Former Congressman Steve Israel recently called me a Connecticut conspiracist because I had the audacity to state that the seeds of “The Great Gatsby” were sown in Westport, Connecticut, across Long Island Sound from Great Neck, the commonly thought-of home of Gatsby.
The congressman from Huntington is skilled at rhetoric. But he dissed five years of serious research — calling it “a mugging of Long Island’s literary identity” — without bothering to look into what my partner and I had found.
For the record, we’d interviewed experts and scholars and visited the Rare Book Collection at Princeton University several times, working through much of the Fitzgerald treasure trove archived there. We also tracked down documents, diaries and photographs that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. We reviewed years of local newspapers from the era via microfiche, and, of course, we reread every biography, all the novels and essays.
But Israel wouldn’t know any of that because he hadn’t read the companion book to my documentary or attended one of our presentations at libraries and historical societies recently held around the metro area. His piece was an emotional response that might curry favor with his base, but has done little to deter us.
In fact, we’re so confident in what we’ve uncovered, we’re crossing the Sound on Oct. 21 to make our case at a gathering hosted by the Great Neck Historical Society. The congressman should consider this a public calling-out. Listen to our presentation, then join us onstage to discuss and debate. Such a discourse, grounded in facts, might prove fruitful.
Despite our differences, you might discover that we have something in common. From reading your missive in Newsday last month, it’s apparent that community amnesia is rampant on both sides of the Sound. Perhaps a spirit of cooperation can reconnect both sides to Gatsby’s heritage.
However, if you choose to remain a Long Island loyalist, beating back ceaselessly against our current, you might be interested in yet another house on Great Neck’s Gatsby Lane claiming to be the source for Gatsby. That’s the 25th or so making such an assertion, but who’s counting?
Most folks on the Island don’t realize Gatsby Lane was a real estate developer’s concoction to sell homes. It had nothing to do with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character.
Robert Steven Williams is the filmmaker behind the documentary “Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story” to be released in 2020. The companion book to the film, “Boats Against the Current,” is written by Williams’ partner, Richard Webb.