Frances Kroll Ring, 99; secretary to F. Scott Fitzgerald
NEW YORK — Frances Kroll Ring, the personal secretary to F. Scott Fitzgerald for the last 20 months of his life and a longtime source of information for biographers, documentary filmmakers, students, and fans, died June 18 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99.
Her daughter, Jennifer, confirmed the death Tuesday. She said her mother had broken her hip in a fall in June and had dementia for more than a year.
Mrs. Ring, who wrote about her experience in a 1985 memoir, “Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald,” began working for him in spring 1939. In her early 20s, she had moved to Los Angeles from the Bronx with her parents and younger brother and learned about the job at Rusty’s Employment Agency on Hollywood Boulevard.
She drove to Encino, where Fitzgerald was living alone in a bungalow on the estate of actor Edward Everett Horton. She was admitted by a maid and found Fitzgerald in bed, awake but suffering from what he called a fever. Unaware of his reputation as a drinker, she did not question his diagnosis. “He was only in his 40s, but he was fragile,” Mrs. Ring told The Los Angeles Times in 2009. “The kind you wanted to help. He was very pale and had very blue eyes, and he was a charmer.”
He told her he needed a secretary with no ties to the studios; he was planning a novel about Hollywood, he said, and needed an assistant who would not gossip with movie people.
She began working for him, and while she learned about his drinking problem soon enough, she also discovered that he was an orderly, hardworking writer motivated not only by a desire to revive his literary career after the early success of “This Side of Paradise” and “The Great Gatsby,” but also by a need to make money. He was supporting his wife, Zelda, who was in a sanitarium in Asheville, N.C., and his daughter, Scottie, a student back East at Vassar.
The novel Fitzgerald was starting was “The Last Tycoon,” a story informed by his years as a screenwriter at MGM and based on the life of producer Irving Thalberg, who scorned the industry’s commercialism before dying in 1936 at 37.
As Fitzgerald’s secretary, Frances Kroll typed drafts of the novel and served as a sounding board as he built the story, tore it apart, then put it back together. She did the same for two other projects he was working on: the Pat Hobby stories and a screenplay based on his story “Babylon Revisited.”
Always working with him at his home — first in Encino, Calif., then in a garden apartment in West Hollywood, where he moved in early 1940 — she also did errands and chores for him.
In “Against the Current,” she described him as gentle, thoughtful, and fatherly.
She also leaves a son, Guy, and two granddaughters.
After Fitzgerald’s death, Mrs. Ring became a story reader for Paramount and a book reviewer. After her husband died, she was an editor at Westways, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California.