Tommy Hitchcock Jr. has been called “the greatest polo player ever” and is a war hero. Around Aiken, he is known as a former Winter Colony resident and is part of the prominent Hitchcock family.
But he also has another claim to his name – a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
Fitzgerald was said to have “idolized” Hitchcock, according to Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., the author of “Tommy Hitchcock: An American Hero.”
“It is difficult to say when, exactly Hitchcock and Fitzgerald met, or how well they knew each other. … It doesn’t matter how intimate they were. There was an extraordinary clarity about Hitchcock the man, and a storybook richness in his legend, that made intimacy unnecessary for knowledge – at least for a novelist,” Aldrich said in his book.
Fitzgerald depicted Hitchcock’s image twice. First there was Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby.” Both Hitchcock and Buchanan are associated with polo, have athletic physiques and come from wealthy families.
However, this portrayal Hitchcock is ultimately “distorted,” Aldrich said.
Buchanan is a haughty, hypocritical man who causes a great share of unsettlement in the book, but Hitchcock was said to be quite the opposite.
“We are told Tommy was an easy guy to get along with,” said Elliott Levy, Aiken County Historical Museum executive director. “He had charm, personality, tact and diplomacy.”
Levy also noted that Hitchcock could interact with anyone, despite their social standing, and was a team player.
“You can be the dominant player, but, then, you don’t win like Tommy did,” he said.
Aldrich purposed in his book that perhaps Fitzgerald depicted Hitchcock is such a negative because of frustration and envy. Fitzgerald came “to hate and to admire” the rich. And Hitchcock didn’t live up to Fitzgerald’s “romantic view of aristocracy,” Aldrich said.
But Fitzgerald softens up on Hitchcock, as can be seen in his later novel “Tender is the Night.” In this novel, the friendly, observant soldier Tommy Barban is who represents Hitchcock.
Hitchcock did end up leaving an impression on Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was writing to his daughter one day, while she was away at college; he was praising her for attending even though “she didn’t need to.” In this note, Fitzgerald referenced Hitchcock. He wrote that Hitchcock was famous for his trying times in World War I and his polo playing but still enrolled in Harvard, Aldrich said. Fitzgerald went on to explain that Hitchcock did it “because he had the humility to ask himself, ‘Do I know anything?’”
“That combination is what forever will put him at my pantheon of heroes,” he said.
Fitzgerald is, by far, not the only one to appreciate Hitchcock, or, for that matter, his family.
Hitchcock’s mother, commonly known as Ms. Loulie, was an Aiken delight, Aldrich describes. Without her, Aiken Prep and Fermata School for Girls might have never been created.
Without her, The Willcox Hotel might have never been started, either, according to a hotel release.
“She provided financing to Frederick Willcox, a local caterer, so that he could expand his hospitality endeavors and manage his own hotel,” the release read.
The hotel now has a premium suite on the second floor overseeing the pool, named in the family’s honor – the Hitchcock Suite.
And, due to Baz Luhrmann’s film coming out on Friday and Fitzgerald and Hitchcock’s relationship, The Willcox has jumped at the chance to honor the Hitchcocks again.
“‘The Great Gatsby’ is roaring into theaters (soon) and is resonating many memories of one of the most intriguing eras in from across the country to the small town of Aiken,” the release read.
When walking into the hotel this month, one will feel the presence of the 1920s. The female employees will be decked out in pearls, rings and head pieces, while the men will be wearing bow ties. Fashion displays, with the clothes provided by Lionel Smith Ltd. and Folly, will be placed throughout the hotel.
The theme has been carried over to the restaurant and bar but not without lots of work. The speciality menu items and cocktails that are seen this month were researched and borrowed from the ’20s era and “Gatsby” story, according to Tina McCarthy, general manager.
There is the Great Gatsby tasting menu that includes a Waldorf salad, beef filet wrapped in bacon and a chocolate ice box cake, which is a chocolate hazelnut cookie. Visitors can start the day off with the Beat-it Breakfast, a course of baked goods and eggs.
Prohibition doesn’t live here – the five Copasetic Cocktails on-hand are the Daisy Fay, the Gatsby, the East Egg, the West Egg and B & B Tini.
Live entertainment is happening on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Jazz is played on Thursday and Sunday nights, while the piano will be played on Tuesday and Friday nights and Sundays during brunch.
“We (are) adding an extra night of jazz for the month of May and Gatsby celebrations,” said Shannon Ellis, hotel co-owner.
The Everything’s Ducky Detox is a three-and-a-half-hour spa session with a nourishing sea mud therapy, The Willcox signature massage and a specific skin facial.
People who visit The Willcox during Celebrity Waiter Night on May 13 will be treated to a full-blown “Great Gatsby” night. For more information on this event, visit The Willcox or www.childrensplaceinc.org.
If someone is really looking for a true immersion, the hotel is offering a one-night package. This deal includes a three-course tasting menu for two, a copy of the book and a deck of cards and poker chips. At turndown, there will be a tray with a cocktail amenity that includes instructions to make your own cocktails. Also, there are tailored options that can be added on. All reservations must be made in advance, and this special cannot be combined with other deals, according to the release.
“It’s always an incredible feeling and an honor to be involved with The Willcox and its rich history,” Ellis said. “Fitzgerald’s iconic novel … portrays a time when many people were celebrating life, throwing elaborate parties and enjoying a celebrity lifestyle. It is fun to think about people, like Tommy Hitchcock and his friends, enjoying an evening out at The Willcox in much the same way that Fitzgerald describes in his novel.”
“The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher,” Fitzgerald wrote in “Gatsby.” “Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly. … People were not invited – they went there.”
Fitzgerald and Hitchcock would attend a great number of these easy-going parties. “At these parties … Tommy Hitchcock stood out,” Aldrich said.
Joel Edgerton will play Hitchcock’s literary parallel, Tom Buchanan, in the upcoming film adaptation.
Levy just hopes that the movie and Edgerton does Tommy justice.
“He’s Tommy Hitchcock,” Levy said. “Remarkable and a pretty interesting person.”
For more information on the happenings at The Willcox, call 803-648-1898 or visit www.thewillcox.com.