Jay Gatsby was here

In the fab­u­lous foot­steps of a golden cou­ple

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HARRY MOUNT SPEC­TA­TOR LIFE

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ast houses on our tour: two more dis­tinctly Frenchi­fied palaces, The Elms and Rose­cliff. And there in Rose­cliff, across the hall from the grace­ful curve of its grand mar­ble stair­case, next to the tow­er­ing French doors of New­port’s largest ball­room, is Gatsby — or at least one of his many in­car­na­tions. A photo on a stand shows Robert Red­ford as Gatsby and Mia Far­row as Daisy in a scene shot in this room for the 1974 movie of the novel. Gatsby and Daisy look so happy — hard to be­lieve it all ended so badly. STAND on the north shore of Long Is­land, in the lit­tle town of Great Neck, and with a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion and a few mar­ti­nis you drift right back to the world of The Great Gatsby.

Great Neck, about 9km east of Man­hat­tan, is where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzger­ald lived in the early 1920s. The town in­spired West Egg, where Jay Gatsby stared across the bay to the green light on the dock at East Egg — in fact the town of Man­has­set — where the ob­ject of his ob­ses­sion, Daisy Buchanan, lived.

Man­has­set was old money — where the As­tors, Guggen­heims and Pulitzers had their sum­mer homes. Great Neck was home to new money, and to Gatsby’s party man­sion, where the ‘‘men and girls came and went like moths among the whis­per­ings and the cham­pagne and the stars’’.

Al­co­holic moths are thin on the ground th­ese days in Great Neck. It’s now a dor­mi­tory town for com­muters on the Long Is­land Rail Road to Penn Sta­tion, Man­hat­tan — the train Nick Car­raway, The Great Gatsby’s nar­ra­tor, took to his dreary job sell­ing bonds.

The in­spi­ra­tion for Gatsby’s house was Lands End, a thwack­ing great white house with a Doric porch, built in 1902 by clas­si­cal ar­chi­tect Stan­ford White for the edi­tor of New York World, Her­bert Ba­yard Swope.

Lands End was de­mol­ished in 2011; big money has mi­grated to Westch­ester and the Hamp­tons. But Fitzger­ald’s old house sur­vives at 6 Gate­way Drive, a dou­ble-fronted house with balustraded ex­ten­sions and a twin garage. Th­ese days, it looks aw­fully re­spectable. The hedges are neatly trimmed. Lit­tle badges, thrust into the lawn, ad­ver­tise ADT, a se­cu­rity firm.

When Fitzger­ald lived here, it was fash­ion­able, heavy-drink­ing land . . . Cir­rho­sis-on-Sea. Among his neigh­bours were Grou­cho Marx, Basil Rath­bone and writer Ring Lard­ner. The great, the good and the freeload­ing de­scended on Fitzger­ald for the week­end, ig­nor­ing his jokey house rules: ‘‘Vis­i­tors are re­quested not to break down doors in search of liquor, even when au­tho­rised to do so by the host and host­ess.’’

One evening in May 1923, Fitzger­ald and Lard­ner heard that Joseph Con­rad was stay­ing at the nearby


Above house of pub­lisher Nel­son Dou­ble­day. They per­formed a merry dance on Dou­ble­day’s lawn to hon­our the revered writer. Con­rad didn’t no­tice them, but the care­taker did — he threw them out.

Great Neck is good for Ital­ian and Jewish food, at La Gio­conda restau­rant and the Kens­ing­ton Kosher Deli. If it’s Jazz Age thrills you’re af­ter, take the Long Is­land Rail Road to Man­hat­tan, the scene for Fitzger­ald’s high youth­ful tri­umphs and his sad steep de­scent.

At Prince­ton, he took the train to Broad­way to take in shows such as The Lit­tle Mil­lion­aire and The Quaker Girl. Just like Nick Car­raway, he had a brief spell work­ing in a dull Man­hat­tan job, for $90 a month, at the Bar­ron Col­lier Ad­ver­tis­ing Agency, while he rented a cheap room in Morn­ing­side Heights.

When the writ­ing took off, so did the drink­ing. Man­hat­tan is sprin­kled with his wa­ter­ing spots. There’s the Knicker­bocker Ho­tel, the Beaux-Arts build­ing with the mansard roof on Times Square, where Fitzger­ald went on a three-day ben­der in 1919 with his Prince­ton pals. Or the Bilt­more Ho­tel on Madi­son Av­enue where the Fitzger­alds passed a boozy hon­ey­moon in room 2109; Scott liked to walk down the halls on his hands.

The high jinks con­tin­ued through the 1920s — Scott stripped naked while watch­ing a Broad­way mu­si­cal; a nude Zelda dived into the foun­tain out­side the Plaza Ho­tel, on the south­ern edge of Cen­tral Park, where Gatsby con­fesses that he has loved Daisy for five years. For a more melan­choly real-life episode, head to the Al­go­nquin Ho­tel, where an age­ing Fitzger­ald met James Thurber, who thought him ‘‘witty, for­lorn, pa­thetic, ro­man­tic, wor­ried, hope­ful and de­spon­dent’’. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby opens in Aus­tralian cinemas on May 30; thegreatgatsby.warn­erbros.com.

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