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The Quest for Hemingway

ISSUE:  Autumn 1985

The most complicated subject that I know, since I am a man, is a man’s life.

    Hemingway, “The Christmas Gift”

My biography of Hemingway began as a life of Pound. Harvester Press offered me a contract to write a life of the “good Pound,” up to 1920; and I had been trying to arouse enthusiasm for the project during long conversations with Allen Ginsberg, who had known and admired Pound at the end of his life. But the more reading and research I did the more I came to dislike his character and his work. I realized that I did not have sufficient sympathy with his poetry and politics to justify their peculiar logic. After visiting the Lilly Library at Indiana University, contemplating the 12,000 pages of letters and manuscripts written by Pound in his madcap backwoods dialect, and realizing there were even more papers at Yale, I abandoned the project, with considerable relief, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the Kinsey sex museum. Soon afterward, I learned that Humphrey Carpenter (the biographer of Auden) was writing a life of Pound, and I was glad that I did not have to compete with him and duplicate his effort.

When I visited the Hemingway Room of the John F. Kennedy presidential library in Boston, the capable curator, Jo Hills, told me that no one was presently engaged in writing a full-scale biography of Hemingway. The well-catalogued collection contains several thousand unpublished letters written by and to Hemingway, all his major literary manuscripts, and thousands of documents, scrapbooks, clippings, reviews, tapes, photographs, and memorabilia. The enormous amount of new archival material—donated by his fourth wife, Mary—as well as the timely publication of Hemingway’s Selected Letters, Adriana Ivancich’s autobiography La Torre Bianca, and Bernice Kert’s The Hemingway Women, which printed but did not analyze or explain many important letters from his wives and mistresses, seemed to justify a fresh study of his life and art.

I had always been fascinated by Hemingway’s life—which had inspired my travels and influenced my values—and had a longstanding interest in his art. I had taught Hemingway’s works for 20 years, written articles and reviews about him, and had chapters on him in my books, Married to Genius and Disease and the Novel. I had in addition published the 600-page Hemingway: The Critical Heritage and edited a book on The Craft of Literary Biography. I also had considerable experience in the Hemingway milieu. I lived for many years in the American West, crewed on a yacht in the Caribbean, spent two summers in East Africa, traveled extensively in France and Italy, and saw scores of bullfights while working as a professional writer in Spain.

Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, the standard biography, appeared in 1969.Baker established the chronology and compiled a cautious and respectful encyclopedia of facts, with almost no analysis or interpretation of Hemingway’s thought and character. He was constrained by writing an authorized biography, commissioned by Hemingway’s wife and publisher, and by his inability to quote from Hemingway’s letters. Baker was extremely reluctant to discuss sensitive matters—lesbianism, adultery, abortions, impotence, madness, family feuds—and cryptically confined the most interesting material to the footnotes. Having treated the fiction in an earlier book, he arbitrarily separated the two vital elements of a literary biography and did not show the relation of Hemingway’s life and art. He failed to reveal a convincing and meaningful pattern in the life—an evaluation of relationships and comprehension of motives—or to illuminate the artist and inner man. Too close to and involved with his subject, Baker grew resentful, even hostile, and never resolved the conflict between his original hero-worship and the final emergence of the less attractive side of Hemingway’s character. His book ends with the suicide shot; mine also considers the aftermath, the legend, and the influence.

In order to secure a contract before I started the biography, I wrote a three-page proposal and sent it to six publishers. Norton, Viking, Simon and Schuster were not interested. Robert Giroux kindly called to say he liked the idea but could not convince his colleagues to commission the book. Jason Epstein of Random House was keen but would not discuss details on the phone or suggest an approximate advance. Through his secretary, he ordered me to appear in New York, yet did not offer to pay my expenses. Several of my friends praised Ted Solotaroff, a writer as well as an editor at Harper & Row, and I accepted his contract for a critical biography of 160,000 words. When I sent in a typescript of 250,000 words, he accepted it without any requests for changes or cuts.


