. The Garden was torn down in the late fifties to build a bank that was later joined by a mini-mall. While not especially attractive, the mini-mall was more functional than what’s sitting there now.
Garden of Allah – Now And Then
I lived in the Savoy Plaza which is at 1360 N. Crescent Pl., directly across the street from where the Garden of Akkad I would’ve been my landlord on the building from 1936 until her death in 1999 or name was Maxine and the story she would tell I lived in the ground floor part of it in the back of the building and I was the only apartment in the whole complex that had a private patio. She told me that George Harrell then the very famous photographer lived in my unit during the 30s and 40s and that… Read more »