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F. Scott Fitzgerald Did His Own Taxes (Until He Arrived in Hollywood)

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October 21, 2009

The author of The Great Gatsby kept a ledger of his earnings from all the short stories and novels he sold and even hand-wrote his tax returns, according to a new article.

William J. Quirk writes about what Fitzgerald’s tax returns reveal about his life and times in The American Scholar, which University of Cincinnati professor Paul Caron linked to on his invaluable TaxProf blog. Fitzgerald’s ledger for 1929 recorded royalties of $5.10 from the American edition of Gatsby and $0.34 from the English edition, Quirk noted.

Fitzgerald kept the ledger and did his own taxes by hand until 1937, when he went off to Hollywood in search of further fame and fortune. Once he arrived in Tinseltown, Fitzgerald used accountants to prepare and type his returns. However, Fitzgerald’s frugal ways were upended by his eccentric wife Zelda, whose illness was chronicled in his novel Tender is the Night.

Fitzgerald made little money even from his greatest novels. Most of his income came from his short stories and his work on movies such as Three Comrades. Quirk writes that Fitzgerald paid an effective tax rate of 5.5 percent over his working life, even though he earned at least $1,000 a week during his Hollywood years (1937-1940). Fitzgerald must have had a good accountant, and his own accounting skills must have been none too shabby either. Still, he seems to have made the right choice of a profession.

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