Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JULY 21, 1999
Head: Remembering "Papa" Hemingway
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ernest Hemingway was born 100 years ago today. As my guest A.E. Hotchner writes, "the name Hemingway conjures up a man of courage and daring; both in his writing and in his way of life." Both of these changed A.E. Hotchner's life.
The two men first met in a professional capacity in 1948 when Hotchner was sent to Cuba by "Cosmopolitan" magazine to ask Hemingway to write a piece about the future of literature. With Hemingway's blessing, Hotchner went on to adapt several Hemingway works for CBS TV, including "The Snows of Kilamanjaro" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
Hotchner and Hemingway remained friends until Hemingway's suicide in 1961. Five years later, Hotchner wrote a memoir about him called "Papa Hemingway." A new edition of this book has just been published with a new preface.
A.E. Hotchner, welcome to FRESH AIR.
A.E. HOTCHNER, BIOGRAPHER, "PAPA HEMINGWAY": Glad to see you.
GROSS: Now, you explain in your new edition that Mary, who was Hemingway's fourth and last wife, tried to stop publication of your memoir back in the mid '60s. What was her objection to it?
HOTCHNER: Well, she tried to get an injunction against it. Her objection was, fundamentally, that the last chapters of the book dealt with his decline in the last couple of years of his life moodily and physically. And how it affected his will to live and resulted in the fact that two or three times he attempted suicide and finally succeeded in it.
It was Mary's story at that time of the event of that morning, that terrible morning when his head was blown off, that he had been cleaning his rifle and that he had forgotten the chamber was loaded and accidentally he had committed this terrible act.
She, frankly said, if you will remove the last three chapters I will throw the lawsuit. I said, of course not. I mean, that's just such a travesty that this man, who was such a great hunter; why would he be cleaning his gun at the beginning of July? And he, who was a stickler for protocol, how could he possibly leave the cartridge's in the chamber?
GROSS: Oh, he had a whole creed about honesty in writing.
HOTCHNER: Of course.
GROSS: Why should you lie?
HOTCHNER: So, why? And that was really the genesis of the lawsuit. And then she had another very peculiar original thought about what belongs to a writer. She said that my use of dialogue in which I quote Hemingway talking to me -- in the book I recreated some of what we said to each other.
She said, you know, when a writer talks his words are his. And so even his verbal words spoken out into the air are copyrighted. So, that was a -- that was a contention that the Court of Appeals threw out in a hurry.
GROSS: So, it actually did go to court?
HOTCHNER: Oh, yeah, she took it into the Supreme Court of New York, which is the trial court. And it was decided against her there. And then she took it to the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals quickly affirmed the finding of the lower court and that was the end of that.
But it was a regrettable incident.
GROSS: Now, what did you understand about the depression that led to his suicide? Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you thought he was going through at that time.
HOTCHNER: I think it was a combination, probably, of first a physical deterioration. And when he began to lose physical prowess, physical powers, I think it affected some of his thinking. I think basically, if I had to sum up what the problem was, Ernest was only 62 years old at the time of his death.
He certainly looked like a man and acted like a man and reacted to his living demand like a man in his late 80s. And I've often thought, I think that in Ernest's case he had this marvelous bank of energy and creativity and he chose to use it all up early and had nothing left.
And I think that he had just burned himself out to the point where, as he said, if he can't live in the manner which he had lived he didn't want to live anymore.
GROSS: He had also gotten delusional, and you knew him very well during this phase. He thought that people were following him; that federal agents were following; that his phones were tapped; that his mail was being intercepted.
What was it like to know him through this delusional period?
HOTCHNER: Frightening. But it was gradual, you understand. It didn't just happen over night. The first time that I really got spooked about the whole aspect of what was happening to him he was in Madrid; he had gone to Madrid to research photographs for what became "A Dangerous Summer," which was the last of the books that he authorized to be published.
I came over because we -- I had undertaken to help him cut his big manuscript into three installments for "Life" magazine. He had accumulated a lot of photographs and other materials -- research materials -- that he wanted to bring back with him.
And for that he had bought another little suitcase. He became concerned whether he could fly Iberia with this additional suitcase, and at first I said well, of course you can. You're allowed two or three suitcases, you only have one. It's permissible.
No, he said. I don't think it is. And I can't get turned away at the gate. And he began to be very disturbed about this. Finally, he said, I want to know the weight of it. I want a bellhop -- we were in the Palace Hotel -- to take the suitcases and weigh them for me so I can tell them the weight.
