TV series Z: The Beginning of Everything plunges us into the depths of the Jazz Age, straight into the lives of those experiencing the full grandeur, glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties. And in particular, the Amazon Originals show introduces us to the vibrant events surrounding one of the most enigmatic women of the time period — Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, brought to the small screen by the exquisite Christina Ricci. Here's the trailer:
The biographical #ZTheBeginningOfEverything is based on a true story, documenting the transformation of a demure, beautiful and incredibly talented Southern Belle into a flamboyant icon at the heart of the period's party and literary scene.
Yet, how much do we really know about the tumultuous life of Zelda Fitzgerald, a woman whose legacy was later plagued by mental illness? And how accurately does the show present the true tale of "the first American flapper," her raucous existence and tempestuous marriage to the legendary novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald? Find out below:
The True Story Behind 'Z: The Beginning Of Everything:'
The Early Life Of A Southern Belle
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 24, 1900, Zelda Sayre enjoyed a privileged childhood as a daughter to a prominent Supreme Court judge, Anthony Dickinson Sayre.
Growing up as the youngest of five children, she was doted upon by her mother and showed her prowess at dancing — in particular ballet — from an early age. In 1914, she began attending Sidney Lanier High School, where she grew increasingly disinterested with academics as the years went on, preferring to challenge gender stereotypes by spending most of her time with boys, drinking and smoking. At a time in American history when Southern women were supposed to be delicate and docile, Zelda defied rules and regulations, developing a ferocious appetite for being the centre of attention.
And when she came to finish high school in 1918, even the ethos beneath her graduation photograph mirrored her risqué attitude and feisty spirit. It read:
Why should all life be work, when we all can borrow.
Let's think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow.
A Whirlwind Romance With F. Scott Fitzgerald
After leaving school, Zelda soon met her future husband at a country club dance in her home town of Montgomery — F. Scott was stationed at Camp Sheridan army camp just outside the city.
Taken with her audacious demeanour and her free-spirited way of carrying herself from first glance, the future novelist began to call Zelda, making sure he found the time to come see her whenever he could. At the time, he was by no means the only one courting the beautiful young woman, although something about him certainly made her fall for him too. According to Nancy Milford, a prominent biographer:
"Scott had appealed to something in Zelda which no one before him had perceived: a romantic sense of self-importance which was kindred to his own."
Pandering to her desire for a faster-paced lifestyle, the young Scott Fitzgerald shared with Zelda his ambitious plans to become a famous author, notably drawing inspiration from her for the character of Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise.
A year later in 1919, after initially declining his marriage proposal on grounds of his inferior social standing, Zelda finally accepted Scott as her husband-to-be and they married on April 3, 1920 in New York City to the displeasure of her strict Episcopalian family.
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Wild Debauchery At The Heart Of The Roaring Twenties
Riding on the dizzying success of This Side of Paradise, the true story goes that Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald indulged in all the wild behavior that New York could offer. And with their social life fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol, they seemed to get themselves in trouble wherever they went — at one point, they were even ordered to leave a number of hotels in the city for their drunkenness.
Naturally, the newspapers followed and the two icons of youth and vitality soon became the biggest celebrities of the Jazz Age.
In 1921, Zelda found out that she was pregnant with her first child so the couple returned to her husband's home in Minnesota to give birth to a little girl called Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald. According to Scott, as his wife emerged from the anaesthesia, she uttered:
"Oh, God, I'm drunk. Mark Twain. Isn't she smart—she has the hiccups. I hope it's beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool."
Later, Fitzgerald would include many of her words in his writing — in this particular case, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby used similar sentiments to describe her own child. However, while at first taken with her husband's desire to imitate her, with time, Scott's use of her words, letters and diary entires became a great source of resentment, resulting in many volatile disputes.
In 1922, she was asked to write a review of Scott's latest novel The Beautiful and the Damned for the New York Tribute, where she cheekily revealed that her husband had been directly inspired by what she had said or written. Following this, Zelda was inundated with writing offers for numerous magazines, resulting in the publication of the essay 'Eulogy On The Flapper.' In this piece of writing, she publicly lamented the decline of the flapper existence and defended her own unconventional way of life, writing:
"The Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure ... she was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart."
