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8 Things You Didn’t Know About 'The Great Gatsby'

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The Great Gatsby is the quintessential novel of the Jazz Age, and one of the most beloved American literary productions of all time -- a staple of every high school student's summer reading list.  Reflecting our tortured attitudes toward wealth and status, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel captured the excesses of an era that in many ways evokes our own 1 percent-happy time. On May 10 th, a new film version of the book starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick will be released. Retail businesses are cashing in by promoting deco-themed jewelry, furniture, and clothes. Brooks Brothers, which designed the men's clothing in the movie, has done a full tilt Gatsy-campaign. Here are a few things you may not know about Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his publisher had a hard time settling on a title for his novel. One possibility was, "Under the Red, White, and Blue." Interestingly, Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star Spangled Banner,” was an ancestor of Fitzgerald, who is named after him: his full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.

2. Artist Francis Cugat produced a strange and compelling cover for the book, featuring a pair of floating eyes on a blue background. Fitzgerald was so impressed by it that he added elements to the novel that would fit the image. Ernest Hemingway thought the cover was tacky.

3. The iconic American novel was actually written mostly while Fitzgerald was living in France, where he had moved to get away from distractions in 1924. He later moved back to the United States, where his wife Zelda suffered a mental breakdown. Fitzgerald put off finishing his novel while she received treatment. 

4. The relationship between Gatsby and Daisy was partly based on Fitzgerald’s relationship with Zelda. Like Daisy, Zelda was a southern belle whose status was considered much higher than that of her lover. Fitzgerald was a man who sought the company of people wealthier than himself, and his wanna-be quality is reflected in Gatsby. Zelda originally turned down Fitzgerald’s marriage proposal because the young man didn’t seem particularly promising. They eventually married in 1920 at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

5. The shady character of Meyer Wolfsheim was inspired by Arnold Rothstein, a.k.a. “The Brain,” a famous racketeer who was blamed for the 1919 World Series Scandal. Rothstein was a mob kingpin in New York credited with transforming organized crime from the provenance of street thugs to a streamlined corporate machine.

6. When The Great Gatsby hit the stores, it met with a lukewarm reception. Sales were not robust, but soon theater and movie deals emerged which helped make the project financially successful for Fitzgerald. Unfortunately the book was out of print when he died prematurely in 1941. This year, sales of the book are skyrocketing, according to the New York Times.

7. Fitzgerald actually coined the term “Jazz Age.” He and Zelda became the embodiments of the era’s glamour, throwing decadent parties and shocking the world with their epic fights.  The Fitzgeralds had frequent money problems because of their lavish lifestyle. Sadly, both the Fitzgeralds died young: he of a heart attack at 44; she in a fire at a mental hospital at 48.

8. The Great Gatsby has been adapted to the silver screen several times, first in 1926. The 1974 version, starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, was written by Francis Ford Coppola, who stepped in for Truman Capote when his script failed to win approval. The novel has inspired an opera, a musical, and even a Nintendo game.