Sheilah and Scott, Coincidentally
Tomorrow marks one of those strange-but-true coincidences you might have read sometime in a gossip column. On November 17, 1988, long-time author and show-business gossip maven Sheilah Graham, who claimed to come from aristocracy, later admitted to starting life as a London slum child and ended up becoming the smart-set kind of figure she earlier impersonated, died at age 84 after a lifetime that included three marriages, 16 books and minor legend as the devoted lover of great American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in his final three years of alcoholic, creatively blocked and financially-challenged decline as a Tinseltown scribe. She wrote a novelistic memoir about that passionately stormy relationship, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman, published in 1958, and would later observe that “I’ll always be remembered, if I’m remembered at all, because of Scott Fitzgerald.” Indeed, her life ended on the 29th anniversary of the November 17, 1959 premiere of the lavishly appointed romantic melodrama Beloved Infidel (1959), adapted from that best-seller, co-written with Gerold Frank (also coincidentally, the author of the source book for The Boston Strangler (1968), a new Twilight Time release this week). Born in and made for Hollywood, Graham’s story was a rumbling convergence of romantic adulation, personal ambition, creative turbulence and fear of failure that would suit the wide CinemaScope screen and the reliable production craft that producer Jerry Wald and composer Franz Waxman (collaborators on Peyton Place), director Henry King and cinematographer Leon Shamroy (collaborators on Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing), screenwriter Sy Bartlett (Twelve O’Clock High) and stars Gregory Peck (as The Great Gatsby’s formidable and fragile creator) and Deborah Kerr (as the canny but compassionate Graham) would depict with sensitivity and glamour. Peck, always willing to test the boundaries of his image of innate decency, played the drink-ravaged and violence-prone Fitzgerald with a conviction that successfully juggled the man’s charm and cruel seediness. Kerr gave her self-sacrificing noble lover’s role dashes of steely flirtatiousness and calculation to undercut the soapsuds always in danger of bubbling to the surface. The result would remarkably serve the simple facts which Albin Krebs would outline in The New York Times obituary of Graham which ran the day following her death: “The years with Fitzgerald were, for Miss Graham, both idyllic and harrowing. The famed novelist was in failing health, fighting an epic and losing battle with alcoholism. He looked upon himself as a burned-out case, and he was having trouble turning out movie scripts to pay for his daughter's education and his wife Zelda's mental asylum bills. But they were devoted to one another and Miss Graham gave him not only her love and patience but also a measure of peace of mind. She served as the model for Kathleen, the heroine in The Last Tycoon, the Fitzgerald novel that was unfinished at his death. ‘I was never a mistress,’ Miss Graham said. ‘I was a woman who loved Scott Fitzgerald for better or worse until he died.’” Co-starring Eddie Albert and Philip Ober, Beloved Infidel is, for better or worse, a love story that envelops and edifies on the solidly rendered TT hi-def Blu-ray available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/22924/BELOVED-INFIDEL-1959/.