When F. Scott Fitzgerald and his new wife, Zelda, honeymooned in Westport, Connecticut, in 1920, they rented a cottage at 244 Compo Road S., living there from May through September. One of the houses nearby was a mansion on a 175-acre estate, owned by a mysterious and reclusive multimillionaire named F.E. Lewis, who threw lavish parties.
If you pictured Jay Gatsby, you’re in good company. Writer and director Robert Steven Williams’ 2020 documentary, Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story, dives in to myriad connections between the famous couple and their short time spent in the New England enclave of Westport.
While scholars have long believed that The Great Gatsby was solely inspired by the Fitzgerald’s time in Great Neck, across the sound in Long Island, Williams and Westport historian Richard Webb produce compelling evidence that supports one writer’s decades-long theory that Westport gave Scott plenty of fodder.
For Williams, 62, the fascination with the Fitzgeralds started after he published his book, My Year as a Clown, in 2013 — set in the fictional town of Putnam’s Landing. “[This] was a nod to a Westport writer Max Shulman, who wrote a famous book called Rally Round the Flag, Boys! which took place in Westport,” Williams says. He was later asked to host a literary roundtable at what was then the Westport Historical Society. (Williams has lived in Westport since 1992.) Along with artists and historians, he also invited the late Max Shulman’s son, who agreed to read from Rally Round the Flag, Boys!
But something was missing. “I said I would love to give some nod to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. And the historical society hooked me up with this guy named Richard “Deej” Webb,” Williams adds. “He was giving talks about the Fitzgeralds in Westport, based on this 1996 New Yorker article by [the late] Westport resident Barbara Probst Solomon. She’s the first person to connect the dots between Gatsby and Westport.”
The success of the event was a catalyst for Williams, who thought he and Webb could produce a short film for the historical society. “As we started to get into it, it was like an onion, and we just were peeling the layers back. And it just became so obvious that Westport was so much more meaningful to Scott and Zelda than any of the scholars had given the Westport period any credit for.”
Williams hopes his documentary will spur interest in the suburban Westport — and its newly discovered slice of Fitzgerald history. “Everything that happens to him is building up to what happens in the Great Gatsby — and it all starts in Westport.”
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