As­sis­tant to F. Scott Fitzger­ald


Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Steve Chawkins steve. chawkins@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ schawkins

At the end of a busy day, Frances Kroll Ring, then in her early 20s, wrote a jokey note to her boss: “I squeezed the or­anges, boiled the cof­fee, laid the eggs, typed the story, put out the cat, started the dogs howl­ing and I’m off to the city. Hope you have a good night’s rest.”

Of course, she omit­ted a few of her typ­i­cal du­ties.

As F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s sec­re­tary and per­sonal as­sis­tant, Ring picked up his laun­dry, fetched his gro­ceries, bal­anced his check­book, heated up canned tur­tle soup for his lunch, and stuffed his empty gin bot­tles into burlap potato sacks be­fore heav­ing them into a brushy ravine. She sharp­ened his pen­cils with a knife be­cause he thought the points lasted longer that way. She found a car­pen­ter at a f ix- it shop on Cahuenga Boule­vard who built him a writ­ing desk that he could use in bed, where he did much of his work.

Liv­ing with her par­ents in Los An­ge­les, Ring took Fitzger­ald’s late- night calls, qui­etly pulling the phone into the bath­room and sit­ting on the edge of the tub as he plain­tively asked whether any­one still read his books. He ram­bled on to her about his wife, Zelda, who was in a North Carolina men­tal hos­pi­tal, and his daugh­ter Scot­tie, who was a col­lege stu­dent at Vas­sar. He fret­ted about plot points and char­ac­ters in “The Last Ty­coon,” the Hol­ly­wood novel that he was writ­ing but never com­pleted.

Ring, a Bronx trans­plant who worked for Fitzger­ald in his last two years and was con­sulted for decades af­ter­ward by writ­ers ea­ger for her in­sights into the an­guished ge­nius of Jazz Age Amer­ica, died June 18 in her Bev­erly Hills home. She was 99.

Ring de­clined rapidly af­ter break­ing her hip in a fall, her daugh­ter, Jen­nifer Ring, said.

In her mid­dle years, Ring was editor of the Au­to­mo­bile Club of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s West­ways mag­a­zine, to which she drew some of the best writ­ers of the day.

But it was her 20 months as Fitzger­ald’s as­sis­tant in 1939 and 1940 that col­ored the rest of her life. In 1985, she re­leased a memoir called “Against the Cur­rent: As I Re­mem­ber F. Scott Fitzger­ald.” The ti­tle is from “The Great Gatsby,” Fitzger­ald’s 1925 mas­ter­piece: “So we beat on, boats against the cur­rent, borne back cease­lessly into the past.”

Ring’s book won high praise from Scot­tie Fitzger­ald Smith, F. Scott and Zelda’s only child.

“I think my fa­ther would be more pleased by know­ing that he kept her af­fec­tion and re­spect through­out than by any other re­as­sur­ance which may have reached him in that spe­cial cor­ner of heaven re­served for tor­mented artists,” she wrote.

Born in New York City on May 17, 1916, Ring grew up in the Bronx, the daugh­ter of a fur­rier. Her par­ents, en­chanted by Cal­i­for­nia’s weather on an an­niver­sary trip, moved the fam­ily to Los An­ge­les in 1938.

The fol­low­ing year, Ring, a high school grad­u­ate who knew typ­ing and book­keep­ing, showed up at Rusty’s Em­ploy­ment Agency on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, where she was given di­rec­tions to a guest cot­tage on ac­tor Ed­ward Everett Hor­ton’s es­tate in En­cino.

Fitzger­ald, fresh from a drunken dis­as­ter of a Ha­vana va­ca­tion with Zelda, was there to meet her.

“He was a very hand­some man,” Ring re­called in a 1993 Times in­ter­view. “He looked very pale and he had sort of faded blond hair and blue- green eyes. He sat me down and it was a lovely room. It was a coun­try farm­house, and the sun was com­ing in, and he had me open a drawer — and it was f illed with empty gin bot­tles.”

Fa­mously dis­si­pated, the nov­el­ist was do­ing oc­ca­sional writ­ing for movie stu­dios.

For months, he con­tin­ued drink­ing heav­ily. One evening, he read Keats and Ec­cle­si­astes aloud with Ring be­fore fall­ing into tears. He had scream­ing f ights with his girl­friend, gos­sip colum­nist Sheilah Graham, but he once again started to write. He sold 17 short sto­ries about Pat Hobby, a dow­nand- out screen­writer, to Esquire and he metic­u­lously plot­ted out a novel that would be­come “The Last Ty­coon.”

Early in 1940, he moved to a West Hol­ly­wood apart­ment around the cor­ner from Graham’s. Aided by Coca- Cola, cig­a­rettes and a heart scare, he ta­pered off his drink­ing and fever­ishly worked over the triple- spaced text that Ring tran­scribed from his hand­writ­ten man­u­script.

“If one of his char­ac­ters both­ered him, he poked and prod­ded and an­a­lyzed un­til the per­son came into fo­cus — much like a sculp­tor adding a bit of clay, dig­ging out another bit, tear­ing down and re­build­ing,” Ring later wrote. “This fear­less at­tack on his own man­u­script made a last­ing im­pres­sion on me. He was his own best editor.”

With her sub­tle hu­mor, Ring made an im­pres­sion on him as well.

“He made a big to- do about giv­ing me time off to ob­serve Yom Kip­pur,” she re­called. “He wrote to Scot­tie that I was go­ing to atone for his sins.

“‘ I wasn’t that re­li­gious,’ I told him kid­dingly.”

On Dec. 21, 1940, a grief- stricken Graham sum­moned Ring to Fitzger­ald’s apart­ment. He had died of a heart at­tack at 44. Ring, shaken and sad­dened, se­lected a gray casket for his burial.

Un­fin­ished, “The Last Ty­coon” was pub­lished posthu­mously in 1941.

Ring is sur­vived by her daugh­ter Jen­nifer, son Guy and two grand­chil­dren. Ge­orge Joseph Ring, her hus­band of 23 years, died in 1966.

Af­ter her hus­band’s death, Ring be­came a staff writer at West­ways and rose to editor, re­cruit­ing such lu­mi­nar­ies as Wal­lace Steg­ner and Anais Nin.

“She called them and met with them and ca­joled them, and she got great artists and writ­ers to con­trib­ute,” her daugh­ter said. “She wanted to turn it into a New Yorker of the West Coast. She was a tiny, smart woman and she kept go­ing in her own quiet way.”

‘ I BOILED THE COF­FEE’ Ring was con­sulted for decades by writ­ers ea­ger for her in­sights into the an­guished ge­nius of Jazz Age Amer­ica.

AGAINST THE CUR­RENT F. Scott Fitzger­ald in 1939 in the front­yard of the En­cino

home he rented.

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