At that point my blood really chilled because I knew that he no longer was rational.
HOTCHNER: About a lot of things. There had been little signs, but -- and of course we did have to have -- they weighed it. He had to have assurance in writing from the airline that they would take the suitcases. And from then on, there was just one irrational fear after another.
GROSS: Now, although a lot of what he was experiencing was delusional, like that his mail was being intercepted and that people were following him, I think you eventually got his Freedom of Information Act files...
HOTCHNER: ... yeah, that gave me a terrible start. Because I'd always felt that all of this delusional material about -- that J. Edgar Hoover had it in for him; that there was a file on him; that federal agents were following him; that his -- when I went to see him at the Mayo Clinic, when he was kept there for electric shock treatments, he wouldn't talk to me in his hospital room. We had to go out to my rented car and drive to a place nearby in the park where we talked.
GROSS: He thought the room was bugged.
HOTCHNER: He thought the room was bugged. Well, I got the Freedom of Information Act later -- many years later -- and indeed the phone outside his hall was bugged. And indeed J. Edgar Hoover had a file, and indeed he was being processed by the FBI.
So, that part of his delusion was not delusional. It was just intensified. It wasn't as bad as he thought, but he did have an insight into what was happening.
GROSS: Well, you're part of the reason why he ended up institutionalized -- I guess this came out wrong -- you're part of the reason he ended up institutionalized. I didn't mean you were driving him mad. But you encouraged Mary to put him in a hospital. And I think you helped create the story that, well, your blood pressure is really high and we need to check you out in a hospital.
Because I think you were afraid to tell him...
HOTCHNER: ... we had a problem during with Ernest in that where he should have gone was the Meninger (ph) Clinic. But then that would be out and out psychiatric. We knew that he would resist that.
He had attempted suicide at this point and Mary talked to me about this, and I said, I think we need some guidance. So, I went to see New York analyst/psychiatrist whom I knew. And he conversed with George Sades (ph), who was the doctor in Idaho who -- the interest who was treating.
And it was decided that the only way that we could get him to get any kind of psychiatric help would be to tell him that his blood pressure was too high and to suggest that he go to the Mayo Clinic to have it checked.
And that's how we got him to go there. But, again, it was a frightening journey because a small plane took him there. But it had to stop to refuel, and while we stopped to refuel, halfway there, he tried to walk into the moving propellers of the plane.
GROSS: Oh, God.
HOTCHNER: And then when we took off -- it was averted by the pilot's quick action when he saw this -- we took off and he tried to open the door and jump out. So, we were dealing with a frightening aspect of Ernest trying to kill himself.
GROSS: Well, he had electroshock therapy as part of...
HOTCHNER: ... yeah, but that was another sad development. As good as the Mayo Clinic then was for medicine, it was inadequate in terms of psychiatric treatment. They just formed the division -- I'm not talking about them today, I only know what happened back there in 1961.
They were supposed to give him a series of electric shock treatments, I think. I could be wrong about this. I think there were 21 in that series. They only gave him half of it at the time that they let him go back to Ketchum. Which, according to the doctor in New York -- Katel (ph) was his name -- whom I was consulting, he called angrily, the doctors, and said, that's worse than not having given him any because it's not completing the cycle. It leaves him in a really deteriorating state.
GROSS: Very agitated.
HOTCHNER: Very agitated. And of course it led to his again trying to kill himself.
GROSS: Now, he was losing his memory in part as a result of the shock therapy. And that was very upsetting to him.
HOTCHNER: Well, the worst part was the first time I went to the Mayo Clinic Kennedy was being inaugurated, and he had sent a telegram to Ernest inviting him to be in his box as an honored guest. And of course Ernest was in no condition to go. And he wanted to write a declination in a proper way to him.
And he just couldn't get the words to come out. This man who always wrote effortlessly. So, that again was a torture. As it was he was trying to finish what became "A Moveable Feast," he had to write the last sentence. And for the next three months he couldn't write the last sentence.
GROSS: Now, you say in your book, you said to him, look, you know, you've gone 10 years in between books in the past. I know you can't write now. If you could go 10 years in the past without writing, I mean, why can't you just relax a little bit now during this period when you have trouble writing and just wait it out?
