The Great Gatsby, in addition to the $8,397 earned in book royalties, made $6,864 for the play and $18,910 for movie rights. Read “Living on $500,000 a Year” for a surprising look at the lifestyle of Scott and Zelda.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was, after all, a member of the 1%.
The publication of This Side of Paradise when he was 23 immediately put Fitzgerald’s income in the top 2 percent of American taxpayers. Thereafter, for most of his working life, he earned about $24,000 a year, which put him in the top 1 percent of those filing returns.
And this historical note is fascinating:
Before World War II, the government did not know what anyone made. Only the wealthy and upper-middle class filed returns—less than 10 percent of the population. The system was based on what the irs called “self-assessment,” which meant that the taxpayer told the government what he or she earned the prior year and then sent a check on March 15. Some information returns were sent to the government, but the government had no capacity to match the return to the taxpayer and the returns piled up in warehouses. Not until 1962 did the government’s computer system begin to efficiently match the information returns to the taxpayer. During the 1920s and 1930s, the tax system relied almost entirely on the honesty of taxpayers. Fitzgerald reported every dollar he had entered in his ledger. He was impeccably honest in his reporting.
"The short stories were his main source of revenue." That such a time existed sounds like, well, fiction.