Perhaps some of you have heard of the recent box-office hit The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s sparkling interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. I find it to be ironic that the long-awaited movie finally premiered while I’m living just outside Paris, home to author Fitzgerald for many years. With the popularity of the movie swirling around Paris, I have started to hear several rumors tying Fitzgerald to places near and dear to me. Most notably my own home. Let me expand…
Frank Jay Gould, son of American railroad tycoon Jay Gould, came to my home town of Maisons Laffitte in 1908. He searched out this fancy suburb of Paris to develop his racehorses and become involved in various equestrian activities. In a previous post, I detailed the history of Maisons Laffitte, so I will not reiterate all of that, but suffice it to say there are a lot of beautiful historic houses in the area. The house shown below right has a front porch designed by one Gustave Eiffel. Another home (left) served as an SS hospital during the German occupation and has subsequently received the term “haunted”. Gould bought a castle on the Avenue La Fontaine and built stables to house his eighteen mares. During this time and the near future, he invested heavily in Maisons Laffitte. Many houses were built to accomodate his workers. It is speculated that my host home was among those built for such a reason.
Built in 1936, this three-story stone house is of a very similar style to many of its neighbors, leading us to believe they were all constructed at the same time and most likely by one investor (Frank Jay Gould). The main floor houses a grand salon, dining room, kitchen, and petit salon or TV room. There are 3 fireplaces on the first floor alone. Original wooden front doors make for a timely locking and unlocking procedure, but the character is evident. The intricately painted tile floors in the foyer are quite possibly my favorite part about the home. Additionally, my host mom has done a superb job of blending the original character with a modern design style. The second story is home to a fantastic master suite with fireplaces in both the bedroom and bathroom, my bedroom and private bathroom, and an additional bedroom/office with another fireplace. The third floor has three bedrooms for the children and a full bathroom. The children’s rooms are fun and funky with slanted ceilings, skylights and separate play spaces in each room. Much of the house has been renovated but a lot of character remains. Woodwork and tiling, windows and fireplaces add 1930’s Parisian details to a modern, livable home.
Although Gould set up a permanent home here, he did not remain in Maisons Laffitte permanently. Gould moved on to more lucrative career paths such as establishing famous casinos all along the French Riviera during the 1920’s. It was during this period of jazz, cocktails and gambling that Gould came in contact with many other well-to-do Americans looking to escape Prohibition along the Côte d’Azur, namely F. Scott Fitzgerald. There is no proof to be found in my Google searches to validate this rumor, but my host dad said that Frank Jay Gould was the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s famous character Jay Gatsby. Certainly, we see the similarities in name, but do they come from similar backgrounds? Gould was heir to a vast railroad fortune and struggled in love, divorcing twice before finally settling with Florence La Caze. He was known for his extravagant lifestyle, dancing two hours a day for exercise. His wife also lived life to the fullest, gambling and chugging champagne long into the night. She is credited with bringing water-skiing to the French Riviera. If you have seen the movie or read the novel, you can compare and contrast these characteristics with that of Jay Gatsby. I will choose to believe that Fitzgerald was so in awe of Frank Jay Gould that he most certainly DID base his most famous character off of Gould!
Another rumor swilling around Maisons Laffitte is that the mansion for Gatsby was based off of our fabulous Château de Maisons. I am less convinced of this due to the fact that most people believe the mansion was inspired by various Long Island mansions of the time. And perhaps the character of Jay Gatsby was a conglomeration of wealthy Long Island hosts as well, we will probably never know. But what we do know is that The Great Gatsby is an incredibly successful piece of American literature and Fitzgerald wrote it while living in France. Make what you like out of that, but I’m pretty sure the builder of MY HOUSE had something to do with it!