HOTCHNER: I said you wanted to fish some of the great waters of the world; he was a great fisherman, loved fishing. I said, well, why don't you go to Peru or wherever these marlins or whatever else you want to fish for are and enjoy yourself. And give up the thought that you have to turn out something at this moment, because between "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Across the River," 10 years had passed.
But he said any day that I think I can't write I can't live. Those 10 years, I knew any one of those days I could write. And that was the difference.
GROSS: I'm wondering if you think that his drinking in the past masked depressions. You know, if...
HOTCHNER: ... you know, this business of alcoholism -- when it becomes more than just drinking, it's very hard to assess that. I was with him so often on trips -- long trips. We spent an entire summer in Spain following the two bullfighters, Domingin (ph), Antonio Ordonez (ph).
During which time Ernest would drink wine. I never felt that he was drinking excessively. He had stopped drinking any hard liquor. We traveled around in an old Ford that he had rented and Bill Davis drove it. And he decided we should go down to Gibraltar where he bought an entire wheel of parmesan cheese.
Now, a wheel is the size of a wheel on a car.
GROSS: That's a lot of cheese.
HOTCHNER: So, the way we traveled was I sat in the back seat with the wheel next to me over this hot Spanish summer. And Ernest sat up front with Bill, he had a wine bag and sometimes in the afternoon he would say shave some of that, Hotch and then he would drink some wine.
Looking back on that summer, I would say there was really no sign of what you would call alcoholism. There was never -- I never saw Ernest in any way affected by alcohol. And yet there persists today with this gusset of articles and books about Hemingway today, especially now in his centenary year, there is a perception that he was an alcoholic.
But you see, that drinking, yes, it probably was something that was part of his living experience. But he'd been drinking like that since he was a young man, you know. That was his answer. He said, you know that's just part of my life, I always have a few drinks.
GROSS: But he had to stop drinking for his health at some point and that was a big change for him.
HOTCHNER: Well, after the crashes in Africa I was with him. We drove from Venice -- he had come back from Africa on a slow boat. He was beat up, his back was hurt. He was quite wounded and hurt in the second crash, not the first.
GROSS: What year was this?
HOTCHNER: When we got to Spain there was a doctor there, a very well known doctor -- Medinavacia (ph), I think you pronounce it. He had known Ernest since the Spanish Civil War when Ernest was a war correspondent. And he ran a lot of tests; at that point he said Ernest, you've got to now go on a diet and you've got to cut down the drinking. You can have two glasses of wine a day.
And he religiously followed that. As a matter of fact, he watered the wine -- even the two glasses -- with water. There was a great concern about his health -- his concern. And certainly those last years there was almost no drinking at all.
GROSS: My guest is A.E. Hotchner. He worked with Hemingway and was a close friend during the last 14 years of Hemingway's life. Hotchner's memoir about him, "Papa Hemingway," has just been republished. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is A.E. Hotchner. And his 1965 memoir about Ernest Hemingway has just been published in a new Hemingway centennial edition with a new preface.
Let's talk about how you first met. It was 1948. You were in your 20s.
GROSS: You were sent down by "Cosmopolitan" magazine to Hemingway's home in Cuba to commission him to write -- to invite him to write a piece for the magazine about the future of literature. You say you felt like a horse's ass going down to make him that offer. Why did you feel that way?
HOTCHNER: Well, I mean, it was such an asinine assignment. But at that point "Cosmopolitan" was a literary magazine before Helen Gurley Brown got hold of it and turned it into a sex for the single girl magazine.
Hemingway had written for the magazine before. As a matter of fact, I think the -- one of the sections of "To Have and Have Not" had been published in "Cosmopolitan." They wanted to run a series on the future of everything.
The future of the automobile written by Henry Ford II, or whatever. And literature was to be Ernest. So, I felt whatever, whatever -- dumb thing to do. Also, I'd been in awe of him since high school -- his books. You know, he was somebody that I didn't want to approach no matter what, I was in awe of him.
So, I simply sent a note out to his place in San Francisco, to Paula, saying I'm down here on this ridiculous assignment; could you just scribble something that says "get lost" or something like that so I can go back and show that I contacted to you?
And to my absolute amazement the next morning the phone rang and, Hotchner, this is "Hemingstein" here. I can't let you get kicked out of her job by the Hearst people, that's like if you're a leper getting kicked out of the colony.
