Meet The Real Man Gatsby Despised
By Ron Allen
Thomas Hitchcock Jr. was a real life war hero, aristocrat and polo player. In the new Gatsby film the Hollywood glamour spotlight shines on a character from the 1925 novel by the name of Tom Buchanan, an old money antagonist of a new money tycoon Jay Gatsby.
In the early 1920s writer F. Scott Fitzgerald happened to cross paths with Mr. Hitchcock at a swanky social setting on Long Island, NY. The inspiration for a key character in his novel The Great Gatsby was born. He was eye-to-eye with a real life Tom Buchanan.
Born and raised in Westbury, New York Hitchcock took up the game of polo as a teenager. His well to do father was one of America’s first ten goal players.
But Tommys horse hobby would be interrupted by World War I. Suddenly he was involved in an even more dangerous game as a fighter pilot with the illustrious Lafayette Escadrille. His aerial combat efforts were nothing short of spectacular. After shooting down two German planes Hitchcock’s plane was knocked out of the sky, behind enemy lines, and he was taken prisoner for six months. He was eating from a wooden spoon instead of a silver spoon and soon suffered from severe malnutrition. While being transferred to a different prison camp Hitchcock heroically leaped from a moving train and managed to escape and walked one hundred miles, over eight days, to freedom in Switzerland.
Following the war Hitchcock attended Harvard University and developed his prowess for polo once again. His skill on horseback would catapult him to the top of his game.
If Bobby Jones was the Tiger Woods of golf during the Roaring 20s then Hitchcock was regarded as the premier Superstar of polo. During its golden era 45,000 fans would attend the Sunday polo games. He was rated at the ultimate ten goals for an impressive eighteen years and won the prestigious U.S. Open four times.
His final mission in life was to become the test pilot for a new fighter plane developed for World War II. The new Mustang was sporting a high-powered Rolls Royce engine. Tommy was unable to pull out of a dive while testing the aircraft in the skies over England. He was only 44 years old.
His was a celebrated lifestyle, the kind that movies are made of. However, in the case of renowned polo player Thomas Hitchcock Jr.- life imitated art.