Stamp to capture spirit of 'Gatsby' Fitzgerald commemorative: One of Baltimore's most celebrated former residents to be featured on 23-cent stamp.

November 08, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

For many people, F. Scott Fitzgerald will always be linked with his most famous novel, "The Great Gatsby," and with the green light that beckoned from Daisy Buchanan's dock as a tantalizing symbol of life's great possibilities.

Starting in September, that image will be emblazoned on a stamp to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth.

The stamp, unveiled yesterday by the U.S. Postal Service, is based on a photograph taken of the 23-year-old Fitzgerald in 1919, six years before the publication of "Gatsby," which secured the author's place in the pantheon of American literary giants. Set off by a sepia-toned background, the scene depicts the young author in front of the twinkling green light at the edge of the Long Island Sound.

A few years before he died at age 44, the troubled chronicler of the Jazz Age spent four drunken, unhappy yet productive years in Baltimore, where he wrote many short stories and finished his fourth novel, "Tender Is the Night."

Fitzgerald, one of the city's most celebrated former residents, will be featured not on a standard 32-cent stamp but on a 23-cent issue. The stamp is usually used for envelopes that need additional postage.

"We're trying to bring a little more prestige to that rate of stamp," said Postal Service spokesman Barry Ziehl.

Fitzgerald aficionadoes in Maryland say they are delighted that he was honored at all.

"They did it?" asked Bryan Sears, 27, a Fitzgerald buff. "I can't tell you how excited I am."

Mr. Sears, a pharmacy technician and free-lance writer from Perry Hall, had become a one-man lobbying force on behalf of a Fitzgerald stamp. By his account, he wrote the Postal Service about 100 letters in the past two years.

"I was bombarding them," Mr. Sears said yesterday.

Mr. Sears also encouraged about 40 Fitzgerald devotees in Baltimore to join the letter-writing campaign after his all-too-perfect address -- 4-C Fitzgerald Court -- was mentioned on two occasions by Dan Rodricks, a Sun columnist.

It's not clear that the letter-writing barrage influenced matters at the Postal Service. "There's no substantial influence attached to him," Mr. Ziehl said.

But no one is saying that the letters hurt.

The committee began considering Fitzgerald for a stamp four or five years ago, Mr. Ziehl said. In January, the committee decided to honor him as part of the Postal Service's series on famous authors. Fitzgerald is the 12th American writer to be featured on a U.S stamp, one of 30 new stamps unveiled yesterday for 1996.

"It shows the kind of popular acclaim that goes beyond university courses and scholarly research," said the president of the 200-member F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, English Professor Jackson R. Bryer of the University of Maryland.

Fitzgerald, named after his distant relative Francis Scott Key, lived in Baltimore from 1932 to 1936. He was seeking psychiatric treatment for his wife, Zelda, who had suffered her second nervous breakdown, and moved his family to Baltimore at the suggestion of his friend H. L. Mencken.

While Zelda spent time at the Johns Hopkins University's Phipps Psychiatric Clinic and Sheppard Pratt Hospital, Fitzgerald was in debt and under the sway of alcohol.

To make ends meet, he wrote short stories. Fitzgerald also finished his fourth novel, "Tender is the Night." John Frederic Kelly, the late Sun writer who chronicled Fitzgerald's life in Baltimore, wrote that "some of his finest prose was written during this period."

Fitzgerald moved with his wife, whose mental condition worsened, to North Carolina. He died Dec. 21, 1940, in Hollywood, Calif., after suffering a heart attack and was buried six days later in Rockville, Md.

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