He said, I'll meet you at the Floridida (ph) for a drink -- 5:00. And that's how I met Hemingway. And we did have several "papadoble's" (ph) which is a drink that was invented for him. It's really a frozen daiquiri, but served in a vase big enough for long-stemmed roses. And from that point on he took me out in the boat and we hit it off just fine.
And he did write something for "Cosmopolitan," but what it developed into instead of a short story, it became "Across the River and Into the Trees," which is a novel that was published in three installments.
GROSS: It seems to me several times in the early part of your relationship he put you in an awkward position where he wasn't meeting a deadline and he was at the same time asking for more money to complete the piece. So you'd have to go back to the publisher or the editor and say, well, he doesn't have the piece and he wants more money.
And you couldn't tell for sure if he'd ever really deliver the goods. Wasn't that an awkward position to be in?
HOTCHNER: It was -- I'll tell you what it was doing -- in the case of "Across the River," for example, he was about to take off with Mary his wife. I think they going on the Il de France (ph), I don't remember what boat. But he was gong to Paris and then he was going to Venice and he was going to check up on stuff that was in the book.
And he was at the Sherry Netherlands Hotel (ph) at the point and we were having an evening in his suite with Marlene Dietrich and other friends of his, and he looked at me and he said, Hotch, you should be going to -- on this trip. He said, why don't you do this? You go back and tell the editor -- by then my friend was no longer the editor, but a man that I wasn't very friendly with was the editor -- he said, here's the manuscript but you don't have the last two chapters, which he (unintelligible).
And he said just tell them you don't have the last two chapters.
So, I went back and I said here it is, but we don't have the last two chapters. Well, how can we begin publication? You stick with him until you get the two chapters. So, I went back to the Sherry Netherlands, I walked in -- and as I walked through the door he said when are you leaving?
GROSS: That's great. Now, you say in memoir that you were struck with an affliction common to your generation, "Hemingway Awe." Do you think Hemingway ever took advantage of that knowing how in awe you were of him?
HOTCHNER: Oh, I don't think he ever took advantage of that. There is this perception that Hemingway was boastful and a braggart and self-promoter. We read all that and hear all that today by people who didn't know him. The books being written are people who not only didn't know him, but they don't have access to people who knew because almost all of them are dead -- all of the relatives and everybody else.
And even family didn't see much of him. He was not much of a family man, even for his sons. The last 10, 15 years of his life he didn't see much of them. So, there is this perception that he was promoting what people read at that time in the gossip columns and everything else.
The fact is that they were promoting him. So, you'd get people like the columnists of the day, Walter Winchell and Earl Wilson and Leonard Lanes (ph); they had -- at that time those columns were very influential. They appeared in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers.
And all of them were magnifying whatever he did. If he went on a safari and he killed a lion, well, he killed a dozen lions. Everything was magnified. And the fact that he was doing things that nobody had done before -- the bullfight was virtually discovered by him for those who weren't Spanish and so forth.
And so those exploits made people think that he was promoting himself. It wasn't that, it's that he genuinely felt a kinship with what was happening in the bullring. And he genuinely felt something that you will get from (unintelligible) and a few of these stories something about the hunt in Africa that was quite different perception than what one would get out of it.
GROSS: A.E. Hotchner is the author of the memoir "Papa Hemingway," which has just been republished. Hotchner will be back in the second half of the show. Our interview was also recorded by C-SPAN 2. It will be shown as part of their Book/TV Hemingway special this Saturday.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ernest Hemingway was born 100 years ago today. My guest A.E. Hotchner worked with Hemingway and was a close friend during the last 14 years of Hemingway's life. Five years after Hemingway's suicide Hotchner wrote a memoir about him called "Papa Hemingway." It's just been republished with a new preface.
Now, you did several TV adaptations of his work for CBS.
HOTCHNER: For "Playhouse 90," yes.
GROSS: Now, Buick, I understand, wanted you to write happy endings to "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Sun Also Rises" and "To Have and Have Not." What was your reaction? I think they offered you a free car for that -- happy endings.
HOTCHNER: Yeah, they offered me -- that's right. They said, you know, are you interested in ratings because it's a series. And if people feel that they have these down endings they would come back for the next one. And I said well, it's amazing how Mr. Shakespeare was able to survive all those bad endings. I haven't seen any rewrites of the end of "Macbeth" or any of the other plays.
