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Spring Surprises

Fitzgerald’s shocking letter, Vivien Leigh’s inscribed photo, and Egyptian rarities

About Last Night…

Notes from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ina Claire, $12,200 & $8,540, at Bonhams of Los Angeles/New York on April 20.

Fitzgerald’s inviting letter to Ina Claire, on hotel stationery. Courtesy of Bonhams.

“Fabulously Beautiful Creature, Faultlessly groomed I shall be on hand a little after five and in one of my fleet of swift Rolls-Royces whisk you in 3 1/2 minutes to our palace of delights upon the limpid Delaware. A thousand Cercassian girls and eunuchs will perform a march while we dine (at 6) upon bats wings and Chateau Yquem 1909.”

Writing from the lobby of Delaware’s Du Pont Biltmore Hotel, this is F. Scott Fitzgerald inviting Ina Claire, an actress who had fascinated him since his teenage years, to one of the notorious parties at the Ellerslie estate in Delaware where he and Zelda lived from 1927-29.

Quite what happened that evening is not revealed, but in a second note that he sent up to Ina at her hotel the next day, he is apologizing for something that gave offence!

“Whether I passed out or was even more offensive I don’t know—the only thing in my favor was that I had a dim foreboding of catastrophe from about the time the Hergesheimers left, & I wanted to get you home as soon as possible. What ho! But nevertheless I like you too much to endure the lousy impression you will inevitably carry away & this is wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa (& all that sentence & old fashioned time honored unacceptable, unwelcome inevitable apology, that you can doubtless fill out for yourself.)”

Did Zelda, if she was actually present, create some sort of scene, or was Fitzgerald simply embarrassed by something he said or did? A clumsy attempt at a pass, perhaps? Attempting to make amends, he rather curiously signed off as “Gene Marky,” and as a wistful afterthought, added, “Can you more or less have breakfast with me? I await below.”

These two letters were part of an estate sale for the Los Angeles autograph and manuscript collectors and dealers, Charles Williamson and Howard ‘Tucker’ Fleming.

Marilyn and Vivien

Letter from Marilyn Monroe to her foster mother, and a photograph of Vivien Leigh inscribed for George Cukor, $52,460 & $10,980 at Bonhams of Los Angeles/New York on April 20.

Monroe’s letter to her foster mother, describing her life as a housewife. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Part of the same Williamson/Fleming sale that offered the Fitzgerald letters, the first item was once described by Charles Williamson as “the greatest Marilyn Monroe letter in the world.”

Aged just sixteen and newly wed, the girl who was then still Norman Jeane writes from Van Nuys, California, on September 14, 1942, to her foster mother, Grace Goddard, and fills eight pages with a detailed account of her new role as a housewife with Jimmy Dougherty:

“He really keeps me busy cleaning the house and fixing meals, everybody told me that it is quite a responsibility being a house wife, and boy, I’m finding it out.” She goes on to describe in exacting detail all the wedding guests and their gifts—“the most beautiful cocktail set I have ever seen in my life. It is out of solid copper”—and even provides a floor plan of their rooms and furnishings.

An inscribed photograph of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. Courtesy of Bonhams.

More poignantly, she also asks Grace how she might try and get in touch with the man she believed to be her true biological father, Charles Stanley Gifford. In later years, and by this time a star, she did attempt to get in touch, but was rebuffed.

The stunning photograph of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara is inscribed “My darling George with my dearest love,” for George Cukor, who after two years of pre-production work and within three weeks of starting to film Gone with the Wind was fired by produced David O. Selznick. Vivien and her co-star Olivia de Havilland pleaded unsuccessfully with Selznick for his reinstatement, but Cukor did continue to privately coach the two actresses as the filming continued.

On the back of the photograph are the lines “If I don’t work my muse / to scale the heights of a Duse / Then I believe I’d choose / no hope, not abuse / a seat on the Heights of ‘Cordell.’” The reference to one of the great actresses of earlier years, Eleanora Duse, I understand, but can anyone tell me about The Heights of ‘Cordell’?

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