‘Z: The Beginning of Everything,’ a new Amazon Prime series, reveals Zelda Fitzgerald’s life as more beautiful and damned than any of her husband’s books.
‘Well-behaved women seldom make history,’ so the saying goes. And that’s why Zelda Fitzgerald, muse and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, continues to captivate audiences generation after generation. But Zelda was more than the caricature of the 1920s American flapper girl — her glamorous life with Fitzgerald was tumultuous, thanks to her husband’s love for booze and her own mental fragility.
Z: The Beginning of Everything, which stars Christina Ricci as Zelda, hopes to give context to the character of the brash southern belle and reveal the way F. Scott Fitzgerald was able to craft her essence — as well as their highly dysfunctional marriage — into some of his most notable works: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night.
Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama to an upper-class family, Zelda was the young debutante every young bachelor wanted to woo, but her behavior wasn’t all that lady-like. She smoked cigarettes in public, rode motorcycles and danced provocatively with the boys, went skinny dipping, and drank liquor. But it was these wild-child qualities that made her so irresistible to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who met her at the age of 21 when she was just out of high school.
Very shortly after Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1919, the couple had a pregnancy scare and quickly married. From then on, their relationship turned high profile; while their youth and vigor seduced high society, their dark side revealed itself all too quickly, spiraling into a mix of booze, paranoia (they would both accuse each other of homosexual affairs), violent brawls, and for Zelda, mental breakdowns. Her husband’s jealousies and insecurities caused him to manipulate and subdue her creative ambitions, all the while taking excerpts from her diaries to use for his own projects. The extent to which Zelda contributed to his success will never be known.
But still, Zelda pushed through with her own artistic endeavors, despite her intermittent stays in mental institutions that would last her entire life. She managed to publish an autobiography, Save Me the Waltz (an angry Fitzgerald edited parts of it without her permission), wrote a number of magazine articles and stories, and left an impressive collection of oil paintings that were made during her stays at various psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. and Europe.
Zelda’s unbridled will, lifestyle, and ambitions showed she was a woman ahead of her time. The Twenties may have been roaring, but Zelda was roaring right back at it.