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It has been nearly 70 years since Zelda Fitzgerald died in a fire at a hospital in North Carolina. But the Jazz Age icon and wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald is suddenly all the rage in Hollywood.
Competing films fronted by Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, are on the fast track to being first at the same time that Amazon has its own series, Z: The Beginning of Everything, with Christina Ricci playing the socialite who was once dubbed by her husband as “the first American Flapper.”
But Zelda Fitzgerald was far more than just a pearl-twirling literary muse, as she previously has been depicted, which might explain why two A-list movie stars are jockeying to tackle the oft-marginalized figure. She was an accomplished author in her own right who competed with her domineering husband before her life descended into madness (she was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized).
The Lawrence project, titled Zelda, boasts some impressive names including Ron Howard, who is developing it with an eye to direct. Howard won best picture and director Oscars for A Beautiful Mind, which also centered on a historical figure (John Nash) with schizophrenia. Allison Shearmur, the former Lionsgate executive behind Lawrence’s The Hunger Games, is producing, while Cross Creek Pictures (Hacksaw Ridge) is in negotiations to finance. Emma Frost (The White Queen) wrote the screenplay, which is loosely based on Nancy Milford’s best-selling biography of the same name.
The Johansson project is titled The Beautiful and the Damned, a play on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Beautiful and Damned, which was a thinly veiled chronicle of his own marriage.
Millennium Films, which is financing, has an ace up its own sleeve given that it has secured the cooperation of the Fitzgerald estate and will incorporate newly unearthed transcripts from a sanatorium in which Zelda Fitzgerald was confined that indicate her husband misappropriated his wife’s ideas as his own. Hanna Weg (Septembers of Shiraz) wrote the screenplay, and Tommy Alastra Prods. is producing. Millennium is currently circling a handful of directors for the gig.
Millennium president Mark Gill said Fitzgerald remains an enduring and compelling figure because she represents so many different personas.
“It was the height of the Jazz Age, so you have all of that glamor and sophistication and living large. But you also have the massive drama of fly high, crash hard,” he said. “She was massively ahead of her time, and she took a beating for it. He stole her ideas and put them in his books. The marriage was a co-dependency from hell with a Jazz Age soundtrack.”
Whether its Johansson or Lawrence who makes it into production first, neither would be the first to portray Fitzgerald on the big screen. Most recently, Vanessa Kirby played her in a small role in the Colin Firth starrer Genius, as did Alison Pill in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. On the small screen, everyone from Blythe Danner to Natasha Richardson has tackled the literary heroine. But given the level of talent attached to the two latest films, the new Fitzgerald incarnation will likely offer a far more multilayered portrayal than ever before.
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