Yan writes: In this passage – Of course… not all writers look like writers. One writer in particular, Fitzgerald noted, didn't look anything like a writer. If a technological revolution had not upended the film industry during his salad years, this writer might have had an enduring career and lived happily ever after with the swimming pool, the wives and the mistresses he once had (Fitzgerald vs. Hollywood, New York Times, February 10, 2008) – what does "salad years" mean?
My comments: Thanks, Yan, for asking a great question. "Salad years" here means heyday. "During his salad years" refers to the time when his was most productive, when he was in his prime as a writer or, to use a writer's cliché, "at the height of his creative powers".
Originally, though, "salad years" means a time of youth and innocence, inexperience. It's a variation from the term "salad days", which was coined by none other than William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). This, from Merriam-Webster online:
In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra praises Marc Antony's valor and demands that her serving woman do the same. When the servant instead praises her former consort, Caesar, Cleopatra threatens her – until the woman notes that she is only echoing Cleopatra's own effusive past praise of Caesar. Cleopatra's reply marks the first English use of "salad days":
"My salad days,
When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,
To say as I said then."
"Green in judgment, cold in blood", those are links. Green is often used for youth, e.g. he's a green hand. In America, though, the terms somewhat inexplicably took on the meaning of maturity (as is evidenced by your example). According to Michael Quinion at worldwidewords.org: "Jan Freeman pointed out in one of her word columns for the Boston Globe back in April 2001 that the expression has shifted sense in the US in the past twenty years or so. It now often refers to a period in the past when somebody was at the peak of their abilities or earning power, in their heyday, not necessarily when they were young. The shift isn't so hard to understand when you think how few people actually know their Shakespeare.”
Very true, both in America and here in this country among English majors. Anyways, given the context of your example, we can safely infer "his salad years"were his prime as a writer rather than youth. After all, if the author were talking about young writers, green at their trade, the author would not have mentioned "the swimming pool, the wives and the mistresses he once had" in the same sentence, would he?
Let's examine more media examples. But before we do that, let me thank you again for raising a great question, one which alludes to two great writers, Shakespeare and Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), who wrote The Great Gatsby, among others. Two writers we won't get hurt getting back to from time to time.
Anyways, here are the examples: 1. salad days (youth): Rejected: Speaking of pop stars, an amusing story about Madonna during her salad days came out during the film festival tribute to screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. A frequent collaborator with director Milos Forman, Carrière worked with Forman on "Taking Off," a 1971 spoof about hippies that includes an audition scene. When Forman placed an ad for singers to appear in the scene, "the first person to respond at 6 a.m. was Madonna," Carrière recalled. "And Milos didn't take her." - Are nude scenes challenging? It all depends, sfgate.com, May 5, 2006.
2. salad days (heyday): The young-buck closers come along every once in a while and grab the headlines: Boston's Jonathon Papelbon right now, Brad Lidge in 2005 for the Astros, and who can forget that Eric Gagne set a record when he succeeded in recording 81 consecutive saves during his salad days with the Dodgers? But Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera were saving games then, and they are doing it now. Rivera has been the Yankees' closer since 1997 and Hoffman has been finishing for the Padres since 1994. - Rivera and Hoffman a pair of greats, Padres.com, March 18, 2008.
3. salad years (youth): Jobs varied during his salad years from delivery boy and window washer to handyman and construction worker. He also worked/performed at a bawdy Elizabethan-styled theatre/restaurant. Spent his youth swimming, fishing, and diving for coins tossed by the tourists who lined the railings of the two-thousand passenger S.S. Catalina as it sailed into the bay during the summer.
- Biography for Gregory Harrison, imdb.com.