At first I was nearly paralyzed by the overwhelming amount of work I had to do, but I soon built up the obsessive momentum that enabled me to complete the research and writing in two years. Starting with the secondary works in Audre Hanneman’s superb bibliography, I listed and read the enormous amount of biographical material on Hemingway. These works included a great many factual errors; some derived from Hemingway, others were invented by the authors. Dealing with the biographical evidence in Hemingway’s fiction demanded careful critical judgment. He was an unreliable informant about his own life and invented many stories that had no factual basis, but he also wrote numerous works of fiction that were close to the truth and revealed a great deal about his personal life.

I had previously been offered a visiting professorship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, less than two hours from the Kennedy Library, which I frequently visited during the academic year. The spectacularly beautiful building, designed by I.M.Pei, is built on the windy shore of Columbia Point, in remote and dangerous Dorchester. The long, triangular, luxuriously appointed Hemingway Room has a fine view of Boston harbor and permits immediate access to the printed books and Xerox copies of all the manuscript material. But work becomes difficult if anyone talks or types in the small room and nearly impossible when the curator is not on duty and the scholar is forced to move in with the researchers examining the Kennedy papers. For the heating is uncomfortably irregular and the wide-open reading room is constantly bombarded by noise from the tourists in the museum below as well as from the slapdash staff, the talkative readers, the typewriters, and the telephones. It was far easier to concentrate on the manuscripts in the rare book rooms at Princeton and Yale, which are sensibly sealed off from outside noise.

I studied additional Hemingway material at or from 20 libraries. The University of Maryland, Southern Illinois University and I Tatti kindly sent Xerox copies of their letters, which could be read at home and at leisure. The rules about unpublished material are wildly inconsistent. The Kennedy Library did not permit copying, but the Library of Congress had a Xerox machine available on the premises; and copies of some material restricted at the Kennedy were freely available at Princeton.

Beginning with the acknowledgments, notes, and index in Baker’s book, I gradually found out which of Hemingway’s friends were still alive and where they lived and wrote several hundred letters requesting information and interviews. The addresses of well-known people could be easily found in reference books, but the others had to be patiently stalked through a network of personal contracts. In contrast to the friends of Katherine Mansfield and Wyndham Lewis (the subjects of my previous biographies), who were responsive and eager to help, many of Hemingway’s friends, frequently asked for their recollections, were unwilling to answer letters or talk about him. About 40 acquaintances did not respond to my queries, and 16 people (none of them crucial) did not agree to an interview. Some people enjoy being difficult and self-important; some are writing their own books and do not want to help rivals; some have genuine scruples about revealing personal matters. The biographer, like the journalist, is inevitably a suppliant—hanging on the end of a pay phone, subject to the whims and rudeness of his informants. He must tread the delicate line between pressing too hard for information and knowing when to withdraw.

I tried to contact Mary Hemingway through her lawyer Alfred Rice and her friends Connie Bessie, Tillie Arnold, and George Plimpton, but all confirmed that she had completely lost her memory and would be a useless informant. Fortunately, Hemingway’s sister Carol, his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, and Alfred Rice, who at first refused to see me, eventually agreed to be interviewed.

Letters are a distant form of interview and offer another chance to establish personal relationships. Correspondents are often surprisingly revealing, for letters give them the opportunity to relive the past and tell their own story. A few of my correspondents wrote brilliantly perceptive letters. Mario Menocal, Jr., the son of Hemingway’s close friend, sent from Mexico City more than a hundred detailed pages about the Cuban period. Robert Joyce, who had been the intelligence officer at the American Embassy in Cuba during World War Two and now lived in Greece, illuminated Hemingway’s private spy network and sub-hunting activities. Denis Zaphiro, a white hunter in Kenya, gave precise descriptions of the second African safari. Charles Collingwood of CBS recalled Hemingway’s behavior as a war correspondent in France; and Lieutenant Leonard Krieger, who met Hemingway just before the liberation of Paris in August 1944, described how he recklessly drove into enemy territory ahead of the regular army. The Hemingway scholars, especially Michael Reynolds, were extremely helpful; and Norman Mailer wrote a valuable letter about Hemingway’s son, Gregory.

