|Dancer, writer, artist.|
So I was reading yesterday that actress Scarlett Johannsen will be tackling the role of Zelda Fitzgerald when F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Beautiful and The Damned" comes to life in the movies soon.
I've always felt a certain huge, protective instinct where Zelda is concerned because she is a fairly close relative of mine (she is a cousin, as many times removed as our generations are) and I've always felt she got the short end of the stick where her marriage and career were concerned. Oh yes, and also where her mental health was concerned. Many people know her as "crazy Zelda," the woman who "tormented" F. Scott Fitzgerald through his most productive years. And this is simply not the case.
Zelda was a writer, an artist and a dancer in her own right and dealt not only with issues of depression, but also the unspeakable anger at having her work stolen by her husband, who regularly plagiarized her journals for fodder in his own writing. As a strong woman living in the early part of the 20th century, there was also a societally-ingrained, gender-based handicap which denied her the ability to live her own life on her own terms, due to the rampant sexism of the age.
I first came to understand that I was related to Zelda when I got compared to her regularly when I was younger, especially in my wilder days. The "Zelda gene" was something that was of some concern to my family. When I danced (in full formal wear) into the fountains at the Music Center after a classical music concert in Los Angeles I was called Zelda. When I led the conga line into the swimming pool at a friend's wedding, I was called Zelda. When I climbed out a bathroom window at a fancy restaurant in Las Vegas and walked into the desert after getting an unexpected marriage proposal from a man I did not want to marry, I was called Zelda. So I guess it made sense that I felt like she was almost a secret sister of mine, genetically similar, creative, untamed and the wild child my father's family line somehow tends to produce on a semi-regular basis. Zelda was the one for her generation. I was for mine.
But Zelda was also diagnosed as a schizophrenic and sent into numerous, tortuous treatments that made whatever condition she really suffered from even worse. When ancestry tools first became available, I started researching both her maternal and paternal family, concerned that there really was a schizophrenic (and not just a wild child) gene in our family.
Upon further research I learned that there was a history of mental health issues on her mother's side of the family, not her father's (through which we are related), and that today Zelda might be more accurately diagnosed as bi-polar or possibly just unhappily married and artistically frustrated to the point of clinical depression and suicidal tendencies. Think Vincent Van Gogh or Sylvia Plath, not Charles Manson.
And so I find myself in some ways wondering if Zelda's life might have turned out as happily as my own if she'd simply had a better (or no) husband, gotten treatment or just wised up early on about the hazards of binge drinking, and lived her life not quite so in the limelight. Perhaps she would have established her own limelight as a dancer, a novelist, a poet or an artist, on her own terms.
The one thing I know is that Zelda is one of us, my paternal tribe, and therefore I hope for everyone's sake that Ms. Johannsen portrays her not just as the quintessential, two dimensional drunken southern belle stereotype actresses usually tap into when portraying her, but instead attempts to portray her as the artist, -- the offbeat, smart, creative, courageous and wild thinker she was.
I would hope for no less, if it was me and my life up there on that screen.
|"Great Smoky Mountains" by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald|