When Gary Cooper became embroiled in a torrid love affair with Patricia Neal—somewhat ironically—Hemingway was the one he talked to about it and the much married Hemingway encouraged him to return to his wife and family. Eventually Cooper did.
Hem and Gary fished and rode together; Hemingway was always pulling a cigarette away from Cooper telling him they were going to kill him; Cooper was very close to Hemingway’s son Jack; Hemingway and Cooper both went into eclipse at roughly the same time, i.e. from 1945 to perhaps 1950 and then came roaring back strong.
Hemingway came back with The Old Man and the Sea and Cooper came back with High Noon. Cooper was always surprised by Hemingway’s celebrity since it’s rare for a writer to be flocked by fans and Hemingway admired Cooper’s authenticity and the fact that he was far more intellectual than he would let on. It served his purpose to be thought to be the man of few words and “everyman” who rose to heroics on occasion. In fact, he was an intellectual of some depth. When Hemingway was depressed toward the end of the 50s, Cooper tried to find projects that would perk him up such as bringing Across the River and into the Trees and some of the short stories to life in movie or tv form.
When Cooper heard that Hemingway was in two plane crash, he was driving with his daughter Maria and almost swerved off the road, according to Maria. He was shaken to his core and immediately turned around to get to a phone to find out if there was any more news about his and Mary’s fate. When Jimmy Stewart accepted the academy award for career achievement on Gary Cooper’s behalf in January 1961, he was emotional.
Few knew that Cooper was extremely sick with pancreatic cancer. Gary hid it from all except family for a year. Hemingway was devastated. When Coop called for what both knew was their last call, neither acknowledged the sorrow or the extremis that both were in albeit in different ways. Coop closed by saying, “I bet I’ll beat you to the barn.” Hemingway sunk even lower into despair.
Gary Cooper died of cancer on May 13, 1961. Hemingway was in no condition to attend the funeral. Hadley, Hemingway’s first and most beloved wife, knew something was truly wrong with Hemingway when she read that he did not attend Coop’s funeral. She sent him a note that expressed fear for him and begged him to contact her. He didn’t. Hemingway died by his own hand six weeks later on July 2, 1961.
Condolences rolled in for both of them as if they were heads of state and the impact was felt worldwide. There aren’t many actors or writers who elicit that response today. See “The True Gen.” It’s beautiful.
THE TRUE GEN: HEMINGWAY’S PHRASE FOR DISTINGUISHING THE REAL FROM THE FAKE, THE GENUINE ARTICLE FROM THE PHONY
I re-watched The True Gen, a documentary about Hemingway’s relationship with Gary Cooper. It’s narrated by the wonderful Sam Waterston and has fantastic footage of Idaho and of both men.
They seem like polar opposites: The cowboy from out West in Helena, Montana, and the suburbanite born in Oak Park, Illinois; the world’s greatest actor of his era and the world’s most imitated and celebrated writer perhaps of the 20th century; the conservative (Cooper) and the liberal (Hemingway); and yet they became the closest of friends. Cooper was one of the few close friends that Hemingway never had any lasting falling out with. Hem claims he wrote the character Robert Jordan (For Whom the Bell Tolls) with Cooper in mind. He also appeared in A Farewell to Arms.
They met on September 28, 1940 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Both men were at their peak. Hemingway, who had no use for Hollywood stars and did not seek out celebrity, had always wanted to meet Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper, the taciturn, very polite westerner, had always wanted to meet Hemingway. His friends were surprised to hear that he wanted to meet the allegedly boorish, womanizing, drunken Hemingway.
Nevertheless, he did want to meet him and he found Hemingway to be shy, self-effacing, fun, very different from what he had been led to believe. He could be boorish and he certainly could be drunk, but he often wasn’t. As Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria said, if Hemingway were the way he was portrayed in the press, i.e. a double-fisted drinking lout, her father would not have gotten along with him or liked him because her father was not that way. Hemingway was attracted to Cooper’s true devotion to a lack of artifice.
Gary Cooper was a genuine westerner who grew up on a ranch and on a horse. It’s no wonder that he looked good as The Virginian or in High Noon. He also had a real talent in art and began attending an art institute. He was sidetracked on his way through California to his next school, when he stopped in Hollywood and saw a few of his friends from ranches near home who had become stuntmen. He thought he could do that because he really could ride a horse and in short order, he became a stuntman. With his tall lanky good looks, he was given a small part in a film but he’d shone brightly and shortly thereafter was cultivated into a star.
Hemingway never complete high school. He tried to enlist in the service in 1916 but his eyesight was so bad that he was rejected. He qualified however to be the ambulance driver, which he did in Italy. He was wounded and it forever shaped his view of war, courage, and concern about senseless violence.
Cooper and Hemingway met regularly over the years. At times, Cooper’s wife Rocky recoiled from Hemingway’s bad behavior. Coop just shook his head but rarely was affected by it. Further with just a look, he could make Hemingway behave in a best version of himself. One example given was when Cooper and Hemingway with their families were staying at a hotel, and a young employee at the hotel interrupted Hemingway when he was writing. When he saw the young man later in the day, Hem really chewed him out. He was so harsh that Rocky, Cooper’s wife, said she wasn’t going to continue the trip. With very few words, Cooper took Hemingway aside. Hemingway then humbly apologized to the assistant and went so far as the next day to give him a large tip and apologize again. Hemingway came back to the car after the apology and said to Cooper, “Are you happy now you long-legged son of bitch?” It was said in good humor and Cooper just nodded. The trip continued.
UPDATE: At around 1 p.m. PST, Dave Gonzales, executive director of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, confirmed to CNN that he and nine other employees were staying through the fierce winds and rain expected with Hurricane Irma, saying the legendary author’s 1851 house, with its 18-inch-thick limestone walls is “the strongest fortress in all the Florida Keys.” Original story follows:
Actress Mariel Hemingway thinks it’s noble that the 72-year-old general manager of her grandfather’s historic Key West home wants to stay and try to safeguard the property and its famous six-toed feline residents as Hurricane Irma comes barreling in.
“I think you’re wonderful and an admirable person for trying to stay there and to try to save the cats and the house,” the Academy Award-winning actress said in a video posted by TMZ.
“This is frightening. This hurricane is a big deal,” she said, adding that she should, yes, save the cats if she can.
“Get in the car with the cats and take off,” she said.
The legendary author’s home, where he wrote “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” is in the path of Irma, which is now categorized as a category 4 hurricane and is expected to hit the Florida Keys and other parts of southern Florida Saturday evening.
General manager Sands is tasked with securing the property and ensuring the safety of the 55 cats that freely roam there. Many of the cats are believed to be descendants of the author’s cat Snow White and have the distinctive six and seven toes on one paw.
Sands won’t be there alone with the cats. She’ll be joined by nine other employees, who have helped to stock up on food, water and medication for the cats and to board up windows and doors. They also have three generators to keep the power and air conditioning going. The other employees couldn’t leave because either they don’t have a car or couldn’t find a flight out, she said.
That confidence was echoed by the museum’s executive director Dave Gonzales, who told the Houston Chronicle that the 1851 French colonial home has 18-inch thick limestone walls that allow it to withstand dangerous storms.
“This isn’t our first hurricane. We’re here to stay,” Gonzalez said.
In an interview with CNN Friday afternoon, he added that at 16 feet above sea level, the house is not in a flood zone. As for the cats, he said they are adept at surviving storms, and the home has never lost a cat to a hurricane.
“Cats know naturally when to go. As soon as the barometric pressure drops, they come in,” Gonzalez said. “They know before humans do when it’s time to get in.”
But Mariel Hemingway isn’t so confident and points out that “it’s just a house.”
She acknowledged that “none of us likes to lose things we treasure” but “ultimately you’ve got to protect your life.”
Hemingway then referred to that famous idea espoused by her grandfather in his prose.
“Courage is grace under pressure,” she said. In this case, “I think this is taking things a little too far.”
Abbe Driver wrote a post recently about why having a “boring” routine is a key to creativity. It was printed in www.refinery29.uk, if you wish to view the original. Interesting! Best, Christine
People who don’t write usually think that fiction writers get inspiration and then begin to scribble when that inspiration hits. While there can be patches of that lightening striking, most of the time it’s being disciplined enough to sit down and write, discard what doesn’t work, and keep what does. Before I started writing, I thought that you sat by a sunny window and ideas floated in for the seizing, but that’s not how it works for most of us.
Novelist Haruki Murakami gets up at 4:00 a.m. each day and writes for five hours. He then runs a few miles and swims a few miles and spends his evening listening to music or reading. His bedtime is set at 9:00 p.m. He told The Paris Review that repetition becomes the important thing. “It’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Those who read this blog regularly know that Hemingway awoke early when he was writing (at about 6:00 a.m.) and would write until the early afternoon. He’d then take a swim or relax and that was it for the day. He didn’t like to stop until he knew what was going to come next. However, he kept that schedule when he was writing and didn’t vary much from it. He usually cut down on his drinking while working on a novel.
