Hemingway was a romantic. Sure, he was macho and tough and a man’s man in many ways, but he enjoyed women greatly and always had a close and loving relationship with Marlene Dietrich. One of Hemingway’s love letters to her is going up for auction. It is expected it will garner something in the vicinity of $30 – $40,000.
This particular letter is dated August 12, 1952 – a year after Dietrich had confessed to keeping the author’s photograph by her bedside. They met in 1934 and became quite infatuated with each other but never consummated the attraction because, as Hemingway put it, they were “victims of unsynchronized passion.” He noted that whenever one of them was out of a relationship the other one was in one and the timing never worked out.
Hemingway writes in the letter to Marlene “I always love you and admire you and I have all sorts of mixed up feelings about you.” Later in the letter he declares that while “you are beautiful…I am ugly…please know I love you always and I forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. But it beats always.”
Marlene and Hemingway corresponded over several decades. Marlene Dietrich’s daughter wrote a book noting that after Hemingway’s death, her mother wore widow’s weeds for quite a while and she always believed that had he been with her, instead of his then wife, Mary, he wouldn’t have killed himself.
So, if I had $30,000+ just sitting around, I might enter the fray and bid on this letter, but I fear I’m going to have to let it go to some other fervent Hemingway fan.
I’ve read many of Hemingway’s letters. They are fun and he is quite funny and clever in them. His humor rarely comes through in his novels.
I think the line that I’ve quoted above – I forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. But it beats always – is so him. It’s very simple and yet it speaks volumes.
I was in Boston for a few days and took the opportunity to visit the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library and Museum. It’s about 20 minutes depending on traffic from downtown in a cab but shuttle buses travel out there more inexpensively as well. It is right on the water and very modern as you can see.
The present exhibit at the Hemingway Collection is entitled Hemingway Between the Wars, which covers much if not most of his career. The Old Man and the Sea, The Dangerous Summer, A Moveable Feast, among others came after World War II, (some posthumously. Hem died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast came out in 1964, edited primarily by Hemingway’s surviving wife, Mary. Garden of Eden was also posthumously published.) but The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many of the more famous short stories, i.e. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Green Hills of Africa, all were done between the wars.
Although Hemingway had his first great romance (with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his attending nurse after Hemingway was injured) during the war–not between the wars, the famous photo of her and Hemingway was in the exhibit. While I knew well that F. Scott Fitzgerald had done some serious editing on The Sun Also Rises and cut out the beginning and told Hemingway to start at a different place—and the rest is history—they had the actual letter Fitzgerald wrote to Hemingway expressing his disappointment at the beginning and making his suggestion to cut in strong terms. Uncharacteristically and probably because he was young and not yet confident, Hemingway did not resist and took Fitzgerald’s advice, much to the improvement of the book.
There also was a list of titles that Hemingway considered for The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1936). For those of you not familiar with this story, it is set in Africa and was published in September 1936 in Cosmopolitan Magazine concurrently with The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story was eventually adapted to the screen as “The Macomber Affair” (1947).
The story deals with a dysfunctional marriage between Francis and Margot who are on a big game safari in Africa with a professional hunter Robert Wilson. On his first time out, Francis had panicked when a wounded lion charged him, which humiliated him in front of his wife who took far too much pleasure in mocking him about his act of cowardice. It is suggested that she sleeps with Robert Wilson. The next day the party hunt buffalo. Two are killed and one is wounded and retreats. It’s generally bad form, not to mention cruel all around, to leave a wounded animal as it is, and Francis and Wilson proceed to track him so that they can put him out of his misery. When they find the buffalo, it charges Francis Macomber. He stands his ground and fires, but his shots are too high. At the last second Macomber kills the buffalo with his last bullet and Margot fires a shot from her gun, which hits Macomber in the skull and kills him. Good times!
(Sorry, as a divorce lawyer I sometimes have a dark sense of humor on relationships.) Anyway, at the exhibit, there is a list of some of the alternate titles that Hemingway considered such as Marriage is a Dangerous Game, A Marriage has Terminated, The Cult of Violence, Marriage as a Bond.
