Writing about movie director Alfred Hitchcock, Ruth Prigozy once noted, “He gets to the heart of human experience.”
Prigozy, a longtime Hofstra University film and literature professor — who died July 16 at the age of 87 — did the same through the enthusiasm she exuded for her subjects, say former students and colleagues.
At barely 5 feet tall, Prigozy was nevertheless an outsized presence in her field. Over 41 years at Hofstra, she published books or led academic conferences on numerous titans of the arts, including Hitchcock, singer-actor Bing Crosby and, her prime focus, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“ ‘Spitfire’ is kind of cliché, but her stature was small and her personality certainly made up for it,” said Michelle Jonas Sroka, 37, a Los Angeles public relations and marketing consultant who first took Prigozy’s class in 1998 and would form a 20-year friendship with her.
“She was passionate about what she taught and . . . wanted us to see its relevance to everyday life,” Jonas Sroka said.
Prigozy died in her sleep after a series of recent mini-strokes, said daughter Susan Prigozy-Duffy, of Sound Beach. She had lived with her daughter for the last three years, after some time in Florida and many years in Manhattan.
Before that, Prigozy raised her family in Great Neck, not far from Fitzgerald’s inspiration for “The Great Gatsby.”
“She took people on tours of the Gatsby sites,” said Prigozy-Duffy, 57. “She’d do it for free. They didn’t have to pay her.”
Ruth Prigozy was born and raised in Brooklyn, graduating from James Madison High School and Brooklyn College. She worked in advertising in the 1950s, before obtaining her master’s from New York University in 1962 and doctorate from the City College of New York in 1969.
That year, she began teaching at Hofstra, where she gravitated toward Fitzgerald’s work. Prigozy was considered a leading scholar on the author when she helped found the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society in 1992.
In a 2012 interview with Hofstra, Prigozy said it was “the language” that drew her to Fitzgerald: “There are passages that make you stop. You feel you have to read them over again.”
The society allowed her to travel across the world, including Cuba and Nice, France, for conferences and symposiums. At home, Prigozy was also a tireless organizer of events that brought scholars together.
“She was a dynamo, never sat still,” said Natalie Datlof, the former executive director of the Hofstra Cultural Center. “And always inclusive with students. She wanted everyone to be excited about the things she was excited about.”
That extended to friends and family. A film and theater buff, Prigozy loaded her daughter’s DVR with classic films and urged people to see the Broadway play “The Boy from Oz” starring Hugh Jackman, which she attended 22 times during its run in 2003-2004.
Jonas Sroka, who worked as Prigozy’s assistant at the Fitzgerald Society, said she had a “motherly” quality.
“She was really invested in what we wanted to become, making sure we became these perfect human beings with intellect and morality,” she said.
Prigozy retired from teaching in 2009 and from the Fitzgerald Society in 2013. She was predeceased by her husband, Hofstra professor and Mark Twain scholar Stanley Brodwin.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Ted Prigozy, of Fort Myers, Florida; sister, Florence Kerstein, of Las Vegas; and a granddaughter.
A private funeral service will be held and a public memorial is being planned for the fall.