She was born in Chicago in 1898, the daughter of Ginevra and Charles Garfield King. (She, like her mother and her grandmother, was named after Leonardo da Vinci's painting Ginevra de' Benci.) Charles G. King was a wealthy Chicago businessman and financier. She was the eldest of three sisters and grew up amidst the Chicago social scene, even being a member of the elite "Big Four" Chicago debutantes during World War I. She attended the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut.
Relationship with Fitzgerald
Ginevra first met Fitzgerald on January 4, 1915, while visiting her roommate from Westover, Marie Hersey, in St. Paul, Minnesota. They met at a sledding party and, according to letters and diary entries, they both became infatuated. They sent letters back and forth for months, and their passionate romance continued until January 1917. In August 1916, Fitzgerald first wrote down the words, thought to have been said to him by Charles King, that would later recur in the movie adaption of The Great Gatsby: "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls."
On July 15, 1918, King wrote to Fitzgerald, telling of her engagement to William Mitchell, the son of her father's business associate. They married later that year and had three children. Then in 1937, she left Mitchell for businessman John T. Pirie (of the Chicago department store Carson Pirie Scott & Company). That year she also met Fitzgerald for the last time in Hollywood; when she asked which character was based on her in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald replied, "Which bitch do you think you are?"
King later founded the Ladies Guild of the American Cancer Society. She died in 1980 at the age of 82.
King is thought to have exerted a great influence on Fitzgerald's writing, perhaps as much as his relationship with his wife, Zelda. His work abounds with characters modeled on King. These characters include:
- Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams"
- Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise
- Most notably, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
- Fitzgerald also recreated their meeting in "Babes in the Woods," from the collection Bernice Bobs Her Hair and Other Stories; this was reused in This Side of Paradise.
King is also featured in the books The Perfect Hour by James L.W. West III, and in a fictionalized form in Gatsby's Girl by Caroline Preston. The musical The Pursuit of Persephone tells the story of King's romance with Fitzgerald.
- Smith, Dinitia. "Love Notes Drenched In Moonlight; Hints of Future Novels In Letters To Fitzgerald". - The New York Times - September 8, 2003
- Noden, Merrell. "Fitzgerald's first love". - Princeton Alumni Weekly - November 5, 2003
- Stepanov, Renata. "Family of Fitzgerald's lover donates correspondence". - The Daily Princetonian - Monday, September 15, 2003
- Preston, Caroline. Gatsby's Girl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2006. ISBN 0-618-53725-2
- West, James L. W. The Perfect Hour: The Romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, His First Love. New York: Random House. 2005. ISBN 978-1-4000-6308-6
- Stevens, Ruth. Before Zelda, there was Ginevra. - at Princeton Weekly Bulletin - September 7, 2003
- Preston, Caroline. Excerpt: Gatsby's Girl. - at NPR - Weekend Edition Sunday, May 21, 2006