Expatriation To France
In April 1924, after finding themselves in financial difficulty, the Fitzgeralds chose to relocate to the French Riviera — it was around this time that Scott began working on The Great Gatsby.
However, while Zelda preoccupied herself with painting, she also became increasingly absorbed with a handsome young pilot called Edouard S. Jozan. In her infatuation, she spent many afternoons with the young man, swimming at the beach and dancing and drinking in various casinos in the vicinity. Six weeks later when Zelda asked Scott for a divorce, he responded by locking her away in their house until she dropped the request. In time, Jozan left the Riviera and the couple moved on, though at the end of that year, Fitzgerald wrote in his notebooks:
"That September 1924, I knew something had happened that could never be repaired."
Despite their epic falling out, the duo kept up appearances with their friends and soon moved to Paris, where Scott met Ernest Hemingway. From their very first encounter, while her husband became fine friends with the author, Zelda despised him and openly described him as "that fairy with hair on his chest." At one point, she even blamed her declining sex life on the fact that Scott was having a homosexual affair with Hemingway. In turn, Ernest told him that his wife was crazy.
However, Zelda's words stuck with Scott Fitzgerald, who decided to sleep with a prostitute to prove his heterosexuality. After finding this out, Zelda threw herself down a flight of stairs at a party when she saw him talking to another woman.
Struggles With Mental Illness
As time went on, relations between Zelda and Scott deteriorated, though Fitzgerald still drew heavily on his wife's intensity as inspiration for his novels. While many believed the couple to still evoke the energy and vitality of the Roaring Twenties, behind closed doors they were anything but — Fitzgerald himself was now pouring liquor down his throat at any opportunity and Zelda was suffering from physical and mental exhaustion.
In April 1930, after declining an invitation to join a ballet school in Italy, she was admitted to a sanatorium in France where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Soon after, the pair returned to Montgomery, Alabama, where Zelda's father was dying.
Following his eventual death, she spent the following years in and out of various mental institutions while the entire family was hit incredibly hard by The Great Depression.
'Save Me The Waltz'
While being treated at a clinic in Baltimore, Zelda suddenly had a burst of creativity and in the space of weeks, she was able to complete an entire novel and paint a collection of paintings.
However, after reading the book — titled Save Me the Waltz — Scott was furious with how his wife had essentially written a semi-biographical account of their own turbulent lives. It also included a large amount of material he had intended to use for his upcoming novel Tender Is The Night. Sadly though, when Zelda's only novel was published in 1932, it just sold 1,392 copies.
By the mid-30s, hit hard by her lack of success in the literary world, she became even more unstable and was finally placed in a Highland Hospital in North Carolina. At the time, Scott wrote to friends:
"Zelda now claims to be in direct contact with Christ, William the Conqueror, Mary Stuart, Apollo and all the stock paraphernalia of insane-asylum jokes ... For what she has really suffered, there is never a sober night that I do not pay a stark tribute of an hour to in the darkness. In an odd way, perhaps incredible to you, she was always my child (it was not reciprocal as it often is in marriages) ... I was her great reality, often the only liaison agent who could make the world tangible to her."
'We Beat On, Boats Against The Current, Borne Back Ceaselessly Into The Past'
Following Scott Fitzgerald's death in 1940, Zelda — temporarily out of hospital — took it upon herself to see that his unfinished manuscript of the novel The Last Tycoon was published. Soon after, she began working on her second novel called Caesar's Things.
By August 1943 however, she was back at Highland Hospital with plans to finish the book there. Tragically, this aspiration would never be fulfilled — on March 10, 1948, a fire broke out within the building. Locked in a room awaiting electrotherapy, nine women — including the infamous Zelda Fitzgerald — were consumed by the flames and died.
The following line from The Great Gatsby was inscribed into her tombstone:
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Were you already familiar with the true story behind Z: The Beginning of Everything?