Winter Carnival: hits the big screen

by Maura Henninger | 2/13/98 6:00am

The revival of the jazz age is carried on Friday night with a showing of "Winter Carnival," a 1939 film written by Budd Schulberg '36, Maurice Rapf '35 and famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In a conversation with The Dartmouth, Schulberg recalled writing "Winter Carnival" -- a film inspired by Schulberg's experiences at Dartmouth's Winter Carnival -- with Fitzgerald, who went on a famous alcohol binge while visiting the College.

There were two themes, Schulberg explained. One involved an older woman played by Ann Sheridan who, on her way to Montreal, has a whim to see an old love of hers who is a Dartmouth professor, played by Richard Carlson.

The second theme involves three undergraduates in "a typical triangle carnival date," said Schulberg -- a well-respected Hollywood screenplay writer who wrote "On the Waterfront" and "A Face in the Crowd."

"In many ways it was a dopey movie, not really a good movie," he said. "The background for the writing of it is more interesting."

Schulberg wrote the screenplay for famed producer Walter Wanger '15, who assigned Fitzgerald to travel to Hanover with Schulberg to spice up the original story.

"Wanger told me they were putting another writer on it, then he said Fitzgerald, and I thought he was putting me on. Wanger says, 'He's in the next room reading your script,'" Schulberg explained.

On the way to Hanover, said Schulberg, Fitzgerald got on a drinking binge and fell apart. By the time the two arrived in Hanover, after an overnight train trip, "Scott was really unraveling," he said.

The Hanover Inn was less than welcoming. After arriving in Hanover, they were told there was no room for them. The two ended up sleeping in the attic on a bare, iron-spring bed.

Finally, on the second night of their stay, Schulberg and Fitzgerald went out to write their scenes. The crew began filming background scenes at spots such as the Outing Club House and Occum Pond which would then be used in a Hollywood studio as a backdrop against which the actual actors were filmed.

That night, the pair ended up in a coffee shop in Hanover, trying to sober up from a night of crazy Winter Carnival partying and think out their scenes.

"Scott was 18 or 20 years older than me, so I had youth on my side when it came to sobering up. Scott was having a rough time," Schulberg recalled.

That night, they ran into Wanger, "resplendent in white tie," who started flattering their work and told them he would put them on a train back to New York at the end of the weekend to finish up the screenplay.

They didn't end up finishing the screenplay together. That night, Fitzgerald was admitted to the Dartmouth Hospital in very bad shape. As a result, Schulberg had to finish the script with Maurice Rapt '35.

Fitzgerald's final crack-up in Hanover has given the movie a dubious immortality, although Fitzgerald was not given credit for the story's screenplay.

His contribution to the movie is still evident.

"You can see the two different story lines in the script. Fitzgerald was trying to tell a typical Fitzgerald story of lost love between two mature people. I was trying to tell a different story altogether," Schulberg said.

Out of Dartmouth only three years, Schulberg had served as the Editor of The Dartmouth and "was still thinking as a radical, reform-minded editor." In his opinion, the movie ended up less of a linear movie than an anthology of tales trying to satisfy Fitzgerald and his ideas of what the movie should be like.

The film, in which Schulberg purposefully involved a number of Dartmouth alumni in acting roles as well as music production, was received by the Dartmouth community "with an attitude of mockery."

After his stay at the Dartmouth Hospital, Fitzgerald went back to Hollywood, and Schulberg still saw him often. Two weeks before Fitzgerald died, Schulberg asked him to inscribe his copy of "Tender is the Night." At the time, Fitzgerald was working on his unfinished novel "The Last Tycoon."

Schulberg heard about Fitzgerald's death in a strange way. "I was up in Hanover at the Hanover Inn when a professor, Herb West, said to me, 'Isn't it too bad about Scott?' I looked at the New York Times obituary, and it hit me," Schulberg said.

With the discovery of Fitzgerald's death in the place where they first spent time together, Schulberg's interaction with the author finally came full circle.