One of the greatest American novelist and short-story writer, Ernest Hemingway once declared, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
This day 100 years ago, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway turned 18-years-old. Throughout his lifetime, he accomplished the good, the bad, as well as the ugly. Most are familiar with his notable works such as “The Old Man and the Sea” (1951), “The Sun Also Rises” (1926), and “A Farewell to Arms” (1929). But how many are aware of the bizarre incidents that occurred throughout his lifetime?
1. In Hemingway’s later years, he grew increasingly paranoid of FBI surveillance.
A.E. Hotchner, who was a personal friend and biographer of Hemingway, wrote an article for the New York Times in 2011, discussing the author’s increasing anxiety over unconfirmed fears. In order to treat his overwhelming paranoia, his physician recommended electrotherapy on several occasions, but to no avail.
“It’s the worst hell. The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using Duke’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted,” quoted Hotchner while retelling the occurrences on Hemingway’s 60th birthday.
After the FBI released its Hemingway file due to a Freedom of Information petition, the documents finally revealed that the writer was indeed placed under meticulous watch by J. Edgar Hoover.
2. Hemingway a spy for the KGB, albeit not a very good one.
The FBI had every reason to suspect Hemingway’s loyalty to his country. His association with the KGB earned him a suspicious reputation and landed his name on the government’s watchlist. According to the Guardian, some notes from Stalin-era intelligence archives provide evidence that suggest Hemingway’s role as “Agent Argo” in 1941. Before taking a trip to China, Hemingway willingly accepted KGB’s recruitment. Although he “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help [them],” he proved to be kind of bad at spying. Failing to supply any political information, contact with Agent Argo stopped completely by the end of the decade. Thus we can never be quite sure of whether he accepted the job as a spoof or that he just wasn’t a great spy.
3. Irish novelist James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway often drank together in Paris. When Joyce got into a bar fight, he’d shout for Hemingway to come clean up his mess.
Kenneth Schuyler Lynn documented the details of the two writers’ hangouts in his book on Hemingway.
“We would go out for a drink,” Hemingway told a reporter for Time magazine in the midfifties, “and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn’t even see the man so he’d say: ‘Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!’
4. His passion for fishing turned into a world record.
In case you didn’t get the hint from “The Old Man and the Sea,” you should probably know that the success of this Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction stemmed from the author’s deep-rooted interest in fishing.
During his time in the Bahamas in 1935, he decided to take the unconventional approach to fishing and opened fire at sharks with a machine gun. He did this to prevent scavengers from stealing his catch. Unfortunately, this violent method didn’t work so well because the blood aggravated the predators, and caused them to attack his catch even more fiercely. But in 1938, he successfully established a world record by catching seven marlins in one day.
5. He has always been talented at hunting and once killed 400 preys in one day.
At the age of 3, Hemingway had enough wit and strength to kill a porcupine. Shortly after the publication of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, Hemingway accomplished an impressive kill of 400 jackrabbits in one single day.
6. He experienced a tragic loss at Paris.
Hemingway with first wife Elizabeth Hadley Richardson | Via https://bit.ly/2uJjTCC
In December 1922, Hemingway’s wife at the time, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, left a suitcase containing all of her husband’s manuscripts up to this point at the station of Gare de Lyon to purchase a bottle of Evian water for the trip. When she had returned, the suitcase was nowhere to be seen. This unfortunate incident meant that Hemingway had no choice but to start again from scratch.
7. He wrote a six-word story.
Because of a bar room bet, Hemingway wrote a now famous 6-word short story.
Prepare yourself. It reads, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
8. He owned a six-toed cat.
Named Snowball, this cat with polydactyl was his personal favorite.
9. He tracked his daily word count on a slab of cardboard.
Via Open Culture
In an interview with American journalist George Plimpton for The Paris Review, Hemingway revealed that he preferred to track his daily progress on a large chart made of cardboard “so as not to kid [himself].” Plimpton explained that the numbers on the chart neatly displayed daily output such as 450, 474, 362, and 1250. On days of high efficiency, Hemingway would push himself even harder, so that he wouldn’t feel guilty going fishing the next day.
10. There are 38 alternate endings to “A Farewell to Arms”.
The ending that survived through Hemingway’s revision is one full of poignancy. Frederic’s lover dies during labor, and he has no choice but to live with this loss. In the same interview with Plimpton, the interviewer inquired, “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”
Hemingway responded, “Getting the words right.”
11. He survived through numerous diseases and two consecutive plane crashes, but could not save him from himself.
On the flight from Nairobi to Belgian Congo, Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, crashed into a utility pole. This accident left Mary with two broken ribs and him with a sprained shoulder.
In hopes of reaching medical care in Entebbe, they boarded another airplane the next day. Unfortunately, a fire started while the engine was still on the runway. The deadly flames gave Hemingway a ruptured liver, spleen, and kidney, as well as a fractured skull. By the time they finally made their arrival at Entebbe, a front-page article titled “HEMINGWAY, WIFE KILLED IN AIR CRASH” had already been prepared.
Having survived everything from skin cancer and malaria to hepatitis and diabetes to blood poisoning and two deadly plane crushes, his wife was willing to believe that he had actually shot himself on the morning before his 62nd birthday.
12. Hemingway used to wear women’s clothing and played the cello.
Via the Daily Mail
Grace Hemingway often dressed young Ernest and his older sister in matching pink dresses with lacy bows while calling the two of them “Dutch dolly” and “Sweetie” in order to satisfy her unfulfilled desire of becoming the mother of a pair of twin girls. She even held his sister back from school for a year so the two of them could be in the same grade together. These dress-up experiences significantly strained Hemingway and his mother’s relationship to the point that he threatened to put a halt to his aging mother’s financial aid. She never did an interview about his childhood.
Before Hemingway found his paradise in literature, he spent one entire year out of school to learn the cello.
“That cello–I played it worse than anyone on earth,” said Hemingway.
13. He preferred to write standing up.
Throughout his life as an author, he wrote seven novels, six short story collections, and two nonfiction works. All of these had been created while he stood in front of a bookcase in his bedroom. On productive days, he could wear down seven pencils.
14. Hemingway’s brother founded a micronation.
Off the coast of Jamaica, Leicester Hemingway founded The Republic of New Atlantis, a micronation with its own currency, postage, and constitution. Unfortunately, this nation only lasted for two years before a tropical storm destroyed it.
15. There’s a Ernest Hemingway look-alike society that hosts contest to bring him back to life every year.
Via Hemingway Look-Alike Society
This year, 160 white-bearded men gathered together in Key West to join the island city’s annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. The competition is held at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a waterhole frequently visited by Hemingway during his stay in Florida in the 1930s. Though this year’s winner will be chosen on Saturday night, Hemingway Day will continue through Sunday.
Featured Image Courtesy of The Daily Beast