He looked at the one with the moustache again. “This guy is very tough,” he told him. “He wants to shoot an Indian.” “Listen, Hemingway, don’t repeat everything I say”. . . .”I can’t think of any reason why he should call me Hemingway,” the big one said. “My name ain’t Hemingway.”
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely
Hemingway is the most famous example of the great writer and the commercial success. His public image, which he helped create, sold his books, attracted the interest of Hollywood, and made his private life a subject for public consumption. But Dwight MacDonald, influenced by the publicity that surrounded Hemingway, was quite mistaken when he claimed that his “life, his writing, his public personality, and his private thoughts were all of a piece.” The public wants to believe in the existence of a phenomenal human being who fights, hunts, loves, and writes so perfectly. This heroic image satisfies the needs of the public but is irrelevant to the real Hemingway; it tempted, corrupted, and finally helped to destroy him.
Hemingway not only helped to create myths about himself but also seemed to believe them. In the last decades of his life, the Papa legend undermined the literary reputation and exposed the underlying fissure between the two Hemingways: the private artist and the public spectacle. When his writing slacked off and he attempted to live up to and feed on the legend, his exploits seemed increasingly empty. His shotgun blast shattered the heroic myth—and led to a different persona. After his death, he became either the genius destroyed by accidents and doctors or a failed writer who had never achieved artistic greatness. To clear away these misconceptions and discover the truth about his life and art, we must first trace how these popular legends recur in the memoirs of Hemingway.
Hemingway always tended to exaggerate and embroider the events of his life. He wrote about his personal experience and could not invent without it. He believed he could write only about what he had actually seen and known, and his literary credo was to tell it as it was. But Hemingway combined a scrupulous honesty in his fiction with a tendency to distort and rewrite the story of his life. Given his predisposition to mythomania, his reluctance to disappoint either his own expectations or those of his audience, and the difficulty of refuting or verifying the facts of his life, he felt virtually forced to invent an exciting and imaginative alternative to commonplace reality.
Because of his tendency to obscure the distinction between his fiction and his life, he was temperamentally primed for corruption by publicity and wealth. The boy who boasted in infancy that he was “ ‘fraid a nothing,” that he had once caught a runaway horse, began to establish his public persona while on the editorial board of his high school newspaper. He was not a great athlete or scholar but constantly reported his own minor exploits in the Oak Park Trapeze. He inflated his genuine heroism in war through newspaper interviews and public speeches while he was still in his teens. As a foreign correspondent, he learned how to create a romantic image and generate publicity. He had a literary reputation among expatriate writers before he had published a word of fiction. The Sun Also Rises (1926) created the most powerful literary image of Spain and of the Lost Generation and quickly influenced American youth. They “drank like his heroes and heroines, cultivated a hard-boiled melancholy and talked in page after page of Hemingway dialogue,” Malcolm Cowley recalled. By 1925 Ernest Walsh had celebrated Hemingway in verse as
A decade later in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway condemned Scott Fitzgerald for his infatuation with the rich in a story that reveals his own fears of corruption and predicts his spiritual death. He believed that he could (but feared that he could not) have money and remain private, enjoy luxury and write well.
Papa soldier pugilist bullfighter
Writer gourmet lionhead aesthete
He’s a big guy from near Chicago.
Hemingway created his own personality by force of will. His war experience in Italy and expatriate life in Paris enabled him to diminish, if not sever, the powerful influence of Oak Park. He was, in his youth, confident about his physical strength and his creative powers. The need to recreate himself in his novels complemented the creation of his public persona. In The Old Man and the Sea he deceived himself about the profundity of his art in order to live up to his popular image. He diagnosed but could not avoid the danger even as he reaped the rewards. His insightful Nobel Prize speech, in which he confessed that a writer “grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates,” is a sad acknowledgment of his personal tragedy.
Hemingway allowed himself to be photographed in his home for glossy magazines; endured foolish interviews when his books appeared; encouraged Walter Winchell, Earl Wilson, and Leonard Lyons to gossip about him in their columns; let Esquire subsidize his sports and holidays in return for inferior articles; lived without expense in Sun Valley while lending glamor to the new resort; appeared at the Stork Club and in 21; became friendly with movie stars and helped choose the actors for his films; endorsed Parker pens and Ballantine beer; spent months fishing in Cuba and Peru to get proper pictures for the cinematic version of The Old Man and the Sea. In all these activities he was imitating a mythical image. Like a film star, he was handsome, glamorous, wealthy, well-traveled, and much married. In later life he consented to be adored by young women, stayed in luxurious hotels, and made various attempts to return to earlier pastimes and settings he (and the public) associated with his dashing youth—poverty in Paris, bull-fights in Spain, safaris in Africa. Ravaged by ailments, age, and alcohol, he took a path to destruction that traced the pattern of a movie idol’s career. But with Hemingway the debunking began almost as soon as the hero worship. For the exciting aura that surrounds the stars of public life also has its destructive side: the public discovers and learns to despise the weaknesses of eminent people. His pugnacious character helped to spread stories of a bullying, boastful loudmouth; unwashed, apparently uneducated, and more at home with a gun than a pen.