And I don't think, really, that you would like Catherine instead of dying in childbirth in "A Farewell to Arms" suddenly to recover at the last second.
GROSS: "I feel good again!"
And the screaming little Catherine Jr. come galloping out of her womb.
HOTCHNER: So, I simply -- I simply laughed off of that. I can see Jake Barnes at the end, suddenly sprouts this heretofore now present penis and we are in business.
GROSS: But they didn't fire you after that?
HOTCHNER: No, they didn't fire me. No, they couldn't because they had signed me to a contract. That was a big mistake.
GROSS: So, did Hemingway offer you advice about how to adapt his language and dialogue on the page into a television adaptation?
HOTCHNER: Well, this all started because people began appearing down in Cuba at his place trying to get rights to this that and the other thing. And he said you do me a great favor, could you, you're up there in New York; could I refer them to you? And if it's something that you think is interesting then let me know.
That's how it really started this because I had done no television and I didn't really know anything about writing for television. So, that when Fred Coe (ph) came to me, he was a producer at the time of quality things, he said we want to do something of Hemingway's on "Playwright's 56," which was opposite the 60,000 -- whatever that quiz show was.
I said well, everything that's any good that could be done in that length of an hour has really been sold. You know, "Kilamanjaro" and "McCumber" (ph) and all the stories. He said well, what is that you like that you think might make something dramatic.
I said well, I like a story called "The Battler," but it's four or five pages and I don't know how you'd get an hour out of it. So, would you ask Mr. Hemingway if that would be available? So, I called him and he said I'll do it if you'll adapt it.
And I said, I can't adapt it I don't know anything about television. He said, oh, yeah, you could do it. And I said, well, you know, I'll try it and show it to you. No, he said -- and this is to answer your question -- no, he said, don't ever show me anything.
HOTCHNER: I'm going to trust you until you do something that's really rotten. And so, because of that he never really participated in the creation of it. However, when I did things like "The Gambler, the Nun and Radio," which was a short story of his, which had holes in it that I couldn't fill in.
And I asked him about that, then he wrote me.
I have a couple of letters from him in which he told me the background of the people who were in the hospital -- it's a story about himself when he -- but it's masked. But that was the extent. The funniest thing to happen was when we did "For Whom the Bell Tolls" with Jason Robards and Maria Shell (ph) and Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, whatever.
GROSS: Good cast.
HOTCHNER: Good cast. It was in two parts. It was obviously taped. We were driving, Ernest and Mary and myself from Ketchum to Key West and when we were going across the Texas plains somewhere, Ernest said this is the night that the second part's on. I nearly fell over, because I didn't think he was keeping any track.
So, he stopped at some flea-bitten little motel and went into the lobby and said to the innkeeper, who nearly fainted when he saw who it was, he said, listen there's something I want to see on television. And the fella said well, we only have this one big television down in the lobby we don't have television in the rooms.
Well, he said, do you think you could bring it upstairs? So, they carted this up to his room. It was one of those televisions that had rabbit ears that didn't have an antenna outside. We couldn't get any reception except if you held the rabbit ears.
So, get this picture. We're in this motel room. Ernest and Mary prop them selves up with pillows with their backs on the bed, and the television set, this big old lumbering television set, was in front of them. And I had to sit next to it holding the rabbit ears.
Afterwards he went to the phone and called Maria and called Jason and told them how terrific he though tit was. He was very considerate that way. He really was very generous with other writers if they weren't Faulkner, whom he'd never be generous with.
GROSS: ... jealous?
HOTCHNER: Oh, that was a real warfare there.
GROSS: You have been a very careful Hemingway reader. You loved Hemingway's writing long before you met him. And then you had to re-read him very carefully because you adapting his work. I asked you to just choose a few lines of Hemingway's writing that you think are very Hemingway and talk about what you think they say, what they reveal about Hemingway's style.
What do you want to read for us?
HOTCHNER: I'm going to read the very opening of "A Farewell to Arms." This is as much Hemingway's style as anything of Hemingway's.
"In the late summer of that year we lived in the house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun. And the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.
"Troops went by the house and down the road, and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees, too, were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road. And the dust rising, and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling. And the soldiers marching, and afterwards the road bare and white except for the leaves."
GROSS: Now, what's quintessential Hemingway about that?
