Lester Cowan Film Producer

Lester Cowan Film Producer & Making Gatsby Great

Lester Cowan (b. Akron, 1 April ‘1906 – d. New York, 21 October ‘1990) was a critical figure in the history of film and literature and yet we were snubbed by Wikipedia-Establishment-Editors when we tried to create his page. Just like the Wikipedia pages we created for Susan de Vere and Elizabeth Trentham were butchered.
For Cowan, the first message from these prigs is that the entry is rejected outright because Cowan is deemed a nobody, even though he is already shown as a producer on various Wikipedia pages, where some have his name hyperlinked, which is of course a deadlink.
Later, to add insult to injury, another one of them informs that our Cowan entry will be deleted if we don’t finish his page, which of course is directly below the rejection message.
To confirm that the spiteful snub is only because the submission is from someone considered uncouth, remembering Wikipedia holds itself out to be democratic and non-discriminating, there is an Italian Wikipedia page for him.
Anyway, quite simply without Lester Cowan The Great Gatsby may not have become what many regard as the greatest novel of all time. You see when everyone else had given up on him Cowan kept an ailing F Scott Fitzgerald going, not just money, but restoring his self esteem, long enough to write one last novel and position himself ready for apotheosis smack in the middle of WWII. Dead author dynamics kick in. Edmund Wilson publishes forgotten Gatsby with The Last Tycoon (which as usual is really about Fitzgerald not Irving Thalberg – Robert de Niro as FSF in  Kazan’s film version). Back in focus it gets added to free books available for military GIs – its popularity with these plebs forces a review of Gatsby and the rest is history. But not good enough for wikestabeditors.

Lester Cowan with WC Fields, Mae West et al, daughter Scottie (far left) on the set with Errol Flynn, F Scott Fitzgerald.

Cowan went to work in ‘1928 for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he wrote a book on the advent of sound films and was involved in the start of the Academy Awards.

Reference and Links

Fitzgerald’s Hollywood stint has always been treated as a failure by all sides. Yet it made him. The Cowan collaboration (a Gatsby stablemate, Babylon Revisited, gets things going [developed for a waning Shirley Temple, eventually filmed as The Last Time I Saw Paris with Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson as FSF] ) finally able to slough off the hack scriptwriter pretense, back to novelist – still the definitive work capturing (they thought he was drunk but he was still taking notes) the essence of Hollywood – able to transition with his boots on – pencil in hand, aptly writes his own eulogy — The Last Tycoon/Great Novelist.

How WWII Saved The Great Gatsby From Obscurity / Moldering Flop To Great American Novel.


It was not totally chance, as F Scott Fitzgerald had clearly laid out his strategy years before, “My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” (That’ the Mugsar’s way to go, too.)



From 4th July ‘1776 it was only natural that someone would produce a strong candidate for The Great American Novel, let alone The Great Novel period, across all cultures, that can stand the test of time, immortality. Just as easily it may never be produced by a culture, especially a young one like the U.S. Sure we can all name some great novels but will they stand up (for instance, Brit-Lit Wuthering Heights was 80% plagiarism of a story in a local lit periodical Bronte subscribed to up there in those lonely moors).

You see plenty of criticism of Fitzgerald as an asshole, but never unwavering gratitude by those critics and schoolmasters, “Thank The Fates Fitzgerald did it, so we don’t have the embarrassment of will it ever really be produced”, American lit or in 12000 years or Civilization Time across all cultures.

It’s not just the obvious attributes, premeditated FSF took ‘less is more’ quantum power big-bang structure from Joseph Conrad a la Hearts of Darkness, cut to below 50k words to the horror of the trade, and protagonist introduction (you don’t just throw him in there, “you massage him” backwards and forwards, see Ford Maddox Ford on working with Conrad), FSF was a frustrated poet, so just like he wrote himself into an immortal Hollywood producer, Gatsby is really a long poem, it bounces along on poetic-prose imagery.  FSF said himself in Tycoon notes that after drafting he went back and not just standard polishing, he used the words adding ‘cadence’ a la his other hero Keats…

[ …being an alcohol/caffeine addict made it easy to transition at 44 at the start of WWII, and not have to finish Tycoon, so if it’s not finished you can’t really tear me to peices, and being too short to publish by itself Bunny has to dust off Gatsby to pad things up for the trade, and then just like FSF schemed in that interview question he wrote himself at age 24 in career neatly bookended by those Establishment bankers/shareholders’ two world wars, the youth of your generation, the GIs, the plebs…]


*Where they belong: The aquisitiion of the F Scott Fitzgerald Papers
by Matthew J Bruccoli – Princeton Library Chronicle vol 1 No 1 1988 pdf



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