Matthew Bruccoli notes “how difficult it is to establish the truth about virtually everything involving Hemingway,” how “difficult to differentiate the public Papa from the private writer.” Though Carlos Baker’s biography (1969) helped to distinguish the reality from the myth, the Hemingway legends remained in force: that he had Indian blood, was kept out of school for a year to play the cello, ran away from home, injured his eye while boxing, associated with gangsters, had affairs with the actress Mae Marsh and the spy Mata Hari, fought with the Italian Arditi, was fitted with an aluminum kneecap, kept a mistress in Sicily, reported the battles of the Greco-Turkish War in the wilds of Anatolia, killed Krauts in World War II, tried to land a plane on Mount Kilimanjaro. Virtually all the drinking, boxing, hunting, fishing, and fornicating stories are exaggerations or fantasies.
In 1941 Edmund Wilson, who turned against Hemingway in The Wound and the Bow, wrote that he had already passed “into a phase where he was occupied with building up his public personality. . . . Hemingway has created a Hemingway who is not only incredible but obnoxious. He is certainly his own worst-invented character.” Eighteen years later his long-suffering fourth wife, Mary, said he was then “on the skids from egotism and publicity seeking.” Unlike Orwell, whose persona strengthened and confirmed the image of an upright man, Hemingway’s legend swamped and destroyed the real artist. Unlike Lowell, who could skillfully manipulate his public image, Hemingway could not attract publicity without damaging his integrity.
Hemingway’s career inspired a series of 17 personal memoirs (books written about him by people who knew him) that appeared between 1949 and 1980. Their viewpoints range from reverence and awe to condescension and hostility. They are distorted by personal bias, exude a strong element of self-interest, and reveal more about the authors than the subject. They lack self-effacement, objectivity, perception; emphasize the legend at the expense of the artistic achievement. The authors of these memoirs were related by blood and friendship, connected by rivalry and hostility. A comparative study of these books enables us to read them as they were written: not as isolated works but in relation to each other.
These memoirs, which contained many photographs of Hemingway in bullring and battlefield, complemented the reviews and criticism of his work. They distorted the facts but laid the shaky foundations of his biography. As John McCaffery observed as early as 1950: “The personality of the subject has made a profound impact on the critic and has, in almost every case, affected the tone of the criticism.”
Yet the memoirs of Hemingway are valuable tools for biographical criticism; they describe important events in his life and reveal his character in relation to the authors. Even the works written by those who hardly knew Hemingway tell us something about the culture in which he lived. All the books reveal the idealized or debased personality. All have their eyes firmly fixed on the sales of their book and are far more concerned with themselves than with their ostensible subject.
The memoirs tend to fall into five general categories. The crassly commercial books by people who did not know him well—Kurt Singer, Milt Machlin, Jed Kiley, Jake Klimo, Peter Buckley—enhance the myth and debase the man. The books by hunting and fishing cronies—Lloyd Arnold and Kip Farrington—concentrate more on sport than on Hemingway. The family memoirs by Leicester Hemingway, Marcelline Sanford, Madelaine Miller, and Mary Hemingway provide valuable information but show little understanding of the man. Gregory Hemingway’s memoir, though more intelligent, participates in the debunking process by paying off old scores and trying to lay some troubling ghosts of his own. The professional journalists—Malcolm Cowley, Lillian Ross, Jose Luis Castillo-Puche—advance their careers with Hemingway’s help or at his expense. Finally, A.E. Hotchner’s book emphasizes Hemingway’s tragic decline, while Adriana Ivancich basks in reflected glory and concentrates on herself.
Malcolm Cowley, who was a year older than Hemingway and had been a writer in Paris in the 1920’s, won his respect with a number of favorable reviews and a perceptive introduction to the Portable Hemingway (1944). Cowley’s “A Portrait of Mister Papa” was published in Life on Jan.10, 1949, and reprinted in McCaffery’s critical anthology in 1950. It appeared at the end of Hemingway’s fallow decade and prepared the basis of the legend. Cowley’s epigraph resembles the transparent disclaimer that novelists customarily place in their books to avoid libel suits: “He asked me to state that he is not responsible for any inaccuracies or legendary accomplishments of any sort which may have been attributed to him.”
Cowley’s postwar piece takes Hemingway’s sub-hunting seriously and stresses his war service as roving correspondent and commando. But even Hemingway could not swallow Cowley’s stones and asked his old comrade-in-arms, Buck Lanham; “Can you imagine anyone going around Hurtgen with a canteen of gin and one of vermouth? There wasn’t any good vermouth in Paris even and who the hell would give vermouth canteen space in a war, That was just one of those old chestnuts from Malcolm’s Life piece.”
Cowley also emphasizes Hemingway’s physical prowess and patriarchal life in Cuba, the risks and scars of shooting and fishing on his boat, the Pilar, with a cadre of faithful followers. According to Cowley, Hemingway breaks his nose in a teenage boxing match with a professional but returns to fight again the next day. He no longer has fought with the Arditi (as Cowley had said in the Portable Hemingway), but still has an aluminum kneecap. Though For Whom the Bell Tolls was ideologically repugnant to the Communists because it criticized Soviet tactics in Spain and was not translated into Russian until 1968 (and then with heavy cuts), Cowley dubiously claims it was used by Stalin’s armies in World War II as a “textbook of guerrilla fighting.” (This myth was probably based on the fact that T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935) was used as a guerrilla textbook by Mao Tse-tung in the 1940’s.) Though Cowley tried for accuracy and obtained information from Hemingway’s friends as well as from his subject, his heroic view of Hemingway is very close to the way the writer chose to present himself to the public: he-man at the typewriter, experiencing and recording violent action.