HOTCHNER: Notice the simplicity of the language that's used. And the almost poetic repetition. It's almost as if it's poetry. You could scan that I'll bet and you would find that it has a scan to it. But the realism of it -- when I first read that I could feel the autumn in the air. I could feel leaves falling, and there was a brook rushing outside.
He transports you into the area with a minimum of description so that you furnish some of the description. That's the great gift that he had, that he brought to American literature. That was his skill, that was the spareness.
I once said to him, how do you ever feel, you know, how do you ever react to the fact you're being lionized at universities all over the country as having brought a new style to American writing. And he said I didn't consciously bring anything. He said, I just write prose in an awkward way. In my own awkward way.
And my awkwardness is what they see as style. But he said, there is no conscious effort to create any style. If there were it would be phony. I just write as it comes out of me as spare and as knowingly and as directly as I can.
GROSS: My guest is A.E. Hotchner who worked with Hemingway and was a close friend during the last 14 years of Hemingway's life. His memoir "Papa Hemingway" has just been republished. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is A.E. Hotchner. And he knew Hemingway for about the last 14 yeas of Hemingway's life; they were friends and professional associates. And Hotchner's 1965 memoir about Hemingway has just been published in a new Hemingway centennial edition with a new preface, it's called "Papa Hemingway."
At some point you asked Hemingway if you should do like he did and move to Paris to test yourself. To see if you could be, you know, if you could write a great novel there. What advice did Hemingway give you?
HOTCHNER: He said, you know, nobody knows what is in him, if anything, until he gives it a try. So, one of two things can happen. You can find to your benefit that you have good stuff in you, and that what comes out is something that you can be proud of, you can deal with and so forth.
But, he said, you run the risk that there may be nothing in you or what's in you is inadequate. And what's in you will be a big disappointment to you. And it could very well crack you for the rest of your life. So, that's your risk. I mean, it's a gamble.
So, if you go there thinking that you've got the right stuff and you haven't then how are you going to deal with it? And if you have, then how are you going to deal with it?
GROSS: So, did you stay home after that?
HOTCHNER: I went.
GROSS: You went?
HOTCHNER: Oh, yeah. You know, I've always felt that the only thing that you have to regret are the things you didn't do.
GROSS: Now, he gave you more advice about Paris, which led to you providing the title for his memoir about Paris in the '20s.
GROSS: What did he say to you?
HOTCHNER: If you go to Paris as a young man and you live in Paris, wherever you go for the rest of your life Paris is a moveable feast. And he's right about that. Paris has been that to me as it was to him.
GROSS: Hemingway had a lot of interesting things to say about writing, and I thought I'd read one of those things. And this is from his posthumously published book, "A Moveable Feast," which you gave the title to. And this is about trying to write in the '20s.
And he says -- when he's in Paris -- and he says, "I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think `do not worry, you have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence; write the truest sentence that you know.'
"So, finally I would write true sentence and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately or like someone introducing or presenting something I found that I could cut that scroll work or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written."
I like the idea of throwing away the ornamentation and realizing when he was sounding too presentational. Did you get a sense of that ever from observing him write or hearing him talk about that?
HOTCHNER: He told me that he really picked up on that business of editing out from Gertrude Stein. Because he had had an introduction to her and her salon from Sherwood Anderson giving a letter of introduction. And he had subsequently shown her one of his stories, they weren't selling and they were all being rejected.
And she had said, Hemingway, take this back and just remove all of the "verys" that are in there -- the word "very." Don't use any of the "very." Not "very late" or "very beautiful." Take all the "verys" out. So, he said I picked the "verys" like you pick berries, I picked "verys."
And he said, and it strengthened it a lot. And then Scott Fitzgerald in the story "50 Grand," which was one of the first stories that he sent to Maxwell Perkins for him, said, Hemingway you don't need the first paragraph, cut it out. And he said, I learned from those early experiences, the more you leave out, hence the stronger you can get. If what you've got is substance and you just want to trim away all the curly Q's that don't mean anything.
So, I think that he had good teachers along the way.
GROSS: I think there are a lot of contrasts and contradictions in Hemingway's character. For example, I mean, what he's famous for in his writing and in the way he lived his life is in part that kind of macho, you know, the hunt, the bullfight; being, you know, reporting on wars; being an ambulance driver in World War I.
At the same time he was really a kind of romantic in his writing and it seems like a bit of a contradiction the macho and the romantic. What do you think?