About a year ago, I began doing posts on the wives and got sidetracked on other Hemingway issues. I posted on Hadley and Pauline, then diverted. Hemingway was married to Hadley Richardson for about seven years, i.e. 1921 to 1927. He was married to Pauline Pfeiffer from 1927 to 1940. He was married to Martha Gellhorn from 1940 to 1945. He met her in Key West when she was on vacation with her mother. Tall, attractive, ambitious, blond, smart, witty, and charming, he kept company with her first behind Pauline’s back, including when both were covering the Spanish Civil War. Martha admired his talent and bravery and he admired her looks, her talent and her courage. Hadley, Pauline, and Mary (wife no. 4) were deferential to Hemingway in the sense of wanting to please him. Martha was not. It was the one marriage he claims to have regretted and she certainly wanted nothing to do with him after the divorce.
While Hemingway was hard to be married to, he had a kind, sweet side as well. A biographer of Martha Gellhorn uncovered some letters recently that made clear that he was very supportive of her career and all that she accomplished and could accomplish. That being said, he was at times jealous that she would take off to go on assignments as opposed to staying with him in Cuba when he preferred to have her there.
Martha was a strong woman ahead of her time. She was also a good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and was a first-rate journalist in her own right. She never had children of her own, but adopted two. When her health was to the point of not being recoverable, she killed herself in London at the age of 89
Hemingway often took younger women under his wing and wanted them around. Sometimes it was intellectually stimulating. Sometimes there was an attraction. Sometimes they amused him. Sometimes he just liked them. He had many women as friends: Marlene Dietrich, Slim Hawkes, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall. He was infatuated with many: Adriana Ivancich is of great note.
Valerie Danby-Smith was initially providing secretarial services to Hemingway. She was part of the entourage of his trip to Spain in 1959 and by the end of the trip, Hemingway wanted her to continue on. Was he romantically attracted? Probably. Valerie asserts that he begged her to continue on to Cuba as he needed her with him. She was 19 at the time; he was 59.. I also think he simply liked her cheerful ways and good nature.
She has written a book about her time with him and is now leading tours in Paris to the old Hemingway haunts. .
Did I mention that she married Hemingway’s son, Gregory? Yes, she did. They met through the Hemingway connection and had four children together. and while their marriage ended in divorce, she appears to have maintained a good relationship with Gregory until his death. She wrote “Running with the Bulls” about her time with Hemingway.
Across the River and Into the Woods was one of Hemingway’s poorly received books. It was written while Hemingway was infatuated with Adriana Ivancich who was the prototype for Renata. It still sold decently and at one point, there was talk of a movie with a very young Sophia Loren as Renata and Gary Cooper as the Colonel. I liked the book but did not find Renata to be an interesting character or sufficient to draw the intense attention of the Colonel who clearly was partially based on Hemingway himself. Should be interesting.
The above is a link to the Lillian Ross interview with Hemingway, a sad betrayal of his kindness and friendship to a young writer.
There’s a famous profile of Hemingway that was published on May 13, 1950 in The New Yorker done by a very young journalist at the time named Lillian Ross. Hemingway had helped her with her first big article about Sidney Franklin, the first Jewish-American bull fighter. Hemingway and Lillian Ross became friends and as Hemingway often did, he enjoyed taking this younger, very smart woman under his wing and addressing her as “daughter” and sharing some of the things that he knew with her.
Lillian Ross started working at The New Yorker in 1945 and seemed particularly adept at charming her subjects into saying things they might otherwise not say. She asked to do a profile on Hemingway, who needed the publicity like a hole in the head, but he agreed, hoping to help her career. She shadowed him for months and in particular went with him to New York on a three-day tour. Hemingway viewed it all as a lark.
Here’s where my objectivity stops. As I noted in my opening post three years ago, while I try to be objective about Hemingway and his flaws, which were many, I’m on his side. I’m not neutral. Lillian Ross’ article made him look like a self-involved jerk, almost ignorant. He thought she was his friend.
In that article are statements by Hemingway such as “Book is like engine. We have to slack her off gradually.” And then there’s this repeated gem apropos of nothing, “How do you like it now, Gentlemen.” Ross always maintained that it was an affectionate portrait of a wonderful writer, but, in essence, it made fun of him and it made him look ludicrous. If that’s how she saw him, then so be it. The press is free and she can write what she’d like to write, but don’t pretend it was an “affectionate” portrayal.