Despite the tough image, Hemingway was a soft-hearted man. He corresponded with Philip Young and Charles Fenton and allowed them to quote from his work, though he violently opposed their critical studies which (he felt) were stimulated by Cowley’s efforts to “embalm” him while he was still kicking. He was apparently persuaded to grant Cowley interviews in Cuba after the critic pleaded that his son’s education was at stake and later reminded him that Cowley had written, when Hemingway was reluctant to let him do the Life article, that it would allow the boy to go to Exeter. Hemingway regretfully told Dos Passos that he had a private life until Cowley intruded on it; and halfheartedly tried to use Cowley as a stick to beat Young. As he told Young’s editor at Rinehart: “There has been too damned much written about my personal life and I am sick of it. It was a very bad thing for me that Malcolm Cowley’s article was published in LIFE.” Cowley’s apotheosis of the Papa legend and McCaffery’s book of essays aroused unrealistic expectations in critics who had waited a decade for Hemingway’s latest novel and were savagely disappointed by Across the River and into the Trees (1950).
Lillian Ross met Hemingway in 1947 as she was working on her first New Yorker profile about his friend Sidney Franklin, the American bullfighter. Hemingway invited her to Idaho the day before Christmas and gave her generous help. In a letter of July 1948 he adopted the pidgin-English persona that disguised his respectable background: “I talk bad on account where and how brought up. Can talk properly. But I remember I asked you if you minded and you said no and so I talked naturally.” He was pleased to maintain a pugnacious stance and refused to speak and act like an intellectual—even if he thought and felt like one.
Ross spent Nov. 16—18, 1949 with Hemingway—who had been threatened by a near-fatal illness in March of that year— and tried to set down exactly what she had seen and heard. In her profile, the celebrity flies into New York from Havana, sees Marlene Dietrich, drinks great quantities of champagne, buys a coat and slippers at Abercrombie’s, goes to the Metropolitan Museum with his son Patrick, and signs a contract with Charles Scribner. The title and leitmotif of the piece, which first appeared in The New Yorker on May 13, 1950, comes from Hemingway’s frequent repetition of the meaningless phrase, “How do you like it now, gentlemen?” Hemingway put on a performance for Ross, expected her to see through his act and show the highbrow readers of her magazine the man behind the rather transparent mask. Instead, she accepted the facade, repaid his generosity with malice, and established her reputation at his expense.
Though Hemingway treated the interview as a joke, assumed the role of dumb ox, and constantly spoke with wisecracks and sporting metaphors, he was not quite as stupid and boorish as Ross’s account suggests. She never recorded or revealed the serious and sensitive side of his character and chose instead to portray him as a boring braggart who keeps punching himself in the stomach. She did demonstrate, however, that he had followed a descending path—characteristic of many successful American novelists—from the charming Paris flat above the sawmill in the early 1920’s to the luxury and snobbery of the grand hotels of Venice in the late 1940’s. And Mr. Papa’s vainglorious boasts about his forthcoming novel invited disastrous retaliation:
Book start slow, then increase in pace till becomes impossible to stand. . . . I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupaussant. I’ve fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody’s going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I’m crazy or I keep getting better.
The defensive, disingenuous tone of Ross’s preface to her profile, which she hastily published as a book just after Hemingway’s death in 1961, presented a notable contrast to the text. She claimed “it was a sympathetic piece” and affected surprise when some readers “thought that in describing that personality accurately I was ridiculing or attacking it.” When Irving Howe condemned her book in the New Republic, she unconvincingly replied: “It was a loving portrait of a great and lovable man.” She had sent the Hemingways proof before publication and assumed, when they returned it with corrections, that they approved her work. In a taped interview with Patrick Hynan in 1970, A.E. Hotchner said that when Hemingway received Ross’s proofs on the Monday of the week the essay appeared, it was too late to change anything.
Hemingway was apparently taken by, but not taken in by Lillian Ross. He chose—shrewdly if uncharacteristically—to ignore and forgive her attack. Privately, however, he was “shocked and felt awful.” He told a publisher: “Lillian Ross wrote a profile of me which I read, in proof, with some horror. But since she was a friend of mine and I knew she was not writing in malice she had a right to make me seem that way if she wished.” In distant Paris, even the waspish Alice Toklas, who had always been jealous of Hemingway’s friendship with Gertrude Stein, disliked Ross’s “shooting an Elephant” and expressed compassion for her old adversary: “It has strange revelations and exposures by himself and his wife—which were partially explained by Janet Planner’s telling me that he was mortally ill. . . . It is painful to know the present situation and the horror it must hold for him.”
Worse things than Ross awaited Hemingway, though he did not live to read them. Hemingway’s life and novels aroused such intense interest that readers were not satisfied with the fiction itself. They took pleasure in knowing the intimate details of his life and speculating about how he transformed his experience into art. Hemingway’s death allowed writers to exploit their connection with him and satisfy the American appetite for the legendary achievements of celebrities.
Kurt Singer—the author of 40 pulp books on spies, war and crime—actually felt guilty about rushing out his unspeakably vulgar Hemingway: Life and Death of a Giant by September 1961: “I felt like a prostitute, selling my inner feelings . . .a sort of ghoul feeding on the remains of a dead hero.” Though Singer claims to have interviewed Hemingway at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Havana, his contradictory accounts make their meeting seem dubious. The first half of Singer’s book covers Hemingway’s “apprenticeship” and is taken (with many distortions) from Fenton’s study of the 1916—23 period. The second half, padded with quotations from Hemingway’s works, is embellished by Singer’s inane commentary and crude style: “Hemingway belched, wiped his nose with the back of his hand and farted.”