Sometimes I did a great deal of work and got no results. When I learned that Caroline Moorehead, a columnist for the London Times, was the daughter of Hemingway’s friend Alan • Moorehead, I asked her if there were any Hemingway letters among her father’s papers. She told me his papers were at Australian National University in Canberra; I wrote to them asking about the letters; and they said I needed permission from the estate before they could send copies. I duly secured permission, through Charles Scribner, Jr., from Alfred Rice, sent it to Australia, and asked them to search the files during the late 1940s. But they failed to find any letters from Hemingway.

I heard that a Robert Knutson had interviewed Hemingway while he was a patient at the Mayo Clinic and published an account of their talk in his high school newspaper. When I reached Rochester, Minnesota, I called five Robert Knutsons until I got the wife of the right one. She told me he could not be contacted until he arrived home after work and he would be glad to help if I phoned at that time. I called every hour all evening, but the phone was off the hook. I even went to the house and found no one at home. When I finally reached his wife, after Knutson had left for work the next morning, she suggested I write to him and said she would urge him to reply. I duly both wrote to the difficult and elusive man, who never answered my letter, and to his high school newspaper, which could not find his essay in its incomplete files.


Since the evocation of setting was vital in Hemingway’s works, it was essential to see the places he had lived in and described. In Oak Park, a town (Hemingway said) of wide lawns and narrow minds, I saw his birthplace, the much grander house where he spent his boyhood, his high school, and the public library, which contained significant biographical material. At Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, where the family had a summer cottage, I became totally immersed in my subject and swam a mile to see the house from the water. In nearby Petoskey (on Lake Michigan), the setting of The Torrents of Spring, I visited the rooming house where Hemingway lived in the fall of 1919, the public library where he lectured about the war, and Braun’s Restaurant, which was the model for Brown’s Beanery in the novel.

In Paris I traced Hemingway’s footsteps on the Left Bank and saw the Hotel Jacob, 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine, and 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, where he lived with his first wife, Hadley; Gertrude Stein’s flat at 27 rue de Fleurus; Sylvia Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, formerly on the rue de 1’Odé on; Gerald Murphy’s studio at 69 rue Froidevaux; and 6 rue Férou where Hemingway lived with his second wife, Pauline. Most of these places feature prominently in A Moveable Feast.

In Key West, a semitropical island that combines the characteristics of Nantucket and New Orleans, I toured Hemingway’s luxurious house, studio, garden, and swimming pool at 907 Whitehead Street, drank at Sloppy Joe’s bar, and saw the books and photographs in the Martello Historical Museum and the Monroe County Public Library. I obtained special permission to visit Cuba from the U.S.Treasury Department, got a visa from the Cuban interests section of the Czech Embassy in Washington, and found out about the expensive but unreliable charter flights from Miami. But when I learned that all of Hemingway’s Cuban friends were now living in Florida, it did not seem worth the considerable trouble (I had been plagued by the Communist bureaucracy in Prague and Budapest the previous summer) to see his home, the Finca Vigía, the Ambos Mundos Hotel, the Floridita Bar, and the fishing village of Cojimar. I relied on my knowledge of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Mexico (as well as Hemingway’s descriptions and several Cuban novels) to recreate the atmosphere of the country.

I visited the dreary town of Rochester, Minnesota, where few things begin and many things end, and inspected the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary’s Hospital, where Hemingway was locked up in the psychiatric unit on the sixth floor. Finally, I went to Ketchum, Idaho (12 miles from Hailey, where Pound was born), strolled around the bleak house at 400 Canyon Run Boulevard, where he shot himself, and paid homage at his grave, which is flattened by a tombstone so that tourists cannot steal the sacred dirt.


I saw Hemingway’s family and friends in New England, New York, Washington, Florida, Chicago, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Spain, France, and England. The 64 interviews I conducted were the most interesting and revealing part of my research, and my book was nourished by the memories of many friends. Most of the people I met seemed to enjoy the interview and turned it into a social occasion that included a meal or an overnight stay. The famous were as likely to respond as the obscure; it all depended on the attitude of the individual.

