With Scott Fitzgerald having just come out of copyright, a wave of Gatsby adaptations and the re-emergence of the dropped waistline, there is no better time to celebrate the brilliant, intoxicating woman who started it all, Zelda Sayre.
Based on the letters and fiction of America’s first flapper, Zelda has previously had a sell-out run at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Following runs at the Leicester Square and New End Theatres, Zelda ran site-specifically in a bedroom at the Charing Cross Hotel under the direction of Ché Walker.
Kelly Burke was a finalist for the 2011 Off West End Award for Best Female Performer in Zelda at the Charing Cross Hotel. Kelly’s stage credits include As You Like It for Jagged Fence Productions, The Sluts of Sutton Drive, Blue Surge and InWorld at Finborough Theatre, Marie and Bruce at the Royal Court Theatre as part of the Wallace Shawn Festival, Avocado at the Kings Head Theatre, Much Ado About Nothing at Bartlett Theater, New York, Agnes of God at the Federal Theater, Denver, and Inherit the Wind at the Bug Theatre, Denver. Her television credits include Doctors and 4Surfing. Her radio credits include The Big Sleep, The Little Sister, and These Are The Times all for BBC Radio 4. Other writing includes an adaptation of John Moncure March’s The Wild Party, which was performed at RADA and the short film Everything Before Us.
Robert F. Gross’ directing credits include Zelda at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Vassa Zheleznova, Symphony of Rats, The Empire Builders, Absent Friends and over forty other productions as director of the Bartlett Theater, New York. He has been dramaturg at Opera Memphis, Playmakers Repertory Company and American Theater Company, and Director of Theater at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. As a playwright work includes Frankenstein, The Three Musketeers at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Six Days’ Drive at the Contemporary Theatre of Syracuse, Casting Off (w. composer Howard Pollack) and Idiot Apocalypse (will premiere in April 2013).
Zelda Sayre was born in Montgomery, Alabama, where she met and captivated young lieutenant-turned-novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. They were married in 1920 and, between Scott’s rise to literary stardom and Zelda’s celebrity as “the original flapper” became the golden couple of New York, living in a progression of expensive hotels and endless parties.
In 1924, the Fitzgeralds moved to the French Riviera where they spent the rest of the 20’s mixing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Sarah and Gerald Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Dolly Wilde. Scott’s progressive alcoholism and absorption in his work led Zelda to pursue her own writing. She penned several successful articles and short stories for American magazines—which were nearly all published under Scott’s name in order to draw in money to offset their growing debts.
At the age of twenty-seven, Zelda decided to train as a ballerina. She threw herself obsessively into the work and within two years was offered a professional debut with the San Carlos Opera in Naples. She turned it down, and suffered a schizophrenic breakdown for which she was hospitalised in 1930.
While in Phipps Clinic, Maryland, Zelda wrote the shockingly vibrant novel, Save Me the Waltz, which covered the same autobiographical territory as Scott’s work-in-progress, Tender is the Night—a work he had spent seven years unable to complete. Feeling that their shared experiences were exclusively his creative property, Scott was outraged. In a meeting with Zelda’s doctor and a stenographer, it was decided that Zelda be banned from writing any more sustained fiction. Save Me the Waltz was published after only cursory editing, and the $120 it made was set against their debts.
Zelda turned to painting and religion. Scott moved to California, where he died of a heart attack in 1940, and Zelda spent the next several years moving between her mother’s house in Montgomery and Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.
On 11 March, 1948, Highland caught fire. Nine inmates died, including Zelda, who was locked into a room on the top floor. According to legend, her body could only be identified by the charred slipper found underneath it. She was buried with Scott in the Rockville Union Cemetery in Maryland.