At the time, Lillian Ross was 24 years old and it was the opportunity of a lifetime to profile Ernest Hemingway, the biggest writer of the day. Years later, The New York Times wrote that “The effect of her severely unadorned portrait was to create an impression of an unpleasant egotist, a celebrity who, to a pathetic extent, had identified himself with his own public image.” As one of Hemingway’s biographers, Jeffrey Meyers, wrote later that she’d repaid his generosity with meanness and malice, and established her reputation at his expense.” Quoting Meyers again, he notes that she never recorded or revealed the serious and sensitive side of his character and chose instead to portray him as a boring braggart. So how do you like it now, Gentlemen?
When Lillian published the profile in book form shortly after Hemingway’s death, she still claimed it was a sympathetic portrait of a great, loveable man. Few readers were fooled. She also claimed he was fine with it. True. He read it before publication; felt the dye was cast so said little; and passed on it, but it was not really “fine” with him. He was hurt.
If you look at the cover, could Lillian have picked a less attractive, less compelling photo? In a reissue, there’s a nice photo of Hemingway and Lillian on the front, but I believe the original shows a Hemingway looking out of it and bizarre. If I’m wrong on this, someone out there probably knows, so please correct me.
Lillian Ross has written a new book in which Ross has collected selected pieces, including the Hemingway profile along with newer works spanning her sixty year career as a journalist. It is called “Reporting Always: Writings From The New Yorker.” It was published last week by Scribner’s, which, of course, is Hemingway’s publisher.
I can’t help being wounded for him. He trusted her and thought they were having some fun together and that she would not portray him as a lout. It’s his fault in part, no question for being too casual and not foreseeing damage for not taking the interview seriously. However, his loyalty was betrayed.
Take a read and see what you think. Perhaps you’ll see it differently. I’m happy to stand corrected or confronted.
Mary was Hemingway’s fourth wife and his widow. She took a fair amount of abuse. I was never certain if she truly loved him that much or if she loved being Mrs. Ernest Hemingway that much. She survived his infatuation with Adriana Ivancich, his bad behavior and heavy drinking that was the precursor to that bad behavior and she helped as ill health hit both of them, but particularly Hemingway.
Hemingway seemed to like all sorts of women but the kind that he married was level headed and smart. He never left Pauline for Jane Kendall Mason, beautiful though she was, as she was emotionally unstable. Hadley, Pauline, Martha, and Mary were all stable, intelligent women. All but Hadley were journalists in their own right. All but Martha were very deferential to Hemingway and perhaps that’s why he always said that was the one marriage he regretted.
Anyway, Mary is being honored in her hometown in MN. All of the other three wives strangely were from St. Louis.
Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived very modestly in Paris. Hadley had a small trust that enabled them as young newly weds to go abroad and for Hemingway to focus on his writing. He did earn money from his journalism but the trust helped significantly.
When Hem met and fell in love with a young and stylish writer for Vogue in Paris, Pauline Pfeiffer, he felt guilt but he also had fewer money worries when he left Hadley for her good friend, Pauline. Pauline was from a wealthy family from St. Louis. Her family made money in Pharmaceuticals and her Uncle Gus funded the purchase of the home in Key West. Hem dedicated A Farewell to Arms to Uncle Gus.
Still, it can rankle to live in a house paid for by your wife’s family and Hemingway wrote in The Snows of Kilimanjaro through the main character, Harry, that the rich had ruined Harry’s fervor for writing bravely and writing all that he needed to. The parallels are not too subtle as to Hemingway’s own life,. If you visit Key West, there is still a penny cemented into the pool surround. Supposedly Hemingway was irritated with the escalating costs of renovation and the pool in particular. It was one of the largest in its day. He told Pauline in a fit of pique that it was taking his last penny, so she threw one into the cement as it was setting. It’s still there. The woman had a sense of humor!
Key West is a lovely home, more elegant than Cuba, but Cuba was wilder, rougher, and I think more to Hemingway’s taste.