Singer, not satisfied to recount the sensational aspects of Hemingway’s life, feels obliged to invent some spicy sexual anecdotes. He provides Hemingway, who “had his first woman when he was thirteen,” with a series of fictional mistresses: a socialite in Oak Park, the drunken Maria in Chicago, the lusty sculptress Heloise in Paris, the starveling Rosita in Spain. Singer also describes an attempted homosexual seduction by his Cuban cabin boy. Singer confidently states that there are whorehouses in strait-laced Oak Park, that the Austrians held their fire when they saw Captain Hemingway’s courage, that Hemingway’s lawyer was Elmer Rice (adept with the adding machine), that Mary gave a Picasso to a grade school in Idaho.
Singer’s literary taste is revealed in his dedication to “James A. Michener, the new champion who inherited the Hemingway crown.” He stresses the “boats, booze, broads” at the expense of the books and gives a long paraphrase of The Old Man and the Sea, told to him in Spanish (though he says he does not understand that language) by an ancient Cuban fisherman. Singer’s book is worth noting because it reveals the lower depths of publishing and the wildly distorted image of “Hemingway the Giant” that was offered to subliterate readers.
In January 1961, Hemingway told a friend that Milt Machlin was a “complete jerk” and not worth writing about; Machlin wrote negatively in “Hemingway Talking,” which appeared in the September 1958 issue of Argosy, because he had tried to crash Hemingway’s party and been thrown out. The Private Hell of Hemingway (1962) portrays “a way of living so colorful that it almost eclipsed the stories he wrote. . . . The brawling, boozing, battling years of America’s greatest writer,” The style is also crude: “He returned to a Paris that was wilder, more debauched and madder than the one he had left, if that was possible.”
Machlin’s book, like Singer’s, is made up of confused gobbets from other people’s work. It treats Hemingway’s legend and his fiction as if they were fact. Thus the Spartan Hemingway spars barefoot on rough cinders to toughen his feet while the hedonistic Hemingway spends $1400 a night at the Stork Club. The English nurse Agnes actually has a love affair with Hemingway, as in A Farewell to Arms; Martha Gellhorn is “The Blonde Peril”; and the title of Dos Passos’ novel is reversed to become Kipling’s Soldiers Three. Machlin’s Cliff Notes biography, simple-minded and instantly produced, provides a “Private Hell” for the reader.
Leicester Hemingway, born in 1915, tried to imitate his older brother and traded on his name. “The Baron” was a failure in life, earned Hemingway’s scorn, and was estranged from him after World War II. Leicester has accurately defined their unequal relationship: “Ernest was never very content with life unless he had a spiritual kid brother nearby. He needed someone he could show off to as well as teach. He needed uncritical admiration. If the kid brother could show a little worshipful awe, that was a distinct aid.” In 1953 Leicester published The Sound of the Trumpet, a mediocre war novel in which Hemingway appears as Rando Granham. He asked Ernest to approve his memoir in November 1959 and was refused permission to publish.
My Brother, Ernest Hemingway (1962), serialized in Playboy and translated into seven languages, reflects the good-natured hero worship of a brother who never knew Hemingway well and was absent from most of the events he describes. Leicester’s claim that Hemingway abandoned Archibald MacLeish on a deserted island was categorically denied by the poet. Though his book is based on family correspondence, it offers vague statements instead of vivid details: “A great many bottles were uncorked that night. . . . Ernest roared with laughter and gave me a glancing punch on the shoulder.” The last 16 years of Hemingway’s life are covered in only 14 pages, though there are some valuable facts about the disastrous shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic. In September 1982, Leicester shot himself, as his father and brother had done.
If Leicester, like Ernest, rebelled against the ecclesiastical propriety of Oak Park, his older sister Marcelline became an utterly conventional clubwoman. She was, like her parents, startled and disgusted by Three Stories & Ten Poems. When Dr. Hemingway read his son’s first book, he wrote Ernest that “no gentleman spoke of venereal disease outside a doctor’s office” and that he “would not tolerate such filth in his home.” (The six books he sent back to the publisher are now worth $11,000 each.)
Hemingway was dressed for several years as a girl to be the twin of Marcelline, who was held back for a year so she could go through school with him. She wisely leaves the rough stuff to Leicester (her book was serialized in the Atlantic) and emphasizes their happy childhood in At the Hemingways (1962). Hemingway is the cause but not the center of this old-fashioned, generally reliable domestic history, which describes the family, the schools, and the good clean fun on Walloon Lake. Hemingway resented Marcelline’s public lectures about him in Midwestern ladies’ clubs (she also took notes at his funeral), had nothing to do with her in adult life, and disappears from her book after his marriage to Hadley in 1921. Marcelline is honest about the suicide of her remarkable father in 1928, defends her mother (whom Hemingway called “the old bitch”), and is more objective than Leicester and younger sister Madelaine.
Jed Kiley was a newspaper reporter on the Chicago Examiner, drove an ambulance during the Great War, ran a cabaret in Paris, and was assistant editor of the Boulevardier, to which Hemingway contributed an essay, “The Real Spaniard, ” in October 1927. Hemingway: An Old Friend Remembers (1965) brings us back to the dream world of Singer and Machlin, for Kiley was not an old friend and did not remember. “A gag is a gag and a fantasy is a fantasy,” Hemingway exclaimed in a letter to Kiley in December 1954, “but the Ms. you sent me . . .entitled Me and Ernest Hemingway is a long series of untruths, misstatements and falsehoods which 1 could not allow you to use even if it was labelled a fictional nightmare.” It was serialized in Playboy in 1956—57 and published posthumously.
