The winter weekend celebration known as the Dartmouth Winter Carnival was an intramural Ivy League event of local consequence before Walter Wanger decided to bring Hollywood into the act.
Wanger flunked out of Dartmouth in 1915, but achieved notoriety in the film world. Intensely proud of his days in Hanover burnishing his contributions to the college, was later awarded an honorary degree. He decided to reward the college and enhance his credentials with a celluloid extravaganza, “Winter Carnival.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Budd Schulberg, a recent Dartmouth graduate, both script writers for Wanger at United Artists, were hired for the project.
Schulberg’s father, B.P. Schulberg, former head of Paramount Pictures, presented them with two bottles of champagne, unaware that Fitzgerald was a recovering alcoholic. The bon voyage gift for the cross country trip grew into a binge with additional booze bought en route.They arrived at the college howling drunk just in time for Wanger’s presentation of Fitzgerald to the literary faculty. The disaster was further amplified with staggered appearances at Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi parties that concluded in a screaming sidewalk confrontation of the two with Wanger in front of the Hanover Inn. Wanger and his studio crew ran them out of town onto the next train out of White River Junction for Grand Central. They dried out for three days at Doctor’s Hospital in New York.
Fitzgerald never fully recovered. He suffered a fatal heart attack less than a year later while reading the Princeton Alumni Weekly at the home of his amour, Sheila Graham, a gorgeous syndicated gossip columnist.
Eleven years later, Schulberg wrote a best selling novel, “The Disenchanted,” that thinly disguised the adventure. It became a stage play starring Jason Robards, Jr., and coincidentally opened in New Haven the weekend of the 1958 Yale football game during my senior year at Dartmouth. Together with a group of cohorts, we spotted him in the back of the theatre and coaxed him to join us after the performance at Kaysey’s Restaurant, a hangout across the street. A memorable night ensued as he vividly recounted his Winter Carnival saga for us together with memories of his years at Dartmouth. He also reminded us that although he received credit as writer, Fitzgerald was never acknowledged.
“The Today Show” with Dave Garroway covered the 1957 Winter Carnival and interviewed me on national television after they spotted my voluminous raccoon coat at the Slalom Race at Suicide Six in Woodstock. I was compensated for my brief celebrity with cases of sponsor Campbell’s Beef Broth that the brothers of Chi Phi promptly converted into a barrel of bull shots mixed with cheap vodka from the New Hampshire State Liquor Store in nearby West Lebanon.
Over 75 years since its release, “Winter Carnival” continues a carnival of buncombe for the post-digital generation. Jill Baxter (Ann Sheridan) remains a former Carnival Queen who finds herself back on campus with her old flame, now Professor Weldon (Richard Carlson). The “Merry Widow” comes to New England.
It still gets hoots and hollers whenever it is revived in Hanover, and Scott Fitzgerald never got a screen credit for the film that eventually killed him. — RICHARD PRESS