Hemingway on The Old Man and the Sea, Batista, Life in Cuba, Matador Luis Miguel Dominguin, and Suicide

Signed by Ernest Hemingway

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HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. (1899-1961). American novelist; author of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and other twentieth-century masterpieces; awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. TLS. (“Papa”). With holograph corrections and postscript. 1p. 4to. Finca Vigia, February 9, 1954. On his crimson Finca Vigia letterhead to Peter [screenwriter PETER VIERTEL (1920-2007), who wrote The Old Man and the Sea screen adaptation].

“Here our life she has been rugged. Miguel called up and turned up about ten days ago. He said you treated him wonderfully and has great admiration for B. He was only going to stay 6 or 8 days. But I think he got to like the simplicity of our life which could be combined with the long distance telephone to all continents plus le staying out all night. Last night for instance he was going to a simple little affair like the closing of the Binealle Art Exposition with the Conde de Foxa leading Spanish Franco man at the Embassy who he’d invited out to lunch. Had originally invited Batista too but he couldn’t come on acct. of the elections and we have so much shrubbery. So like around nine o’clock early so he and Juan the chauffeur can get started for town by 0830 (it is Saturday) and everything closes at noon. So like around nine o’clock, Juan not having shone up, I leave word that when he does to call back from the grocery store for orders. It turns out Juan was seen at 07.30 getting the car out to go find Luis Miguel in the Vedado having garaged our car at 0540. No further word; no Saturday shopping. No go out in boat. Maybe after write this swim in pool. [Next six words in holograph] Have to swim for conscience sake.

I like Miguel very much and he is a hell of a nice guy. He is trying to help me get over my wanting to work which he considers sort of an obsession which in a man of my natural talents, tastes and capabilities could be cured. Might be eminently possible. [Next five words in holograph] But sort of doubt it.

Pete come down any time you want. We wont [sic] talk about the picture. Just give me the gen [i.e., intelligence] on when and how. I called the African deal off when thehere [sic] was an announcement put out that never mentioned documentary and said I was going to write an original script and ‘act’ in it. The true idea and proposition was an ok one. Gen on Africa very bad now. I have some unfinished commitments there that I can explain but better not write and we can always get out there honorably and live with old Mouse. He is doing good now.

Think we have to seriously consider possibility of Hayward dying. Not good to consider but sometimes you have to consider it. I don’t know anyone is going to go at the gate [sic] he goes and not have something to give.

If my pals, NOT YOU, [Next five words in holograph] you’re welcome as I wrote, come around this joint much more I will be death house material too. Am going to learn to be ruthless. Actually Miguel has been a very good boy; he knows I am working and keeps out of the way and I treat him like Mr. Bumby. He’s good company and the most articulate matador I’ve ever known. He is very fond of you and that makes me fond of him. I wish we could fix it so he could drive John crazy in a picture. That would be one for you to write about. [Next six words in holograph] Think he could do it too.

You know when anything gets really bad and going to hell you just relax and ride it out and then start punching.

Thanks for the gen on what should ask on that picture. Will send to Rice. Glad news of J. is good. Glad you have your work done. By schedule should be done tomorrow.

Will close this to get it off.

Expect you any time. The moon is full and there should be fish running as it wanes. Only thing is hurricanes that bitch everything. Been four so far but all gone up the gulf stream.

I shouldn’t gamble with my back on a big fish this year. Swim a 440 every day and was in fine shape until the peoples came and killed me. Maybe all for the best. You asked where would go if couldn’t take it here. Off the stern of the Pilar, slipped, and down 800 fathoms. Right now that is a nicer place. Much love… [In holograph] Mary well and happy and exemplary in behavior. Sends love.”

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway secured his reputation as a writer with the 1926 publication of his critically acclaimed novel The Sun Also Rises, followed by A Farewell to Arms (1929), Death in the Afternoon (1932) and To Have and Have Not (1937). In 1939, Hemingway rented a house in Cuba named Finca Vigia, which he purchased the following year, and where he wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls. “It was there that he recuperated from his trips to Europe and Africa by fishing and drinking Daiquiris at the bar of the Floridita restaurant. And it was also there that he wrote his masterpiece, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway left the island for good in 1960, the year after Castro overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista [1901-1973]—and the year before he took his own life in Idaho,”  (“Hemingway, Castro, and Cuba,” The New Yorker, Michaud).