HOTCHNER: Well, this whole business of the macho, if you really analyze the books, the main books -- in "The Sun Also Rises" we have a hero who can't function as a man. So -- and in the end he tragically has to go away from the woman he loves.
In "A Farewell to Arms" we have a hero who deserts from his unit in the First World War and has a woman whom he loves, who, by the way, is very well drawn. Hemingway is often criticized that he doesn't write women very well, but indeed he does. Lady Brett in "The Sun Also Rises" and Catherine -- anyway.
So, what is -- the end of "A Farewell to Arms" is not a macho ending at all. It's a man who loses this woman and child. And alone he walks back to the hotel in the rain. These are very down endings.
"The Old Man and the Sea" is anything but a macho book. So, I think that he's been misunderstood in that respect.
GROSS: One of the most famous war injuries in literature is in "The Sun Also Rises," where the main character, Jake Barnes, has had his penis blown off.
GROSS: And is, you know, is unable to make love and therefore to consummate the relationship with the woman he loves. What did Hemingway tell you that that character's injury was based on?
HOTCHNER: I think it was based, probably, on his own injury when he as an 18 year old volunteer ambulance driver in the Italian war suffered a grievous wound in his leg. His knee was nearly blown off in a trench and he had to recuperate in the hospital in Milan where he met Agnes Ronkuroski (ph) whom he had an affair with in the hospital.
I think that that was a searing event, and I think he simply transferred that terrible wound to Jake Barnes' private part. But I think that's -- he realized what that would mean. And I think that was a play off from that. From everything that we ever discussed I would come with that conclusion.
GROSS: Now, he told you that shortly after writing "The Sun Also Rises" that he was unable to make love. He said as if he might as well been Jake Barnes at that point. What happened to him?
HOTCHNER: That was very funny, because he had -- during his marriage to Haddely (ph) he had fallen into an affair with Pauline. And Pauline had come to visit them and after he married Pauline there he then found that he had this terrible impotence which he trans -- he said got transferred from having written about Jake Barnes.
So, he said he tried a variety of remedies, and none of it -- there was -- one guy had electrodes that he attached to him and he drank casliter (ph) juice and all that sort of -- casliter blood. And finally, Pauline suggested that maybe he should go to the local church down the street and pray.
And Ernest felt, well, he really felt like a damn fool praying to the Virgin Mary for an erection, but at any rate he did this.
And then he came back to the room -- the little place that he had with Pauline and Pauline was in bed, and he said, and we made love like we invented it. And he said, that's when I became a Catholic.
GROSS: Did he stay a Catholic?
HOTCHNER: No. Then he always refereed to himself as a failed Catholic.
GROSS: A quick failure.
GROSS: But a success in bed, I suppose.
HOTCHNER: Well, I think he was, at least at that time. I think later -- yes, I think he always had -- he always had a romantic interest. That's one of the fascinating things to me. During these times that he was married -- and Ernest had to married. He was just one of those men that had to be married. But married he always had a romantic interest.
Now, I don't mean that he had...
GROSS: ... you mean in somebody else?
HOTCHNER: Yes. And it was always young and attractive and very often not consummated in any way, but just this romantic figure that he could call upon. I've never understood why that was so necessary to him. But I think that later when we get into that dark, black period of his life, I think that his sexual powers all collapsed along with his ability to eat and drink and do the things that he really wanted to do.
I think that after those crashes -- in one of his letters to me -- I have a lot of letters from him. In one of the letters from him he says -- he said, you know I go out in the Peelar (ph), that was his boat, but I can't fish because I don't have the strength to fish. It takes a lot of strength to boat a marlin or whatever.
So, given all those failures, I think that now we get to the real reason why the suicide took place. I think that it was just he could no longer be Ernest Hemingway.
GROSS: He couldn't write. He couldn't make love. He had no physical strength.
HOTCHNER: And he couldn't enjoy drinking or eating or his friends or -- it all just seemed to collapse in on him. Like a house when the walls and the roof all just tumble down.
GROSS: My guest is A.E. Hotchner, who worked with Hemingway and was a close friend during the last 14 years of Hemingway's life. Hotchner's memoir, "Papa Hemingway," has just been republished. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: A.E. Hotchner is my guest. And he was a close friend and professional associate of Ernest Hemingway in the last 14 years of Hemingway's life. And Hotchner's 1965 memoir about Hemingway, "Papa Hemingway," has just been published in a new edition with a new preface.
