This is the true story of Tommy Hitchcock, a war hero, the world’s greatest polo player, businessman, husband of a Mellon, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s idol after whom he fashioned two of his most famous fictional characters.
Born in 1900 to a wealthy Long Island family of fox hunters and polo players, he joined the French Lafayette Flying Corps at age 17 when the U.S. Air Force said he was too young for combat flying in World War I. He shot down two German planes before being shot down himself. At age 18, he was captured and was put on a German prisoner train from which he leapt to freedom and then snuck across enemy lines for 50 miles to safety in Switzerland. He returned home a hero, played polo at Harvard, and began his legendary career as a 10 goal player for almost 15 years, a feat never equaled in the U.S. He led American teams in international tournaments all over the world and played with some of the greatest players in the game, including his friends Winston Guest, Averill Harriman, and John Hay Whitney. He married Margaret Mellon, the beautiful daughter of William Larimer Mellon who was Chairman of Gulf Oil and a member of the Pittsburgh banking family, with whom he had four children.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald knew the Hitchcocks from living across the water from one another at Great Neck and Sands Point. Fitzgerald biographers have noted that he was in awe of Hitchcock, the wealthy WASP sportsman with the charmed life, and he modeled Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby after Tommy as well as the Tommy Barban character in Tender is the Night.
Hitchcock became a partner in the Lehman Brothers brokerage firm on Wall Street and commuted to work from Sands Point in a seaplane. When World War II broke out, he lobbied to become a fighter pilot, but the Pentagon told him he was too old. He finagled his way into a role teaching pilots how to fly in England and he championed the B-51 Mustang airplane when the allies were losing the air war to Germany’s Luftwaffe. Tragically, he died in a test flight in 1944 aboard a newly revamped Mustang while flying a nose dive over a field in rural England. His death was front page news all over the world.
Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. is a writer and editor who currently lives in Boston. He was for a time the Paris editor of The Paris Review, and has published articles on a variety of subjects including art, politics, and education in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. He is the author of the modern classic, Old Money.
He is a great-grandson of Nelson W. Aldrich, who was instrumental in founding the Federal Reserve banking system in the United States. Coincidentally, Nelson, Jr. attended the same prep school and college as Tommy Hitchcock, although much later: St. Paul’s School and Harvard College.