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F. Scott Fitzgerald's last secretary, Frances Ring, speaks

June 8, 2009 |  1:50 pm

Franceskrollring

When Frances Kroll Ring showed up for her first day of work, her new boss, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was lying in bed. He asked her to wire money — a test of trust in 1939 — and later showed her he had a dresser drawer full of gin bottles. "He told me he was going to do a novel about Hollywood," the now-92-year-old Ring told Times Book Review editor David Ulin. "That was another thing: Could he trust me? Because he didn't want anyone to know what he was doing."

Fitzgerald wasn't, at first, able to work. "He wasn't organized yet," Ring says. "We did letters. I could type, I could do letters, I could do bookkeeping because I used to take care of my father's stuff. And at the beginning, he wanted to sit and talk. He was in bed most of the time, or he'd get up and pace around. He'd talk about books, and I was well-read, which intrigued him, because a lot of the secretaries were not well-read. There were other functions for them at the time and I wasn't that kind of girl."

Indeed, Ring became something of a surrogate daughter to Fitzgerald, keeping him company, helping him get back into writing shape. ...

Fitzgerald wrote "on long sheets of paper," Ring remembers, "yellow pads. He had a big, scrawling hand. I would type it up triple-space. And then he would redo it." He worked all the time: on the novel; on various film projects, including an adaptation of his own "Babylon Revisited"; and on the 17 "Pat Hobby Stories" that he wrote for Esquire, which were published, beginning in January 1940, at $250 apiece.

It may seem amazing that Ring had not read Fitzgerald before she began working for him. "He felt he was a damned good writer," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. She speaks to Ulin of Fitzgerald's frustration when pieces were rejected, his hypochondria, and even what it was like to be the one who arranged his funeral.

Taking care of good writers became her business. Later she became founding editor of Westways, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California, which, as improbable as it sounds, published acclaimed writers like Carey McWilliams and Anaïs Nin.

Frances Kroll Ring still makes her home in Southern California. And here, she has some first editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books. To find out what he inscribed to her, you'll have to read the whole profile.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Frances Ring in 1996. Credit: Susan Farley / For The Times

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