Kiley, like Leicester, portrays him as a swaggering drinker, gambler, adventurer, and daredevil in Paris and Key West. He takes his chapter titles from Hemingway’s fiction, uses a boxing metaphor throughout the book (the English edition is called Hemingway: A Title Fight in Ten Rounds), and lamely imitates the worst aspects of the tough guy style in To Have and Have Not: “ “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Get a load of that title. . . . Who the hell ever heard of snow in Africa?”
A. E. Hotchner was born in St. Louis (home of three Hemingway wives) and trained as a lawyer. He met Hemingway in 1948 when Hotchner was sent to Cuba to convince him to write an absurd article for Cosmopolitan. Hemingway liked and trusted him. Hotchner was good fun, knowledgeable about New York literary and sporting gossip, and willing to assume Leicester’s role of pupil, buffoon, and factotum (more totem than fact). Hotchner accepted the nickname “freckles” and even joined Antonio Ordonez’s cuadrilla during a bullfight. He wrote successful television adaptations of several stories, a play, and a novel by Hemingway— usually splitting the profits with the Master. They formed the Hemhotch betting syndicate, and he helped Hemingway cut the “Dangerous Summer” articles for Life. Castillo-Puche, who loathed and libelled Hotchner, records Hemingway’s judgment: “He’s a smart cookie. . . . He has lots of connections in television and the movies and knows his way around. . . . He’s as faithful as a bird dog. . . . He’s done a fine job of looking after my interests. . . . Hotchner’s a good friend of mine, but he’s a sharp customer.”
Mary Hemingway, who was then writing her own memoir, sued to prevent publication of Hotchner’s book and lost her case in both the New York State Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, in February and March 1966. The court ruled that Hotchner was free to publish their conversations unless she could prove that Hemingway specifically told him not to do so. Philip Young has summarized the decision:
The judge’s rejection of Mrs. Hemingway’s case was based on three arguments. First, he ruled that conversations are not protected by common-law copyright. Second, he criticized her failure to realize that “random and disconnected oral conversations are given some semblance of form only by virtue of their arrangement in the context of literary creation.” Last, he objected to her legal silence during the three years that Hotchner was writing his book; when she did file suit it was so late that to stop the thing would have put a “disproportionate economic burden” on author and publisher.
Since Mary did not have access to the Hemhotch correspondence, she did not know that Hotchner had used the letters to give the impression of tape-recorded dialogue. Hemingway’s words were accurate, but most of them were not conveyed to Hotchner in conversation. The book is a compilation of “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway”—almost all Hem and no Hotch. When Hotchner diverges from Hemingway’s correspondence, he tends to distort and invent.
Hotchner was genuinely interested in Hemingway as writer, friend, and biographical subject. He was always ready to respond to his summons, listen to his exaggerated exploits (drunk or sober), and tolerate his abusive behavior. Hotchner never lost his reverential attitude, never ceased to marvel at Hemingway’s superb skill and infinite patience. He provides a moving account of Hemingway’s physical and mental deterioration during the last year of his life. But he makes no distinction between reality and fantasy and includes all the Hemingway legends. Despite, or perhaps because of the unreliability of the book, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir (1966) was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in the spring of 1966, published by Random House in April, reached a sixth printing by November, and was translated into 12 foreign languages.
In Hemingway in Spain (1974), the English translation of Hemingway: Entre la Vida y la Muerte (1968), the Spanish journalist-novelist Jose Luis Castillo-Puche tries to “go deeper and further than a coldly factual, scrupulously documented biography” by writing “a deeply felt, passionate, intuitive, personal book . . .a chaotic, hasty, Hemingway-esque confession” about “a pathetically lonely and a pathologically devious man.” The memoir takes place during the nine days following his suicide as Castillo visits all the Hemingway locales in Madrid and offers his long-winded reflections on their meetings in Spain.
Castillo confesses that “sometimes it’s more fun to invent a story than it is to live it in real life” and gives the impression that much of his book is fiction. Like Kiley and Klimo, Castillo exaggerates his friendship with Hemingway. His chronology is inaccurate and his text filled with errors. The real date of the funeral is pushed forward from July 5 to July 7 to coincide ironically with the opening of the San Fermin fiesta. Castillo unconvincingly calls Hemingway a penny-pincher and speaks of his failure with women.
Castillo disapproves of the “Dangerous Summer” articles on bullfighting, which condemned Manolete’s “cheap tricks” and aroused considerable hostility in Spain. He is critical and envious of Hemingway’s friendship with Antonio Ordonez, with Valerie Danby-Smith (the young Irish girl who assumed the role of Adriana Ivancich), with Bill Davis (the host at his celebrated 60th birthday party) and especially with Hotchner: “Two ridiculous figures hung around Ernesto every minute: Davis the jealous watchdog of his fame and fortune and Hotchner the exploiter of his reputation.” He irresponsibly calls Hotchner a hypocrite, a sickening toady, an obsequious bore, a clever exploiter. Though Castillo got away with this in the Spanish edition and Mary testified for Castillo’s American publisher (in retaliation for her lost lawsuit), Hotchner won $125,000 in damages, but his libel award was subsequently thrown out by a federal appeals court.