In Deerfield Beach, Florida, I spoke to Hemingway’s third sister, “Sunny,” the model for Littless in “The Last Good Country” and Helen in “Soldier’s Home.” She looks like Hemingway, adores him, and maintains a fiercely possessive attitude toward him. She complained about constantly being bothered by interviewers and urged me not to publish things that would hurt people. But she herself was extremely critical of others: her late sister Marcelline, a clubwoman who exploited the family name; Pauline, who treated Sunny like a servant; Gregory, who was hostile and irresponsible; Mary, who made her buy the Walloon Lake house after Hemingway had promised it to her; and Rice, who works hand in glove with Mary. Sunny had sold most of the family papers to Indiana University, but she still had Hemingway’s highschool themes and some letters to her—which she refused to show me. I thought of tying her up and reading these papers but decided that would be bad for her health and my reputation.

Hemingway’s youngest sister Carol wrote a hostile reply and at first declined to see me, though she lived quite close to Amherst. But she relented after I had visited Sunny and invited me to lunch. Unlike Sunny, Carol (who had adored her brother as a girl and a young woman) was quite critical of Hemingway. She categorically denied his story that she had been raped as a child and explained his irrational hostility to her marriage. He threatened that he would never again see Carol if she married John Gardner and, despite many friendly overtures from Carol, callously kept his word.

Patricia Hemingway, the first wife of his brother Leicester, met me in Washington and drove me to her house in Maryland. She had spent a decade mastering the history of the family and gave me her useful two-volume genealogy. She told me that she had been adopted by Uncle Tyler Hemingway (who got Ernest the job on the Kansas City Star), about the tribulations of her marriage to the feckless Leicester—who spent his life trying, and failing, to imitate Ernest—and about Leicester’s second marriage and suicide.

Martha Gellhorn, still extremely hostile to Hemingway, had quarreled with a friend of mine whom I had hoped would introduce me and was especially difficult to approach. I had missed her during a summer visit to England, when she was isolated in her Welsh cottage; and when I returned to London, she did not answer her phone. I went round to her flat in Cadogan Square, wrote a letter reminding her that we had corresponded about Wyndham Lewis’ portrait of her mother, and left it with the porter to slide under her door. Impressed by my dogged enterprise, Martha agreed to talk for an hour and a half. Tall and blond, with a good figure, soft skin, and sharp tongue, she was still strikingly attractive at 74. Her dislike of Bernice Kerfs book made her suspicious of my work. Though she insisted that she would get stomach pains if she discussed Hemingway, she compulsively poured out her venom about his slovenly habits and abusive behavior.

I spent an entire week with Hemingway’s three sons, who had followed their father’s footsteps and lit out for the territories in the West. Though Patrick and Jack said they would see me, I had not heard from Gregory and his wife Valerie, who knew Hemingway well at the end of his life. When I got to the airport, Valerie was there to pick me up, Gregory was home for the weekend from his medical practice in the isolated town of Jordan, and they invited me to stay at their house.

With them—-and a few others—I established a curious and immediate intimacy that sometimes developed when I discussed intensely personal matters. I knew almost everything about Hemingway’s life, and they apparently felt they could trust me. Within minutes we were talking about his sexual relations with Martha Gellhorn, and I soon learned the story of Gregory’s bitter quarrel with his father. But the visit also had some awkward incidents. When Valerie and I were talking about Gregory in the cabin behind the main house where I slept, he quietly walked up to the door and overheard our conversation. Just as I remarked: “That must have been very difficult for you,” a disembodied voice said: “Yes it was!” Like the biographer in The Aspern Papers, I felt that I had been caught in flagrante and was reduced to strained silence.

Luck and timing were often crucial factors. After attending an opera with Valerie and a younger friend, we went out for drinks, and he left to talk to some acquaintances at the bar. As Valerie was telling me the history of her friendship with Hemingway, the music was suddenly turned up very loud, and I moved closer to hear what she was saying. Just as I was about to discover the precise nature of her relationship with Hemingway, the friend returned and interrupted our conversation. Later, as our conversation inched back to the subject, I was able to find out what I wanted to know.

