Every decade in New York, a couple comes along and serves as an emblem for the time.
In the first part of the Roaring 20s, that couple was F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
On April 3, 1920, reunited in New York, they married in a hasty ceremony in front of eight people at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They stayed at the Biltmore Hotel, then the Commodore Hotel, getting kicked out of both for being too rowdy.
They celebrated their eviction by spinning giddily through the hotel’s revolving doors for half an hour. Zelda also earned wild child status when one night she jumped into the fountain at Union Square fully clothed.
“They did both look as though they’d just stepped out of the sun,” wrote Dorothy Parker.
Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a hit, and New York’s smart set was dazzled by the young couple. Zelda was particularly taken with the city’s nightlife, according to Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A Biography. In Zelda’s words:
“Girls in short amorphous capes and long flowing skirts and hats like straw bathtubs waited for taxis in front of the Plaza Grill; girls in long satin coats and colored shoes and hats like straw manhole covers tapped the tune of a cataract on the dance floors of the Lorraine and the St. Regis.”
“Under the sombre ironic parrots of the Biltmore a halo of golden bobs disintegrated into black lace and shoulder bouquets . . . . It was just a lot of youngness: Lillian Lorraine would be drunk at the top of the New Amsterdam by midnight, and football teams breaking training would scare the waiters with drunkenness in the fall. The world was full of parents taking care of people.”
Of course, the parties didn’t last. After moving to Paris later in the decade, the golden couple split, and Scott went to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting, where he died of a heart attack in 1940.
By 1930, Zelda was in a Maryland mental institution. There, she perished a fire in 1948.