Kurt Vonnegut made sure he did his pushups and sit-ups each day. Maya Angelou writes from a specially decorated hotel room she keeps solely for that purpose.
While this isn’t a very deep conclusion, it nevertheless seems to be true: by keeping routines, your creativity can funnel into the work as opposed to scattering into thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or do next. It’s a little like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs wearing only black uniforms. None of their creativity has /had to go into wardrobe selections for the day.
As Ms. Driver noted in her article, we don’t like to think about this boring routine resulting in some masterpieces or at least in some decent novels. “There is nothing sexy about sitting at your laptop and putting in cold, hard time; far more alluring is the wild-haired genius who doesn’t have to try. But that is deeply flawed logic and a dangerous belief to hold… Routines might work, but they don’t jive with our cultural obsession with the talented prodigy.”
Another observation was that having a routine guarantees you some down time. “Whether you’re doing yoga, listening to jazz or relaxing in the bath, making time for activities which aren’t too cognitively taxing allows your brain to shift gears.”
Gustave Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
I’m writing this article based on an article by Karen Heller, dated June 23, that she published in The Washington Post. I’m quoting significantly from her but please read her original in The Post.
The American Writers Museum just opened in Chicago. It is the brainchild of Malcolm O’Hagan, 77, an Irishman who had the idea for this museum about eight years ago. It’s “a very visual place, a social environment where people interact.” There is a reading room for children and another for adults, play tables with catchy graphics that purport to go inside the mind of the writer and the use of music and film to make some points. Scents highlight the work of M.F.K. Fisher (strawberry jam) and James Beard (onions). On display are a pair of vintage Royal typewriters that invite visitors to type and create a story.
There are 11,000 square feet of galleries. The museum cost almost $10 million to get off the ground, an amount that includes substantial funding from the Washington D.C. co-founders and friends. The founders chose not to use the donations to create a dazzling building. Rather, they are hoping that the museum grows in phases with a permanent building later, or perhaps not.
The founder is an Irishman who was reared in Yeates country. Mr. O’Hagan emigrated to the U.S. in 1968. “Growing up in Ireland, I loved the American writers—Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway—that made me love America.” Co-founder Lawyer Werner Hein, 74, grew up in Germany after the War and noted that America caught his imagination through the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and Hemingway. Hein and O’Hagan met in Washington D.C. where they are members of a writing club. They noted that there is no place in America that specifically honors the nation’s authors. The third co-founder is business executive Jay Hammer, 62, and also a book club colleague.
All three grappled with where to put this museum. Chicago has a fine tradition of writers and is in the center to the country. It’s the original home of Hemingway. The Director of Operations, Christopher Burrow, noted that “books can be kind of stale. We’re trying to bring them back to life.”
The Writers Hall honors 100 “significant” writers of fiction and non-fiction. They’ve tried to include diversity, women, and varied styles. Honors have been bestowed on Tupac Shakur, Julie Child, Richard Pryor and Herman Melville among the many others. So, Chicago is now home to a “dream born of Mr. O’Hagan’s Irish ardor for the American language and the written word.” The next project: Turning the restrooms into additional gallery space while still keeping them functioning as bathrooms.
So if in Chicago, check it out. It looks very intriguing to me.
Ms. Keller is a national General Features writer for Style. You can follow her on Twitter @kheller.
Hemingway owned a house in Ketchum, Idaho at the time of his death. He killed himself there and he was buried in Ketchum. He lived simply in that home with few adornments.
The ownership of the house after his death was gifted by his wife, Mary, to the Nature Conservancy. It was a modest two story 2,500 square foot house which he loved. The Nature Conservancy just transferred the house as a gift to the Community Library, a privately funded public library. The library has indicated that an apartment in the house will be renovated for a residency program for visiting writers, scholars and artists. The house still has many of Hemingway’s personal possessions and some will be put on display at the Sun Valley Museum of History.
Hemingway owned the house from April 1959 until his death, July 1961, at the age of 61. The house was given by Mary Hemingway to the Nature Conservancy with the restriction that it was precluded from operating as a public museum. The Nature Conservancy used the house as a field office before outgrowing it. The property is 13.9 acres and while the property is worth millions, the house is “small and outdated compared with the mega mansions common in the area.”