Patrick, whose house is filled with sporting equipment and animal trophies, is a sympathetic, interesting, and knowledgable man with a manic laugh. In our 12-hour talk he spoke of his serious illness in 1947, provided details of the second safari, and emphasized that alcoholism was the key to his father’s decline in the 1950’s.

Since there was no direct flight from Bozeman to Ketchum, I took a spectacular 350-mile drive, through the western edge of Yellowstone. Jack, who looks like a blond version of his father, is vigorous and frank—though less intellectual than his younger brothers. We drove in his jeep down a dirt road and through the wilderness—no people, houses, or cars—to a mountain stream, where he gathered shrimp for his trout pond from under the rocks: a trip that reminded me of the fishing expedition to Burguete in The Sun Also Rises. Jack’s daughters—Margaux and Mariel (named for a French wine and a Cuban fishing port)—were not at home in Ketchum. But I played tennis with Jack on his own court and was struck by how the 59-year-old Jack was so vital and healthy while his father seemed so old when he died at the age of 61.Talking to Hemingway’s sons (disinherited by their father, who left everything to Mary) also revealed the family quarrels: Hemingway with his parents, his sisters Marcelline and Carol, his brother Leicester, and his son Gregory; his sons with Mary; Mary with A.E.Hotchner.

Hemingway’s doctors were particularly difficult to see, and every one of them refused to answer questions about him.(I failed to convince his sons to obtain his medical records from the Mayo Clinic.) I was therefore surprised and delighted when Dr. Lynn Levy, a Hemingway enthusiast and friend of Jack’s, invited me to a superb dinner of wild duck, and his partner Dr. George Saviers appeared as a fellow guest. Though the discussion of Hemingway was inevitably constrained, I did learn more about his injuries from the African plane crash of 1954, his admission to the Mayo clinic, and Mary’s life after his death. The week out West, amidst perfect weather and magnificent scenery, was one of the best experiences I ever had, for I had fascinating conversations and learned a great deal.


It is common, when writing a biography, to become fascinated by certain figures in the subject’s life who take on an independent existence and seem worthy of a full-length study. I became absorbed in the character and career of “Chink” Dorman-Smith, whom Hemingway met in Milan on Armistice Day, 1918, and who became one of his closest friends. While searching for information about Chink in the histories of World War II, I came across an excellent chapter about him in Correlli Barnett’s The Desert Generals. Barnett gave me the address of Chink’s son Christopher, who kindly invited me to spend a long weekend at his home in Northumberland. He explained his father’s unusual nickname and how Chink had won the Military Cross in the Great War; confirmed the influence of Kipling on Chink’s character and values; showed me many unpublished letters from Hemingway and inscribed copies of his earliest books as well as Chink’s annotations in the memoirs of World War II.I learned more about Chink from Field Marshal Lord Harding, Montgomery’s biographer Nigel Hamilton, and the military historian M.R.D.Foot as well as from unpublished papers at King’s College of London University, Manchester University Library, the Imperial War Museum, and the Royal Military Academy Library at Sandhurst. From all these sources, I was able to show that Chink was a major influence on Hemingway, who refers to Chink in ten of his works and that the destruction of Chink’s career after he had drawn up the battle plans for the victory at the First Battle of Alamein was the direct inspiration and covert subject of Across the River and into the Trees.

Another brilliant military hero, also neglected in Baker’s biography, was Gustavo Duran. A composer who became a Loyalist general in the Spanish Civil War, he was praised (as no other contemporary was ever praised by Hemingway) in chapter 30 of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Like Chink, Duran had a fascinating and little-known career after his life diverged from Hemingway’s in 1944.I tried to trace Durán’s family through the United Nations, where he had worked from 1946 until his death in 1969, but they were most unhelpful and did not even provide the address of his widow. In desperation, I wrote to the historian Hugh Thomas, who suggested I contact his friend Brian Urquhart, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, about the scandalous obstructions I had encountered. Urquhart gave me the address of Durán’s widow, Bonte, in Cambridge, England. She was eager to see me and to help; had many of Durán’s papers, photographs, and articles; gave me lunch and spoke to me for eight hours. She provided precise details of Durán’s life, his role in Hemingway’s Cuban spy network, and his prolonged persecution by Senator Joe McCarthy. She had a painfully clear recollection of her encounters with Hemingway and Martha when their friendship with Duran had deteriorated and Bonte was their guest in Havana.

