What everyone remembers about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is its shimmering heroine, Daisy Buchanan, with her “voice full of money.” The echo of money is being heard again in the land as the new Paramount adaptation of Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, is readied for its March 27 premiere. Already it has pulled an unprecedented $19 million in advance moviehouse bookings. And clambering aboard too are big-business marketers who have invested $6 million to promote a Gatsby-linked line of sportswear, whisky, beauty products and even cookware. A book titled Filming The Great Gatsby, by Bruce Bahrenburg, is also being published. What all the merchandisers are banking on is the mystique of author Fitzgerald, the movie’s breathtaking costuming, and the extra tingle of the casting.
The title role fell, virtually by divine right, to matinee idol Redford. But Daisy was scrambled after. Ali MacGraw was promised the role as a wedding present by her husband, Paramount production chief Robert Evans. Then she forfeited it (and Evans) for the love of Steve McQueen. With all out, Faye Dunaway, Candy Bergen and just about every other American actress under 35 were so eager for the role that they agreed to test for it, an unusual concession for a star. Mia would not have bothered except for the insistence of Gatsby director Jack Clayton, according to chronicler Bahrenburg. Despite the fact that she was running a 103º fever at the time, Clayton recalls, “the moment I saw the test I knew she was more like Daisy Buchanan than the other actresses.” It was a judgment that even the author’s daughter, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, would accept (next page).
Mia, at 29, has had a curiously ricocheting career. She has jounced from a star-crossed youth (daughter of director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan) to TV’s Peyton Place to Frank Sinatra to Eastern meditation to conductor-composer André Previn, And so to Gatsby. A Paramount executive professes calm. “We’re not worried,” he says. “Even the seer Jeane Dixton predicted that in 1974 Mia Farrow would become the most famous movie star in the world.”
MIA IS THE DAISY FATHER HAD IN MIND
Frances Scott (“Scottie”) Fitzgerald Smith, 52, is the only child of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a journalist in her own right. She is presently working on a book about her parents to be published this fall. During the filming of The Great Gatsby she visited the set in Newport, R.I. These are her observations on her father, Daisy and Mia, Moviemaking and America:
For many reasons, some doubtless too deep to analyze, I have led my own life and tried not to make a career out of being the daughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the case of Gatsby, there is less personal attachment for me than with my father’s other work. He put himself a little more outside it than in other books and that is one reason it is his greatest work. I think he was the narrator Nick, standing there observing. I also detach Daisy from my mother, though, of course, some of the lines are my mother’s own words. What Daisy says about her daughter—”I hope she’ll be a fool, that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”— that is exactly what I’m told my mother said in the hospital the day I was born.
When I first saw Mia Farrow on the set I thought she was ravishing, just breathtaking. The New England Summer sun was hitting her face under this lilac chiffon hat and she looked just like my father’s Daisy Buchanan should look. I had seen Mia only in a TV movie, and I envisioned her disheveled, very modern, very blue-jeany, the kind of person who would never go to a Gatsby-type party. I’m embarrassed to say I kept getting her confused with Jane Fonda: they both come from that younger generation of famous actor-parents. I wasn’t sure what she had done politically, but I thought she would be a liberal like myself, (You have to have contempt for the materialism and superficiality of that Long Island life—I personally would never want to go to a Gatsby party.)
I met Mia during a lunch break and she asked me about Daisy’s southern accent, saying she did not like take ones. I completely agreed. Some attempts do make your ears ache, and I kind of encouraged her not to overdo it. Daddy put Daisy in the South because to him it was romantic, where he met my mother, and that was an experience still with him he had not written out. Mia observed that she was attempting to play the role with “a southern attitude.”
In real life Mia is not at all like Daisy. With Mia everything is family. She worried about neglecting her children by working so late. Her Vietnamese baby [adopted last spring] was squirming in her lap, and the twins were running around causing pandemonium. She is really a loving, caring person, not like those old selfish movie stars caring only about themselves. I can’t imagine Mia stamping her foot and saying I don’t like my hairdo—she would say quietly, “Would you mind if I got my hair done again?” Mia became pregnant during the production (which would bring her a fourth child under the age of 4), and I heard there was some talk of an abortion. For her that idea would have been unthinkable.
Interestingly, Mia’s costar Robert Redford came to me with the same concern about accents and pronunciation. Would a climber like Gatsby know whether to say Louie-ville or Louis-ville? Gatsby was, of course, shrewd enough not to make such a mistake. Redford is so charming, and all the children on the set swooned. They felt the way I did when Clark Gabic came to visit Daddy around 1935 in Baltimore. My father was trying to work up some interest in a talkie of Gatsby with Gable as the star. Nowadays, at my age, I don’t swoon very much, but after meeting Redford, he’s, oh, just about the most attractive man I’ve ever met.
I sold the movie rights to Gatsby for $350,000—my father never made more than $50,000 out of it in his whole life-time. I had to read the book again, line by line, when I got the second screenplay, by Francis Ford Coppola [the first was a rejected effort by Truman Capote]. There seemed to be a hint of violence in Coppola’s version, above and beyond the book. Gatsby is so subtle, and today everything is sex and violence. There is lots of implicit sex in the book, but I have and old-fashioned horror of what’s going on in movies today. And I surely didn’t want Gatsby turned into that sort of thing. I have great confidence in director Jack Clayton.
There is enormous irony, isn’t there, that The Exorcist and Gatsby are the big movies this year? I think my father would have been appalled at something like The Exorcist. Maybe Gatsby will be the beginning of a trend back to the classics, things where young people can go and think a little, and not just be shocked.