The Carr Foundation supplied the money to make the purchase of the Hemingway house by the Community Library possible. It appears that philanthropist Gregory Carr, who was born in Idaho and owns a home in the Ketchum area, made the donation. Jenny Emery Davidson, who is the executive director of the library, noted that “people are interested in Hemingway but the people who have stepped up so far are people who care about Idaho.” She also said the house is a perfect fit for the library, which has a regional history division, and is keen to promote the area’s literary icon. The house will not be open to the public like Hemingway’s other homes in Key West and Havana, but there will be some access. (At this time people cannot enter the house in Havana but can view it from the outside. It’s being restored and it is unclear if there will be access to the interior in time.)
Davidson noted that “we plan to treat it as a home. Sometimes people invite small groups of people to their home.”
So time moves on but Ketchum, Idaho maintains its love and respect for the Hemingway property.
Guest Post by Augustine Himmel: Very thought provoking. Augustine details his personal journey through Hemingway study. I added a few photos.
Praying for Hemingway
July 01, 2017
In graduate school, a friend and I, both Hemingway aficionados, would try to stump each other by quoting lines from the famous writer’s fiction. I had a bit of an advantage because I was a few years older than my rival and had already taught Hemingway to high school students. And so, familiar with even obscure works like “A Man of the World,” which adolescents enjoyed, I never lost one of our good-natured contests. Yet despite my devotion to the Nobel Laureate, I never thought two decades later I’d be praying for his soul.
My devotion influenced my first published story, “The Man Who Thought He Was Hemingway,” and the summer after graduate school another friend and I made a pilgrimage to northern Michigan, retracing the steps young Ernest would have taken when vacationing with his family. We went to Walloon Lake in Petoskey, to Horton Bay where he loved to fish, and then on to the Upper Peninsula, to Seney and the nearby Fox, a.k.a. “Big Two-Hearted” River. After visiting Hemingway shrines during the day we would spend our evenings in the local taverns, and then around 2:30 a.m., back in the tent while my poor friend tried to sleep, I would turn on a flashlight and read Hemingway stories aloud as if they were Compline.
I was not Catholic then and had never heard of Compline; I did not know the Scripture verses prayed at night were selected by the church to encourage peace in the soul. Yet in my own fumbling way I sought this peace through what I was reading. And to some extent, I succeeded. For it is impossible to encounter the best of Hemingway’s stories, “Indian Camp” or “Now I Lay Me,” “The Undefeated” or “In Another Country,” without being soothed by their transcendence. Fiction is not divinely inspired, but Ralph Ellison thought so much of “In Another Country” he could recite its opening paragraph verbatim.
A few years after that pilgrimage I converted to Catholicism, and as I tried to move closer to God I found myself moving away from Hemingway. For a long time, before, during and after graduate school, I did not have any faith—in spite of having been blessed with a solid Lutheran upbringing. In retrospect I partially blamed the man who, in The Sun Also Rises, taught me “a bottle of wine was good company.” I knew my atheism had been a response to my mother’s rheumatoid arthritis, which struck her at 55 and turned her into an old woman overnight. I had watched her exhaustingly take care of her own mother, afflicted with the same disease, and the irony of my mother’s suffering, commencing just a year after my grandmother’s death, could not be reconciled with a loving God.
Still, hadn’t Hemingway also played a role? In addition to the lousy example he set as a hard-drinking womanizer, hadn’t he, in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” penned the nihilistic and blasphemous lines of the old waiter? They are as sharp and clear as anything he ever wrote:
It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nadaus ournada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.
As a writer, I understood a character’s words and actions cannot be ascribed to their author. The old waiter is a fictional invention. He is not Hemingway any more than the Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is Flannery O’Connor—even if the Misfit’s lament, “I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment,” might well have been echoed by O’Connor or my mother and grandmother. More importantly, the old waiter’s insomnia could be viewed as resulting from his nihilism, and a reader could interpret the tale as a condemnation of that philosophy. Nonetheless, those lines from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” haunted me. I felt guilty for having taught that story to impressionable students.
So I avoided Hemingway like the other fishermen avoid Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. Now, however, roughly a decade later, I realize I did so out of ignorance. I had bought into the myth of Hemingway propagated by our culture and, indeed, many of his biographers, rather than the truth revealed in his life and work. Far from being a nihilist, he had an interest in Catholicism even before his 1927 marriage to Pauline, and though he practiced the faith imperfectly, to say the least—four wives, several affairs—it always remained important to him and permeates much of his fiction. Santiago, after all, means St. James, and in 1954 Hemingway formally presented his Nobel Prize Medal to Our Lady of Charity, the Patroness of Cuba.