Brian Urquhart also put me in touch with Sven Welander at the United Nations archives in Geneva, who provided information about Durán’s career in Chile, the Congo, and Greece.After Long Silence, by Durán’s brother-in-law Michael Straight, had some interesting if unreliable material about the strikingly handsome soldier, whose photograph I used in my book. All this information was supplemented by extensive interviews with Durán’s sister-in-law, Dr. Belinda Straight, in Washington; his daughters, Lucy and Jane, in London; and his brother, Ernesto, in Madrid. Coincidentally, Chink’s close friend Basil Liddell Hart introduced Gustavo to Bonte at Dartington Hall in 1939, just after Duran had escaped from Spain at the end of the Civil War.

I tracked down the documentary-film-maker Joris Ivens, who made The Spanish Earth with Hemingway in 1937, through the Dutch Consulate in New York. Though old and frail, suffering from asthma and from a recent hip operation, he was mentally vigorous and in his Paris flat spoke for several hours about the problems of filming during the Civil War, his quarrel with Orson Welles, his friendship with Martha Gellhorn, and described how Hemingway wrote and spoke the filmscript.

Another crucial and charismatic character, the wild and beautiful Jane Mason, who had been Hemingway’s mistress in the 1930’s, was also extremely difficult to trace. Jane’s fourth husband, Arnold Gingrich, had been the editor of Esquire, and I tried to find her through the magazine. They could not help me, but one of the former staff members, Harold Hayes, thought Jane lived in Bergen County, New Jersey. After many phone calls and letters (for Mason is a common name), I finally found that Jane had died in 1981 and that her son Antony lived in Tuxedo Park, New York. During a weekend at Antony’s house, I looked at Jane’s photographs, scrapbooks, and clippings, and saw home movies of Hemingway on his boat, the Pilar. I also read Jane’s diary for the summer of 1934, which recorded her frequent engagements with Hemingway while her husband Grant was away on business.

I always felt it was worth meeting everyone who was willing to see me (I conducted only one telephone interview), for informants sometimes were quite different than I expected and often provided a single but crucial bit of information. While lecturing at the Library of Congress in the spring of 1984, I interviewed Evangeline Bruce, widow of the OSS colonel David Bruce. Though she had attended Hemingway’s 60th birthday party in Malaga, she could not remember much about him. But she did give me the address in London of Henry Fonda’s fourth wife Afdera, who was a lifelong friend of Hemingway’s Italian love, Adriana Ivancich. Though Afdera forgot our appointment and was asleep when I arrived, she soon woke up, talked like a rocket, and confirmed (as I had suspected) that Adriana’s suicide in 1983 was somehow connected to her involvement with Hemingway. Afdera explained that Adriana had had a nervous breakdown, drank heavily, quarreled with her second husband, was estranged from her sons, and was deeply depressed by the failure of her book about Hemingway-—a sad attempt to revive the past in order to compensate for the present.

The nature of Hemingway’s relations with the bullfighters Antonio Ordonez and Luis-Miguel Dominguín, whose personal and professional rivalry inspired “The Dangerous Summer” articles that appeared in Life in September 1960, had never been explained. I wanted to know what these two matadors thought of Hemingway, of his knowledge of Spain, of Spanish, and of bullfighting. I found their contradictory answers to my questions revealed as much about Ordonez and Dominguín as about Hemingway.

I had written twice to Ordonez but received no reply. Still, when I phoned him from Marbella he was extremely friendly and responsive, and suggested we meet at the Hotel Inglaterra in the Plaza Nueva in Seville. He was charming and kind—the very qualities he praised in Hemingway. But he was unusually discreet and careful not to criticize his friend, and his brief answers tended to close off rather than develop the conversation.

