Catherine DuBord is a classically trained US actress holding a BFA in Theatre from Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. She’s worked extensively in 50+ productions in a wide array of challenging roles at virtually every major theatre in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, earning her numerous acting awards. See https://www.bellesauvage.us.
With Zelda locked away, Scott was free to pursue whatever he wanted
She grew up round the corner from the former home of Jazz Age enfants terribles Zelda and Scott F Fitzgerald. As a teenager she developed a fascination with the story of Zelda, one of many women whose reputations have suffered because history denied them a voice; something she will be helping correct this at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, when she appears as Zelda in a new production of The Last Flapper by William Luce, that sees Zelda, confined in an asylum and with just hours to live. We asked Catherine to tell us more about the woman, her husband, the play and its relevance today.
Was Zelda Fitzgerald just a wild child celebrity or was there more to her than that?
There was so much more to Zelda than just the infamy of her younger years. Yes, she was bestowed the title of The Original Flapper, however, she had depths that most of the world didn’t know about. She felt that she was never anything more than MRS. Fitzgerald, but in reality, she was a writer, a ballet dancer and a painter who was forced to live in the shadow of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Did her husband, F Scott Fitzgerald, use her words as his own and even have her put away for his convenience?
Yes. There is documentation that Scott took some of Zelda’s diary entries and used them in his own novels. He also took novels that she wrote and edited them down to nothing, trying to preserve anything that he could use in his work.
The other question, “Should Zelda have been institutionalised?” is a tricky one. At that time, so little was understood about mental illness. It is historically accurate that husbands would often commit their wives if they were seen as overly emotional or nonconforming to societal norms. Specifically with Zelda, there is documentation from an asylum telling Scott she did not need to be there. He told them to keep her and he would keep paying the bill. With Zelda locked away, Scott was free to pursue whatever he wanted: other women, screenwriting in LA, time with Earnest Hemmingway.
Is the play an imagining of her story or based on any research?
William Luce did extensive research when writing The Last Flapper. It is based on the letters and writings of Zelda Fitzgerald and often uses her own words to tell her story. While there was a good deal of creative license taken, the ideas, the feelings, the frustrations expressed and some of the most poetic turns of phrase are truly Zelda.
What was it that attracted you to this play?
At the age of 16, I fell in love with the language and raw emotions of The Last Flapper. Beyond the beautiful prose (based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s own letters and stories) and the passionate, misunderstood central character, there was also a regional connection. I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and lived around the corner from the Fitzgerald house. I squirrelled this play away, knowing that one day I would age into the role and be able to share Zelda’s story.
I have always been fascinated with the roaring 20s surface decadence and frivolity, and the undercurrent of bile and darkness beneath it. To be a woman, especially a writer, at that time was a constant challenge to Zelda’s independent spirit.
Is Zelda’s story a product of its era, or does it have resonance for women now?
My answer is yes. BOTH. I am extremely passionate about telling a story that may be of an era but still rings true to a modern audience. Zelda’s story has been glossed over in our history books. She was relegated to a supporting character in the narrative of F. Scott Fitzgerald. But there is so much more to her. Though many of the memories she revisits in this play happened more than a century ago, the struggles and stereotypes she fought so hard to escape are not a thing of the past. Echoes of her fight still reverberate in the lives of women today. I want to tell her story because it speaks to the human desire to be grounded and know who we are as an individual and not as a part of others. Furthermore, this show is relevant to the current moment because we are still wrestling with questions about a woman’s right to choose her own path, to say “no” to those in power, and make choices regarding her own medical health.