Yet I do not pray for Hemingway because he was Catholic, but rather because through his writing he has been a friend of mine, and in 1961, two years before I was born, he put the twin barrels of a shotgun against his forehead and committed suicide. He had received electro-shock treatments to combat depression, and these, combined with the serious concussions he had previously suffered, left him unable to think clearly, much less pursue the craft for which he won the Nobel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that psychological factors like this can mitigate one’s culpability. Furthermore, it says: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (No. 2283).
In short, there is hope for Ernest Hemingway, for all suicides, and this hope is rooted in God’s timelessness as well as his mercy. Our prayers are effective because everything stands before God in an ever-present now. God has always known that I would offer prayers in 2017 for that terrible moment in 1961. He can, therefore, assign the grace of those prayers to Hemingway in that moment, in the final millisecond of life after the trigger was pulled. My petitions before God, even 56 years after Hemingway’s death, can foster a disposition of the writer’s soul that will lead to salvation.
Dorothy Day understood this and prayed frequently for suicides, and we should do the same. These are souls on the margins, spiritual outcasts in need of our compassion. We should have Masses said for them, pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for them and offer up our trials so they may attain the beatific vision. And whether we are tied to them by kinship, friendship, admiration for their brilliant writing, or just the metaphysical bond of our shared humanity, we must trust in the boundless love of God whom we know “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4).
More: Spirituality / Books
Augustine Himmel’s stories have been published in the Beloit Fiction Journal, South Carolina Review, Long Story, Arizona Mandala and other publications. He is currently shopping around his literary novel, If I Needed You.
Those of you who follow this blog may recall my post about the simplification of some of the classics for children. As I mentioned, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, among others was put into “simple” language.
This week, a federal judge ruled that the publisher of these popular kids’ versions are infringing on the copyrights of the famous novelists. The idea was to make literary classics accessible to children as young as six. However, the estates of four literary lions (Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Kerouac’s On the Road, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) joined Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House in a suit after the publisher of the kiddy books refused earlier demands to stop publishing.
The ruling was clear that this was an infringement on the copyright holders’ rights to exercise control of the publication of their works. KinderGuide Books, the division of Moppet Books that published the child versions of the classic, plans to appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.
KinderGuide however is continuing to move forward in publishing children’s editions of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Homer’s The Odyssey, as well as biographies of Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. The publisher had originally planned to do child versions of 50 classic novels, but given the legal challenges it’s facing, it has already dropped plans to publish illustrated versions of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Catcher in the Rye was published (sort of) by KinderGuides’ co-founder Frederik Colting in 2009 when Colting published an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye in the United Kingdom entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. In 2011, just before his death, J.D. Salinger obtained a court order blocking the book from ever being published in the U.S.
So for the moment, the simplification, or as some have called it, the “dumbing down” of these classics has been halted.
BELOW MY DECEMBER 2016 POST ABOUT THIS
Four classics so far have been made child friendly by KinderGuides: On The Road, by Jack Kerouac; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote; Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The stories have been dramatically abbreviated and have large, colorful illustrations. Among the next four classics to be published by KinderGuides are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Bear in mind, these are being read to 6 to 12-year olds. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, blessedly omits the drugs, prostitutes and wild parties.
Forbes just published an article by Frank Miniter entitled “A Startling Example of How the Politically Correct Currents Pull Strongly Toward Mediocrity.” It starts out asking if Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, actually can be watered down for young readers, noting that the great dumbing down of the American mind isn’t just underway, but has become a parody of itself.
The KinderGuides’ version of The Old Man and the Sea begins with, “Santiago is an old fisherman who lives in a small village by the sea, on an island called Cuba. Every day he takes his boat far out into the ocean to catch fish. But after 84 days of trolling, he hasn’t caught any fish at all. He is sad.”
Frank Miniter’s article notes further that The Old Man and the Sea is a concise novella as it is, exploring man’s struggle, not just with a fish, but with his mortality. The prose in the original is hardly difficult. The real Hemingway begins, “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulfstream and he had gone eighty-four days now without a fish.” If the word ‘skiff’ is a new and challenging word, there is always the dictionary. At the Forbes article goes on to note, the theme of a man’s struggling, knowing his body is failing him and that inevitably he will be a tragic figure, but that nevertheless he must face his mortality with grace, regardless, is lost in the KinderGuides’ version.