Now, his later writing a lot of readers believe, and I believe you think this as well, really didn't measure up to his earlier writing. Do you have any sense if he felt that way about it too?
HOTCHNER: Well, you know, Ernest always had a great faith in his own writing. The only book that he wrote that had negative reviews was "Across the River and into the Trees," everything else had been extolled by critics and by popular acclaim.
He didn't accept those reviews. He felt that they didn't understand what he was trying to do. However, he knew they had knocked him on his ass. So, instead of giving up of course in typical Hemingway fashion he got up off what he called the deck and wrote as a rebuttal "Old Man and the Sea."
But I think that he was losing that creative power that he had so tautly in the beginning. He was certainly losing that toward the end of his life. And that's why we have those wandering manuscripts that posthumously have been scissored and pasted together and published as "Islands in the Stream" and "Garden of Eden" and "True at First Light;" these books were not intended as books. They were bits and scraps of stuff that he left written then.
The only two posthumously published books that he intended to publish was "A Moveable Feast" and "A Dangerous Summer." And the last year of his life I was with him in New York when he met with Charles Scribner and Harry Bragg (ph), who was the editor at Scribner. And the only thing they were discussing was which book should be published first.
So, those books he intended. But all the rest of them are just scissors and paste jobs, and I think regrettable.
GROSS: When you were young and impressionable and starting off as a writer you worked closely with Hemingway. Was it hard for you find your own voice after spending so much time with him, who had such a powerful one of his own?
HOTCHNER: Yeah, I made a terrible mistake. I mean, thinking about it at this minute I'm embarrassed by it. I was living in Rome, and I was -- I was living very well, but I was typically running out of money. So, I decided I would write what I thought was just going to be a novelette and get it published in the "Saturday Evening Post" or somewhere.
So, I wrote this account that I thought was in kind of a Hemingway way, of a gangster who was deported from the United States and he had to go back to Italy and so forth. I don't know how it happened, but I sent it to a woman who was to be my agent later, I really didn't have much of an agent.
And she sent it -- instead of sending it to the "Post" she sent it over to Bennett Cerphe (ph), and he published it as a book. It was called "The Dangerous American." And I was truly embarrassed because it was really not me, it was me trying to be Ernest Hemingway.
So, I wrote him and said I really am sorry to tell you this, this is really a lousy book. But I'm going to have to send it to you anyway. So, I didn't hear from him far a while, and when he did write me, he said, well, you certainly right. It's a lousy book.
And maybe from now on you'll write your own way and about things that you're interested in. And then he told me why. He said, well, there were a couple of things; the fight scene's good but he said all that stuff at the gritty hotel and he just, you know, gave me hell.
And then the next paragraph he went on to other things, and that's it. I was forgiven for my transgression, that's OK. You've got to grow out of that. But from then on I certainly never tried to write like Ernest.
GROSS: Well, we just have a couple of seconds left. Your memoir is called "Papa Hemingway," did you call him "Papa?"
HOTCHNER: I called him "Papa."
GROSS: How did that feel?
HOTCHNER: Well, I didn't for a while. But he called himself "Papa." He would sign his letters "Papa." And he began calling himself "Papa," you know. when he was a young man. It was not something so -- I didn't have much of a relationship with my own father. And it was an easy transference, because his attitude toward me was that of father to son.
He taught me all the things I knew about fishing and hunting and travelling and wines and foods and what oysters were good and almost everything that I came to prize later on I learned from Ernest. So, it was an easy transition.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been a pleasure to hear you speak. Thank you.
HOTCHNER: Thank you.
GROSS: A.E. Hotchner's memoir, "Papa Hemingway," has just been republished with a new preface. Our interview was also recorded by C-SPAN 2 for their Book/TV Hemingway centennial special. Our interview will be shown this Saturday at 12:45 p.m., and will be repeated at 6:30 p.m. and 12:45 a.m.
I'm Terry Gross.
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Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: A.E. Hotchner
High: Novelist, screenwriter and biographer A.E. Hotchner. His memoir "Papa Hemingway" about his friend and colleague, Ernest Hemingway has just been republished. Hotchner met Hemingway when he was a 20-something journalist, on assignment to interview Hemingway for "Cosmopolitan" magazine. That first interview in 1948 developed into a 14 year friendship.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Ernest Hemingway; A.E. Hotchner
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Remembering "Papa" Hemingway
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.