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YESTERDAY, WE OFFERED tidbits from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Short Biography,” framed by his beverages of choice. He cited the raw whiskey quaffed in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, a likely inspiration for his 1922 novella A Diamond as Big as the Ritz. Here in Part 2 are tidbits about the tale of this magnificent diamond.
The Plot. John T. Unger, a small-town Mississippi kid, accepts an invitation to spend the summer with boarding-school friend Percy Washington whose family lives “in the West.”
“During the train ride,” Wikipedia notes, “Percy boasts that his father is ‘by far the richest man in the world’.” What’s more, Percy’s dad possesses “a diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carleton Hotel,” located on “the only five square miles of land in the country that’s never been surveyed.”
Percy’s grandfather and his slaves had headed west from Virginia for a career of sheep and cattle ranching in Montana. Instead, he discovered not only a diamond mine but a mountain consisting of one giant diamond.
Washington could become the richest man in the world. But if word got out about the diamond mountain, the economic law of supply would make him a pauper. His plan was to isolate his family and slaves, and exploit only a few diamonds at a time.
This plan evolves, horrifyingly so. Airmen who stray over the area are shot down, captured, and kept in a dungeon. Visitors are killed; their relatives told that sickness claimed them.
Love Triumphs, But…. John falls in love with Percy’s sister, Kismine. However, she spills the beans about plans for his murder.
An escapee from the compound had informed authorities who send airplanes to attack the place. Percy’s father, a first-rate whacko, tries to bribe God with an immense diamond. But God refuses; after all, He’s the Owner of Everything.
Percy, his mother, and father choose to blow up the mountain and themselves, rather than leave it to anyone else. John, Kismine, and her sister Jasmine escape.
They discuss moving to Hades, Mississippi. Jasmine looks forward to working as a washerwoman: “I love washing,” she says, “I’ve always washed my own handkerchiefs. I’ll take in laundry and support you both.”
Other Renderings. Such a fantasy was ripe for radio production: Orson Welles did one in 1945. A later version was presented on the “Escape” program, being rebroadcast these days on SiriusXM “Radio Classics.”
Among other renderings, Wikipedia notes, “A teleplay version was broadcast on Kraft Theatre in 1955. The story’s sisters, Kismine and Jasmine, were portrayed by Lee Remick and Elizabeth Montgomery, who were unknowns of 20 and 22 at the time.”
Also, “Mickey Mouse No. 47 (Apr./May 1956) contains a retelling of Fitzgerald’s story under the title “The Mystery of Diamond Mountain.” And Jimmy Buffet recounts the story in the song “Diamond As Big As The Ritz” from his 1995 album Barometer Soup.”
Fitzgerald’s View. Collected in Tales of the Jazz Age, the novella is accompanied by this Fitzgerald comment: “ ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,’ which appeared last summer in the ‘Smart Set,’ was designed utterly for my own amusement. I was in that familiar mood characterized by a perfect craving for luxury, and the story began as an attempt to feed that craving on imaginary food.”
“One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer ‘The Off Shore Pirate.’ But, to tamper slightly with Lincoln: If you like this sort of thing, this, possibly, is the sort of thing you’ll like.”
I surely like it. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021