Miniter writes, “Instead of raising children’s knowledge and understanding of these things, this is another example of watering down the education of our youth. Should great paintings also be simplified into cartoon characters? How about plays and music?”
Ernest Hemingway, the legendary author and tortured Nobel laureate, is known for works like “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Old Man and The Sea.”
His image was that of a bold adventurer and world traveler. He was an avid big game hunter, often posing next to his prey in pictures.
There’s another — and perhaps more relatable — side to the legendary author, though. It’s one of an awkward teenage suitor trying desperately to impress a girl who captured his high school heart.
Her name was Frances Elizabeth Coates. She sang opera and went to the same Oak Park, Illinois high school Hemingway attended. He played cello at the time and was enamored by Coates and her love of art.
Coates’ granddaughter, Betsy Fermano, lives in Marblehead, Mass. She kept Hemingway’s letters to her grandmother since Coates’ death in 1988. She seals the letters in a quart-sized plastic bag and was keeping them in a trunk. She only recently started dropping them off in a vault at a nearby bank when she learned they could be of value. They’re slightly yellowed but in surprisingly good condition for papers that are essentially a century old.
“I remember my grandmother telling me about these letters, and she was very embarrassed to talk about her relationship with Ernest Hemingway — or Ernie as she always called him,” says the retired fundraising and development executive. “Because they were really close friends … and I guess Ernie wasn’t with, so I’ve heard, a lot of women, and he was really close to my grandmother, to Frances, and they spent a lot of time together.”
Elder (A Hemingway Scholar) says the preservation of Hemingway’s letters is remarkable.
“Letters from that era — from 1918, 1919 — outside the family are extremely rare,” he explained. “It’s just his voice. He is just sort of free and flirtatious with her because he’s not writing to family.”
A portion of a letter written by Ernest Hemingway to Frances Coates in 1918. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
In the letters, a young Hemingway writes from Milan, Italy during World War I. We asked Fermano to read one of the letters Hemingway wrote from his hospital bed there in 1918 as he recovers from injuries suffered while volunteering as a wartime ambulance driver. He wrote:
“Dear Frances, you see, I can’t break the old habit of writing you whenever I get a million miles away from Oak Park. Milan is so hot that the proverbial hinges of hell would be like the beads of ice on the outside of a glass of Clicquot Club by comparison. However, it has a cathedral and a dead man, Leonardi Da Vinci and some very good-looking girls, and the best beer in the Allied countries.”
Elder said Hemingway seems to be “trying to make [Frances] jealous. He’s trying to say, ‘look at all these beautiful women around me,’ and then he’s bragging about trying beer, which would’ve been sort of the ultimate sign of rebellion, because he grew up in Oak Park, which was a town sort of founded on the temperance movement and was a dry town.”
Was Coates Hemingway’s First True Love?
“Given some of the evidence here, I think Frances Coates cared for him, but he was squarely what we call in the ‘Friend Zone,’ so if it was his first love, it was very one-sided,” explains Elder.
It was, it appears, unrequited love, then. In fact, in a letter that Francis Coates wrote to a Hemingway biographer, she described her once close friend as awkward and sensitive.
Coates went on to marry a classmate named John Grace, a future railroad executive. But Elder says apparently Hemingway, who pined over Coates as teenager, never forgot Coates — and maybe never got over her because, in fact, her name appears as a character in some of his now classic novels.
“Hemingway was good at holding grudges, and this is not really a grudge, but she is certainly someone he never forgot,” Elder says.
Hemingway apparently references Frances as a character when he’s talking about her husband, in which he writes in his novel, “To Have and Have Not”:
“He’s probably a little too good for Frances, but it will be years before Frances realizes this. Perhaps she will never realize it with luck. [This type of man] is rarely also tapped for bed. But with a lovely girl like Frances, intention counts as much as performance.”
Woo! Elder says “whether or not that was directed at [Coates], Frances definitely saw herself in that — she wrote about it, calling it a wry scene.”
Coates didn’t forget Hemingway either.
She kept his high school portrait in a gold frame in her drawer, and all of the pictures he sent her in a small envelope. Some of those are now in Marblehead as well.
So, did Francis Coates ever regret letting go of the young writer she called Ernie who later became a larger-than-life author — but who also went on to four marriages and three divorces?
Well, a little scribble on the back of an envelope may help answer that question.
“Oh, this is what she says on this envelope, ‘Ernie’s pictures. And 25 years later, ooh! Am I glad I married John!’ ” Fermano reads, laughing.