The American novelist and screen writer Peter Viertel arranged my interview with Dominguín at his ranch near Andújar, three hours east of Seville. I drove several kilometers from the gate—past grazing bulls, a small bull ring, a few guest houses, and an enormous dammed river—to a circular stone hunting lodge on top of a mountain. As with Ordonez, I conducted the interview in Spanish. Dominguín had a world weary and dissipated look. He wore a knit shirt and shorts, and his legs were badly scarred with horn wounds. Cool and distant, much more critical of Hemingway than Ordonez, he had not, like his brother-in-law and rival, been willing to play the son’s role. He was still bitter about Hemingway’s partiality to Ordonez and about his criticism of Dominguín in “The Dangerous Summer” and said: “He never gave me any advice or encouragement about writing my memoirs. I threw away all his letters because I fear paper even more than I fear bulls.”

Winston Guest, Archibald MacLeish and Leicester Hemingway had died in 1982, just before I began my research; and Adriana Ivancich, Toby Bruce, Robert Joyce, Joseph Losey, Joan Miró, and Irwin Shaw passed away while I was writing the book. I was probably the last person to talk to most of them about Hemingway.


I also had the good fortune to discover, partly as a result of the interviews, three important documents—psychological, political, and historical—about Hemingway’s life. In 1934, while Dr. Lawrence Kubie was treating Jane Mason after her suicide attempt, he was commissioned by the Saturday Review to write a psychoanalytic study of Hemingway. There was some acrimonious correspondence when Hemingway discovered this essay and managed to suppress it. After searching through Kubie’s collected works, I contacted his colleague Dr. Eugene Brody, who put me in touch with Kubie’s daughter, Anne Rabinowitz. She very kindly gave me copies of Kubie’s essay and his correspondence with the editor of the Saturday Review, his lawyers, Charles Scribner, and Hemingway, and she gave me permission to publish the essay, with my introduction, in the spring 1984 issue of American Imago.

I made the most interesting find by using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the FBI file on Hemingway (as well as on Pound and Duran). These fascinating documents revealed that J.Edgar Hoover conducted a personal vendetta against Hemingway after the novelist had founded a rival spy network in Cuba during World War II, pursued him for the next 18 years to the doors of the Mayo Clinic—Hemingway was quite sane when he said he was being followed by the FBI—and kept the file active until 13 years after Hemingway’s death. These revelations, which I published in the New York Review of Books on March 31, 1983, had wide repercussions. The article was translated into Italian and Portuguese, reprinted in Australia, and parodied in the Nation. The New York Times story about my article was picked up by the wire services, was reprinted on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, and appeared in scores of newspapers in America, London, Hamburg, Milan, and Sydney. I was interviewed a dozen times and gave a short summary of my findings to two million viewers on CBS-TV morning news. The discovery of the FBI file brought the publishers back to life. On the morning the Times story appeared, two firms offered me infinitely more money than I - had accepted from Harper & Row. A week later, my brief moment of fame had passed.

An American Council of Learned Societies grant enabled me to complete the biography in the stimulating atmosphere of London. Though this seems an unusual place to write about an American novelist, I made many valuable discoveries while living there. From talking to Patrick Hemingway and writing to Mario Menocal, Jr.and Denis Zaphiro, I gathered several hints about a mysterious scandal, involving adultery and suicide, which took place in Kenya at the beginning of the century and which Hemingway heard about from his white hunter Philip Percival in 1934.By searching the London Times index, I came across a reference to the case in 1909 and followed it up in the Public Record Office at Kew. I discovered the full and hitherto suppressed story in the handwritten documents that had been sent that year from Kenya to the Colonial Office. In the London Magazine of November 1983, I explained what happened on that ill-fated safari and how Hemingway transformed the actual events into one of his greatest stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

