Adapting ’The Last Tycoon’

10 Jun

The Last TycoonLaurence Bowen is a BAFTA award winning film and TV producer who has run independent production company Feelgood Fiction for fifteen years. The Last Tycoon is his first radio drama.

The Last Tycoon is a story about the last years of Hollywood’s Golden Age, before the accountants took over, when one man could run a studio single handedly. It’s also a love story, a novel for all writers and an excoriating piece of autobiography from Fitzgerald which he died writing. You can almost sense his heart breaking as it unfolds.

It’s extraordinary how many people cherish it, not only for its prose, but for its ability to seduce and sour at the same time. Its Hollywood is Fitzgerald’s apple in the garden of Eden. One sweet bite and then all is lost.

It remained unfinished when Fitzgerald died of a heart attack (just like Irving Thalberg) in 1940. He was forty four.

He had written notes for how it might end but hadn’t had a chance to complete it or to re-write it.

But it still remains his masterpiece, for many a more personal and powerful work than The Great Gatsby. It’s unfinished but feels like the story has reached its emotional end, with a final chapter that has all the pathos of an ending.

In our adaptation, Bill Bryden (who also directs) adds just one more beat (taken from Fitzgerald’s notes) to conclude the story.

You’ll have to listen to it to discover what this is…and see if you can spot the connection to Game of Thrones and The Wire.

In 1937 Fitzgerald had moved to Hollywood in desperate need of money. The Great Gatsby and Tender Is The Night had made him a star but neither had sold well. Divorced, alcoholic, wounded by  a distinctly mixed critical response to his work,  Hollywood represented a way out, a new start. Sunshine, glamour, lucrative screenplays. A chance to repair his health.

And for a moment, it seemed to do just that. Well paid story commissions and screenplay work rolled in. But this was a Hollywood where writers could be paid a fortune one week and then ignored (for ever) the next. Where they were wooed and seduced, only to discover two other versions of their script were being written simultaneously in neighbouring lots. A Hollywood where writers were not the luminaries Fitzgerald had imagined, but the totos, the coal miners, the kitchen sweeps.

Fitzgerald had met the legendary studio head Irving Thalberg and was fascinated by him. A celebrated young prodigy, “the last of the princes”, but dying age thirty seven, he seemed impossibly glamorous. Transposed into the lead character of The Last Tycoon,   Fitzgerald made him the heartbeat of what was to be his last novel. And while writing it, picked at the scabs of a very different Hollywood that had begun to reveal itself to him during his new residency there.

Fitzgerald had come to Hollywood to put his fractured ego back together and ended up destroyed by it, arriving as a literary sensation, but reduced, he felt, to a hack. Just one more tiny cog in a huge global multi-million studio movie making machine.

This is what makes The Last Tycoon mesmerising and why we wanted to adapt it. It is a swan song but also a suicide note, those two opposites coiled into a portrait and love story that intoxicate and torture in equal measure.

Laurence Bowen, Producer.

You can buy The Last Tycoon from AudioGO.

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