F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and many other works of classic American literature, kept a fairly complete (though not always arithmetically accurate) ledger of the earnings he collected by title from the time he left the army until 1936, just a few years before his death. You can see the ledger at the University of South Carolina’s digital collections website here.
I was able to convert the record of the dollars he actually made to 2012 dollars using, appropriately, a website called “Westegg“. West Egg is the setting for the novel The Great Gatsby. I found that he made over $37K in 1931, or approximately $564K in today’s dollars. Not too bad. Of course the movie The Great Gatsby will likely net much, much more than Fitzgerald’s tally, but he wasn’t exactly a starving artist.
Here are his earnings visualized in three tabs: one showing a history over time, another showing the ledger for each year, and finally a third showing the top titles in terms of income collected by Fitzgerald:
A few notes on the making of this interactive graphic:
- Converting the data from pdf to spreadsheet form was painstaking work. I tried a few methods – pdftoexcel.com, saving the pdf to txt and then importing to Excel. These methods really didn’t work out too well. In the end, it was copy-paste from pdf to Excel, rearrange the fields to a raw data table, and then double/triple check the figures.
- Cross-checking the tallies, I found that many years Fitzgerald wasn’t as good at math as he was at writing fiction. No big surprise there, I suppose. It was funny to see that in one place, he actually blames a bout of bad health with his arithmetic errors.
- Categorizing the titles was a little tricky. For example, he used a category called “Books” in some years, and “From Books” in other years. I gave it my best shot to combine these where it seemed like it made sense, but his system would probably cause most accountants a good deal of heartburn. You will find “The Beautiful and Damned” in no less than four different categories – “Books”, “Movies”, “English Rights”, and “Miscellaneous”. This is the way Fitzgerald cataloged the income, so I tried to keep it as true to his record as possible.
Thanks for stopping by! If you’re going to see the movie this weekend, I hope it’s better than what the critics say,