F. Scott Fitzgerald (Image via Wikimedia Commons/The World's Work)
When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, did he know he was writing a novel that, 90 years later, would be considered one of the great achievements of American literature? Did he know we'd still be reading his story, teaching it to almost every child who passes though the U.S. high school system, and praising its timeless perfection? Could he possibly have guessed we'd be anxiously awaiting Baz Luhrmann's lavish film adaptation that opens in theaters today?
Fitzgerald was confident of his work, and when he wrote it, he was hoping to write the Great American Novel. Though Gatsby's contemporary sales weren't what he hoped they'd be, he was rewarded almost immediately with a silent movie adaptation released in 1926, just a year after the novel. Unfortunately, the film didn't fit with his vision of his great work. In fact, Fitzgerald is reported to have called it "rotten." As is the case with many early movies, no complete print of the film survives – just this original trailer.
Neither Fitzgerald nor his wife Zelda ,who inspired Gatsby’s Daisy, lived to see the next adaptation of his novel. Released in 1949, nine years after the author's death, it featured Alan Ladd, Betty Field and Shelley Winters. Though true to the facts of the novel, the film has been accused of missing the book's nuance and romance – and we have to wonder if Fitzgerald would have been just as disappointed with it as he was with the 1926 version.
1974 brought the best known,to date,adaptation of The Great Gatsby, a big screen version that starred Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy. It, too, disappointed the critics, with many calling it a pretty film lacking emotion and substance.
It was 25 years before the next adaptation came to fruition, and it was certainly the most unique of all the versions of Fitzgerald's classic. The opera The Great Gatsby made its way to The Metropolitan Opera. But it didn't delight critics any more than the film versions did. Once again, the reviews asserted, the heart of the book was absent in the adaptation.
We're pretty sure that Fitzgerald couldn't have imagined the next adaptation of his novel – if only because when he wrote it, television was still a glimmer in the eyes of inventors. In 2000, A&E aired an adaptation that had star power on its side with Mira Sorvino, Paul Rudd and Toby Stephens. But we aren’t surprised that it, too, was judged to be lacking in comparison with the book.
So will the new adaptation, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, stand above the rest as faithful to the book, both in plot and in spirit? Or will it be beautiful but foolish, like earlier adaptations? We'll find out in a few short hours. But one question will remain unanswered: will this finally be an adaptation that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved? We hope so.
Written by Linnea Crowther