Our letter discusses life in Cuba and Hemingway’s houseguest, Spanish matador Luis Miguel Dominguin (1926-1996), whose rivalry with his brother-in-law, Antonio Ordóñez, was the subject of Hemingway’s posthumously published The Dangerous Summer. Augustin de Foxa (Conde de Foxa, 1906-1959) was a Spanish poet, journalist and diplomat who, at the time of our letter, was attached to the Spanish Embassy in Havana, during the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975).

Viertel was a Hollywood screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s story of an aging Cuban fisherman playing out his struggle for survival by catching a giant marlin – only to lose it to sharks on the voyage home, “based on a true story he had heard fifteen years before from his Cuban boatman,” (DAB). Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for this powerful novella, and producer Leland Hayward (1902-1971) immediately approached Hemingway about making the film, which was released in 1958. It was while visiting Hemingway in Cuba that Hayward met his fourth wife, New York Socialite Slim Hawks. The pair divorced in 1960 because of her affair with Viertel! In 1953, Viertel penned White Hunter Black Heart, a transparent portrayal of John Huston and his collaboration with Viertel while filming The African Queen. Viertel also wrote the screenplay for the 1957 film version of The Sun Also Rises and, during the 1950s, accompanied Hemingway to bullfights. In 1992, he published Dangerous Friends: At Large with Huston and Hemingway in the Fifties.

Hemingway wrote our letter only a few weeks after suffering injuries from two consecutive plane crashes in Africa. On January 23, 1954, the plane Hemingway had chartered to fly over the mountains and lakes of Africa unexpectedly fell from the sky. In the crash landing Hemingway sprained his right shoulder and his fourth wife, journalist Mary Welsh (1908-1986), broke two ribs. The Hemingways and their pilot made their way to the capital of Uganda after spending a night near Murchison Falls. The following day they boarded a similar aircraft that caught fire during take-off. The pilot and Mary were able to escape through the front window but Hemingway could not fit and had to pound open a door with his head. Unlike the first crash, his injuries were serious and lasting. Hemingway had given himself a concussion, a fractured skull and ruptured vital organs; his skin was burned and his vision and hearing impaired. Following a painful car trip he met his son Patrick (b. 1928, nicknamed “Mouse”) in Entebbe and they flew to Nairobi. Immediately after these accidents, reports of Hemingway’s death were widely circulated. He carefully preserved his prematurely published obituaries and wrote an article entitled “Reading One’s Own Obituary” which was incorporated into “The Christmas Gift,” an essay written while recovering in Nairobi. “By surviving the two near-fatal air crashes, he strengthened the image of the indestructible tough guy and lived up to the legend of the mythical Papa,” (Hemingway: A Biography, Meyers).

Hemingway had been in Africa to see Patrick who, after graduating from Harvard, ran a safari company in East Africa and taught wildlife conservation for 25 years. He later moved to Montana where he manages his father’s literary legacy. John (1923-2000, nicknamed “Bumby”) was Hemingway’s oldest son, born to Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. John was an infant during Hemingway’s sojourn in Paris as part of the so-called Lost Generation and is mentioned in Hemingway’s autobiographical A Moveable Feast. His godmothers were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and William Carlos Williams was his pediatrician. Along with his mother he was the dedicatee of The Sun Also Rises. During World War II, John served as a military police officer in North Africa, and following his army career he was a stockbroker, a salesman of fishing supplies, a noted conservationist, and a guardian of his father’s literary legacy. His daughter is actress Mariel Hemingway. “Rice” was Hemingway’s attorney Alfred Rice (1907-1989).

Hemingway’s injuries, combined with a stunning intake of alcohol during the last several decades of his life accelerated his physical and mental decline. “Papa” received a series of shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, but after his 36th, Hemingway stunned the world by committing suicide with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum. Our letter briefly gives voice to Hemingway’s suicidal thoughts, mentioning an inclination to drown himself “off the stern of the Pilar,” his fishing boat.

With minor holographic corrections and more than thirty words in Hemingway’s hand. In very fine condition.

Hemingway on The Old Man and the Sea, Batista, Life in Cuba, Matador Luis Miguel Dominguin, and Suicide

Signed by Ernest Hemingway


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