Aged Cheese

Benjamin Button had haters on the page, too

By Steve Wiecking February 2, 2009

We all come to culture in many different ways. Some people, for instance, discovered Joni Mitchell because they were raised on folk music. Others discovered Joni Mitchell because they were raised on TV and "River" played at the climax of the first thirtysoemthing holiday episode. I don’t think it matters which camp I fall into, but I will say that when Michael brought that Christmas tree home to Hope I was as touched as anyone to see her standing there lighting a menorah.

I mention this because I just read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 Tales of the Jazz Age, his second short story collection, only recently. And only because I’d recently seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is based on a story of the same name in that collection.

I’ve been taking crap for saying I liked the Button film, cheese and all. Mind you, no one giving me crap has read the short story so I’m not sure what these people think they’re arguing about.

Admittedly, Button the short story has little in common with its namesake movie other than the life-lived-backwards bit. I can only guess someone in Hollywood thought that the name was catchy so, hell, why not just pay for the rights? There’s a wry tartness on the page that’s missing on the screen: Fitzgerald knows that no matter whether you live your life backward or forward you’ll encounter the same disillusionment; the movie offers a more teary-eyed, up-with-people contemplation of the passage of time.

But if you think F. Scott could resist a little boo-hoo you’re a fool. His Benjamin doesn’t have Cate Blanchett to cradle him in his last moments yet he does enjoy "the white, safe walls of his crib and Nana…and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his twilight bed hour and called ‘sun.’"

Of most interest, however, is the author’s reprint of a letter he received after Button was first published:

Sir, I have read the story Benjamin Button in Collier’s and I wish to say that as a short story writer you would make a good lunatic. I have seen many peices [sic] of cheese in my life but of all the peices of cheese I have seen you are the biggest peice.

Mr. Fitzgerald: You made excellent cheese as far as I’m concerned—and it tasted just fine on celluloid, too.

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