Film claims Westport is the real inspiration for West Egg in ‘The Great Gatsby’
If you’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” or seen either the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford or the 2013 remake with Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Jay Gatsby, you probably think you know the true story of who Gatsby was.
But a new documentary entitled “Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story” will tell the real story and answer the question, “Who was the real Jay Gatsby?”
The documentary, which will be available on DVD and streaming services on Sept. 1, also reveals that Fitzgerald’s inspiration for the story’s setting of West Egg was really Westport and not Long Island as many assumed.
The film also acts as a companion piece with the book “Boats Against the Current,” written by the documentary’s producer, Richard “Deej” Webb Jr.
Presented by Vision Films and Against The Grain Productions, “Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story” is directed by Robert Steven Williams and features actor Sam Waterston, who starred as Nick Carraway in Redford’s version of the movie.
“Sam is a longtime Connecticut resident and I had a friend who knew him well and reached out to him and ask if he would take a tour of the Fitzgerald house, and interestingly enough, he didn’t know anything about the Fitzgeralds in Westport,” Williams says. “He came down and spent the entire day there because he was so fascinated by the house.”
Fairfield’s own Keir Dullea, who starred as astronaut David Bomwan in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” narrates the film.
“Keir is another local and we have done work together before,” Williams says. “He’s an icon and people know him for 2001, but he actually played Fitzgerald in a one-person play off-Broadway in the early ’90s. I was very fortunate both Sam and Keir gave of their time and they generally found the project fascinating.”
The film was inspired by an article written by Barbara Probst Solomon that appeared in an edition of the New Yorker in 1996, which explored the theory that Westport was the true inspiration for the locale of the story.
Williams’ film shines a brighter light on Probst’s theory, as he attempts to show it’s true through his research into Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s life and their love of Westport, looking at the untold story of the Fitzgeralds living in Connecticut. Bobbie Lanahan, the couple’s granddaughter, appears in the documentary and she herself is amazed at the findings.
“I started with this about seven years ago,” said Williams, who lives in Westport. “I had just written a novel and I decided to promote the novel by celebrating the town’s rich cultural history. I did a literary roundtable at the Westport Historical Society and I had [Richard] present some Fitzgerald stuff.”
By the end, numerous people came up to Williams telling him they had no idea about any of Fitzgerald’s association with the area and that made him start thinking.
“I called the guy who did the presentation up and told him I wanted to do a short, three-month project, maybe a 10-minute film for the Historical Society so the next generation doesn’t forget that the Fitzgeralds even lived here,” Williams says. “He thought it was a great idea and that’s how we started.”
The more Williams researched, the more intrigued he became. By the time he came across Solomon’s article, and saw the similarities between the Westport houses and the Gatsby mansion she wrote about, he was convinced the film had to be more.
“Along the way, we uncovered academic secrets and a lawsuit to stop the leading Fitzgerald scholar from rewriting parts of Gatsby,” Williams says. “Most important, we were able to bring to life an overlooked period of Scott and Zelda’s that had a profound impact on their lives including their art, the novels, their love.”
The reason it took seven years was because it took time to build confidence with the Fitzgerald community to reveal some of their secrets. There was skepticism among many Gatsby scholars, and some even actively tried to stop the information from coming out.
“It took a long time for anyone to admit that maybe what Barbara wrote was a possibility,” Williams says. “It was really important to create trust with the community and let people finally feel comfortable with sharing things they didn’t want to actually say.”
The movie also has some great music in it, which Williams says reflects Fitzgerald’s love of jazz.
At a time when there are a lot of crazy things going on in the world, Williams feels the film is the perfect escape.
“The opportunity to spend an hour or so in the world of Scott and Zelda is a great escape,” he says. “You don’t have to be a lover of history or literature. It’s a really fun ride because it’s such an interesting time. It’s also one of America’s most beloved novels, something we’ve all read. It’s an incredible commentary on how hard it is to achieve the American Dream.”
“Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story” will be available Sept. 1, on DVD from all major online retailers and on digital for an SRP of $4.99 to $9.99 from platforms including iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Xbox, Amazon, and FandangoNow, as well as cable affiliates everywhere.