In London I was also able to interview the film directors Joseph Losey and Fred Zinnemann, the Labour M.P. Michael Foot, and the authority on Spain Gerald Brenan. I learned other things from chance remarks at a dinner party. One evening, a friend of Martha’s confided that she had some astonishing information about Martha’s marriage to Hemingway but could not possibly disclose it. Of course I rang her up the next day and, after a long conversation, persuaded to reveal her secret. While living in London, I lectured on Hemingway at the Royal Society of Literature, wrote about him in the Literary Review and Critical Quarterly, and aroused publishers’ interest in securing the English rights to the book. At the Hemingway conference in Madrid in June 1984 I interviewed Ernesto Duran and Hemingway’s Italian translator Fernanda Pivano, and saw many places—Bar Chicote on the Gran Via and restaurant El Callejon on calle Ternera—that were associated with Hemingway.


When I first began the biography, I hoped to write a livelier and more analytical book than Baker’s. I thought Hemingway’s life had been exhaustively examined in the 17 memoirs published since his death and did not expect to make any startling discoveries. But my archival research, extensive correspondence, and personal interviews produced a surprising amount of new material about Hemingway’s wound in the Great War, the background of the Greco-Turkish War, his friendship with Chink Dorman-Smith, his periods of impotence, his quarrel with Carol Hemingway, his affair with Jane Mason (the model for Margot Macomber and Helène Bradley in To Have and Have Not), his friendship with Gustavo Duran, the lesbianism of Jinny and Pauline Pfeiffer, his Cuban friends, his sexual problems with Martha Gellhorn, her supposed liaison with the jai-alai player Felix Areitio, his relations with Adriana Ivancich, his bitter fight with Gregory, his admiration for Slim Hayward and Jigee Viertel, his second African safari, his relations with Ordonez and Dominguín, his affair with Valerie Danby-Smith, his medical problems and treatment at the Mayo Clinic, the reasons for his suicide, and the aftermath of his death. I also explored the literary influence of writers outside the American tradition— Tolstoy, Kipling, Conrad, Joyce, D.H.Lawrence, and T.E. Lawrence—and offered new interpretations of several major works: “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” To Have and Have Not, Across the River and into the Trees, and A Movable Feast.

I tried to portray the evolution of several different and distinct Hemingways, for he changed greatly from the confident genius of the twenties and the swaggering hero of the thirties to the drunken braggart of the forties and the sad wreck of the late fifties. But certain significant patterns, which recurred throughout his life, showed a consistency of character. He fell in love during wartime, became involved with his future wives while still married to his present ones, sought a scapegoat and reversed reality to fit his personal mythology, blamed others for his own faults, quarreled with those who helped him, had several military heroes— Dorman-Smith in the Great War, Duran in the Spanish War, Buck Lanham in World War II—and adopted a number of substitute sons: his younger brother Leicester, Gianfranco Ivancich, Antonio Ordonez, and A.E.Hotchner. At the end of his life he tried to repeat his earlier triumphs by returning to Africa, Paris, and Spain and by falling in love with two 19-year-old girls.

The biographer is an investigative reporter of the spirit who enjoys the excitement of detection and discovery. By the time I completed the book—writing a hundred pages a month for seven months—I felt I knew not only Hemingway’s tastes and habits but also how he would think and act in any situation. Hemingway was not always an attractive man, but his faults were an essential part of his character and he would be a far less interesting and exciting writer if he had been, for example, as perfectly polite as Archibald MacLeish. Though most books published after his death describe him as a boorish bully, I portray him as a surprisingly sensitive, pensive, and intellectual artist.


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Les Clements's picture
Les Clements · 6 years ago

amazing research 

two stories 

Father flew Hemingway to a posh party on Lyford Cay and walked up to the main house with him. They were told that boat captains ( and seaplane pilots) had to stay at the boat house. Hemingway went to the boathouse and played cards and drank with the crews all night and never appeared at the party, where he was the guest of honor.

Hazy memory of Mary calling father by then an Eastern Airlines pilot  in the mid 60s and offering to sell  him the Finca for $25,000, we'd still not have good title. 

Father was briefly 1/2 of the Cuban Airforce with Len Povey in the 1930s, recall many stories from my childhood, several of which I have confirmed at the UTD aviation collection, not that I ever doubted them.


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