Lloyd Arnold, a photographer at Sun Valley, helped lure Hemingway—who provided excellent publicity—to Averill Harriman’s new resort in 1939 and became his faithful hunting companion. Arnold’s photographs, which include quantities of dead creatures, are excellent; and there are cameo appearances by Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable, and Gary Cooper. Arnold’s homespun High on the Wild with Hemingway (1968) (severely cut in the paperback edition) portrays him in field and stream, bar and barbecue, but reveals almost nothing about him until the very end of the book: “He couldn’t write any more, he was done at that; and though he didn’t say so directly you got the message that they had tampered with his think machine back there, and loused it up, so it was no good, what he labored to put on paper.”
Kip Farrington’s description of Hemingway’s angling exploits in Fishing with Hemingway and Glassell (1971) complements the shooting achievements in Arnold’s book and is the least revealing of all the memoirs. Only the first part of this book concerns Hemingway as fisherman. The second part describes the idle rich (whom Hemingway satirized in To Have and Have Not) fishing round the world to break previous records. The last part, on the depredations of Japanese commercial fishermen, has nothing to do with either Hemingway or Alfred Glassell—a Houston millionaire whose cameraman filmed him catching the world’s biggest marlin. This sequence was used in the movie version of The Old Man and the Sea.
Farrington, who reprints Hemingway’s introduction to his book Atlantic Game Fishing, met him in Bimini in 1935. Farrington attempts to defend his friend from “the best efforts of the literary sharks to tear him to shreds and drag him down” and presents a clean, well-mannered Hemingway who would have appealed to the stuffy Marcelline: “Ernest was cordial and gracious. . . . He was charmingly chivalrous . . . and wouldn’t stand for bad language in front of ladies.”
Jake Klimo ran away from home in Iowa when he was 11 and spent his tender years as petty criminal and bum. He was a friend of Leicester and hung around the Hemingway circle in Key West and Cuba in the mid-1930’s. Hemingway re-assured his mother that Klimo “was a very good sort of bird” and got along well with Leicester. The conjunctive title of the ghostwritten Hemingway and Jake (1972) suggests a relationship that never actually existed. But his connection with Hemingway, though tenuous, had a powerful impact on his character: “I had absorbed part of that personality; I found myself thinking in his patterns, talking in his way, parroting his words, even his style in violence.”
Klimo—like Singer, Machlin, Leicester, and Kiley—concentrates on the violent behavior of the fisherman, boxer, drinker, and tourist attraction of Key West. Hemingway easily knocks a knife out of Klimo’s hand during a mock attack; and Klimo—with an awe that matches that of Hotchner and Arnold—exclaims: “Man, he was powerful. He was a good fighter, too, a hell of a fighter. He laid me low, god damn.” Jake dislikes Pauline, who spoils their manly fun when she discovers Hemingway’s affair with a woman in Havana and rushes over from Key West to protect her marriage. Klimo hints at something significant here but maintains an uncharacteristic discretion about Jane Mason that has continued through Baker’s biography and up to the present time.
Madelaine, Hemingway’s tomboy third sister, was born in 1904 and appeared as a character in “Soldier’s Home.” She named her son after him, became angry at anyone who exploited him (Marcelline) or spoke ill of him (Gregory), and continued her childhood adoration throughout her life. Ernie (1975) consists of 42 short, subjective chapters (“Teen-age Fun—and Nicknames”) and more than 130 family snapshots. She presents a reverential picture of her parents and emphasizes the idyllic life in Michigan rather than the stuffy existence in Oak Park. She is devoted to Hadley and bitter about Pauline, who not only broke up Hemingway’s first marriage and brought disgrace upon the family but also treated Madelaine as a servant when she came to Key West in 1928 to care for the newborn Patrick and type the manuscript of A Farewell to Arms. Madelaine, who missed Hadley’s wedding and her father’s suicide, had a compensatory mystical experience at Hemingway’s funeral: “On the carpet [of the church] was a perfect outline of Ernest’s head, beard and all! It seemed as if his sad eyes were pleading.” Despite this vision, she was not invited to the reading of the will, which left everything—well over a million dollars—to Mary. Madelaine’s amateurish effort is far less successful than the books by Leicester and Marcelline, whom she jockeys out of position as favorite sister.(The actual favorite was the silent Ursula.)
Gregory Hemingway—whose hostile memoir is diametrically opposed to Madelaine’s—is Hemingway’s youngest son by his second wife, Pauline. In 1951, when Gregory was a 19-year-old aircraft mechanic, he got into trouble for taking drugs. Pauline phoned Hemingway to tell him what happened, became involved in a violent quarrel, and died the next day. Hemingway told Gregory that his trouble killed Pauline, and they never met again. When Gregory started medical school, he learned from her autopsy report that Pauline had died of a rare tumor of the adrenal gland and concluded: “It was not my minor troubles that had upset Mother but his brutal phone conversation with her eight hours before she died.”
Hemingway said many harsh things about Gregory, who was much more troubled than he suggests, in unpublished letters of the 1950’s as well as in the posthumous Islands in the Stream (1970). In that novel Gregory appears as Andy:
Gregory, whose opinion of this book is not recorded, condemned The Old Man and the Sea as “sentimental slop.” At Hemingway’s funeral Gregory met Valerie Danby-Smith, whom Hemingway had fallen in love with in 1959 and had adopted as his “secretary.” Castillo-Puche, who has a poor opinion of foreign women, criticizes Valerie’s behavior: “She kept stroking herself, and constantly acted more or less like a little bitch in heat. She was a very pretty little creature, who was to lose a great many things at the fiesta.” Gregory, who had a crush on Mary Hemingway and once thought of “trying to posthumously cuckold papa” with Martha Gellhorn, eventually married the girl his father once loved.(In a similar compensatory fashion, Norman Mailer fastened on to the son after he had failed to meet the father, enjoyed bouts of ram-like head-butting with Gregory, and wrote a short preface to his book.)
