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'Hemingway In Love' Chronicles Papa's Romantic Regrets

Oct 27, 2015
Originally published on October 27, 2017 1:20 pm

In 1966, author A.E. Hotchner published Papa Hemingway, the memoir of his 13-year friendship and many conversations with Ernest Hemingway, who had taken his own life a few years earlier.

The book's publication was contested and controversial — Hemingway's widow, his fourth wife, Mary, went to court to block it. She failed, and the book came out.

Papa Hemingway was both a commercial and critical success. Now, at age 95, Hotchner has published a slim volume of stories he says he left out of Papa Hemingway — it's called Hemingway in Love: His Own Story.

Hotchner tells NPR's Robert Siegel that Hemingway considered Hadley, his first wife, to be the true love of his life. "What he's talking about, really, are his first two wives, Hadley the first and Pauline the second. In my experiences with him at the tail end of his life, he was reliving the mistakes he made, being in love with those two women at the same time."


Interview Highlights

On why he took so long to publish these new stories

When I first wrote Papa Hemingway, there were too many people still alive, and the lawyers for Random House didn't want to OK it. But now all that's been filtered away by the passage of all these people. And having the fortune of surviving, I now feel that I am the custodian of what Ernest wanted the world to know about him and these women.

On the lawsuit by Mary, Hemingway's fourth wife

That was the result of the fact that when he committed suicide, the first thing Mary did — instead of calling for his doctor or the hospital — she got hold of the columnist at that time, Leonard Lyons, who was in Hollywood, got hold of him and said, would you please call the press for me and tell them that Papa was cleaning his gun, and it went off accidentally. So that was the prevailing story about how Hemingway had died. And so for the first time I revealed what really happened, that Ernest had had a delusionary decline. When she read that, she was obviously upset — but that's what caused the lawsuit. Everything else was just window dressing.

On his friendship with Hemingway

It stays with me, with the same kind of stick-to-itiveness that any other memory that I have, of my father, of my mother — I mean, he was called Papa, and I called him Papa for a reason, and that was he was a real father figure. He taught me how to swing a gun so I could shoot a pheasant. He taught me the whole romance of bullfighting. He was a marvelous raconteur and a marvelous teacher of how to enjoy — not how to do, so much as how to enjoy what you do.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In 1966, A.E. Hotchner published "Papa Hemingway," the memoir of his friendship and many conversations with the writer Ernest Hemingway who had taken his own life a few years earlier. The book's publication was contested and controversial. Hemingway's widow, his fourth wife Mary, went to court to block it. She failed and the book came out. "Papa Hemingway" was based on the 13-year friendship of the celebrated writer and his much younger admirer. Now, at age 95, A.E. Hotchner has published a slim volume of stories he says he left out of "Papa Hemingway." It's called "Hemingway In Love: His Own Story." A.E. Hotchner, welcome to the program.

A.E. HOTCHNER: Oh, I'm glad to be here.

SIEGEL: In your new book ,we learn what Ernest Hemingway told you about his four wives, especially his first wife, Hadley. She was the love of his life.

HOTCHNER: She was indeed. What he's talking about really are his first two wives - Hadley the first and Pauline the second. And my experiences with him at the tail end of his life, he was reliving the mistakes he made, being in love with those two women at the same time.

SIEGEL: Why did it take roughly half a century for you to publish these stories?

HOTCHNER: When I first wrote "Papa Hemingway," there were too many people still alive and the lawyers for Random House didn't want to OK it. But now all of that's been filtrated away by the passage of all these people. And having the fortune of surviving, I now feel that I am the custodian of what Ernest wanted the world to know about him and these women.

SIEGEL: What was extremely sensitive here, or one point that was very sensitive, was that Ernest Hemingway who is telling you about this terrible mistake he'd made - he'd always really loved his first wife Hadley - and yet, at that time that he was relating these stories to you, he was married to his fourth wife, Mary.

HOTCHNER: Well, that's right, and, you know, Mary was really a dear friend of mine. And I didn't feel that I wanted to publish how he felt about his first two wives while she was still alive.

SIEGEL: You say she was a dear friend of yours, but she took you to court - you and Random House - to try to block the publications. She said the book was littered with inaccuracies, and it seemed like it was a pretty hostile relationship back in the 1960s.

HOTCHNER: No, well, that was the result of the fact that when he committed suicide, the first thing Mary did f- instead of calling for his doctor or the hospital - she got hold of the columnist at that time, Leonard Lyons, who was in Hollywood, got hold of him and said would you please call the press for me and tell them that Papa was cleaning his gun and it went off accidentally. And so for the first time I revealed what really happened, that Ernest had had a delusionary decline. When she read that, which contradicted her account that he was cleaning a gun, of course this was in July and Ernest wouldn't not clean a gun in July - but when she read that, she was obviously upset. But that's what caused the lawsuit. Everything else was just window dressing.

SIEGEL: You know, I went back to listen to the speech that Hemingway recorded for the ceremony at which he was given the Nobel Prize for literature that was in 1954. I want to play this bit of it for you. Here, let's listen to a brief excerpt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness, and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer, he must face eternity or the lack of it each day.

SIEGEL: You know, Mr. Hotchner, I listened to that knowing that this man took his own life a decade later or so and somehow it doesn't seem very surprising. He seems like a tormented soul speaking there.

HOTCHNER: He was tormented for quite a while. And you realize he did not give that speech to the academy. He gave it to the ambassador to read for him. But when I went to Cuba after he had received the Nobel Prize, I convinced him to go to the radio station in Havana and record it. And that's the recording that you just played.

SIEGEL: It has been more than half a century since Hemingway's death. Is his companionship, his friendship, something that you still think about often?

HOTCHNER: It stays with me with the same kind of sticktoitiveness that any other memory that I have - of my father of my mother - I mean, he was called Papa and I called him Papa for a reason and that was he was a real father figure. He taught me how to swing a gun so I could shoot a pheasant. He taught me the whole romance of bullfighting. He was a marvelous recountour. And he was a marvelous teacher of how to enjoy - not how to do so much as how to enjoy what you do.

SIEGEL: Mr. Hotchner, thank you very much for talking with us today.

HOTCHNER: A pleasure, thank you.

SIEGEL: A.E. Hotchner is the author of "Hemingway In Love: His Own Story." It's an addendum to his 1966 memoir, "Papa Hemingway." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.