“The meanest is Andy.”
“He started out mean,” Thomas Hudson said.
“And boy, did he continue”. . . .
There was something about him you could not trust.
The most agonizing, if not the most accurate, portrayal of Hemingway emerges from these tangled relationships. In Papa (1976), Gregory bitterly says he did not feel loved by his parents. They had wanted to have a girl and left Gregory with a horrible Germanic nursemaid when they traveled to Europe and Africa. As a child he wet his bed, found it difficult to read and write, became seasick aboard the Pilar, drank alcohol, and was caught plagiarizing a story from Turgenev. As an adult he drank heavily, could not hold a job, failed to maintain a marriage, felt guilty about his mother’s inheritance, and spent it quickly on senseless slaughter (18 African elephants in one month).
Gregory’s case history expresses a sense of tragic betrayal and makes a cruel judgment on the god that failed. He contrasts the heroic father of his childhood with the bully, sick bore, and professional celebrity whose drunken revels with sycophants during the last decade of his life “merely anaesthetized the pain which had accompanied the loss of his talent.” Since Hemingway’s decline occurred after their quarrel in 1952, Gregory’s jaundiced view corresponds with reality. But since he never saw his father after that year, his portrayal of the overbearing megalomaniac is not convincing: “It’s fine to be under the influence of a dominating personality as long as he’s healthy,” though Gregory did not seem to like it even then, “but when he gets dry rot of the soul, how do you bring yourself to tell him he stinks?” (You wait until he is dead.) Gregory, like Leicester, desperately tried and failed to please Hemingway, and felt profound but guilty relief at his father’s funeral: “I couldn’t disappoint him, couldn’t hurt him [or be hurt by him] anymore.”
Mary Welsh, a Time-Life journalist from Minnesota, met Hemingway in London in 1944, after his marriage to Martha Gellhorn had disintegrated, and married him in Havana in 1946. Though Mary told a friend, “she and Ernest promised each other she would not be a Boswell wife, so she never kept a record,” Mary did keep a diary throughout their marriage. She poured all the intimate though trivial details into the leaden mold of How It Was (1976), whose title echoed The Way It Was (1959), Harold Loeb’s memoir of expatriate days in Paris. Mary’s book was originally submitted to Ernest’s publishers, Scribner’s; but when they offended her by recommending necessary cuts and revisions, she published it with the more tolerant Knopf.
Mary (Hemingway’s literary executor) was the first to print in her book a substantial number of Hemingway’s letters, written to her. They are sentimental, coy, and curiously dull. Mary is honest about herself and the problems of her marriage. But she records few serious conversations, is incapable of psychological insight, conveys no sense of Hemingway as a complex human being, and writes in the vulgar style of a ladies’ magazine: “Lovely lunch, lovely people, and tonight, Venice, Venice, Venice—city of exquisite bridges, the moon just after full, coming up grandly over the Grand Canal. . . . That night my husband and I kept ourselves pleasurably occupied in bed.” The only torture worse than reading Hotchner on bulls is reading Mary on bulls.
Mary attempts to preserve her identity by telling the uninteresting story of her early life in the first part of the book. But she soon concedes: “I had been an entity; now I was an appendage.” She had real doubts about marrying Hemingway and certainly knew what to expect after February 1945 when he placed a photograph of her Australian husband in the toilet bowl, blasted it with a pistol and flooded their room at the Ritz. But Mary finally accepts the man—and the legend. She gives up her professional career, adopts his sporting passions, entertains his coarse cronies, matches his numerous accidents with her own falls and fractures, and tolerates his infatuation with two teenage girls: his “vestal virgin,” Adriana Ivancich, and his demi-vierge, Valerie Danby-Smith.
Mary, a meek contrast to the willful and independent Martha Gellhorn, told Oriana Fallaci: “I didn’t want to be Ernest’s equal. I wanted him to be the master, to be stronger and cleverer than I, to remember constantly how big he was and how small I was.” This sacrificial self-effacement turned her into Hemingway’s scapegoat and victim. Though Hemingway saves her life after a serious hemorrhage in August 1946 (he was at his best in emergencies), he also slaps her and throws wine in her face (“I guess my pride is expendable”) when the disastrous reviews of Across the River coincided with the visit of the real-life heroine of the book in October 1950. But, like Robert Lowell’s wife Elizabeth Hardwick, Mary has an infinite capacity for suffering. She tells him: “No matter what you say or do—short of killing me, which would be messy—I’m going to stay here . . .[until you] tell me truthfully and straight that you want me to leave.” Mary tolerated his “neglect, rudeness, thoughtlessness, abusive language, unjust criticism, false accusations” not only because she loved him and was loyal but also because she enjoyed playing the role of Sophia Tolstoy. Mary was willing to endure almost anything to remain Mrs. Ernest Hemingway forever.
The photographer Peter Buckley, who shared a room with Hotchner during the crowded Zaragoza feria in 1956, “found so much wrong with that section of [Hotchner’s] book that he has no faith in it as a whole.” Hotchner, on the other hand, recalled that Hemingway fiercely berated Buckley for intruding on Ordonez’ privacy, while he was resting before a bullfight and that Buckley was never able to reestablish his sycophantic position. In 1959 Hemingway called Buckley a jerk and told Lanham to pay no attention to him.
Buckley’s Ernest (1978) contains superb photographs (by himself and others) and is superior to the picture books by Leo Lania (1961), Lloyd Arnold (1968), Robert Gadjusek (1978), and Anthony Burgess (1978). But his derivative text, written in a simple-minded style, reveals an abysmal lack of perception:
I wanted to pick him up, all six feet, 210 pounds of him, and put him here.
Paris was very different from Oak Park.
Make-believe is fun when everybody knows that’s what it is.
In 1956 Ernest sat and rested.
Buckley also offers the definitive word on Hemingway’s style: “Ernest knew the short words and the long ones; he tried different sentences with different words, and he tried different paragraphs with different sentences.”
Adriana Ivancich was almost 19 when she met Hemingway on a duck-shooting weekend in Italy. La Torre Bianca (1980) traces their relationship in Venice, Cortina, Paris, and Havana from 1948 to 1954. Adriana’s focus is herself: her friendship with Hemingway, her link to the character of Renata in Across the River, and the scandal that followed its publication. Her self-regarding, impressionistic book is an expanded and much-padded version of her article, published in Epoca in July 1965, with the less ambiguous title: “La Renata di Hemingway sono io” (I am Hemingway’s Renata). The tone of the book is bitterness mingled with pride: pride in her family background and her artistic achievements, in Hemingway’s love and her inspiration of his art; bitterness about the effect of this friendship on her life.
Adriana’s memoir is biographically important in several ways: for the self-portrait of the girl who was Hemingway’s “true love”; for its new perspective on the events of his life; for its portrait of Hemingway. The editors of her Epoca article boast “at last we can give Renata a face.” The book establishes her physical resemblance to Renata but denies any similarities in behavior. Adriana emphasizes that she was always chaperoned and protected. She clings to reflected glory yet needs to vindicate herself. The letters and conversations reported in the book suggest a friendship both paternal and flirtatious. But Hemingway maintains his role of passive suitor and their relationship does not develop.
When Hemingway flings the glass of wine in Mary’s face, Adriana chastizes him, and he promises to behave. According to Adriana, the wine-throwing is provoked by Mary, who pesters him to dance “like a trained bear” and makes him lose his temper. Mary confides that she has been worried about Papa’s infatuation but now feels that Adriana is a good influence. Adriana avoids the question of how her presence contributes to their domestic tension.
Yet there are many compensations for these brutti momenti. Hemingway goes out of his way to please Adriana: he gives elaborate parties and dinners, entertains celebrities, and secures invitations to the Havana country club. She assumes this is her due. Throughout her book she describes herself at the center of his life: “What tenderness he had, my massive irascible friend!” The book never takes into account the feelings of other people, but treats every event from her narcissistic point of view.
Despite her assertions of affection, her portrait of Hemingway is negative. In Venice he is a tired, jaded, hard-drinking sentimentalist; in Havana, rude, dominating, obsessive; in their final meeting, shattered and tearful. Adriana’s attitude to Hemingway remains ambivalent. She affirms her loyalty to him but describes herself as a victim of his love, burdened by the sheer number of his letters. She is tempted to burn them and be rid of “that Hemingway who had covered me with mud.” (Adriana, who sold the letters to a New York dealer for $17,000, hanged herself in March 1983.)
“What characterizes every book about Hemingway,” Norman Mailer observes, “is the way his character remains out of focus.” None of these books has the intelligence and insight revealed in the memoirs of Ford on Conrad, Joe Ackerley on Forster, Stanislaus on James Joyce, Leonard on Virginia Woolf, or Jessie Chambers on Lawrence. Indeed, the radical defects, the standard of misconception, the Boswellian self-aggrandizement in these memoirs—Ernie and Ernest, Papa and Papa Hemingway—seem even stronger when they are read together and in retrospect. None of the authors distinguishes between the fictions and the facts of his life, and none of them has learned how to write from their long association with the Master. Instead of illuminating Hemingway’s life, the memoirs present a composite autobiography of the people who knew him, were rivals for his favor, and enjoyed the vicarious residue of his fame and failure. The authors are divided by personal and commercial conflict, by a desire to write about themselves, and by a need to focus on the subject who justifies the publication of their book.
The memoirs—by professional journalists, crass exploiters, hangers-on, and emotionally involved family, lovers, friends—flow into two streams, They are symbolized by the gentle and tough images of the Hemingway hero, portrayed on the screen by Gary Cooper and by Humphrey Bogart. Malcolm Cowley, Marcelline Sanford, A.E. Hotchner, Lloyd Arnold, Kip Farrington, Madelaine Miller, Mary Hemingway, and Adriana Ivancich attempt to give at least a glimpse of the inner man and present the more sympathetic Gary Cooper image. Lillian Ross, Kurt Singer, Milt Machlin, Leicester Hemingway, Jed Kiley, Jose Luis Castillo-Puche, Jake Klimo, Gregory Hemingway, and Peter Buckley rarely penetrate the facade and present the harsh Humphrey Bogart image—which is also reflected in Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely.
These memoirs allow us to trace the origin and evolution of the Hemingway legend but are a minefield rather than a path through the tangled woods of Hemingway’s life. The scholar concerned with the truth finds himself lost in rumor and half-proved fact, in conflicting statements and pure fantasy. His study of these exercises in egoism requires the utmost skepticism and vigilance. He turns, with considerable relief, to the rare seriousness of the Paris Review interview that portrays Hemingway’s dedication to his art and reveals “a personality at odds with the rambunctious, carefree, world-wheeling Hemingway-at-play of popular conception.”